North Bay drought persists in 2022, despite preceding downpours

Top local business stories of 2022

The last week of the year, the Journal reflects on key trends that moved the North Bay economy.

North Bay farmers, fire agencies and other water stakeholders prepare to enter a new year hoping to avoid a “Groundhog Day” movie-like repeat of events akin to 2022’s.

2022 ended much like 2021, with downpours creating a sense of optimism of more consistent rain. However, if early 2023 weather patterns mimic 2022’s, the fear exists that the North Bay will see more drought in the coming years.

And judging from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s winter drought outlook that spans Dec. 15 to March 31, 2023, the Golden State is blanketed by severe drought conditions.

Last March, NOAA announced in its spring outlook that runs through June that the West was plunged into another La Nina-inspired year of drought.

The tropical weather phenomenon embodies a water mass off the shores of South America where climatologists get a sence of future weather patterns.

NOAA meteorologist Brad Pugh singled out the Bay Area as an area of “concern” in respect to wildfire danger and water resources drying up, he told the Business Journal on a summer press conference call. A relatively quiet fire season didn’t quell the loss of sleep farmers experienced.

North Bay drought conditions

Get NOAA’s current details on water supply and outlook for the region’s six counties:

Sonoma County

Solano County

Marin County

Napa County

Mendocino County

Lake County

Marin County farmers with cattle or dairy cows were forced to truck in water, with its Agriculture Commissioner Stefan Parnay sharing his concern “some dairies are going to go under.” Bivalve Farm outside Pt. Reyes entertained implementing a number of unconventional farming methods to make the water go farther — including assembling robots to scrape the barn instead of using hoses to wash away the manure.

In Sonoma County, a farming fixture in the southern part of the county, Albert Straus, introduced seaweed into his cows’ diets to make up for the lack of hay and grass. As it turns out, the bovines liked it.

With some farms in the West estimating losses at least $100,000 as reported in October in the Business Journal, farms that have undergone the support of generations are finding it harder and harder to carry on.

Last spring, longtime Santa Rosa dairy farmer Doug Beretta estimated spending at least $2,500 more per load of hay — two to three times more than other years’ — to feed his cows. And the price of fuel added to the expense as farmers in the West have been forced to drive farther to get the feed.

The perfect storm in 2022’s drought year has also prompted water managers to scramble. Sonoma Water tapped into a $6.9 million grant earmarked to use to get more wells operational.

With the water infrastructure becoming a priority, state lawmakers drafting the 2021-22 budget set aside more than $5 billion to address water resiliency projects.

Even with atmospheric rivers and other storms blessing the North Bay toward the end of 2022, NOAA hydrologists contend the West has a long way to go to make up for its dry spells.

“We need a lot of water to bust this drought,” NOAA hydrologist Daniel McEvoy told reporters on its drought outlook call at the end of November.

Susan Wood covers law, cannabis, production, tech, energy, transportation, agriculture as well as banking and finance. For 27 years, Susan has worked for a variety of publications including the North County Times, Tahoe Daily Tribune and Lake Tahoe News. Reach Wood at 530-545-8662 or

Top local business stories of 2022

The last week of the year, the Journal reflects on key trends that moved the North Bay economy.

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