Drought in the West Coast Region
Climate change is projected to lead to more frequent and severe droughts on the West Coast.
Changes in our climate and our oceans are having very real and profound effects on the natural resources we depend on—including our fisheries and coastal habitats. Our science indicates that environmental changes, such as droughts, will increase with continued shifts in the planet’s climate system. Droughts have always been part of the West Coast region’s climate but they are becoming more frequent and severe as predicted.
The West Coast Region is working hard to understand, monitor, and adapt to drought impacts to sustain our invaluable marine and freshwater resources for generations to come. We recognize the urgency of the ecological and economic threats that droughts can impose. We work with federal, tribal, state and local governments, farmers, and communities to work together to navigate the challenges posed by drought.
Habitats in the West Coast region are also at risk. Drought and low flows cause water temperatures in river systems to rise, reducing spawning and increasing disease risk for fish and reducing survival for eggs, youth, and adult fish.
These conditions present significant and urgent challenges to water-dependent communities, businesses, and resources including at-risk populations of fish and the freshwater habitats upon which they depend. These challenges and risks will perpetuate if water scarcity and drought conditions continue.
The West Coast Region has been deeply involved in efforts to monitor and respond to the effects of drought. Information collected during drought events provides valuable information to be better prepared and more adept at responding to future drought events. The Region supports research to understand and help prepare for drought in order to sustain our invaluable marine resources for generations to come. The goal is to minimize impacts, protect and reintroduce endangered fish populations, adapt to the changes that are coming, and ensure future healthy marine and freshwater ecosystems.
California Voluntary Drought Initiative
NOAA Fisheries, in collaboration with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, collectively launched a community program called the Voluntary Drought Initiative.
This program recognizes the severe constraints the drought is likely to have on agriculture and fish in California and is targeted to work with small water users in high priority areas throughout the state. The Initiative seeks to develop temporary, voluntary water conservation and in-stream flow agreements with water users in high-priority salmon and steelhead rivers and streams in exchange for short-term relief from enforcement standards of the Endangered Species Act. This is a strictly voluntary program with the objective to improve the likelihood of ESA-listed fish survival throughout the drought.
Each agreement under the Initiative describes targeted stream and river flows considered by NOAA Fisheries and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to be the lowest flows necessary to support the survival of fish in the specific stream or river reaches they address, based on the best available scientific information. The Initiative seeks to protect mutual interests through voluntary partnerships. Water users who contribute voluntary minimum in-stream flows to priority salmon and steelhead rivers and streams can help improve the likelihood that listed fish will survive the drought.
What Can I Do?
With our region’s coastal communities and fishing industries particularly vulnerable to drought, NOAA Fisheries offers tools to help citizens and businesses understand climate changes happening around them and in the marine ecosystem.
The U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit, accessible via Climate.gov, offers data-driven tools, information, and subject-matter expertise to help people make smart decisions. The toolkit offers information from across the federal government in one easy-to-use location so that you can better understand the climate-related risks and opportunities and take steps to improve resilience.
NOAA Fisheries provides detailed information on the vulnerability of fish stocks, marine species distributions, and international data portals to help outside organizations understand specific changes related to our fisheries.
West Coast region residents can help! Surface and groundwater users can help lessen drought impacts. Even small efforts can cumulatively result in significant benefits for flows and fish. Here are a few ways you can help:
- Reduce diversions or run-off from surface and groundwater sources
- Conserve water, limit non-food irrigation, and reuse greywater (i.e., water from sinks, showers, baths, washing machines, or dishwashers)
- Coordinate diversion timing with neighbors to reduce cumulative effects
- Prepare for ongoing and future drought by storing water (e.g., rain collection, roof water harvesting, or tank storage).
- California Department of Water Resources
- California State Water Boards
- Northern California Water Association
- NOAA NIDIS Drought webpage
- NOAA Climate.gov
- U.S. Drought Monitor
- CDFW Drought-Related Actions, 20212-2017 Drought
- Bureau of Reclamation Drought Portal
- CAL Matters Drought Series
- VDI News Release
- CA State Water Board Presentation
- Coastal Residents Outreach
- General Residents Outreach
- West Coast Regional Climate Action Plan
- NOAA Drought Media Guide
- NOAA Fisheries Climate Change
- Central Valley Drought Videos:
For more information, please contact (916) 930-3600 or CalCoastalVDI@noaa.gov.