Irrigation in a California Drought

California is no stranger to drought; however, farmers still seem to come up short when providing enough water for them to grow the food we eat. So, what are the facts?

More than half of California’s water supply comes from the rain and snow watersheds north of Sacramento. However, 80% of California’s water demand comes from the southern 2/3 of the state. Water allocations are essential to farmers every year because they typically depend on surface water for most irrigation needs.

According to the Department of Water Resources (DWR), initial allocations are based on conservative assumptions regarding hydrology and factors such as reservoir storage. Allocations are reviewed monthly and may change based on snowpack and runoff information.


2021 Water Allocations

This year DWR figures show that the severity of California’s dry conditions is particularly evident in the northern part of the state, which is where California gets most of the water supply. The Feather River watershed, which is the primary water provider for Lake Oroville, has seen a significantly low amount of precipitation this year. Reports indicate that Lake Oroville is currently at 53% of the average amount of water for this time and is shaping up to be the second driest year on record. This is particularly concerning as we are following another below-average year of water from 2020, which has resulted in many of California’s reservoirs only being at 50% capacity.

As of May 26th, The Bureau of Reclamation announced water allocations for municipalities and industrial use would be reduced from 55% to 25% of historical use. The original allocation for agriculture from 10% in December to 5% in April has now been confirmed at 0% for service contractors north and south of the Delta.

Due to the inadequate allocation percentage, many counties have been asking our political leaders to declare a state of drought emergency.


What does drought emergency mean?

The drought emergency allows California agencies to prioritize drought response and preparedness resources such as:

  • Accelerated funding for water supply enhancement, water conservation, or species conservation projects.
  • Identify unspent funds that can be repurposed to enable projects to address drought impacts to people, ecosystems, and economic activities.
  • To support the movement of water from areas with plenty to areas in significant need.
  • To actively work toward preventing any situation in which a community may run out of drinking water.


Precision Irrigation, water efficiency, and technology

Current conditions are similar to 2015 when UC Davis reported that water supply cuts led to the fallowing 540,000 acres of farmland, 21,000 lost jobs, and an economic loss of $2.7 billion. These statistics have discouraged many farmers from continuing to farm. But, while state officials fight for water allocations, many other California farmers fight to feed the world.

Irrigation has adapted to the drought conditions over the years and allowed many farmers to precisely irrigate their crops while maximizing efficiency. This not only helps save water but also saves growers money.

From the touch of a button on a phone to a valve or sensors in a field and more, precision irrigation helps growers use appropriate amounts of water to grow the crops we all rely on.


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