The San Joaquin Valley, California's largest agricultural region, and an important contributor to our nation's food supply, is in a time of great change and increasing water stress. On Tuesday, March 7, 2017, The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) was joined by the California Water Institute at Fresno State for an event to discuss key water issues facing the region. The event, held in Clovis, California, brought a panel of local leaders and experts to review findings from a recent PPIC report that highlights options to address challenges facing farms, communities, and ecosystems.
One of the key messages of the report was that rains have not washed away the growing threat of water scarcity. Over time this scarcity could bring unsettling changes not only to the area's farmers but also to rural communities, the local economy, and the entire state. Resolving the matter will take creativity and cooperation. Although agriculture is a small piece of the economic puzzle, it is crucially important to the Valley. The region's farms and related manufacturing businesses account for 25 percent of local revenues and 16 percent of local jobs- and 89 percent of annual water net use (PPIC Report).
The Valley is home to an abundance of productive farmland than local water supplies for irrigation. Since the 1980s, groundwater has been used faster than it could be replenished (groundwater overdraft). In the past three decades, overdraft has averaged nearly two million acre-feet per year, 13 percent of the net water use. The result is increased pumping costs, dry wells, land subsidence, damaged infrastructure, and declining reliability of this vital drought reserve.
California's state groundwater law will bring significant changes to agriculture in coming years. The 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) requires farms and communities to bring groundwater basins into balance by 2040. Besides water shortages, the Valley must respond to related concerns, including nitrate contamination of groundwater and broad declines in aquatic, wetland, and terrestrial ecosystems.
Achieving this objective will protect long-term groundwater reserves and enable residents and economies to withstand future droughts. Some examples of approaches include:
- Capture and store more runoff- increasing the groundwater recharge by spreading flood flows onto fields and recharge basins is key to restoring underground water basins.
- Manage groundwater and water storage- storing water in aquifers frees up space to capture flood flows in reservoirs and increases total volume of water stored.
- Multi-benefit strategies- opportunities exist to manage groundwater in ways to improve water supply and quality. For example, by modifying irrigation systems and crop choices to maximize recharge in the region areas.
- Bring basins to balance- Some partnerships exist for recharging groundwater, supplying farms with treated wastewater, and upgrading infrastructure to manage water efficiently. To protect recharge areas cooperation is valuable because lands with recharge potential are on a urban fringe.
One of the
greatest challenges is developing new strategies to grasp these opportunities
in a region that has a mix of entities and organizations managing water and
land. The entire San Joaquin Valley, and California as a whole, can benefit
from these solutions to the Valley’s challenges to support the economy while
improving health and environmental conditions.
To view PPIC full report visit PPIC Report