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 Public Policy Institute of California

Blog: Managing water and farmland transitions in the San Joaquin Valley

Fresno State President Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval acknowledged the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act’s (SGMA) importance to the valley in his opening remarks. … As water supplies decline, said Central Valley Community Foundation CEO Ashley Swearengin, it is key to bring all the valley’s many players to the table to hammer out coping strategies. The need for coordination is paramount, given the magnitude of the challenge. As PPIC research fellow Andrew Ayres explained, reducing groundwater pumping ultimately will help the valley maintain its robust agricultural industry and protect communities. But even with new water supplies, our research found that valley agriculture will need to occupy a smaller footprint than it does now: at least 500,000 acres of farmland will likely need to come out of intensively irrigated production.

Aquafornia news KUNC - Greely, Colo

Colorado River growers say they’re ready to save water, but need to build trust with states and feds

The Colorado River is in trouble, and farmers and ranchers are on the front lines of the crisis. A new report surveyed more than 1,020 irrigators across six of the seven states that use the river’s water: Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. About 70% said they are already responding to water shortages but many identified a trust gap with state and federal agencies that are trying to incentivize further water savings. The report, from the Western Landowners Alliance and the University of Wyoming’s Ruckelshaus Institute, sheds light on attitudes in an industry that has an outsized role in the fate of the Colorado River.

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Aquafornia news Arizona Republic

What’s being done to protect the Southwest’s dwindling water supply? A new online tool shows you

Researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture have created a searchable atlas that compiles regional research and efforts to deal with water scarcity and drought. The map, called the Water Adaptation Techniques Atlas, was developed by the agency’s Southwest and California Climate Hubs and so far contains 183 case studies from Arizona, California, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah. … The map offers a range of case studies, many of them related to agricultural and ranching practices, crop choice, and irrigation methods. Silber-Coats hopes it can be a resource for agricultural professionals and advisers, like cooperative extension workers.

Aquafornia news KUNC - Greeley, Colo

Colorado River’s Upper Basin will re-up a plan that pays farmers and ranchers to use less water

Some states in the arid West are looking to invest more money in water conservation. Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico have agreed to re-up a water conservation program designed to reduce strain on the Colorado River. Those states, which represent the river’s Upper Basin, will use money from the Inflation Reduction Act to pay farmers and ranchers to use less water. The four states are re-implementing the program amid talks with California, Arizona, Nevada and the federal government to come up with more permanent water reductions by 2026.

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Aquafornia news Aspen Journalism

Colorado River managers vote to continue conservation program, with tweaks, in 2024

Colorado River managers [last week] decided to continue a water conservation program designed to protect critical elevations in the nation’s two largest reservoirs. The Upper Colorado River Commission decided unanimously to continue the federally funded System Conservation Program in 2024 — but with a narrower scope that explores demand management concepts and supports innovation and local drought resiliency on a longer-term basis. … The System Conservation Program is paying water users in the four upper basin states — Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah — to voluntarily cut back with $125 million from the Inflation Reduction Act. According to Upper Colorado River Commission officials, nearly $16.1 million was spent on system conservation in 2023. 

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Aquafornia news The New York Times

Meet the climate-defying fruits and vegetables in your future

… Recent floods left more than a third of California’s table grapes rotting on the vine. Too much sunlight is burning apple crops. Pests that farmers never used to worry about are marching through lettuce fields. Breeding new crops that can thrive under these assaults is a long game. Solutions are likely to come from an array of research fronts that stretch from molecular gene-editing technology to mining the vast global collections of seeds that have been conserved for centuries. … Here’s a quick look at some of the most promising.

