Drought Resources

Water and Drought Resources for Organic Operations

This page is dedicated to keeping certified organic farmers across the nation aware of water issues that may impact their operations.

We are frequently updating this page as more information and resources become available. LAST UPDATE: March 10, 2017

Recent developments:

  • USDA Disaster Resource Center provides information on local and state help for a wide range of disaster types including drought and flooding, as well as federal programs.
  • The California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services has published a brochure that lists emergency assistance resources for veterans and others, “Assistance and Services for Disaster Recovery.”
  • As of the end of February 2017, 91% of California was no longer in a state of drought, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center’s U.S. Drought Monitor. The California snowpack has accumulated 180% of normal snow water equivalents as of March 3, 2017.
  • California farmers have high hopes for the new federal water bill, the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act, signed into law by President Obama in Dec. 2016, while environmentalists fear the new law will harm endangered fish populations in the Delta.
  • The director of UC Davis’s Center for Watershed Sciences, Jay Lund, published an opinion piece on the need for water markets in California, writing “Regulation has been an important stop-gap approach to slow environmental degradation, but is insufficient for environmental recovery or management.” 
  • California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) requires that a regional group form in each of the state’s 127 high and medium priority groundwater basins by June 30, 2017, to develop a plan by 2020 to achieve sustainable groundwater use by the year 2040. The state of California maintains a California Groundwater webpage that links to a SGMA Toolbox that links to resources for implementing SGMA. Additional information is posted on the Sustainable Groundwater Management webpage
    California farmers who utilize irrigation are subject to regulation under the Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program. Details vary by region so we encourage all growers to become familiar with the specific agricultural order to which they are subject.
  • In fall 2016, USDA’s National Organic Program allowed temporary variances to the livestock pasture rule in regions of the Northeast that are drought disaster areas. The temporary variances are in effect in parts of Maine, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York, and New Hampshire. Find out more from this list from the National Organic Program.
  • UC Cooperative Extension: View the list of upcoming Cooperative Extension drought-related events.
  • Water Deeply is an independent digital media project dedicated to covering California’s water crisis. It publishes news articles and analysis on water issues.
  • CDFA Drought Resources Page: Includes a list of federal and state agencies and various assistance programs.  
  • California Sequía Información y Recursos

Financial Assistance/Grants/Help

A number of federal programs continue to offer support for farmers and ranchers affected by drought and other natural disasters. Contact your local Farm Service Agency office for more information on these programs: Livestock Indemnity Program, Livestock Forage Program, Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program, Tree Assistance Program, Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees and Farm-Raised Fish Program.

Agricultural operators in all counties designated as natural disaster areas may qualify for low interest emergency (EM) loans of up to $500,000 through the Farm Service Agency (FSA). This page links to USDA’s Disaster Designation Information. Farmers and ranchers in designated counties have eight months from the date of the declaration to apply for an EM loan to help cover part of their actual losses. To verify the deadline for application in your area and to apply, contact your county's FSA office.

CCOF Foundation’s Organic Hardship Assistance – The Bricmont Fund: This is the only fund that provides direct financial assistance exclusively to organic producers, processors, and handlers who suffer losses due to extreme hardship. Since 2007, CCOF has distributed hardship assistance funds to offset certification costs for members of the organic community who are in need. The program will be open for applications in fall 2017.

Farm Service Agency Livestock Forage Disaster Program Eligibility Tool: Use this tool to find out if you are eligible for livestock forage disaster assistance.

$50,000 Microloan Program through FSA: Microloans are direct farm operating loans designed to meet the needs of smaller operations, including beginning farms, truck farms, CSA farms, and farms using organic and other methods. The maximum amount that can be borrowed increased from $35,000 to $50,000 last year. Learn more about microloansa. To apply, contact your local FSA office.

NRCS Drought Conservation Assistance to California Farmers and Ranchers: Find out how to write a conservation plan that will be the basis for applying for assistance. The site also provides information on applying for EQIP and the Emergency Watershed Protection Program and links to additional information. 

The CA Department of Community Services and Development offers a range of services to low income families. Programs vary by county. Click here for a map that will take you to a listing of services in your county.

