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USDA-NRCS Drought Assistance




Drought 2014Drought 2015
Conservation Assistance to California Farmers & Ranchers

Snowpack conditions for the Northern, Central, and Southern Sierra are below normal for a fourth year in a row. The snow water equivalents are in the range of less than 10% of normal with a downward trend due to higher than normal day time temperatures and long durations between storms. The major storms that California received this year were warm in nature and did not provide significant amounts of snow to the snowpack. On April 1, 2015, Governor Brown declared a mandatory, statewide 25-percent water reduction.

Governor Brown initially declared a drought emergency on January 17, 2014. Secretary Vilsack announced $20 million through EQIP. A few days later, President Obama announced an additional $5M through the EQIP and $5M through the Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWP).  

Step 1: Get a Conservation Plan
A conservation plan is a written record of your management decisions and the conservation practices you plan to use and maintain on your land. NRCS encourages landowners to work with conservation planners to voluntarily develop a plan that meets the personal and business objectives as well as specific needs of the landscape, the landowner or manager.

NRCS conservationists can help farmers and ranchers understand what options exist for their particular water situation, soil type and production goals and develop a plan to get through the drought. Through conservation planning, many effects of drought can be addressed and/or lessened dealing with water conservation and soil health concerns.

Talk to your NRCS conservation planner about creating or updating your conservation plan and any conservation program cost-share opportunities available. In California, having a plan will give conservation program applicants a higher status when applying for competitive contracts. Plans are voluntary and are a work in progress. All information provided to NRCS for conservation planning purposes is strictly confidential.

For more information contact your local NRCS office.

Step 2: Consider Funding Opportunities Available
Nearly $40 million is being made available through USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to help drought-impacted farmers and ranchers. NRCS can help with conservation practices that have proven helpful in past droughts, such as 2009.

This funding is available to help farmers and ranchers pay for many of these practices through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Reimbursement rates typically cover about half the cost of the practice. Additionally $3 million will be made available for erosion control through the Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) Program.

Three Priorities

  1. Protecting soils made vulnerable due to water cut backs.
  2. Protecting drought-impacted rangeland.
  3. Stretching every drop of irrigation water using improved hardware and management.

Program Description & Related Documents
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Drought Fact Sheets & Related Documents
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Save the Soil
Farmers without access to adequate water to produce a crop may find themselves thrust from a water crisis to a dust crisis. Options for protecting fields vulnerable to wind erosion include cover crops, surface roughening, residue management, converting to crops that use less water, mulching, or other practices.

Some of this critical erosion protection work will also be done through the Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) program. Working with a local sponsor, the EWP program will facilitate many of the same soil protection practices accomplished through EQIP, but using the accelerated procedures available through EWP’s disaster provisions.

Conserving Rangeland
Ranching without rain is really tough. For some ranchers managing the livestock to take advantage of available grass while protecting areas from overuse, may be made easier with tools such as livestock watering systems, piping, troughs, and fencing. NRCS and the rancher develop grazing management plans to document the decisions needed to make the best use of what forage remains on the ranch.

Living with drought and climate extremes seems to be the norm in California. Maintaining the range livestock industry in the face of drought is no easy task. Mitigating drought by improving land resiliency while maintaining the most efficient herd can assist with this effort. UC Cooperative Extension along with RCD’s, NRCS and FSA have been holding drought workshops throughout the state focusing on this. The following link,, has numerous presentations that can be referred to for information on subjects ranging from by-product feeds to good culling practices. If you have specific questions call your local livestock farm advisor or your local NRCS office.

Stretching Every Drop
Farmers who have access to water and want to make every drop count, should develop irrigation water management plans with their NRCS conservationists or other consultants. Assistance to improve irrigation systems is available to help farmers working to produce a crop with a smaller allocation of water. These projects will be medium or low priority after approving projects needed to protect bare soil.

Finding a Conservationist
NRCS has offices in 55 of California’s counties. All are taking drought applications. Locate your office at

USDA Assistance Resources

Additional Resources

Updated: July 10, 2015

Other California NRCS Features