Drought affects crops, livestock as well as groundwater

Posted at 11:57 AM, Sep 30, 2021

Representatives from San Luis Obispo County told KSBY that this autumn and winter are going to be indicators of just how severe this drought will be. If we have another dry year like 2021, California will see the effects reverberate in the near future.

One of the most prominent industries on the Central Coast is agriculture. And the lack of rainfall not only affects crops, but livestock owners would also see major impacts.

Marc Lea, the Assistant Agricultural Commissioner for the County of San Luis Obispo Agricultural Department, explained, “Biggest ones would be the cattle industry will be the one that's directly impacted first, dry land, grain growers who are relying exclusively on rainfall, and then we'll start seeing problems with the other growers - vegetables, strawberries, vineyards - as salinity builds up in the soil and the plants are not as healthy as they should be.”

Officials in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties say most growers on the Central Coast use groundwater.

“Folks in agriculture, are going to have to increase their irrigation obviously to account for greater water use by crops, and we're seeing these effects, especially in groundwater, so water levels tend to dry down during droughts, and as a result, you know, folks with shallow wells might see some impacts,” said Matt Young, Water Agency Manager for Santa Barbara County.

County officials said farmers practice techniques to conserve groundwater already, using soil moisture sensors and wind machines instead of overhead watering.

Local governments in California are required to create groundwater sustainability agencies to come up with plans to avoid over-pumping groundwater.

In 2014, California passed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) to protect groundwater basins from lowering water levels.

“So the groundwater sustainability plans have 20 years to implement the projects and management in management actions that will avoid the negative consequences of over, over-pumping groundwater,” said Young.

Over-pumping groundwater can worsen the drinking water quality and affect ground elevation.

“And that'll be some of the first regulations on groundwater pumping that we've had in California, and those are in the works, but not in place yet,” said Lea.

The groundwater sustainability agencies will create plans to help protect groundwater over the next 20 years.