For the entirety of our lives, California has been synonymous with droughts. The golden state’s moniker originates from its early gold rush days, but up until recently, the nickname was also fitting as dry, yellow grass covered California’s endless hills. This year, however, the state has seen an unprecedented amount of rain from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Here in the Salinas Valley, heavy rain or other harsh weather events are quite uncommon, making this an incredible area for year-long agriculture. Nonetheless, the Salinas Valley is not immune to this weather. The 2023 winter storms have shaken up California: causing flooding, infrastructure collapse, and harm to many residents.
A flurry of atmospheric rivers brought this onslaught of rain for nearly a month – from late December to early January. Since then, now that March has begun, the rain has certainly died down, but its damages haven’t. The storms resulted in at least 22 confirmed fatalities and permanently damaged countless homes. Additionally, the storms had an immense impact on our agriculture. The County of Monterey Agricultural Commissioner’s Office estimates total agricultural losses – both projected and current – at approximately $336 million. Out of this total, $9.4 million came from infrastructure and facilities damage. The county also reports that over 15,000 acres of agricultural land were flooded and their harvest lost. The county contains 366,709 crop acres in total.
A substantial amount of this flooding was brought on as a result of the Salinas River flooding – the country's largest underground river. What is normally a dry river to the naked eye, most of its water runs underground, was rushed with so much rainfall that a levee of the river was broken. An impact of these floodings is a shortage or “gap” in Spring produce. Of the crops that were lost, the most heavily impacted were romaine lettuce, strawberries, garlic, and broccoli. This impact is said to be felt starting in April as harvesting of leafy greens normally tends to commence that month. These products that would under normal circumstances be harvested on April 1st, would also be planted on January 1st. However, since so many of the January 1st crops were lost, the following months are likely to see a limited supply of such products.
Despite all of this damage, the rain has also brought positives. The heavy rain has guided 17% of the state out of drought conditions. Additionally, 34% of the state is now considered “abnormally dry” – the lowest drought rating after “no drought.” This means over half of the state is no longer under drought conditions after years of dryness.
Reservoir levels all across the state have also steadily risen and are much higher than their levels compared to last year. While this winter’s storms are not enough to cure our drought, the rain is a great help to our ongoing drought.