COLUMN: We must prepare for drought to continue

Shawn Novack writes that we should use last year as a lesson- early rain doesn't mean the drought is over.

This Column was contributed by Shawn Novack, water conservation program manager with the Water Resources Association San Benito County. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent BenitoLink or other affiliated contributors. BenitoLink invites all community members to share their ideas and opinions. By registering as a BenitoLink user in the top right corner of our home page and agreeing to follow our Terms of Use, you can write counter opinions or share your insights on current issues.


While December’s rain and snow show promise, water managers remember the same thing happened last year — epic early storms followed by the driest January through March in California’s recorded history.

After three dry years, all of us are hoping for some reprieve this winter. But the tough reality is, we must be prepared for this historic drought to continue.

Substantial and immediate conservation now and in the coming months will help lessen the potential severity of another year of little or no allocation from the Central Valley Project (CVP).  The CVP is a system of dams and canals that moves surface water from the Sacramento Valley to other parts of state.

San Benito County accesses CVP water that is stored at San Luis Reservoir in Merced County. The San Benito County Water District pumps this water through Pacheco Pass in a pressurized pipe. This system is called the San Felipe Project. The San Felipe Project delivers imported CVP water to irrigation, municipal and industrial customers throughout northern San Benito County. Because of the drought, we received no water from this system last year.

Everyone in the Hollister-San Juan groundwater basin benefits from the imported water because the purchased water helps balance the overall water needs in the basin, is superior in quality to groundwater pumped from local aquifers, is more conducive to crop growth and vastly improves our drinking water quality.

Early drought planning and conservation is working to help stretch our local water supply. Although earlier this year, Californians were slow to respond to drought warnings. In fact, their usage went up last spring. Californians emerged from the driest January, February and March on record with the biggest jump in water use since the drought began: a nearly 19% increase in March compared to two years earlier.

But many Californians have stepped up since then. In October, statewide urban water use dropped 12.6% compared to October of 2020.

Year to date locally, total water usage in October was 5% lower than in 2020 and 2021 and 12% lower than in 2013 despite the growth since then.

Still, the cumulative savings (only 5 % compared to 2020) fall far short of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s request for a 15% cut. 

Water conservation is a way of life. For many Californians, it already is. The state’s residents have streamlined their water use and reduced waste for decades.

Here in the Hollister – San Juan Bautista urban areas, water usage in gallons per capita per day (gpcd) remains low at 89 gpcd which is equal to what was achieved during the 2014-2017 drought. Gpcd usage has reduced 13.9% from 2020 and 7.4% from 2021. It is down 29% from 2013 and 36% from 2007 which was the highest gpcd usage year.

That is a good indication that adjustments can be made as things get drier and the population increases.

To make sure you are using water efficiently, call the Water Resources Association San Benito County (WRASBC). They can do a free leak check and irrigation system assessment. They also have rebates available to assist water customers be more water efficient. They recently received new funds to continue their Turf Removal Program.

Installing a water efficient garden can really assist our community in reducing our water demand. Over 50% of residential water use is dedicated to landscapes.

Stage II Water Conservation Regulations have been in effect since last May and will remain in effect for the foreseeable future. You can go to the website referenced below to view the regulations.

The WRASBC can be reached at (831) 637-4378 or visit their website at:




Shawn Novack

Shawn Novack is the Director of the Water Resources Association of San Benito County. The Association represents the City of Hollister, the City of San Juan Bautista, the Sunnyslope County Water District and the San Benito County Water District for all their water conservation and water resource protection programs. Shawn has been in the field of water conservation for 20 years. He has a certification as a Water Conservation Practioner from the American Water Works Association California/Nevada Chapter. He also is a Certified Landscape Irrigation Auditor through the Irrigation Association in Virginia. Before getting into the water industry, Shawn worked as a technical writer for the Naval Research Center in Monterey.