September 19, 2011
It is believed California is currently undergoing desertification. The long-term impacts and environmental costs associated with this process will take a devastating toll on the environmental future of the state. According to an article from Remote Sensing by Doris Lam, Tarmo Remmel and Taly Drezner, the present conditions of the majority of California’s lands are arid and semi-arid, which makes California highly susceptible to climate changes and anthropogenic impacts leading to desertification.
There are a combination of factors that when placed together can have the potential for disaster. During the 1930′s in Oklahoma, the combination of drought, arid climate, and land misuse led to the dust bowl resulting in depression, a mass exodus of people, poverty, hunger, high economic costs, loss of biodiversity, and unusable land for agriculture. Currently, because of California’s arid climate, land erosion and misuse, and rising global temperatures, the potential for disastrous environmental impacts is on a greater scale and drawing near.
U.S. Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu, projects the future of California’s agricultural lands to decline. According to the climate reports Chu has reviewed, global temperatures are only expected to reach staggering heights. Along with these increases in temperatures come major environmental impacts such as shortages in water supplies and loss of agricultural land. Without a secure water supply, agricultural processing and more importantly food production, could be in danger. In an article from Nature Geoscience, Diana Wall warns that the lack of water will cause great damage to the essential functions of healthy soil, which include providing proper environments for crop growth with various nutrients and other levels of biodiversity.
The rise in temperatures will also affect levels of precipitation and perhaps even cause valuable lands to lose their ability to sustain abundant crops for California’s growing population. A twenty-five percent drop in precipitation levels beginning in 2007 and lasting through 2009 is an example of this situation. The consequence of this occurrence was that the stream flows were forty percent below normal standards.
As a result, farmers pumped groundwater as a short-term answer to their water problems. However, in the long run, the groundwater resources were depleted greatly and a valuable resource was used unsustainably. A total reduction in groundwater during the drought proved to be 48 times worse than reductions in a comparable period earlier in the decade. A continuation of similar events in using water resources unsustainably will eventually force the water-deprived grounds of California to move quickly towards desertification.
The state of California’s economy relies heavily on its agriculture. A report from the 2010-2011 edition of the California Agricultural Resource Directory states that in 2009, California agricultural exports reached 12.4 billion, which was a 66 percent increase over a length of seven years. A sudden plummet to California’s agricultural productions due to the presence of desertification would result in not only a decrease in harvested crop acreage but also in jobs for Californian residents.
California’s success in farming over the years has earned the state the title of “the agricultural powerhouse of the United States.” The state’s economy is heavily dependent on the profits of their agricultural productions. The environmental impacts and costs of desertification in California will have a huge toll on millions of people. Not only will it do damage to the state’s economy but it will also cause a great increase in unemployment rates. Moreover, the total cost of attempts toward restoring the deteriorated agricultural lands will most likely continue to rise since the chances of restoring those lands to its native standards are close to impossible. The desertification of California agricultural lands will be detrimental to the entire population of the state.
About the authors: Ticia Lee and Wendy Whitcombe are working towards their bachelor’s degrees in Environmental Studies in the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.