Topic: Agricultural Drainage


Agricultural Drainage

California’s rich agricultural productivity comes with a price. The dry climate that provides the almost year-round growing season also can require heavily irrigated soils.  But such irrigation can also degrade the local water quality.

Two of the state’s most productive farming areas in particular, the west side of the San Joaquin Valley and parts of the Imperial Valley in southern California, have poorly drained and naturally saline soils.

Aquafornia news Western Farm Press

Study offers insights on nitrate contamination

With California enduring record-breaking rain and snow and Gov. Gavin Newsom recently easing restrictions on groundwater recharge, interest in “managed aquifer recharge” has never been higher. This process – by which floodwater is routed to sites such as farm fields so that it percolates into the aquifer – holds great promise as a tool to replenish depleted groundwater stores across the state. But one concern, in the agricultural context, is how recharge might push nitrates from fertilizer into the groundwater supply. Consumption of well water contaminated with nitrates has been linked to increased risk of cancers, birth defects and other health impacts.

Aquafornia news NPR

In California, leafy greens farmers both suffered from floods and welcomed the water

Most of the country’s lettuce and other leafy greens come from California’s Salinas Valley, where 13 atmospheric rivers this winter have obliterated local drought conditions. Farmers have welcomed the water and also sometimes struggled with the deluge. Reporter Amy Mayer has this look at what it all means for spring salads. AMY MAYER, BYLINE: Andrew Regalado and his father trudge through sticky mud on the edge of a field at World’s Finest Farm in Hollister, Calif. They’ve owned the organic vegetable and herb farm for about 17 years. In a creek bed just beyond the field, cloudy brown water leaps at the banks, and that’s days after floodwaters have mostly receded. Another storm is coming. ANDREW REGALADO: If this water’s still here, there’s a good chance we might get flooded again. Yeah, so it’ll be a tough year.

Aquafornia news Western Farm Press

Court sides with farmers in water cases

A California appeals court has upheld waste discharge requirements within the eastern San Joaquin River watershed that growers say are reasonable, rebuffing challenges from environmentalists. In its March 17 decision, the Third District Court of Appeal rejected all arguments brought by environmental groups and sided with the California State Water Resources Control Board, the California Farm Bureau and others related to the Central Valley’s Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program. The court addressed three cases brought by environmental plaintiffs against the water board.

Aquafornia news Stormwater Solutions

Study confirms nitrate can release uranium into groundwater

New research experimentally confirms that nitrate can help transport naturally occurring uranium from the underground to groundwater, according to a press release from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The new research backs a 2015 study led by Karrie Weber of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The 2015 showed that aquifers contaminated with high levels of nitrate — including the High Plains Aquifer residing beneath Nebraska — also contain uranium concentrations far exceeding a threshold set by the U.S. EPA. Uranium concentrations above that EPA threshold have been shown to cause kidney damage in humans, especially when regularly consumed via drinking water.

Aquafornia news Associated Press

California farmers flood fields to boost groundwater basin

A field that has long grown tomatoes, peppers and onions now looks like a wind-whipped ocean as farmer Don Cameron seeks to capture the runoff from a freakishly wet year in California to replenish the groundwater basin that is his only source to water his crops. Taking some tomatoes out of production for a year is an easy choice if it means boosting future water supplies for his farm about 35 miles (56 kilometers) southwest of Fresno. He’s pumping 300 acre-feet a day — enough to supply hundreds of households for a year — from the gushing North Fork of the Kings River onto former vegetable fields and others dotted with pistachio trees, which can withstand heavy flooding.

Related article: 

Aquafornia news Decanter

California’s ban on pesticides by 2050 sees the state’s wineries embracing ‘slow wine’

While environmentally-conscious wine producers like Shannon are making a difference in California, so is the state which recently announced its long-range commitment to promoting ecosystem resilience. The sustainable pest management roadmap for California was released by the Department of Pesticide Regulation, the California Environmental Protection Agency, and the California Department of Food and Agriculture. It charts a course for California’s elimination of high-risk pesticides by 2050. Yet, wine producers like Sam Coturri of Enterprise Vineyards in Sonoma County, whose family oversees 35 estate vineyards, and produces their own label, Winery Sixteen 600, have been farming organically since 1979.

