You’ve probably noticed it by now: A parade of California drought studies focusing relentlessly on lost agricultural jobs, lost total jobs, lost revenue, lost crop acreage and lost surface water supplies.
A new study released Thursday by California State University, Fresno, takes a different approach.
Wells Fargo, which provided a $125,000 grant to fund the 120-page study, asked researchers to look beyond pure economic data to the human impacts, according to Gill Harootunian, Fresno State director of university initiatives, who edited the report.
“This kind of broad conversation … is what we need going forward,” she said.
Unlike a University of California, Davis, drought study released last week that was limited to lost jobs, water and revenue, the Fresno State analysis examines other factors such as disease rates, mental health impacts and public health consequences.
The study includes the eight Valley counties: Kings, Fresno, Kern, Tulare, Madera, Merced, San Joaquin and Stanislaus.
Kings crops up in two main areas: mental health issues and disease issues.
Citing UCLA Center for Health Policy Research data, the report states that, in 2012-13 (the first year of the current record-breaking drought), Kings County’s adult population had the highest rate of serious psychological distress in the state (14.4 percent) combined with one of the state’s lowest concentrations of doctors per 10,000 residents.
Harootunian said she collected anecdotal evidence by talking to farmers and laborers in the field. What she found was that, while some farmers were getting paid record amounts for their crops, small operators and many farmworkers were suffering.
“What I began to hear was widespread depression,” she said.
She found that the worst drought-related distress was concentrated in two groups: smaller family owned farms on the Valley’s Eastside who live on-site and do some of the work themselves and limited-resource minority farmers.
Those with more acreage have more groundwater access and more resources, and are thus less likely to face a water crunch.
Harootunian said smaller minority operators who lease land are in some cases being pushed out by larger farmers who offer to pay higher rent. She said the larger growers may be seeking access to the water rights and/or groundwater supplies attached to the land.
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The report includes a link to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website that includes resources for people dealing with drought-related anxiety, depression and emotional stress.
The link includes a hotline, coping tips and additional reference information. It mentions farmers, landscapers, garden supply owners, rural residents and older adults as among the groups affected by drought-related stress.
Another section of the report deals with the drought’s impact on West Nile Virus, a mosquito-borne flu-like illness that has popped up repeatedly in Kings County in recent years.
As the drought drags on, more local mosquitos are being found carrying the disease, according to Michael Cavanagh, Kings Mosquito Abatement District manager.
He said 2015 is on track to equal a record 150 positive mosquito tests recorded in Kings in 2014.
“There does seem to be an increase in West Nile activity during drought,” Cavanagh said.
He said that bird populations are being out of drier rural areas and into cities along with mosquitos. The virus is transmitted from birds to mosquitos. Mosquitos transfer the virus to humans by biting them.
The virus in rare cases can cause death among older people or people with compromised immune systems, but most infected people experience it as a cold. Prevention includes eliminating standing water, fixing screens on doors and windows, using mosquito repellant and wearing long-sleeved clothes.
One endemic Kings County disease — valley fever — declined during the last four drought years, according to Demosthenes Pappagianis, a UC Davis valley fever expert.
The illness is caused by fungus spores stirred up from the soil and inhaled. Pappagianis said that decreased rainfall has produced fewer spores.
“When it starts raining again, it will probably lead to an increase in cases,” he said.
Pappagianis noted a spike in 2011 — the last wet year. That’s when Kings County registered 312 cases.
In every subsequent dry year for which numbers are available, the number of reported cases has declined: 282 in 2012, 67 in 2013 and 41 in 2014.