State water officials are urging residents and local water agencies to begin preparing for the possibility that 2014 could be a third dry year.
The California Department of Water Resources issued the cautionary statement Thursday partly because the state will head into winter with hardly any surplus water in its reservoirs as a cushion against drought. That is because the cushion is being drained off by the dry year now under way.
Problems could be especially acute for small water systems that rely on groundwater, said Jeanine Jones, DWR interstate resources manager.
"Smaller systems don't have a lot of staff capacity, so often they don't even do such basic things as regularly monitor groundwater levels or maintain their wells," Jones said.
The department plans a series of drought preparedness workshops for small water systems, mostly in Southern California, starting Sept. 24 and running through October.
On Tuesday, the issue will also be the focus of a joint meeting in Sacramento of the California Water Commission and the State Board of Food and Agriculture. The meeting is from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Department of Food and Agriculture, 1220 N St.
DWR also plans to release an experimental long-term forecast at the end of November in an attempt to assess whether winter will be wet or dry.
Jones urged Californians to heed any conservation messages from their local water agency. In addition, she said all residents should closely watch their landscape watering, where simple actions can save a lot of water.
"Turn off your sprinklers when it's raining," she said. "Research has shown a huge percentage of people who have automatic sprinklers never change the setting. Be attentive to your landscape, and don't overwater it."
Contact The Bee's Matt Weiser at (916) 321-1264. Follow him on Twitter @matt_weiser.