CSAC Bulletin Article

Drought in California—Tools and Resources for Counties

May 6, 2021

As California counties move into another year of drought, CSAC will be providing our members with key information from the State and Federal resources. The Department of Water Resources (DWR) updated its Drought in California brochure in January 2021 with comparative information, historical precipitation, and runoff figures. In the brochure, DWR states, “There is no universal definition of when a drought begins or ends, nor is there a state statutory process for defining or declaring drought. A proclamation of emergency conditions pursuant to the California Emergency Services Act may be used to respond to drought impacts, but such a proclamation is not itself a definition of drought.”

 As many counties know, local conditions, reservoir conditions are just one measure of water resources. Groundwater conditions, water recycling and desalination, and water exchanges can play as much of a roll as runoff conditions in any given county. Longer dry seasons with warmer temperatures are reducing snow pack, which is often referred to as California’s natural reservoir. Atmospheric rivers—storms bringing excessive wind and rain over very short periods of time from the Pacific Ocean—are defining a new type of precipitation into the state, overloading reservoirs in the short term and not contributing to snowpack as much as past-year storms.

Some of the most vulnerable and at-risk communities are found in our unincorporated county areas.  In light of this counties contributed to a 2-year stakeholder process with the Department of Water Resources that helped to develop the Drought and Water Shortage Risk Explorer Tool for Small Water Suppliers and Rural Communities. The explorer tool can be found here.

For more information, please contact Catherine Freeman, AENR Legislative Representative at cfreeman@counties.org.

Image data as of Midnight: 03-May-2021. Source: California Data Exchange Center Accumulated Runoff May 2021

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