COMMENTARY: California drought update

Shawn Novack writes that it is time for residents to conserve water voluntarily. San Luis Reservoir is at 30% of its average storage level.

This commentary was contributed by Shawn Novack, water conservation program manager with the Water Resources Association San Benito County, San Benito County Water District. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent BenitoLink or other affiliated contributors. BenitoLink invites 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. 


Governor Newsom said Californians could soon face mandatory statewide water restrictions — but likely not until fall. However, California’s devastating drought and ever-expanding fire season have their own schedules.

Locally, we are at Stage 1 of the Water Shortage Contingency Plan (WSCP) that is part of the collaborative Urban Water Management Plan for the City of Hollister, Sunnyslope County Water District and the San Benito County Water District. Stage 1 calls for voluntary water conservation measures. To see the list of voluntary actions, go to:

Each area of our state has different hydrology and ways to weather the drought. Fortunately, our county is in better shape than many others throughout the state.  In addition to being a source of water supply, our groundwater basin also provides emergency water storage. That’s why our area is at Stage 1 (voluntary) of the WSCP rather than higher levels of water restrictions that are being implemented in other areas of our state.

On the California Department of Water Resources website for reservoir conditions, it shows 52% of average reservoir storage for this time of year. As of September 7, San Luis Reservoir was at 30% of average.

The weather outlook for September through November, prepared by meteorologists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, suggests that above-average temperatures are likely across almost all the West, except for Washington and parts of Idaho, Montana and North Dakota.

That spells bad news for California since many residents are experiencing major effects of drought now, including dwindling water supplies, stunted crops, barren grazing lands and exploding wildfires.

The lack of storms from atmospheric rivers and snowpack run-off is to blame for the lack of water in reservoirs. The soils were so dry, the little water California received, in terms of snowpack, was unable to saturate soils and produce the needed runoff to fill rivers and reservoirs.

“We will need 140% of average precipitation to get average run off. It shows how truly dry we are,” Jones said.

In 2011, storms from the Gulf of Alaska helped to provided better snowpack. The 2018-19 water year was also better than average, but since then, it’s been below average water and drought years.

The big focus now is on underground storage basins. In San Benito County we depend on groundwater, especially in dry years like this when our allocation of imported water has been severely diminished due to drought. Our groundwater basin can hold approximately 500,000 acre-feet of water. Due to our last big series of storms in 2017 and some good-sized allocations of water around that same period, the San Benito County Water District (SBCWD) was able to percolate water into the groundwater basin. The groundwater report that is produced annually showed the basin was almost full at the beginning of this latest drought.

The SBCWD has managed our groundwater basin sustainably as shown in the process of developing a Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) to comply with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), that was passed in 2014. The North San Benito Basin was formed in 2019 by consolidating the previous Bolsa, Hollister, San Juan Bautista, and Tres Pinos Valley basins. The North San Benito Basin is largely in San Benito County with small areas in Santa Clara County. SBCWD has prepared a Groundwater Sustainability Plan for the basin in cooperation with Santa Clara Valley Water District. This document is currently in a 90-day comment period and can be viewed at:

There is no way of knowing when this drought will end. That’s why we must all act now and conserve water. Even though our groundwater basin has a large supply of stored water, it’s not endless and we must preserve that water in case we are faced with another dry year or worse case, multiple dry years.

For a free leak and water efficiency check at your home or business call the Water Resources Association of San Benito County at  831-637-4378.

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.