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 Audubon

News release: CA Assembly Bill 828 protects vulnerable communities’ drinking water & California’s remaining managed wetlands

Across the diverse landscapes of California, reliable access to water is often an existential issue of survival. Sustainable water management is critical to the future of the state, for numerous vulnerable communities, and in the preservation of some of our most endangered bird habitat. The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) was enacted to ensure sustainable groundwater supplies for communities, the environment, and other users. However, without proper and additional implementation safeguards, SGMA is on course to deprive small communities of essential water supply and destroy the last remaining wetlands. AB 828 offers a measured and reasonable approach to protect safe and clean water accessibility for all California communities and safeguard the dwindling managed wetland acreage.

Aquafornia news Ag Alert

Farmers regroup after storms batter state

With a respite from stormy weather, farmers say they are surveying for any damage and waiting for the ground to dry so they can access fields and orchards to make repairs or do other practices. Historic and deadly storms that brought two weeks of rain and powerful winds to California led to mudslides, flooding and widespread power outages and related evacuations. A state of emergency was declared for eight Southern California counties. In Santa Barbara County, farm manager Sheldon Bosio of Goleta-based Terra Bella Ranches said three mudslides affected about 40 avocado trees or about half an acre, which is half of what was lost from mudslides caused by storms last year.

Aquafornia news The Guardian

US court bans three weedkillers and finds EPA broke law in approval process

Dealing a blow to three of the world’s biggest agrochemical companies, a US court this week banned three weedkillers widely used in American agriculture, finding that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) broke the law in allowing them to be on the market. The ruling is specific to three dicamba-based weedkillers manufactured by Bayer, BASF and Syngenta, which have been blamed for millions of acres of crop damage and harm to endangered species and natural areas across the midwest and south. … Dicamba is also prone to drifting on the wind far from where it is applied. And it can move into drainage ditches and bodies of water as runoff during rain events. Monsanto, along with the chemical giant BASF, introduced new formulations of dicamba herbicides they said would not be as volatile, and they encouraged farmers to buy Monsanto’s newly created dicamba-tolerant crops. 

Aquafornia news Food and Environment Reporting Network

Want farmers to protect the environment?

Like a reveler who chases each of many tequila shots with a seltzer, U.S. farm policy consists of comically clashing impulses likely to result in a nasty hangover. The Department of Agriculture doles out substantial subsidies each year to entice farmers to maximize production of corn and soybeans. These commodities account for about 60 percent of U.S. farmland, are used to fatten animals on factory farms, and deliver many of the sugars and fats in our ultraprocessed diets. Unsavory side effects of their production include planet-warming emissions, soil erosion, and polluted waterways. Since 1985, the USDA has also offered farmers cash to adopt conservation practices meant to help counter those troublesome impacts. Growers can make extra money by adding soil-stabilizing crops such as rye and oats to their rotations or by establishing filter strips of grasses or legumes, which are designed to trap chemical runoff. 

Aquafornia news NASA Earth Observatory

Tracking the invisible movement of water

As the world looks for sustainable solutions, a system tapping into NASA satellite data for water management has passed a critical test. Called OpenET, the system uses an ensemble of six satellite-driven models that harness publicly available data from the Landsat program to calculate evapotranspiration (ET)—the movement of water vapor from soil and plant leaves into the atmosphere. OpenET does this on a field-level scale that is greatly improving the way farmers, ranchers, and water resource managers steward one of Earth’s most precious resources. Researchers recently conducted a large-scale analysis of how well OpenET is tracking evapotranspiration over crops and natural landscapes.

Aquafornia news U.S. Geological Survey

New study: Pesticides are likely impacting invertebrate life essential to our nation’s streams

The USGS used multiple research strategies from statistical modeling to laboratory experiments to sampling in more than 400 streams across the United States. Scientists determined that four pesticides – bifenthrin, chlordane, fipronil and imidacloprid – were each likely impacting the health of aquatic invertebrates at the regional scale in at least one of the five regions studied. Pesticides are used in agricultural and urban environments to control a variety of pests including invertebrates such as insects, mammals such as rodents, fungi, algae, and plants. They act through a variety of modes on the target organism; however, non-target organisms are often affected either through direct toxicity or secondary or indirect impacts to prey species or habitat. Overspray, drift, and runoff may carry a pesticide far from its application site. 

