Topic: Agricultural Conservation


Agricultural Conservation

As the single largest water-consuming industry, agriculture has become a focal point for efforts to promote water conservation. The drive for water use efficiency has become institutionalized in agriculture through numerous federal, state and local programs. Since the 1980s, some water districts serving agricultural areas have developed extensive water conservation programs to help their customers (From Aquapedia).

Aquafornia news NRDC

Blog: Conservation helps farms survive—and thrive—in drought

Healthy soil is a potent tool to combat the impacts of drought on farms and ranches. By using conservation practices that build healthy soil—like cover cropping, conservation tillage, and compost—growers increase the natural water storage potential of their land. Healthy soil captures more water when it rains and holds onto that water for future crop use, allowing farms with healthy soil to deliver stable yields, even in drought years.

Aquafornia news The Business Journal

How a Madera farmer fought a new groundwater fee — and (sort of) won

A proposed fee system to manage irrigated land in Madera County has sparked a successful protest, leaving one groundwater agency unfunded and at least one farmer claiming the process was done with minimal notice. … Three newly formed groundwater sustainable agencies — Chowchilla Subbasin, the Madera Subbasin and the Delta Mendota Subbasin — are left with no funding for four ongoing groundwater projects required under California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. It’s the County of Madera that oversees the land, said Stephanie Anagnason, director of water and natural resources for Madera County.

Aquafornia news Agri-Pulse

California scrambles to avoid SGMA fallowing—and another Dust Bowl

The Public Policy Institute of California is sparking new conversations around innovative alternatives to keep farmland in production and avoid devastating environmental and health impacts from fallowing as much as a million acres of land under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. PPIC has embarked on the first major research endeavor to investigate options for keeping farmers farming and for the complex policymaking needed to finance and expedite a suite of farming practices and regulatory restructuring. The hope is it would build some flexibility into California’s highly specialized agricultural system.

Aquafornia news The Sun-Gazette

Local residents among the most likely to drink harmful water

Rural residents in Tulare County are more likely to be exposed to harmful water than a third of the state’s population and the State Water Board has been slow to flow funds into areas to fix failing water systems. A report by the California State Auditor last month revealed Tulare County was among nine counties in the state that represented almost 90% of Californians vulnerable to water systems with poor water quality.

Related article:

Aquafornia news SJV Sun

Opinion: Calif.’s great water experiments have failed. It’s time for real solutions.

As California’s prolonged drought continues, the State is at a crossroads. Recent headlines have been dominated by devastating wildfires and a growing number of the State’s poorest communities without water.  These catastrophic conditions demand answers and solutions from our leaders. … With the cost of living continuing to climb, the San Joaquin Valley’s most vibrant sector – agriculture – cannot continue to feed our communities, state, nation, or the world, if we do not have the most basic resource necessary to grow food, water. 
-Written by William Bourdeau, executive vice president of Harris Farms, director of the Westlands Water District, and chairman of the Valley Future Foundation.

Aquafornia news CBS Sacramento

What do increased releases from Folsom Dam mean for region’s water levels?

Rising river levels? It’s been a surprising sight in recent days for people out along the American River. California is in year three of a severe drought and people are being asked to conserve, but water releases from Folsom Dam are being dramatically increased this week. Parts of the American River Parkway that had been dry ground just a few days ago are now covered with water, which is something surprising to many people along the shoreline.

Aquafornia news The Fresno Bee

Opinion: How San Joaquin Valley farmers can adapt to less water supply

Change is coming to farming in the San Joaquin Valley. Because of the need to reduce groundwater pumping to comply with the 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, we’ve estimated that at least 500,000 acres of farmland will need to come out of irrigated production in the coming years. This is a major shift for California’s agricultural heartland, and one that will have profound impacts on the region’s residents, workers, economy, and environment.
-Written by Caitlin Peterson, associate director and research fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California’s Water Policy Center.

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Aquafornia news Bloomberg

Billionaire Tom Steyer bets on weather stations to battle climate

Solar-powered weather stations that beam real-time information to farmers are the first investment for Galvanize Climate Solutions, the firm launched last year by billionaire Tom Steyer and Katie Hall to battle climate change. Galvanize led a $40-million funding round for San Francisco-based Arable, whose weather equipment gives farmers information on how much sunlight and water crops are getting, and can help optimize when to irrigate or fertilize. Such visibility is becoming increasingly important amid tight on-farm labor and with drought shrinking water reserves.

