sandhill cranes, © USFWS/Paul Boyte

A Drought Action Plan for California

With three consecutive years of extremely dry weather, California is going through the worst water crisis in the state’s modern history. The drought’s impacts on vulnerable fish and wildlife have been profound—low levels of water have devastated salmon runs, increased disease outbreaks among migrating birds, worsened the condition of other native wildlife, and contributed to an outbreak of potentially toxic blue-green algae in the Delta.

Faced with this ongoing emergency, Governor Brown and the California legislature have sprung into action, taking concrete steps towards a more sustainable water future. Among other actions, Governor Brown has convened an Interagency Drought Task Force, declared a State of Emergency, and issued a Water Action Plan that outlines solutions for both short-term and long-term relief. The legislature passed historic legislation to improve how the state monitors and manages critically important groundwater basins. They also showed broad, bipartisan support for a $7.5 billion water bond that California’s voters approved on November 4.

Dry riverbed, © NOAA

The drought is so severe that many of California’s riverbeds are completely dry. (Photo: NOAA)

The state’s leadership has created indispensable momentum, but we still need guidance on specific policies that legislators, agency officials, and local decision makers can begin implementing immediately. Recognizing this need, Defenders of Wildlife teamed up with several other environmental organizations to create a plan of action—titled Wetter or Not – Actions to Ease the Current Drought and Prepare for the Next—that was released November 17, 2014. The report recommends specific, short-term actions at the state, federal, and local levels that will respond to the drought while also setting the stage for a more reliable long-term water supply, a more resilient economy, and a healthier environment. We especially focused on:

  • Stretching existing supplies by making urban and agricultural water use more efficient, encouraging water recycling, and improving stormwater capture;
  • Expanding the system’s storage capacity by protecting our groundwater, investing in natural infrastructure, and restoring watersheds;
  • Planning for this and future droughts, with a focus on protecting salmon and wetland-dependent species; and
  • Securing funding at the state, federal, and local levels to make sure managers have what they need to put these solutions into practice.

Smart water planning is good for communities and good for wildlife. For example, restoring healthy watersheds in forests and meadows can improve both water quality and availability, while also creating habitat for animals like the endangered riparian brush rabbit, and improving stream temperatures for migrating salmon. Careful drought planning can help make sure there’s enough water to deliver to farmers, and also to wildlife refuges that provide habitat for long-billed curlews, greater sandhill cranes, and other imperiled birds.

Over the coming months and years, we will work with local, state, and federal officials to encourage them to put the report’s recommendations into action. Even if this winter brings much needed rain to the parched state, California will continue to suffer from droughts, and a plan of action is essential to a future that includes both a healthy economy and thriving wildlife and ecosystems.

Rachel Zwillinger is the Water Policy Advisor at Defenders of Wildlife

8 Responses to “A Drought Action Plan for California”

  1. Lyn Fullerton

    Maybe CA can also take a look at how Israel turned a dessert into lush vegetation. Parts of S.CA. population need a severe wake up call to understand that their wasteful ware habits MUST stop ..they have been warned for many years and yet many of them choose to ignore the facts. People MUST adjust or everyone suffers. The severe drought conditions may be “in the last 3 yrs.” as this article claims but I think the facts will also show that CA has been under drought conditions for many, many, years, each year getting worse! The “war” between S.CA and N.CA over water rights and water management / Native Indian tribal / fishing rights has been going on for years. What solutions have there been? I lived in N.CA from 1956 to 2007, I have seen the cycles of fires, drought, dwindling wildlife. I have also seen the tourists from S.CA. come north every summer, they spend their money but they have no respect for N. CA. natural beauty. To be fair, there are also those in N.CA who disrespectful as well. I truly hope that some resolutions are found before it is too late.

    • Hector Silva

      When we see what other countries have done to achieve thr almost impossible Then its time evualute our options to solve our similar siruatioms Its not about re-inventing the wheel

  2. Marc Gorelnik

    This north vs. south framing is nonsense. Its big agribusiness against everyone else. 80% of the developed water in California goes to agriculture. Residential use should be careful and wise, but its such a small part of California’s total water use that scolding each other accomplishes little if anything. Notwithstanding the drought, corporate farmers in the arid Southern San Joaquin Valley have vastly increased plantings of permanent crops primarily destined for export, i.e. nut trees. Increasing water demands on an oversubscribed system during a drought – at the expense of other water users and native wildlife – is the real problem.

  3. Hector Silva

    Im most amazed that with all these videos and solutions in How to solve the problem Someone/ somebody/ is just seating on their asses and not putting it to practice Oh! yeah with a nice salary while us tax payers have to pay for all of it Stop your bs and get on with it

  4. candice

    We need to be careful of how much water we use into bathing showering or just washing or brushing our teeth, or even watering our grass if Necessary. There are solutions if we need to water our grass or plants. There rain Barrels that collect water and also sifts out any grime or dirt. They are found on web sites or your Whole Foods market. But if we continue doing evil against our Nation . It states in the Bible about plagues, diseases and droughts and money and the list goes on and on that these things will take place, which man has been destroying this Earth. Please to all those who read this take heart, and take care of the Land the Sea and the Earth for God gave this to us to take care of, Not to Destroy, inwhich we are doing 🙁 . I pray for our Nation. Please read ( 2 Chronicles 7:14) this scripture is for our Nation. May The God Bless our Nation 🙂

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