An “early warning about potential water shortages” was issued by the California state government on March 22. The California State Water Resources Control Board sent warnings to 40,000 water rights holders – including individual farmers and entire cities – asking them to prepare to cope with less available water. An announcement of the warning can be found at waterboards.ca.gov.

Earlier this month, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack sent California Governor Galvin Newsom a letter in which he designated 50 of California’s 58 counties “as primary natural disaster areas due to a recent drought.” In the March 5 letter, Vilsack said his decision made those counties and some neighboring counties eligible for emergency loans and other assistance from the Farm Service Agency (FSA).

A link to the entire letter has been posted on Twitter. The letter can also be found at sierrawave.net/secretary-of-agriculture-vilsack-has-officially-declared-drought-conditions-in-california.

Eight weeks of drought

Vilsack said the California counties had experienced eight weeks or more of drought during the farmers' growing season. He based his statements on information provided by the U.S.

Drought Monitor, which is maintained by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (droughtmonitor.unl.edu).

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor's March 16 survey, although California had recently received "near to above-normal precipitation," there had been "no changes" to many areas hit by drought.

The survey noted that drought had also affected areas of the Great Plains and Puerto Rico.

Low groundwater and reservoir levels

"Reservoir and groundwater levels are significantly below average, and despite recent storms, the snowpack is only 63% of average as of March 10," the California State Water Resources Control Board said, adding "April 1 is typically the peak of California's snowpack, which, in an average year, provides 30% of the state's water supply." The board said it did not expect "significant improvement" of the situation before that date.

Possible restrictions in May or June

The San Francisco Chronicle quoted state officials as saying they were going to learn in May or June whether it would be necessary to put restrictions on surface water use. Mike Wade of the California Farm Water Coalition told the paper that restrictions would be "another blow to our ability to grow food and fiber."

Now is the time for people to strengthen their "drought resilience," according to the California State Water Resources Control Board. "Urban water users can conserve by putting in the drought-resistant landscape, reducing outdoor irrigation, and replacing older house fixtures and appliances with more efficient ones," the board said.

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