The online RCAP Resources Library has a variety of resources that are useful to small, rural drinking water and wastewater systems.

7 Steps to Effective Drought Contingency Planning

A Drop of Knowledge E-Newsletter
August 2014

Drought Mitigation

Lessons from RCAC’s Drought Mitigation Planning Workshops

By Neil Worthen, Rural Community Assistance Corporation (RCAC)


California’s three-year drought is on track to be one of the worst in state history. It is causing economic harm to farmers, ranchers, and farmworkers, threatening the water supplies of cities and towns, and harming numerous animal species that rely on water flowing through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. As of July, most large state and federal water project reservoirs in California were at less than half their capacity with another dry summer ahead.


California Governor Jerry Brown declared a State of Emergency in January and directed state water officials and public water systems to prepare for water shortages. Brown also convened an interagency Drought Task Force to provide a coordinated assessment of the state’s dry conditions and make recommendations on current and future state actions. Twenty-seven cities and counties have officially declared water shortage emergencies and 58 public systems are enforcing mandatory water use restrictions.


On March 1, Governor Brown approved a $687 million emergency drought relief package to take effect immediately. As a result, the State Water Resources Control Board approved $4 million in funding from the Cleanup and Abatement Account (CAA) to provide interim replacement drinking water to struggling communities. The State Water Board will coordinate with various stakeholders to determine which communities are most at-risk and would benefit from financial assistance.


In the meantime, public water system operators and managers in the western US need to develop and implement drought contingency plans. Rural Community Assistance Corporation (RCAC) has a contract with the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) to provide online and traditional workshops for public water systems. Because many small systems lack adequate training and access to templates for drought contingency planning, CDPH requested that RCAC increase the frequency of drought contingency training for public water systems indefinitely.


RCAC’s plan is modeled on one developed by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). The TCEQ model is flexible, easily adaptable to systems large or small, and has been replicated across the rural West.


There are seven steps to effective drought contingency planning:

  1. Public involvement, which is, forming a committee of stakeholders who encourage and support a public “buy-in.”
  2. Define goals and objectives, such as targets for reduced consumption, identifying which customers can and should be restricted and which cannot, legal requirements, minimum flow requirements, etc.
  3. Assess supply and demand – identify all existing and potential water supply sources and balance these against average and peak demand, historic demand trends, use by customer sector, interior vs. exterior use, and projected future demand.
  4. Define a system-specific drought index, such as ground and/or surface water storage, stream flows, soil moisture, rainfall deficit, well drawdown levels, or other indices.
  5. Identify potential mitigation measures, such as water audits, alternative supplies, leak detection and repair, public education, restrictions/bans on non-essential use, pricing disincentives (surcharges), and finally, rationing.
  6. Assess potential impacts of mitigation measures, such as reduced revenues, customer acceptance, rate equity, legal implications, history, and implementation costs.
  7. Develop and implement the plan using the management strategies, templates, and statistics assembled during the assessment process (and presented during RCAC’s drought workshops).

As of August, 83 participants have attended RCAC’s full-day drought mitigation planning workshops, with another 189 attending an abbreviated two-hour webinar.


Learn more about sustainable approaches to utility operations with our resource guide.


Our guidebook,  Sustainable Infrastructure for Small System Public Services, provides information, worksheets, examples, case studies, and resources on water conservation, energy efficiency, and renewable energy for small utilities. This planning and resource guide includes a step-by-step process for utility decision makers, staff, and community members wanting to operate more efficient utilities. Download your guide here.

Got questions for an expert? Submit a question to be answered by one of RCAP’s field staff. Questions can be about technical, managerial, or financial matters in your system. Submit your question at

On September 9, the National Ground Water Association (NGWA) urges you to do your part to protect one of our most important natural resources, groundwater.


In the US, 44% of the population regularly depends on groundwater, and 42 million Americans rely on privately owned and operated household water wells for their drinking water supply.


To learn simple ways you can act to protect groundwater, visit the National Ground Water Association’s website.