Aquafornia news Aspen Public Radio

‘It’s going to cost us a pile’: Livestock producers in Mountain West in grip of winter’s weather

On a recent morning on a snow-covered farm in Western Nevada, Lucy Rechel had a spring in her step. Rechel, who manages the cattle operation at Snyder Livestock Company, said the cows in the feedlot were feeling good, too, because it was clear-skied and sunny. … Nice weather has been in short supply in Mason Valley this winter. Many days have been filled with wind, rain or snowstorms. And when that happens here? In fact, Snyder Livestock has spent about $75,000 – and counting – just dealing with mud. That includes renting large mining equipment to haul it out and paying for the labor and fuel to run it. In a normal winter, the company will spend maybe $10,000 on mud removal, Rechel said.

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Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Scientists uncover high amounts of pure DDT off L.A. coast

First it was the eerie images of barrels leaking on the seafloor not far from Catalina Island. Then the shocking realization that the nation’s largest manufacturer of DDT had once used the ocean as a huge dumping ground — and that as many as half a million barrels of its acid waste had been poured straight into the water. Now, scientists have discovered that much of the DDT — which had been dumped largely in the 1940s and ’50s — never broke down. The chemical remains in its most potent form in startlingly high concentrations, spread across a wide swath of seafloor larger than the city of San Francisco. … With a $5.6-million research boost from Congress, at the urging of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), numerous federal, state and local agencies have since joined with scientists and environmental nonprofits to figure out the extent of the contamination lurking 3,000 feet underwater. 

Aquafornia news California Agriculture News Today

Study offers insights on reducing nitrate contamination from groundwater recharge

With California enduring record-breaking rain and snow and Gov. Gavin Newsom recently easing restrictions on groundwater recharge, interest in “managed aquifer recharge” has never been higher. This process – by which floodwater is routed to sites such as farm fields so that it percolates into the aquifer – holds great promise as a tool to replenish depleted groundwater stores across the state. But one concern, in the agricultural context, is how recharge might push nitrates from fertilizer into the groundwater supply. Consumption of well water contaminated with nitrates has been linked to increased risk of cancers, birth defects and other health impacts.

Related article: 

Aquafornia news Oregon Public Broadcasting

Federal researchers say two widely used pesticides harm many endangered fish species

Federal researchers have found that two widely used pesticides significantly harms endangered Northwest salmon and steelhead species. The opinion could lead to a change in where and how the pesticides can be used. The National Marine Fisheries Service issued a draft of its biological opinion Thursday concluding that continued use of insect-killing chemicals containing carbaryl or methomyl likely jeopardizes dozens of endangered fish species — including Chinook salmon, coho salmon, sockeye, and steelhead in the Columbia, Willamette, and Snake rivers. Carbaryl and methomyl are insecticides commonly used on field vegetables and orchard crops. Both are used on agricultural land across the Willamette Valley, the Columbia River Gorge, and southeastern Washington, according to federal data.

Aquafornia news AgWeb

California dairy farmers prayed for rain – now it’s forcing some to evacuate

Not long ago, California dairy producer Ryan Junio prayed for rain. The ongoing water scarcity challenges that faced the Golden State was the No. 1 concern for this Tulare County dairy farmer. “As a dairy producer, water scarcity is an ever-growing challenge and is my top concern,” Junio said last summer. Junio wouldn’t have thought that nine months later he would be dealing with a different water crisis, as massive flooding has wreaked havoc on California’s largest dairy hub, Tulare County, home to 330,000-plus dairy cows. Recently Junio’s farm, Four J Jerseys, which consists of two dairies located in Pixley and home to 4,200 cows, had to evacuate one dairy that sits south of the Tule River.

Related articles: 

Aquafornia news SJV Water

Ugly deeds, politics and high drama swirl amid the waters of a re-emerging Tulare Lake

The drama was high on the Tulare Lake bed Saturday as flood waters pushed some landowners to resort to heavy handed and, in one instance, illegal tactics, to try and keep their farm ground dry — even at the expense of other farmers and some small communities. Someone illegally cut the banks of Deer Creek in the middle of the night causing water to rush toward the tiny town of Allensworth. The levee protecting Corcoran had its own protection as an armed guard patrolled the structure to keep it safe. At the south end of the old lake bed, the J.G. Boswell Company had workers drag a piece of heavy equipment onto the banks of its Homeland Canal to prevent any cuts that would drain Poso Creek water onto Boswell land.