The California Dept. of Housing and Community Development offers a drought housing rental subsidies program for eligible individuals and families in nearly 30 counties. More information on the Drought Housing Rental Subsidies program is available by calling La Cooperativa at 916-388-2228.

Donate Don’t Dump: This statewide gleaning program collects 10-12 million pounds of food from growers and packing houses throughout California and distributes it to food banks. A related program is Farm to Family, which purchases produce that would otherwise go to waste at a reduced rate from growers and packers and distributes it to food banks.

Farm Aid: Family farm disaster fund for farmers and ranchers. List of resources for farmers, or call 1-800-FARM-AID.


Whole-Farm Revenue Protection, a new type of crop insurance designed to meet the needs of highly diverse farms, is now offered in all U.S. counties. It is designed for farms with up to $8.5 million in insured revenue including farms growing specialty or organic commodities.

Organic Crop Insurance: Organic crop insurance options continue to expand. Additional crops eligible for organic price elections were added for the 2016 crop year and more are expected to be added for 2017. As of February 2016, producers are eligible to insure their transitional crop under the contracted price rather than the conventional price. Utilize the crop insurance agent locator on the Risk Management Agency website to find an insurance agent for additional information on organic crop insurance.

Information, Resources, Tools

California Reservoir Level Map: updated daily

CDFA Drought Resources Page: Includes information in Spanish and a list of federal and state agencies and various assistance programs. En español.

USDA Drought Programs and Assistance: Provides information on a range of state and federal programs

USDA Drought Disaster Resource Page: Provides information on secretarial disaster designations, disaster announcements, and updates.

Hay Net, an internet-based service allowing farmers and ranchers to share "Need Hay" ads and "Have Hay" ads, has been expanded to allow producers to list a need for grazing acres or availability of acres for grazing.

U.S. Drought Monitor: Shows a color-coded drought map of the U.S.

An outline of the types of water rights in California is available online.

Do you have crop or processing wastes that could feed organic livestock? Post a free classified with us and help your fellow organic producers. 

UC Davis Rangeland Watershed LaboratoryManaging for Drought - Information on preparing for the various stages of drought.

Emergency Haying and Grazing: This program allows haying and grazing by producers with CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) contracts. Currently, some counties in Oregon, Montana, New York, Nebraska, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, and Utah are approved for emergency haying and grazing. 

Scientific Studies

UC Davis researchers issued a report in August estimating 2016 economic losses due to the drought in California. This report states that the drought has continued in 2016 but is less severe than in 2014 and 2015. The report estimates $550 million in costs, 78,780 acres of idled land, and almost 2,000 jobs have been lost as a direct result of the drought. Read the full report and supplementary information on the methods used to calculate the estimate of irrigated cropland idled due to drought

“California Farmers Count Every Drop with Efficient Irrigation Technologies” is a summary of California’s drought situation written by the Acting Director of California’s Climate Sub Hub, Andrew McElrone.

Learn more about USDA’s regional Climate Hubs. [This link has been deactivated though the California Climate Hub website is still active.]

“Inevitable Changes in California’s Water Supply” is an overview of the situation written by UC Davis’s Director of the Center for Watershed Sciences Jay Lund. Dr. Lund predicts that some Delta islands will flood and the San Joaquin Valley will have less irrigated land due to salinization and urbanization.

In related news, the Delta smelt is projected to go extinct within a year or two.

UC Davis researchers have developed a Soil Agricultural Groundwater Banking Index that shows which agricultural lands in California are best suited for groundwater recharge. Find more information on the index and map in the scientific article Soil suitability index identifies potential areas for groundwater banking on agricultural lands, by O’Geen et al. 2015.

A scientific paper written by researchers at Stanford University documents that occurrence of drought years in California has been greater in the past 20 years than in the previous century. Combined with normal fluxes in precipitation, human-caused global warming is increasing probability of drought in the state into the future.

The California Department of Water Resources released a report in November 2014 on groundwater conditions in the state. It documents that groundwater levels have decreased in many basins throughout the state since 2013, that subsidence is occurring in many groundwater basins especially in the southern San Joaquin River and Tulare Lake regions, and acreage of fallowed land.


  1. Groundwater Storage and Delivery Infrastructure in California
  2. Surface Water Storage and Delivery Infrastructure in California