California is now entering the fifth year of a major drought. On January 17, 2014, the Governor of California declared a statewide drought emergency. By many measures, 2014 and 2015 have been the worst years of the drought. Based on the U.S. Drought Monitor, as of December 29, 2015, over 95 percent of California’s $43-billion agricultural sector was experiencing severe, extreme, or exceptional drought.
However, in California, exposure to local water shortages, which is what the Drought Monitor measures, are only part of how the drought is affecting farms. California agriculture relies heavily on irrigation, and much of the irrigation water is supplied by large-scale State and Federal water projects that store and transport water across hundreds of miles. Therefore, the degree of drought exposure based on local weather does not fully capture the potential impacts. Many other factors, such as surface water availability, groundwater access and cost, irrigation technology choice, crop insurance enrollment, availability, and water rights, influence the vulnerability of farms to ongoing drought.