Related article: 

Aquafornia news Inside Climate News

Roundup, the world’s favorite weed killer, linked to liver, metabolic diseases in kids

For Brenda Eskenazi, what once seemed merely a rich vein of epidemiological knowledge has turned out to be a mother lode. Eskenazi, who runs the Center for the Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas study (known as CHAMACOS, Mexican Spanish slang for “little kids”), has tracked pairs of mothers and their children for more than 20 years. She’s collected hundreds of thousands of samples of blood, urine and saliva, along with exposure and health records. … So when Charles Limbach, a doctor at a Salinas health clinic, saw an explosion of fatty liver disease in his young patients and found a study linking the condition in adults to the weed killer glyphosate, he contacted Eskenazi.

Aquafornia news Reuters

Phytoplankton blooms see two-decade surge along world’s coastlines

Huge blooms of phytoplankton — microscopic algae floating on the ocean’s surface — have become larger and more frequent along the world’s coastlines, according to new research, bringing benefits to fisheries but also potentially causing harm. Between 2003 and 2020, coastal phytoplankton blooms increased by about 13% in extent, covering an additional 4 million square kilometres of the global ocean, the Nature study found. And the blooms occurred more often, up by 59% during that period. … [Phytoplankton can starve] the ocean of oxygen and leading to “dead zones” that wreak chaos on the food chain and fisheries. … While some regions saw weaker blooms over the past two decades, including the California Current, blooms strengthened in the northern Gulf of Mexico and the East and South China Seas. … Fertilizer runoff from agriculture can spike nutrient loads in the ocean, leading to blooms.

Aquafornia news The New York Times

The Salton Sea, an accident of history, faces a new water crisis

The drought crisis on the Colorado River looms large in California’s Imperial Valley, which produces much of the nation’s lettuce, broccoli and other crops, and now faces water cuts. But those cuts will also be bad news for the environmental and ecological disaster unfolding just to the north, at the shallow, shimmering and long-suffering Salton Sea. “There’s going to be collateral damage everywhere,” said Frank Ruiz, a program director with California Audubon. To irrigate their fields, the valley’s farmers rely completely on Colorado River water, which arrives by an 80-mile-long canal. And the Salton Sea, the state’s largest lake, relies on water draining from those fields to stay full. But it’s been shrinking for decades, killing off fish species that attract migratory birds and exposing lake bed that generates dust that is harmful to human health.

Aquafornia news

Using biochar to remove antibiotics from wastewater

To feed the world’s growing population, farmers need to grow a lot of crops. Crops need water to grow and thrive, and the water used to irrigate crops makes up an estimated 70% of global freshwater use. But many areas across the world are plagued by water shortages. That can make it challenging for farmers to get enough water to grow crops. Researchers are exploring alternative water sources that can sustainably meet current and future irrigation needs. … [A] new study … shows local plant material or food waste could be used to remove antibiotics from municipal wastewater. The researchers used biochar, a charcoal-like substance, which is created by heating organic materials at high temperatures in the absence of oxygen. 

Could Virtual Networks Solve Drinking Water Woes for California’s Isolated, Disadvantaged Communities?
WESTERN WATER SPOTLIGHT: UCLA pilot project uses high-tech gear in LA to remotely run clean-water systems for small communities in Central California's Salinas Valley

UCLA’s remote water treatment systems are providing safe tap water to three disadvantaged communities in the Salinas Valley. A pilot program in the Salinas Valley run remotely out of Los Angeles is offering a test case for how California could provide clean drinking water for isolated rural communities plagued by contaminated groundwater that lack the financial means or expertise to connect to a larger water system.

Western Water Layperson's Guide to Water Rights Law Gary Pitzer

Amid ‘Green Rush’ of Legal Cannabis, California Strives to Control Adverse Effects on Water
WESTERN WATER IN-DEPTH: State crafts water right and new rules unique to marijuana farms, but will growers accustomed to the shadows comply?

A marijuana plant from a growing operationFor decades, cannabis has been grown in California – hidden away in forested groves or surreptitiously harvested under the glare of high-intensity indoor lamps in suburban tract homes.

In the past 20 years, however, cannabis — known more widely as marijuana – has been moving from being a criminal activity to gaining legitimacy as one of the hundreds of cash crops in the state’s $46 billion-dollar agriculture industry, first legalized for medicinal purposes and this year for recreational use.

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Salton Sea

As part of the historic Colorado River Delta, the Salton Sea regularly filled and dried for thousands of years due to its elevation of 237 feet below sea level.


