Drought. It’s back. California’s water supply levels are slipping very close to those that existed at the beginning of 2014, which was the start of the last drought cycle. Hopes diminish for a Miracle March deluge to fill sinking reservoir and dam levels as April approaches. The state is particularly dry since 2020 was a very hot climatic year combined with a very dry water year. Though the state is carrying over about 300,000 acre-feet at Lake Oroville, the dam is at 53% of historic average while Lake Shasta is at 66% of historic average. Drought is becoming inevitable.
State and federal water officials just cut projected amounts of water they plan to send farmers and cities. The Department of Water Resources (DWR) cut initial allocations of 10% to 5% of requested supplies. The Bureau of Reclamation told their water contractors that the Bureau was freezing allocations and not to expect to receive any water until a reassessment in June.
The State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) sent out notices to California’s 40,000 water users, from small farms to big cities, informing them of likely cuts to water supplies. It’s a preliminary warning to water rights holders that there isn’t enough supply to fulfill all the water rights on the books. The State Water Board will probably know by May or June if orders to stop taking surface water will be necessary.
Many water district and agencies are already working with their customers to reduce water usage. Not every district has groundwater supplies to fall back on, so early conservation is necessary. There are 40 applications for water transfers so far this year—up from 19 applications in 2020. Transferring water works if there are supplies to transfer. Agricultural operations are amid deciding how much to plant or whether to decrease herds depending on water availability. Any business that is water sensitive is engaged in the same decision making.
California learned much from the last drought cycle. Conservation measures are embedded into how water is used. Businesses upgraded equipment and employed water-saving strategies in operations. Agriculture continued investments in technology to grow more produce using less water. Residential users purchased newer water-saving appliances, changed landscaping, and found ways to reduce their water usage. The state is in better shape to deal with drought than it was in 2014. Still, a drought now brings a whole set of new problems for business and agriculture to contend with on the heels of staying viable through a pandemic that caused many disruptions and financial hardships.