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Drought update: Stanislaus County reaches driest level since 2017
drought map may 4

Drought statistics updated this week show that dry conditions continue to worsen throughout California, with the percentage of the state experiencing the second-highest level of drought up 20% from last week. 

The U.S. Drought Monitor shows that as of May 4 about 73% of the state is suffering from the extreme drought, up from 53% the week prior. The monitor focuses on broadscale conditions and drought data is communicated using a five-level system: abnormally dry, moderate drought, severe drought, extreme drought and exceptional drought. Just over 5% of the state has experienced exceptional drought conditions over the last two weeks. 

Stanislaus County is experiencing extreme drought for the first time since 2017, and the last time the county was in extreme drought was in April 2016.

The drought conditions persist as Turlock Irrigation District records a water year that is just 53% of average for the date — and the second-straight year of dry conditions in the region. The Tuolumne River Watershed received less than an inch of rainfall in April, while the historical average for the month is normally several inches.

The low precipitation numbers are comparable to other historically-dry years recorded by TID, 1977 and 2013, which both were the second years of separate, prolonged droughts. The lack of rainfall has contributed to a significantly below average snowpack as well; as of Friday, the Central Sierra snowpack was 14% of normal for the date, while the statewide snowpack sits at just 10%

Gov. Gavin Newsom has yet to declare a statewide drought emergency, but has done so for two counties: Sonoma and Mendocino. The declaration also orders state agencies to work with local districts across California to address drought conditions through conservation, funding for water supply improvements and assistance monitoring drinking water wells. 

According to the governor’s office, these steps will bolster drought resilience and prepare for impacts on communities, businesses and ecosystems should dry conditions extend to a third year. 

“California is facing the familiar reality of drought conditions, and we know the importance of acting early to anticipate and mitigate the most severe impacts where possible,” Newsom said. “Climate change is intensifying both the frequency and the severity of dry periods. This ‘new normal’ gives urgency to building drought resilience in regions across the state and preparing for what may be a prolonged drought at our doorstep.”

Central Valley legislators, like Turlock’s State Senator Andreas Borgeas, have called upon the Governor to declare the emergency for all of California, which would make funding available for farmers and others who are sure to suffer due to the lack of water.

Borgeas and other lawmakers had previously sent the governor two requests asking for a statewide declaration of emergency, with the second noting U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s similar letter to Newsom which alerted him of 50 California counties, including Stanislaus, that had been designated by the Biden Administration as primary natural disaster areas due to drought. 

On April 19 the county board chairs from Stanislaus, Madera, Tulare, Kings, Kern, Merced, Fresno and San Joaquin Counties sent a letter to Newsom in support of Valley legislators’ request to declare an emergency.

“California farmers need to make decisions now,” Borgeas said. “We can’t wait until the zenith of the drought to take action. Declaring an emergency will allow state agencies to cut through red tape and deliver more water to Valley farms. We can’t afford to wait any longer.”