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Dry ground vs a healthy river

A Vision for Improving Drought Preparedness in the Face of a Drier Climate

2021 was one of the driest years on record in California and 2022 is shaping up to be even worse. Our rivers — the source of life for fish, wildlife, and people — are running dry. Native salmon populations, most already threatened with extinction, are struggling with extremely low streamflows. Many communities are concerned about having enough water for their health and safety needs.
Climate models show that drought in California is not a temporary or “emergency” condition — it is a permanent feature of our drying climate.
In our children’s lifetimes, over half of California’s freshwater species could go extinct and water supplies for communities and farms will become even more unreliable. We can do more to prepare for dry years and avoid the worst impacts, but only if our state recognizes that drought is our new norm and acts accordingly.

It is time for California to get serious about our state’s drought response. We need a proactive approach that aligns planning, water policy, and smart public investment to accelerate the pace and scale of drought preparedness.

The California Salmon and Steelhead Coalition has a vision for this transition and a plan to build water resilience for people and native species:

  1. Management plans for dry years. We need actionable plans for applying legal tools that already exist within the water rights system to protect streamflows when dry conditions arrive.
  2. Funding for modern water management changes. Drought resilience will require water users to adjust when and where they take water from rivers and streams. Public funding can help water users make changes by cost sharing  where appropriate.
  3. Improved water permitting policy. Right now, our water rights system isn’t set up to make the regulatory changes needed to fight ongoing drought impacts. We need these changes fast and on a state-wide scale.
  4. Agency capacity to implement drought response. We need full-time staff at the Water Board and other state agencies dedicated to planning for dry years, armed with the latest technology and data.

Proposed Legislation: Improving California’s Drought Planning and Response

This year, Assembly member Jim Wood introduced AB 2451, legislation that represents a major step toward our vision to improve drought response in California. The bill would:

  1. Create a new and permanent Drought Section within the State Water Resources Control Board whose primary focus will be on drought planning, drought response, and improving climate resilience for water management in California.
  2. Direct the Water Board to create actionable, proactive drought plans for the North and Central Coast regions to ensure our rural coastal communities and salmon fisheries are resilient against future dry years.

The Salmon and Steelhead Coalition strongly supports this legislation.