Aquafornia news SJV Water

State nitrate program expands but public participation is still lacking

After three years, more of the Central Valley is being folded into the state’s nitrate control program. But program managers and environmental justice advocates say there are still serious problems with outreach.  The state’s nitrate control program launched in 2021. It offers free well testing and water deliveries for residents whose wells test over the limit for nitrates. The program is mandated by the State Water Resources Control Board and funded by nitrate polluters throughout the valley. Nitrates can be harmful to pregnant women and infants. Nitrates have infiltrated drinking water supplies in the valley from farming fertilizers, septic tanks, dairies and other wastewater sources.

Aquafornia news Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics, University of California

Blog: The cost-effectiveness of using rebates to incentivize groundwater recharge

Managed aquifer recharge has emerged as a popular supply-side management tool for basins facing groundwater overdraft. We studied the effectiveness of an incentive structure similar to net energy metering that subsidizes private parties who conduct recharge on their land. A pilot program in the Pajaro Valley demonstrates that the strategy is more cost effective than many other groundwater management options.

Aquafornia news California Water Boards

News release: Central Valley Water Board expands innovative safe drinking water program to eight more geographic zones

Three years after the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board launched a novel program that has brought replacement drinking water to more than 1,200 households with nitrate-impacted wells in designated areas of the Central Valley, the regional board is expanding the program to new areas in eight groundwater basins. The Central Valley Water Board recently mailed 938 Notices to Comply to permit holders in these areas, known as Priority 2 management zones within its Salinity Alternatives for Long-Term Sustainability (CV-SALTS) program. Collectively, these notices affect dischargers – growers, dairies, industrial facilities and wastewater plants – in the following basins: Delta-Mendota, Eastern San Joaquin, Madera, Merced, Kern County (Poso), Kern County (West-side South), Tulare Lake and Yolo. These entities are now required to begin testing potentially impacted domestic wells and to provide free replacement drinking water where nitrates are found to exceed health standards.

Aquafornia news SJV Water

Dairies in Tulare and Kings counties still struggling with damage in wake of last year’s flooding

When flood water swamped dairies in Tulare and Kings counties last spring, it destroyed equipment, drowned crops and left a trail of salt-laden muck that farmers are still grappling with.  The ongoing damage is so bad, some dairies may never recover. The biggest problem is the loss of crops and cropland. Farmers lost an entire year’s worth of wheat, used for feed, that was submerged as the Tule River and other creeks swelled and water gushed over thousands of acres. That lost crops and cropland, led to a chain of other problems, said Anja Raudabaugh, CEO of Western United Dairies. The price of wheat skyrocketed, but one of the bigger challenges was where to put all the cow manure.

Aquafornia news California Rice News

Farm evaluation nitrogen management plan for rice growers

The Central Valley Water Board Waste Discharge Requirement (WDR) Order R5-2014-0032 requires Rice Growers to submit a Farm Evaluation and Nitrogen Management Plan to the California Rice Commission (CRC) every five (5) years.  The Farm Evaluation is intended to provide the CRC and the Central Valley Water Board with information regarding Grower implementation of the Order’s requirements.  The CRC will collect the data submitted and prepare a Farm Evaluation Management Summary for submittal to the Board.  The Nitrogen Management Plan is intended to provide Rice Growers with a planning tool for managing nitrogen applications; information submitted to the CRC is not provided to the Board. The Farm Evaluation and Nitrogen Management Plan will be reported for the 2023 crop year.  In addition, the Nitrogen Management Plan will require a forecast of nitrogen use and other data for the upcoming 2024 growing season. 

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.

Aquapedia background Colorado River Basin Map

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

There are some important things happening in the news right now. Check it out on Aquafornia!


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.