Aquafornia news SJV Water

SJV water districts get $800,000 in federal grants to save water

Two agencies in the San Joaquin Valley are closer to funding water conservation projects thanks to an $800,000 grant from the Bureau of Reclamation.  The money comes from the Bureau’s Agricultural Water and Conservation Efficiency grants.  About $362,000 will go to the Corcoran Irrigation District in Kings County and $430,000 will go to the Lost Hills Water District in Kern County.  The money will partially fund projects aimed at water savings and streamlining water transportation and storage. The rest of the funding will come from local contributions.

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Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Opinion: Drought is decimating my farm. How California should help us

As I drive across my family’s farm in the San Joaquin Valley, it feels as if I’m traveling on a chessboard. I cross one square with crops and then another without crops — our fields that must lay fallow. Our farm’s crops have been decimated by the drought. Last year, reduced water deliveries in the state led to 395,000 acres of cropland being idled, according to UC Merced researchers, and about 8,750 agricultural workers lost their jobs. … Without enough water, farmers in California can’t survive. The state’s aging water supply infrastructure has not kept up with the growth of the state. 
-Written by Joe L. Del Bosque, CEO and president of the family-owned Del Bosque Farms in the San Joaquin Valley.

Aquafornia news VC Star

Opinion: Mulch helps keep your trees, plants alive while saving water

As local gardeners and farmers look for ways to keep their fruit trees alive while meeting water conservation goals, they can consider the water savings gained by applying organic mulch, as documented in an influential 1999 University of California study. The study’s findings and recommendations have gained relevance today as water supplies tighten and watering restrictions take effect during the severe drought. … Rather than promoting growth, the main purposes of mulch are to reduce erosion, suppress weed growth, moderate soil temperature, and save water by retaining soil moisture.
-Written by David Goldstein, an environmental resource analyst with the Ventura County Public Works Agency​

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Aquafornia news Greeley Tribune

How this tribe survives in Colorado’s worst drought region with as little as 10% of its hard-won water supply

Ute Mountain Ute irrigation manager Michael Vicenti looked out from his reservation — toward the Navajos’ sacred “winged rock” and across the arid Southwest — then focused in front of his feet on three-foot-high stalks of blue corn. They stood straight. But these growing stalks, established on one inch of water per week, now would require twice that much. And Vicenti winced, confiding doubts about whether Ute farming can endure in a hotter, drier world. Each evening he calls operators of McPhee Reservoir to set the flow into a 39-mile clay canal — the Utes’ only source of water — and makes a difficult choice. Either he saves scarce water or he saves corn. 

Aquafornia news Colorado Sun

How much water can be saved on Colorado high country agricultural land?

In the middle of 300 acres of picturesque hay meadows just north of Kremmling, not far from the headwaters of the Colorado River, a metal pillar surrounded by fencing rises 10 feet from the ground. It looks something like a miniature cellphone tower with various technical instruments and antennas jutting out at the top. … It is providing farmers and researchers with critical information about how much water Colorado agriculture could potentially conserve in the drought-stricken West.

Aquafornia news Civil Eats

California dairy uses lots of water. Here’s why it matters.

When we picture California agriculture, we tend to think of almond and citrus orchards and the massive tracts of strawberry and lettuce fields that we can see from the highways dividing the western part of the state from the east. But dairy is, in fact, king. There are an estimated 1.7 million cows living on dairy farms in California, and the industry brought in $7.5 billion in 2020, including $2 billion in export sales. And because most people in the state don’t see the abundance of dairy farms—most of them function like feedlots surrounded by fields of feed crops such as alfalfa and corn growing nearby—they may not be aware of the fact that they use millions of gallons of water a day.

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In the Heart of the San Joaquin Valley, Two Groundwater Sustainability Agencies Try to Find Their Balance
WESTERN WATER SPECIAL REPORT: Agencies in Fresno, Tulare counties pursue different approaches to address overdraft and meet requirements of California’s groundwater law

Flooding permanent crops seasonally, such as this vineyard at Terranova Ranch in Fresno County, is one innovative strategy to recharge aquifers.Across a sprawling corner of southern Tulare County snug against the Sierra Nevada, a bounty of navel oranges, grapes, pistachios, hay and other crops sprout from the loam and clay of the San Joaquin Valley. Groundwater helps keep these orchards, vineyards and fields vibrant and supports a multibillion-dollar agricultural economy across the valley. But that bounty has come at a price. Overpumping of groundwater has depleted aquifers, dried up household wells and degraded ecosystems.

