California’s new farmland repurposing program requires community engagement. This guide describes how.

Many regions in California are embarking on a new era of water and land management strategies as local agencies implement sustainability initiatives and climate change intensifies droughts and water scarcity.

However, too often low-income rural communities have had little opportunity to influence land and water decisions that directly impact — and often harm — them, resulting in such outcomes as wells drying up and limited access to parks.

California’s new Multibenefit Land Repurposing Program aims to ensure these communities as well as small-scale farmers are more involved in land and water use planning by making their engagement a requirement for funding recipients.

Click here to read more from the Environmental Defense Fund.

RELATED EVENT: Office Hours: March 29:  Repurposing farmland that will be fallowed as part of SGMA

Could Solar Development Advance Groundwater Sustainability in the San Joaquin Valley?

The San Joaquin Valley is facing a monumental shift in land use over the next two decades. Two important but seemingly unrelated laws are driving the change: the 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), which aims to bring groundwater basins into balance by the early 2040s, and SB 100, which intends to help California achieve 100% clean power statewide by 2045.

SGMA may require fallowing at least 500,000 acres of cropland in the San Joaquin Valley (10%) by 2040. A significant expansion of solar energy production to meet SB 100 goals, on the other hand, will demand a large amount of land. Promoting solar expansion on fallowed farmland in the San Joaquin Valley could support two major objectives at once: supporting the state’s clean energy goals while easing the economic pain of transitioning some land away from agriculture.

Click here to read more from the PPIC.

NEW BOOK: Rewilding Agricultural Landscapes

As the world population grows, so does the demand for food, putting unprecedented pressure on agricultural lands. At the same time, climate change, soil degradation, and water scarcity mean that productivity of many of these lands is deteriorating. In many desert dryland regions, drinking wells are drying up and the land above them is sinking, soil salinity is increasing, and poor air quality is contributing to health problems in farm communities. “Rewilding” the least productive of these cultivated landscapes offers a sensible way to reverse the damage from intensive agriculture. These ecological restoration efforts can recover natural diversity while guaranteeing the long-term sustainability of the remaining farms and the communities they support.

This accessibly written, groundbreaking contributed volume is the first to examine in detail what it would take to retire eligible farmland and restore functioning natural ecosystems. Rewilding Agricultural Landscapes uses the southern Central Valley of California, which is one of the most productive and important agricultural regions in the world, as a case study for returning a balance to agricultural lands and natural ecosystems. This project—one of the largest rewilding studies of its kind in dryland ecosystems—has shown that rewilding can slow desertification and provide ecosystem services, such as recharged aquifers, cleaner air, and stabilized soils, to nearby farms and communities. Chapters examine what scientists have learned about the natural history of this dryland area, how retired farmland can be successfully restored to its natural wild state, and the socioeconomic and political benefits of doing so. The book concludes with a vision of a region restored to ecological balance and equipped for inevitable climate change, allowing nature and people to prosper. The editors position the book as a case study with a programmatic approach and straightforward lessons that can be applied in similar regions around the world.

The lessons in Rewilding Agricultural Landscapes will be useful to conservation leaders, policymakers, groundwater agencies, and water managers looking for inspiration and practical advice solving the complicated issues of agricultural sustainability and water management.

Click here for more information and to purchase book.

Report provides guidance on repurposing California farmland to benefit water, landowners, communities and wildlife

Over the coming decades, California’s San Joaquin Valley will transition to sustainable groundwater management under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), ensuring reliable groundwater supplies for generations to come. Sustainable groundwater management and a changing climate will inevitably affect how land is used on a sweeping scale. …

To help groundwater sustainability agencies (GSAs), local governments, rural communities and land use planners facing these challenges, Environmental Defense Fund worked with a broad group of stakeholders to develop a new guide, Advancing Strategic Land Repurposing and Groundwater Sustainability in California. …

Read more from the Environmental Defense Fund here:  Report provides guidance on repurposing California farmland to benefit water, landowners, communities and wildlife

What’s next for the community of Borrego Springs and the future of Borrego’s water and land-use planning?

Borrego Springs – Southern California, but a World Apart

A four part series from the Local Government Commission

“Amidst drought, groundwater regulation, and economic hardship, the media portrays Borrego Springs as a village “drying up” in the desert – running out of water – soon to be the next California ghost town.

Like many aspects of the desert, there’s more to the Borrego Springs community than meets the eye. In the crevices of the valley’s rocky floor, wildflowers blossom in exuberant hope. In the shade of the Palo Verde trees, Coyote Creek babbles through the sandy slopes with perseverance.

From corner to corner, the community is banding together: evaluating how to live within the constraints of this remote locale, charting a course that integrates civic engagement with environmental, social and economic priorities – to achieve their goal of a thriving, resilient future.

This is their story. … ”

Read more from the Local Government Commission here: Borrego Springs – Southern California, but a World Apart

Saving Borrego’s Lifeblood

“Borrego Springs’ only viable water source is a large aquifer under Borrego Valley; it has long been accepted that the aquifer’s water collected over millennia and is being pumped at a rapid pace by recent generations. What farmers, developers, business owners, and residents never agreed upon was how much water was actually available, and how long it would last.” 

Read more from the Local Government Commission here:  Saving Borrego’s Lifeblood

Community Voices

LGC, with the help of five Stanford University students, conducted interviews with community members to understand varying perspectives and identify where community visions overlap in order to help guide the community on a path forward. Ten Borregans lent their voices to these interviews, including full-time residents, commuters, and weekenders.” 

Read more from the Local Government Commission here:  Community Voices

Borrego’s Path to Resilience in the Face of Change

“As a new year begins, Borrego Springs is eager for opportunities to ensure community resilience while protecting the local economy and the region’s precious ecosystems. In the face of many obstacles, not all hope is lost. This article wraps up the four-part series, highlighting the revitalization of the Borrego Valley Stewardship Council and their efforts to pave the way for a brighter future.” 

Read more from the Local Government Commission here:  Borrego’s Path to Resilience in the Face of Change

IMAGE CREDIT: Photo of Borrego Springs by Jim Mullhaupt

Rebalancing Agricultural and Natural Land

From Stanford’s Water in the West:

Over the next 20 years, San Joaquin Valley farmers may need to temporarily fallow or permanently retire over half a million acres of cropland as California pushes towards sustainable groundwater use.

But, according to new research led by Stanford University and The Nature Conservancy, using an informed approach to land management that engages and compensates landowners for dedicating land to habitat can spur recovery of biodiversity in local ecosystems and provide other environmental benefits for people.

While California’s San Joaquin Valley produces crops totaling over $35 billion a year on five million acres of land, expanding irrigated agriculture has led to significant challenges such as groundwater overdraft and drinking water contamination, along with major losses of biodiversity and habitat.

Implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) – which limits groundwater withdrawal to bring water use into balance with supplies in California – provides an opportunity for conservation actors to work with farmers and re-envision the balance between agricultural and natural land. …

Click here to continue reading this article from Stanford’s Water in the West.

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

California Groundwater Law Means Big Changes Above Ground, Too

From Water Deeply:

California’s new groundwater management law is not a sports car. It moves more like a wagon train. The rules do not require critically overdrafted aquifers to achieve “sustainability” until 2040. But 22 years from now, once they finally get there, lives will be transformed.

The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), adopted in 2014, will change more than groundwater. The requirement to end overdraft will also transform land use, a massive side effect yet to be widely recognized.

Parts of California will literally look different once the law takes full effect. It could put some farmers out of business. It could change how others farm. … “

Read more from Water Deeply here:  California Groundwater Law Means Big Changes Above Ground, Too