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California drought declaration is effecting more than just watering your lawn

A total of 41 counties are now under an emergency drought declaration in California including Butte, Shasta, Tehama, Modoc, Glenn and Trinity.

Posted: May 12, 2021 7:02 PM
Updated: May 12, 2021 7:06 PM

CHICO, Calif. - California has declared extreme drought conditions in 73% of the state.

This means livestock pastures dry out and crops bloom too early, a loss of potential hydropower energy and fire season lasts year-round.

In Butte County, farmers are already worried as they hunker down for another dry season.

“This drought is a little more worrisome than the ones we have had in the past because it is so sudden and so severe,” said Lee Heringer, PCA at M&T Chico Ranch. "The ones we have had in the past kind of came on slow and then lingered for five years or so.”

With surface water drying up, Heringer told Action News Now he and other farmers are depending more on groundwater.

“As far as our groundwater tables, we have pretty good groundwater,” said Heringer. “Our groundwater tables are actually able to replenish themselves.”

Rice production in Butte County is still taking a hit from the drought.

“We normally have 90 to 100,000 acres of rice planted, but I think it is going to be less this year,” said Louie Mendoza from the Butte County Agriculture Commission.

Orchards are drying out quicker because of the lack of rain and snow.

Farmers started the irrigation period a lot earlier than a given year in order to keep their crops afloat.

Heringer told Action News Now they are watching soil moisture levels very closely to make sure they are not overwatering any trees.

This is where he found success in the 2015 drought, and he hopes this practice will continue to help now.

RELATED: California expands drought emergency to large swath of state

When it comes to water bills, California Water said people will not see an increase just yet.

“We are going into this drought with about 30% less usage from our customers than we had in 2013,” said George Barber, Oroville and Chico District Manager for Cal Water. “That’s a big help going into our second drought.

During a similar drought in 2015, Cal Water did not impose an across-the-board surcharge.

"We implemented individualized water budgets for each of our customers based off of their own historical water use,” said Yvonne Kingman, from Cal Water. “There would be a surcharge if they exceeded the water budget."

Barber said the best thing people can do right now is to continue to conserve as much as possible.

"Manage your irrigation outside,” said Barber. “Self-regulate and take some research into your plants, and what kind of water demands they really have."

Low snowpack and water storage levels were not the only thing to trigger the 2015 drought declaration.

It was because it was the fourth dry year in a row.

The California Public Utilities Commission told Action News Now in a statement that since the state is currently under voluntary conservation, rate increases are not being considered at this time.

RELATED: A dry Lake Oroville is causing worry about the summer boating season

The drought is also causing more areas to catch on fire than usual.

Captain John Gaddie from CAL FIRE Butte County told Action News Now that they are not too worried about obtaining water to put out fires because of their loyal water tenders.

These are trucks that carry water to fire locations.

Most of these tenders are volunteers and they have already jumped into action to help CAL FIRE with these early season fires.

Gaddie said the only concern with getting water to fires might be for the helicopters.

“They use private ponds or private ranches that they locate from the air, and those might not necessarily be there as they have been in years past,” said Gaddie. “Our helicopters will find another water source to put water on the fire.”

The helicopters have a lot of different reservoir sources around here and can even dip in the Sacramento River.

Gaddie said the drought has a bigger impact on fire fuels than it does on getting water.

For more information about how to save water, visit California Water Service's website. 

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