But a new study by UC Davis researchers forecasts severe socioeconomic impacts ahead in the area where many of the nation's fresh fruits, nuts and vegetables are grown.
The drought could cost the region's farm industry $1.7 billion in 2014 and cause more than 14,500 workers to lose their jobs, according to preliminary results of the study, which also predicts that Central Valley irrigators will only get two-thirds of their normal water deliveries.
Additional pumping of groundwater to replace those shortages will cost farmers about $450 million. About 410,000 acres, or 6%, of the irrigated cropland in the Central Valley will be fallowed this year.
"The impacts would be a lot worse if we didn't have access to groundwater," said coauthor Jay Lund, director of the Center for Watershed Sciences and a UC Davis professor of civil and environmental engineering. "That groundwater may not be available if the drought lasts two or three more years."
The hardships imposed on Central Valley farming communities and the environment are not expected to threaten California's overall economy.
"Overall, the state economy will be much less affected by the drought," Lund said in an interview. "That's largely because California is not an agricultural economy. Back in the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s, agriculture accounted for about 30% of the jobs in California. Today, it's less than 5%."
The researchers used computer models and data from the State Water Project, the federal Central Valley Project and local water districts to chart the economic impacts of the 2014 drought in the Central Valley.
The $140,000 study was conducted at the request of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, and co-funded by the University of California.
"These estimates will help the state better understand the economic impacts of the drought and target its drought relief," California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross said. "The research confirms where emergency drought assistance will be needed most, and efforts are already underway."
Later this year, the researchers plan to release a more comprehensive report of the drought's economic impacts that will include coastal agriculture and updates on the Central Valley.