California and the Eastern Sierra is entering its third consecutive year of drought. Snowpack levels are at historical lows and local farmers, ranchers, and gardeners will likely face tough decisions in the coming months.
On January 28, the Inyo County Board of Supervisors issued an drought proclamation. (2014 Inyo Drought Proclamation)
The current drought situation can be examined at this map of the Western states by the US Drought Monitor.
Assuming you have access to irrigation water, management becomes more critical during water periods of water restriction. The CIMIS irrigation system can help you manage create a water budget based on plant need determined by a complex weather station. Stations are located in Bishop and in Owens Lake. Areas away from this—most of Mono Co. and southeast Inyo Co.—will have to rely on experience and plant monitoring or regional averages.
UC ANR is creating a drought resources page on the web. Currently you can find good information on irrigation management, particularly how to schedule based on evapotransipiration. (What is evapotranspiration?)
Utah State University has posted several of its college-level irrigation courses online. A class for landscape irrigation and production agriculture are available. The sections related to scheduling and water budgets will be useful.
Well drillers are in high demand now. If you think your well may be at risk of drying, you would be well-advised to contact a driller sooner rather than later to get on their schedule.
Additional resources for ranchers and gardeners are available below.
Livestock and Range
UC Agriculture and Natural Resources has a number of materials available to assist ranchers in making decisions during periods of drought.
We have listed some resources below of common questions. If your management issue is not addressed and you need assistance please contact us.
A quick summary of steps for ranchers is available in this publication: Drought Management During Drought (UCANR)
There are important tax considerations that may affect your decisions this year. The National Cattlemen's Beef Association has prepared this document: NCBA Tax Document
USDA has allocated $20M toward drought relief efforts in California. There are 2 pools: cropland and rangeland. This is being administered through NRCS's EQIP program, which you should be familiar with. Contact our NRCS office at (760) 872-6111. Deadline is March 3 for this funding. Here is a link.
Poisoning of livestock is a more serious concern during droughts when more palatable foods may be in short supply. Fortunately the Eastern Sierra has fewer species than most of the state, but the risk is still there. This publication lists poisonous plants, which species of livestock are affected, and where these weeds can be found. It includes symptoms. The Inyo/Mono Farm Advisor and Agricultural Commissioner's offices can help you identify weeds, if needed.
The UC Davis Rangeland Watershed Laboratory has prepared numerous resources including results of surveys where producers reported how they managed drought. (Remember every operation and every year are different.) These resources include:
- Ranchers' Perspectives and Management Strategies
- Key Drought Publications
- Alternative Feeds
- Poisoning, Nutritional Risks
- and more...
- Links to drought-monitoring and climate resources
In late January, the Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center hosted a full-day course on drought management for livestock operators. Topics included: (Agenda)
- Forage production
- Assistance Programs
The speakers' slides and handouts are available online at the BOTTOM HALF of the page. (You do not need to respond to the survey.)
Landscapes and Gardens
Gardens and landscapes can be severely affected by drought. Management during drought, or planning for it, uses these 5 strategies:
- Planting dought-tolerant species and cultivars
- Watering based on plant need not calendar schedules
- Ensuring irrigation systems are functioning properly and efficiently
- Irrigating the entire root zone to encourage deep rooting and more access to water and nutrients
- Avoiding additional stresses such as close mowing and bare, unmulched soils
In the Eastern Sierra, the two easiest to implement changes are to use mulch and to adjust your irrigation schedule so that you wetting the entire root zone in accordance with plant need. Less frequent, deep watering is better than frequent shallow watering.
Turf is a high water-use system. Since turf has important benefits in the landscape, simply improving irrigation practices can yield tremendous water savings. With a few exceptions, it should not be necessary to irrigate turf daily, and twice-daily irrigation should never be needed. Longer-term solutions include using warm-season grasses where applicable.
Mulching shrubs, vegetables, and annuals will reduce their water loss to evaporation and cool the soils. You may experience more pest problems as a result, but careful monitoring can deal with this.
The Inyo-Mono Master Gardener webpage has drought-related information for gardens.