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A section of the California Aqueduct within the California State Water Project, located near Wheeler Ridge, within Kern County can be seen with the Tehachapi Mountains in the background.

While the county has seen some significant storms this season, they haven’t been enough to offset a relatively dry winter.

On March 22, the State Water Resources Control Board mailed early warning notices to about 40,000 water right holders advising them to plan for potential shortages.

“Your early efforts can help minimize the potential impact of water management actions on businesses, homes, farms, and California’s public trust resources,” the letter reads. “Start planning now for potential water supply shortages later this year and identify practical actions you can take to increase drought resilience.”

Hydrologic conditions since 2020 have been similar to the drought years of 2014 and 2015.

“Reservoir and groundwater levels are significantly below average, and despite recent storms, snowpack is only 58% of average as of March 10,” a California Department of Water Resources (DWR) press release reads. “After two years of below average precipitation, officials don’t expect the April 1 snow survey to reveal significant improvement in the water supply outlook this year.”

The snowpack provides about 30% of the state’s water supply in an average year, and typically peaks around April 1.

“Planting crops and other decisions that are dictated by water supply are made early in the year, so early warnings are vital,” said Erik Ekdahl, deputy director for the Water Board’s Division of Water Rights. “These letters give water users time to prepare and help minimize the impacts of reduced supplies on businesses, farms and homes.”

Agricultural and urban water users can take action now to plan for drought.

“Agricultural water users can implement practical actions now to improve their drought resilience, including reducing irrigated acreage, managing herd size, using innovative irrigation and diversifying water supply portfolios,” the release reads. “Urban water users can conserve by putting in drought-resistant landscapes, reducing outdoor irrigation and replacing older house fixtures and appliances with more efficient ones.”

According to the DWR 5-Station Index for the San Joaquin Region, which includes Calaveras County, as of Monday total precipitation for the water year is 17.7 inches, which is 54% of average to date.

The snowpack for the central Sierra Nevada is in slightly better shape, with an average of 19.8 inches snow water equivalent, which is 66% of normal to date.

The U.S. Drought Monitor shows that the county is currently experiencing moderate drought, which indicates that dryland pasture growth is stunted, landscaping and gardens need irrigation earlier, wildlife patterns begin to change and stock ponds and creeks are lower than usual.

The vast majority of the state is currently experiencing at least moderate drought, with 64% experiencing severe drought, 31.8% experiencing extreme drought and 5.4% experiencing exceptional drought.

Calaveras County Water District (CCWD) was one of the recipients of an early warning notice from the State Water Resources Control Board.

“We are experiencing very dry conditions again this year,” CCWD General Manager Michael Minkler said. “CCWD is fortunate to have senior water rights and adequate storage to ensure reliable water supply for our customers, but as responsible stewards of the three watersheds in Calaveras County and in anticipation of potential curtailment orders from the state, we must be proactive about conservation.”

The district has been taking steps to increase drought resilience, Minkler said.

“Thanks to our remarkable staff, we have successfully implemented aggressive leak-reduction initiatives throughout the district since the last drought,” Minkler said. “We’re also in the process of updating our Urban Water Management Plan, which includes drought contingencies, and we’re working to identify new storage and conjunctive use opportunities.”

Minkler said that unless the county receives a large amount of precipitation this month, there will likely be an increase in public outreach from CCWD regarding water conservation.

Those interested in precipitation levels and water conditions in Calaveras County can view the public data packet developed by CCWD Water Resources Manager Brad Arnold at ccwd.org/water-resources/public-data-packet. The information is updated daily.

Current drought conditions can be found at drought.gov.

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Reporter

Noah Berner has lived in Calaveras County most of his life, and graduated from University of California, Santa Cruz with a degree in history.

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