“Drought is an extended period when a region notes a deficiency in its water supply whether surface or underground water. A drought can last for months or years, or may be declared after as few as 15 days.[1] Generally, this occurs when a region receives consistently below average precipitation. It can have a substantial impact on the ecosystem and agriculture of the affected region. Although droughts can persist for several years, even a short, intense drought can cause significant damage [2] and harm to the local economy.[3]”

In January 2014 the Sierra Snowpack was only at 12% of what it normally measures,  and with California facing water shortfalls in the driest year in recorded state history, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. proclaimed a State of Emergency and directed state officials to take all necessary actions to prepare for these drought conditions.  With this in mind it seems we must all be prepared to make changes in our water usage, landscaping and pasture management.

While I have been a proponent of rain water collection, trading edible landscaping for ornamental,  utilizing efficient drip and focused irrigation that runs over night or early in the morning, planting hardy dryland pasture grasses, (dry grasses have about half the protein content as green grasses so a supplement may be necessary) for many years, those steps do not seem adequate for the drought we are facing in 2014. This year I am also implementing wood chipping for slash and green waste rather than burning so that I am creating the mulch necessary to retain moisture without the expense of purchasing it.

Here are some  additional ideas on water, land, and crop management from the Natural Resources and Conservation Service for you to consider while creating your drought plan:

Water Management

Evaluate all types of irrigation systems appropriate for your operation and choose the one that will help you lose less water to evaporation, percolation, and runoff.

Look for ways to make your existing irrigation system more efficient and easier to maintain.

Build a water storage system that holds water for use during irrigation season.

Store water in ditches along fields.

Install water measurement devices that keep track of water use.

Use water from deep aquifers instead of surface water.

Land Management Ideas

Use conservation tillage (crop residue left on your field after harvest) to increase soil moisture and reduce evaporation.

Use conservation practices that reduce runoff and encourage infiltration of water into the soil.

Closely monitor soil moisture. (Ask your local NRCS office for a complimentary copy of the agency publication “Estimating Soil Moisture by Feel and Appearance.”)

Maintain and establish riparian buffers, filter strips, grassed waterways, and other types of conservation buffers near streams and other sources of water.

Know your animals’ forage needs. Contract early to make sure you will have enough hay during dry times or find alternative feed sources.

Raise animals that do not consume large quantities of water.

Cull herds according to a schedule that will maximize your profits.

Crop Management Ideas

Plant crops that withstand dryness, hold water, and reduce the need for irrigation.

Rotate crops in ways that increase the amount of water that enters the soil.

Shift to cropping systems that are less water dependent than your current system.

These may not all apply to you but getting in a water conservation frame of mind will help everyone in the long run. For more information check out http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/ and don’t forget to do an occasional rain dance.