Aquafornia news KSL - Salt Lake City

Why Cox isn’t surprised with $1.5B price tag to mitigate Great Salt Lake dust

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox says he isn’t surprised by a new report showing that mitigating dust from the Great Salt Lake would likely cost at least $1.5 billion in capital costs, but it highlights why the state is “so passionate about getting more water” into the drying lake. The Utah Office of the Legislative Audit General released a report on the state’s “critical vulnerabilities” this week, which notes Great Salt Lake dust mitigation is “estimated to be at a minimum $1.5 billion in capital costs with ongoing annual maintenance of $15 million,” increasing in cost as more of the lakebed is exposed.

Aquafornia news Voice of San Diego

Biggest players in Western water politics gather at Politifest 2023  

It’s been 20 years since the largest water agencies in Southern California agreed on a historic deal: San Diego would buy water from Imperial Valley farmers. More importantly, though, the deal outlined exactly how much water these agencies could claim from the Colorado River and reduced the amount of water California took from the river.   It quantified the water (why it’s called the Quantification Settlement Agreement) and put a price on water rights for the first time. … Voice of San Diego and CalMatters will be gathering top water officials from Southern California, Nevada and Arizona to discuss the past (the historic 2003 settlement) and the future (the needed deal for the Colorado River) at 2023 Politifest, Oct. 7 at University of San Diego. 

Aquafornia news E&E News

Can alfalfa survive a fight over Colorado River water?

Dirt roads neatly bisect acres and acres of vibrant green plants here: short, dense alfalfa plants fed by the waters of the Colorado River, flowing by as a light brown stream through miles of narrow concrete ditches. But on a nearby field, farmer Ronnie Leimgruber is abandoning those ditches, part of a system that has served farmers well for decades. Instead, he’s overseeing the installation of new irrigation technology, at a cost of more than $400,000, and with no guarantee it will be as dependable as the open concrete channels and gravity-fed systems that have long watered these lands. … What Leimgruber is pursuing on his acreage is part business savvy and part guarding against a drier future. Like many farmers in this region, he’s figuring out how to keep growing his crops with less water. Two decades of drought have shrunk the Colorado River, which feeds farms in the Imperial Valley, an agricultural oasis fed solely by the 82-mile All-American Canal, which delivers river water to this arid Southern California region.

Aquafornia news Western Farm Press

Research results: Producing food in a drying climate

Searching 150 Best Quotes About Agriculture for something appropriate to discuss The Future of Agriculture and Food Production in a Drying Climate, this comment stood out — “At the very heart of agriculture is the drive to feed the world. We all flourish…or decline…with the farmer.” That core concept, “the heart of agriculture”, resonated with Bobby Robbins, a cardiologist by trade whose day job is President of the University of Arizona in Tucson. Living in the Northern Sonora Desert, Robbins has watched a changing climate threaten food and agriculture systems in the arid Southwest. “The agriculture industry needs innovative research-based solutions to continue producing food year-round,” he said in announcing a high-IQ Commission to tackle the job.

Aquafornia news KION - Central Coast

Santa Cruz Senator’s bill to curb illegal water usage at unlicensed cannabis cultivation sites becomes law

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Santa Cruz Senator John Laird’s SB 756 into law on Friday, according to the governor’s office. The bill addresses three issues regarding the State Water Board. First, its ability to participate in the inspection of unlicensed cannabis cultivation sites with law enforcement; second, its ability to inspect these sites for violation of water rights laws (including illegal diversion and/or use); and third, its ability to serve various types of legal documents and provide notice to unlicensed cannabis cultivation sites.

Aquafornia news Maven's Notebook

How a new satellite-based platform could transform water management in California

In 2015, when California was deep into a severe drought, state Senate Bill 88 tightened requirements for reporting water use. This posed a challenge for growers in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta’s 415,000 acres of farmland, where many irrigation systems are fed by siphons instead of pumps and so lack electricity to run water meters. Alternative power sources proved troublesome. … So when former Delta Watermaster Michael George suggested that [farmer] Brett Baker look into OpenET, a new online platform that uses satellites to track how much water plants consume, Baker was primed to make it work. That was in 2020. This year marked the launch of an OpenET-based website for reporting water use in the Delta, and 70 percent of growers there have already adopted it. 