Salt of the Earth: Salinity in California’s Central Valley

Salt. In a small amount, it’s a gift from nature. But any doctor will tell you, if you take in too much salt, you’ll start to have health problems. The same negative effect is happening to land in the Central Valley. The problem scientists call “salinity” poses a growing threat to our food supply, our drinking water quality and our way of life. The problem of salt buildup and potential – but costly – solutions are highlighted in this 2008 public television documentary narrated by comedian Paul Rodriguez.


Salt of the Earth: Salinity in California’s Central Valley (20-minute DVD)

A 20-minute version of the 2008 public television documentary Salt of the Earth: Salinity in California’s Central Valley. This DVD is ideal for showing at community forums and speaking engagements to help the public understand the complex issues surrounding the problem of salt build up in the Central Valley potential – but costly – solutions. Narrated by comedian Paul Rodriquez.

Western Water Magazine

Salt of the Earth: Can the Central Valley Solve its Salinity Problem?
July/August 2007

This Western Water looks at proposed new measures to deal with the century-old problem of salinity with a special focus on San Joaquin Valley farms and cities.

Western Water Magazine

Unlocking the Mysteries of Selenium
March/April 2006

This issue of Western Water examines that process. Much of the information is drawn from discussions that occurred at the November 2005 Selenium Summit sponsored by the Foundation and the California Department of Water Resources. At that summit, a variety of experts presented findings and the latest activities from areas where selenium is of primary interest.

Aquafornia news

Aquafornia news about Agricultural Drainage

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Layperson’s Guide to Agricultural Drainage
Updated 2001

With irrigation projects that import water, farmers have transformed millions of acres of land into highly productive fields and orchards. But the dry climate that provides an almost year-round farming season can hasten salt build up in soils. The build-up of salts in poorly drained soils can decrease crop productivity, and there are links between drainage water from irrigated fields and harmful impacts on fish and wildlife.


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.


Water on the Edge (60-minute DVD)

Water truly has shaped California into the great state it is today. And if it is water that made California great, it’s the fight over – and with – water that also makes it so critically important. In efforts to remap California’s circulatory system, there have been some critical events that had a profound impact on California’s water history. These turning points not only forced a re-evaluation of water, but continue to impact the lives of every Californian. This 2005 PBS documentary offers a historical and current look at the major water issues that shaped the state we know today. Includes a 12-page viewer’s guide with background information, historic timeline and a teacher’s lesson.

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. 

Maps & Posters

Carson River Basin Map
Published 2006

A companion to the Truckee River Basin Map poster, this 24×36 inch poster, suitable for framing, explores the Carson River, and its link to the Truckee River. The map includes Lahontan Dam and Reservoir, the Carson Sink, and the farming areas in the basin. Map text discusses the region’s hydrology and geography, the Newlands Project, land and water use within the basin and wetlands. Development of the map was funded by a grant from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Mid-Pacific Region, Lahontan Basin Area Office.

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Imperial Valley

Southern California’s Imperial Valley is home to California’s earliest agricultural drainage success story, one that converted a desert landscape to an agricultural one, but at the same time created far reaching consequences.

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Evaporation Ponds

Evaporation ponds contain agricultural drainage water and are used when agricultural growers do not have access to rivers for drainage disposal.

Drainage water is the only source of water in many of these ponds, resulting in extremely high concentrations of salts. Concentrations of other trace elements such as selenium are also elevated in evaporation basins, with a wide degree of variability among basins.

Such ponds resemble wetland areas that birds use for nesting and feeding grounds and may pose risks to waterfowl and shorebirds.

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Agricultural Drainage Environmental Impacts

Agriculture drainage issues date back to the earliest farming. In ancient times, farmers let fields stay fallow hoping rain would flush out salt.

Today, salt and other contaminants continue to cause agricultural drainage problems, particularly in California. Whether a field is adequately drained, or saturated with water, the water still has to be removed.

The disposal of this often-contaminated water continues to be a challenge in California, with the environmental effects of selenium and other drainage-related elements changing the course of drainage planning.

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Agricultural Drainage and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta

Few regions are as important to California water as the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, where the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers converge to discharge into San Francisco Bay.

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Agricultural Drainage

California’s rich agricultural productivity comes with a price. The dry climate that provides the almost year-round growing season also can require heavily irrigated soils. But such irrigation can degrade the local water quality.

Two of the state’s most productive farming areas in particular, the west side of the San Joaquin Valley and parts of the Imperial Valley in Southern California, have poorly drained and naturally saline soils.