The North Coast region felt the brunt of the drought last year and had the first counties under an emergency declaration. While the two reservoirs supplying farms and cities are in slightly better condition than this time last year, water managers are taking extra precautions to conserve supplies.
Dairies, meanwhile, have taken drastic measures, according to Tawny Tesconi, executive director of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau. During a recent townhall meeting, Tesconi described how dairies have been hauling in water for their herds over the past year. Nearly all the county’s dairies are organic and must have cows out to pasture for at least 120 days a year. With the lack of forage, however, farmers have struggled to find costly organic feed and have responded by reducing herd sizes. Two dairies have recently gone out of business as a result.
Vegetable farmers have been hit hardest, with many dropping from 150 acres of production to less than 50. The county grows more than 40 crops, but Tesconi expects that will diminish. She worried groundwater sustainability fees will drive even more small farmers out of business.
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Tesconi also pushed back on concerns that vineyards are expanding. She noted that thousands of acres have gone fallow the last couple of years and no more than 60 acres have been planted in the last year.
As a silver lining, December rains did fill a lot of on-farm reservoirs and holding ponds, with farmers feeling they are going into the season a little better than last year, she said.
Meanwhile, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office has announced it is implementing $22.5 million in spending from the state budget to support CDFA and water agencies with immediate drought relief. About $8 million of that will finance water conservation campaigns for residents.