Aquafornia news Aspen Journalism

Colorado River commission reviews lessons learned from water conservation program

Cassie Cerise lives on her family’s ranch on Missouri Heights, a mesa above Carbondale named for the home state of some of the area’s earliest settlers. Like her parents and grandparents, she runs cattle and irrigates hay and alfalfa fields — some by sprinklers, others by flood — with water from Cattle Creek. But this season, Cerise and her husband, Tim Fenton, decided to let about 73 acres go dry and get paid for the water they aren’t using as part of the federally funded System Conservation Program, which is aimed at addressing the crisis on the Colorado River. According to Cerise’s contract with the Upper Colorado River Commission, which oversees the program, not watering her fields this season will save about 83 acre-feet of water.

Aquafornia news The Drinks Business

A simple vineyard strategy cuts water usage by one-third

The increasingly unpredictable climate is making growing grapes an increasingly risky and costly business. France recently lost an estimated $2 billion in wine sales after extreme weather decimated the harvest. In 2022, California farmers lost an estimated $1.7 billion to the drought alone, according to a study conducted by researchers at the University of California. And despite California’s abnormally wet winter in 2023, which helped replenish reservoirs and groundwater aquifers, experts warn that the wet weather won’t make up for decades of diminished rain and extended periods of drought. How much water a vineyard needs to produce great wine varies considerably, and while there is an increasing effort to dry farm, the vast majority of California vineyards are irrigated. 

Aquafornia news Eureka Times-Standard

Minimum flows set for Scott River in state water board meeting

Last week, the state Water Board heard a petition to retain minimum water flows for the Scott River, a key Klamath tributary. The petition was brought by the Karuk Tribe, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and the Environmental Law Foundation. The board eventually directed staff to reinstate the emergency regulations for both the Scott and Shasta rivers, a major win for the petitioners who say flows must be maintained to protect endangered salmon. The board also directed staff to begin work on permanent regulation for flows in the Shasta and Scott rivers. … The petition was filed in May and centered around an expected end to emergency drought minimums. The lapse began on Aug. 1, with water levels in both rivers dropping below these minimums since. 

Related article: 

Aquafornia news Politico

Central Valley farmers are having a climate reckoning

Climate change — and changing political winds — are prompting shifts in strategy at California’s largest agricultural water district. Westlands Water District, which occupies some 1,100 square miles of the arid San Joaquin Valley, is in the midst of an internal power struggle that will determine how water fights unfold across the state. After years of aggressively fighting for more water, Westlands is making plans to live with less. In 2016, Donald Trump campaigned in the valley, promising to “open up the water” for farmers in the then-drought stricken state. Its leaders are now sounding a more Biden-esque note: They are planning to cover a sixth of the district with solar panels to start “farming the sun” instead of thirsty crops like almonds and pistachios.

California Water Agencies Hoped A Deluge Would Recharge Their Aquifers. But When It Came, Some Couldn’t Use It
WESTERN WATER IN-DEPTH: January storms jump-started recharge projects in badly overdrafted San Joaquin Valley, but hurdles with state permits and infrastructure hindered some efforts

An intentionally flooded almond orchard in Tulare CountyIt was exactly the sort of deluge California groundwater agencies have been counting on to replenish their overworked aquifers.

The start of 2023 brought a parade of torrential Pacific storms to bone dry California. Snow piled up across the Sierra Nevada at a near-record pace while runoff from the foothills gushed into the Central Valley, swelling rivers over their banks and filling seasonal creeks for the first time in half a decade.    

Suddenly, water managers and farmers toiling in one of the state’s most groundwater-depleted regions had an opportunity to capture stormwater and bank it underground. Enterprising agencies diverted water from rushing rivers and creeks into manmade recharge basins or intentionally flooded orchards and farmland. Others snagged temporary permits from the state to pull from streams they ordinarily couldn’t touch.

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 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.