"It's really a crisis situation," exclaims one California city manager, "and it's going to get worse in time if this drought doesn't alleviate."
For the state that produces one-third of the nation's fruits and vegetables, the driest spell in 500 years has prompted President Obama to make $100 million in livestock-disaster aid available within 60 days to help the state rebound from what he describes is " going to be a very challenging situation this year... and potentially some time to come."
As NBC reports, Governor Jerry Brown believes the "unprecedented emergency" could cost $2.8 billion in job income and $11 billion in state revenues - and as one farmer noted "we can't recapture that." Dismal recollections of the 1930's Dust Bowl are often discussed as workers (and employers) are "packing their bags and leaving town..." leaving regions to "run the risk of becoming desolate ghost towns as local governments and businesses collapse."
"The truth of the matter is that this is going to be a very challenging situation this year, and frankly, the trend lines are such where it's going to be a challenging situation for some time to come," Obama said Friday during a meeting with local leaders in Firebaugh, Calif., a rural enclave not far from Fresno.
Obama promised to make $100 million in livestock-disaster aid available within 60 days to help the state rebound from what the White House's top science and technology adviser has called the worst dry spell in 500 years.
"A lot of people don't realize the amount of money that's been lost, the amount of jobs lost. And we can't recapture that," Joel Allen, the owner of the Joel Allen Ranch in Firebaugh, told NBC News.
"It's horrible," Allen added. "People are standing in food lines and people are coming by my office every day looking for work."
Allen — whose family has been in farming for three generations — and his 20-man crew are out of work.
He said: "We're to the point where we're scratching our head. What are we gonna do next?"
At the local grocery store, fruit prices are up — but sales are down. The market was forced to lay off three employees — and many more throughout the town are packing their bags and leaving town.
McDonald said farming communities like Firebaugh run the risk of becoming desolate ghost towns as local governments and businesses collapse.
"It's going to be a slow, painful process — but it could happen," McDonald said. "It's not going to be one big tsunami where you're gonna having something get wiped out in one big wave. It's gonna be a slow, painful, agonizing death."
The problem is not just in California. Federal agriculture officials in January designated parts of 11 states as disaster areas, citing the economic strain that the lack of rain is putting on farmers. Those states are Arkansas, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah.