As rangelands dry up, USDA will likely be the first to declare a drought emergency, said Water Resources Director Karla Nemeth on Tuesday. This will open up assistance to ranchers, who tend to be at ground zero for California droughts.

Nemeth, in presenting to the State Ag Board, said certain counties will declare a state of emergency as well. During the last drought, Santa Barbara, Kern and a few other counties lingered in emergency situations much longer than others. Currently the Russian River is of great concern, she said.

The governor, however, is not likely to declare a statewide drought emergency anytime soon.

“We don't believe we need emergency powers at the state level to be doing the things we need to be doing to manage through this year,” said Nemeth. “If next year is very dry, we will absolutely be in an emergency drought proclamation.”

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The hope is that eventually the state will no longer need to declare emergencies. Continuous conservation measures would allow for minimal disruption to all parts of the economy, particularly ag, explained Nemeth.

The drought comes at a difficult time, as the state is in the midst of implementing groundwater sustainability plans as well as water use efficiency standards.

“If we had our druthers, this drought would have happened 18 months from now,” said Nemeth.