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District economic conditions

  • Agricultural Science


FRBSF August 19, 1988 WEEKLY LETTER Drought and the West This summer, a severe drought has gripped much of the nation, bringing less-than-normal rainfall and higher-than-normal temperatures. In the West, the effects of the drought have been less severe than those in other parts of the country, largely because much of the West relies on reser- voirs for summer water. Nonetheless, water short- ages and rationing are prevalent in some areas, as two consecutive dry winters have left reservoirs seriously depleted. On balance, most farmers in the West should make it through the summer of 1988 with little or no damage, and some may even benefit from the higher prices that result from reduced agricultural production in other parts of the country. Some cattle ranchers are likely to suffer this year, how- ever, and another dry winter would cause more widespread problems. Over the longer term, the region's future will depend in part on how water supply issues are resolved. Drought conditions In much of the West, winter snows in the moun- tains are the primary source of water. The spring runoff from these snows suppl ies a vast network of reservoirs and rivers, providing water for the summers, when measurable rainfall is unusual. In the coastal areas of Washington and Oregon, where precipitation is more abundant and scat- tered more evenly throughout the year, the water holding systems are relatively less extensive. From the fall of 1986 through the spring of 1988 precipitation throughout the West was signif- icantly below normal. As a result, reservoirs be- came seriously depleted. In western Washington and Oregon, the shortage became critical, with the threatened loss of some of this area's fruit trees. Fortunately, plentiful spring rains in the coastal areas of the Northwest replenished these reservoirs. In other parts of the West, however, low reservoir levels continue to be a source of serious concern. Reservoirs in California, for ex- ample, currently contain only 65 percent of normal reserv

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