Farmers and ranchers prepare for drought consequences

Carolyn Shipp
Staff Writer
Farmers and ranchers from all over Plumas and Sierra County gather in the Golden West restaurant in Loyalton to discuss tactics on impending struggles due to the drought. Photo by Carolyn Shipp

The severe drought in the state has united Plumas and Sierra County ranchers and farmers. They are forming a front to take on the looming struggles ahead. 

A group of more than 30 prominent agriculturalists and government officials met at the Golden West Saloon Restaurant in Loyalton on Jan. 30 to discuss the impending consequences the drought will have on agriculture.

“There won’t be any mosquitoes. There’s the good news,” said the Sierra Valley watermaster from the Department of Water Resources, Jim Scarborough. 

The overall news from the Water Resources Board was that there would not be enough surface water from reservoirs and rivers to sustain the average demand for water from ranches and farms.

“We need a dozen more storms like these,” said the department watermaster for Indian Valley, Chris Reilly, as he gestured to the downpour happening outside the restaurant.

County department head and livestock/natural resources advisor Holly George hosted the meeting to discuss tactics for the coming months. The goal was to educate the business owners on the realities of the drought so they could hash out potential options.

Representatives from all over the county came to address the problem. Though the turnout was good, the overall news was somber. 

“It’s hard to have good news when you have sunny days all the time,” said Beckwourth Ranger District Representative Deb Bumpus.

The meeting highlighted some of the consequences of the drought, which could entail minimal runoff, premature diversion and water usage, loss of water priority privileges and a loss of public land usage due to a lack of “green-up.”

Bumpus stated that without sufficient foliage, the Forest Service might not allow ranchers to graze their livestock on public land at all.

The drought may not be the worst aspect of California’s state of emergency, however.

“Droughts come and go, but every time we get them we get more regulations that don’t go away. Ever,” said one concerned rancher.

The agriculture sector could potentially have a pile of extra regulations on groundwater usage that would further complicate the predicament.

Many attendees suggested drilling wells, as there are fewer restrictions on underground water.

“But hurry,” one member said, suggesting that restrictions might come soon enough.

George presented different options to the public, including contacting the state Water Board’s Drought Year Hotline at 916-341-5342 and joining the Farmer-Rancher Drought Forum Facebook group.

She also said there will be a drought management workshop Feb. 22 from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Sierra Valley Grange in Vinton and concerned ranchers and farmers are welcome.


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