ELLEN HANAK: Water and the Future of the San Joaquin Valley

Ellen Hanak delivers four priorities for managing the implementation of SGMA in the San Joaquin Valley

The San Joaquin Valley is California’s largest agricultural region and an important contributor to the nation’s food supply, producing more than half of the state’s agricultural output.  Irrigated agriculture is the region’s main economic driver and predominant water user.

However, the San Joaquin Valley is at a pivotal point. It is ground zero for many of California’s most difficult water management problems, including groundwater overdraft, contaminated drinking water, and declines in habitat and native species.  The Valley has high rates of unemployment and pockets of extreme poverty, challenges that increase when the farm economy suffers.

The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act requires local water users to bring their overdrafted groundwater basins into balance by the early 2040s.  With the largest groundwater overdraft in the State, the implementation of SGMA will have a broad impact on Valley agriculture in coming years, and will likely entail fallowing of significant amounts of farmland.

Water and the Future of the San Joaquin Valley” is the third installment of a research project by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) Water Policy Center on solutions to the San Joaquin Valley’s water challenges. Ellen Hanak is director of the PPIC Water Policy Center and a senior fellow at PPIC. At the May meeting of the California Water Commission, she discussed the findings of their research and recommendations regarding the challenges facing the San Joaquin Valley.

Click here to read this article at Maven’s Notebook.

How Driscoll’s, the world’s largest berry company, is becoming a leader in water conservation

“Even in the depths of winter it’s easy to bite into a plump blackberry or a delicate red raspberry, thanks to Driscoll’s, the world’s largest berry company.

In late 2018, I traveled to the Pajaro Valley, west of Santa Cruz, for a tour of a Driscoll’s research facility, which provided an eye-opening view into how this family-owned company has become an agriculture leader selling berries every month of the year, and why they are so committed to water conservation. … “

Read more from the Growing Returns blog here:  How Driscoll’s, the world’s largest berry company, is becoming a leader in water conservation

In this water-starved California town, one citrus farmer is trying to hang on

From the Desert Sun:

“Citrus groves spread out in rows across the desert in Borrego Springs, forming a lush green oasis against a backdrop of bone-dry mountains. When the grapefruit and lemon trees bloom on Jim Seley’s farm, the white blossoms fill the air with their sweet scent.  His father founded the farm in 1957, and Seley has been farming here since 1964. He and his son, Mike, manage the business, and they hope to pass it on to the next generation of Seleys.

But the farms of Borrego Springs, like the town and its golf courses, rely completely on groundwater pumped from the desert aquifer. And it’s unclear whether farming will be able to survive in this part of the Southern California desert west of the Salton Sea in San Diego County. … ”

Read more from the Desert Sun here:  In this water-starved California town, one citrus farmer is trying to hang on

Groundwater sustainability in the San Joaquin Valley: Multiple benefits if agricultural lands are retired and restored strategically

From California Agriculture:

“Sustaining the remarkable scale of agriculture in the San Joaquin Valley has required large imports of surface water and an average annual groundwater overdraft of 2 million acre-feet (Hanak et al. 2017). This level of water demand is unsustainable and is now forcing changes that will have profound social and economic consequences for San Joaquin Valley farmers and communities. Land will have to come out of agricultural production in some areas. Yet, the emerging changes also provide an important opportunity to strike a new balance between a vibrant agricultural economy and maintenance of natural ecosystems that provide a host of public benefits — if the land is retired and restored strategically.

Once characterized by widespread artesian wells, the San Joaquin Valley now averages groundwater depths of over 150 feet below the surface, exceeding 250 feet in many areas. Decades of groundwater withdrawals have led to the declining reliability and quality of groundwater (Hanak et al. 2015; Harter et al. 2012), widespread land subsidence exceeding 25 feet in some areas (CADWR 2014; Farr et al. 2017) and degradation of groundwater-dependent ecosystems (The Nature Conservancy 2014). … “

Continue reading from California Agriculture here:  Groundwater sustainability in the San Joaquin Valley: Multiple benefits if agricultural lands are retired and restored strategically

Guest Commentary: SGMA – What’s a Farmer to Do?

Guest commentary by Don A. Wright at WaterWrights.net:

“Just when things are starting to get back to normal after the recent drought, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014 has sucked all the oxygen out of the room. It’s common for irrigation and water district general managers to spend at least half their time and talent on dealing with the requirements of this law. Many have said this is the most impactful piece of water legislation since 1914 when the Water Commission Act formalized the appropriation system and centralized appropriative water right records at the state level (now the State Water Resources Control Board). Under the act, the state required new appropriators to obtain a permit from the state prior to diverting water but left groundwater alone.

The Valley’s aquifer is showing the stress of over pumping and some very real dangers lie ahead if this trend isn’t reversed. While there is plenty of room to blame misguided water policy from Sacramento – the blame won’t correct the problem. In fact most experts and laymen alike don’t see a way for business to return to usual. …

I asked some people whose opinions I respect; what can a farmer do to protect his assets? Here are some of the answers.

To read the full commentary, click here: GUEST COMMENTARY: SGMA – What’s a Farmer to Do?

Grower sees potential for groundwater recharge

From the Western Farm Press:

“Jim Morris had lots of reasons for embracing a University of California research project to use his alfalfa field for groundwater recharge.

His operation, the Bryan-Morris Ranch in Etna, Calif., has emphasized environmental stewardship since his wife’s family started it in the 1850s. The ranch was the site of soil conservation and other studies as long ago as the 1940s. … “

Read more from the Western Farm Press here:  Grower sees potential for groundwater recharge

Can California’s groundwater basins be managed collaboratively?

From Stanford’s Water in the West:

“For local communities, complying with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), the law passed in 2014 that was California’s first statewide framework for managing groundwater, has been no easy task.

A recent study in the journal California Agriculture examined some of the challenges rising to the surface in large, agriculturally-oriented basins as local governments form groundwater sustainability agencies (GSAs), particularly for agricultural water users who have been pumping groundwater with private rights for decades. These GSAs are required to develop groundwater sustainability plans (GSPs) by 2020 in critically overdrafted basins, or by 2022 in other high and medium priority basins.

The analysis highlights that creating effective governance at the basin scale, while still accounting for the interests of agricultural water users, is best pursued through multi-level governance structures that include nongovernmental entities, such as nonprofits, farmers, and ranchers. … “

Read more from Water in the West here:  Can California’s groundwater basins be managed collaboratively? 

Groundwater: Act Locally, Think Sustainably

From Lori Pottinger at the PPIC Blog:

“The complex challenges that the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act aims to resolve don’t lend themselves to quick fixes. With the deadline for the first major step—forming “groundwater sustainability agencies” in affected basins—coming up in June, we asked Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, about progress to date.

PPIC: How are California communities doing in implementing the law so far? … “

Continue reading at the PPIC Blog by clicking here.