Western Water Douglas E. Beeman Layperson's Guide to Groundwater Douglas E. Beeman

Water Resource Innovation, Hard-Earned Lessons and Colorado River Challenges — Western Water Year in Review
WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK-Our 2019 articles spanned the gamut from groundwater sustainability and drought resiliency to collaboration and innovation

Smoke from the 2018 Camp Fire as viewed from Lake Oroville in Northern California. Innovative efforts to accelerate restoration of headwater forests and to improve a river for the benefit of both farmers and fish. Hard-earned lessons for water agencies from a string of devastating California wildfires. Efforts to drought-proof a chronically water-short region of California. And a broad debate surrounding how best to address persistent challenges facing the Colorado River. 

These were among the issues Western Water explored in 2019, and are still worth taking a look at in case you missed them.

Western Water California Groundwater Map Layperson's Guide to Groundwater Gary Pitzer

As Deadline Looms for California’s Badly Overdrafted Groundwater Basins, Kern County Seeks a Balance to Keep Farms Thriving
WESTERN WATER SPOTLIGHT: Sustainability plans required by the state’s groundwater law could cap Kern County pumping, alter what's grown and how land is used

Water sprinklers irrigate a field in the southern region of the San Joaquin Valley in Kern County.Groundwater helped make Kern County the king of California agricultural production, with a $7 billion annual array of crops that help feed the nation. That success has come at a price, however. Decades of unchecked groundwater pumping in the county and elsewhere across the state have left some aquifers severely depleted. Now, the county’s water managers have less than a year left to devise a plan that manages and protects groundwater for the long term, yet ensures that Kern County’s economy can continue to thrive, even with less water.

Western Water Layperson's Guide to Groundwater Gary Pitzer

Could the Arizona Desert Offer California and the West a Guide to Solving Groundwater Problems?
WESTERN WATER SPOTLIGHT: Environmental Defense Fund report highlights strategies from Phoenix and elsewhere for managing demands on groundwater

Skyline of Phoenix, ArizonaAs California embarks on its unprecedented mission to harness groundwater pumping, the Arizona desert may provide one guide that local managers can look to as they seek to arrest years of overdraft.

Groundwater is stressed by a demand that often outpaces natural and artificial recharge. In California, awareness of groundwater’s importance resulted in the landmark Sustainable Groundwater Management Act in 2014 that aims to have the most severely depleted basins in a state of balance in about 20 years.

Aquapedia background

Water Use Efficiency

The message is oft-repeated that water must be conserved and used as wisely as possible.

The California Water Code calls water use efficiency “the efficient management of water resources for beneficial uses, preventing waste, or accomplishing additional benefits with the same amount of water.”

Western Water Magazine

Keeping It Down on the Farm: Agricultural Water Use Efficiency
March/April 2012

This printed issue of Western Water examines agricultural water use – its successes, the planned state regulation to quantify its efficiency and the potential for greater savings.


Shaping of the West: 100 Years of Reclamation

30-minute DVD that traces the history of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and its role in the development of the West. Includes extensive historic footage of farming and the construction of dams and other water projects, and discusses historic and modern day issues.

Western Water Excerpt Gary PitzerRita Schmidt Sudman

Keeping It Down on the Farm: Agricultural Water Use Efficiency
March/April 2012

There are two constants regarding agricultural water use – growers will continue to come up with ever more efficient and innovative ways to use water and they will always be pressed to do more.

It’s safe to say the matter will not be settled anytime soon, given all the complexities that are a part of the water use picture today. While officials and stakeholders grapple to find a lasting solution to California’s water problems that balances environmental and economic needs, those who grow food and fiber for a living do so amid a host of challenges.

Maps & Posters

San Joaquin River Restoration Map
Published 2012

This beautiful 24×36 inch poster, suitable for framing, features a map of the San Joaquin River. The map text focuses on the San Joaquin River Restoration Program, which aims to restore flows and populations of Chinook salmon to the river below Friant Dam to its confluence with the Merced River. The text discusses the history of the program, its goals and ongoing challenges with implementation. 

Aquapedia background

Agricultural Conservation

Agricultural Conservation

As the single largest water-consuming industry, agriculture has become a focal point for efforts to promote water conservation. In turn, discussions about agricultural water use often become polarized.

With this in mind, the drive for water use efficiency has become institutionalized in agriculture through numerous federal, state and local programs.