Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Special Report: Is the San Joaquin Valley Prepared to Farm With Less Groundwater?
By admin
Published 7 months ago on
September 28, 2023

Share

In less than 20 years’ time, the San Joaquin Valley could become a patchwork of vast swaths of vacant, weed-filled lands interspersed with a few single-crop mega-farms that employ only a small fraction of those who currently work in agriculture.

Lisa McEwen Portrait

Lisa McEwen

SJV Water

Or, it could be thriving with robust solar operations, thousands of water recharge basins, interconnected wildlife habitat, cohesive towns, and a smaller, but diverse and secure farming economy.

The difference in those potential futures could depend on how the transition to less reliance on groundwater is managed, according to a report by the Public Policy Institute of California that was discussed during a recent conference.

The report laid out several tools that its authors felt could be helpful in moving the Valley toward the thriving option.

Chief among those was water trading, without which, the report states, nearly 1 million acres would have to be fallowed.

Trading surface or groundwater is tricky, however, and would have to be done cautiously to protect small farmers, according to the report.

And, it requires the one thing that has been clearly lacking among valley water managers – collaboration.

.

Karla Nemeth, head of the Department of Water Resources, noted at the conference that every single groundwater plan covering the South Valley, plus two others, was rejected as inadequate by the state.

“Most of those plans that were not successful were not successful for a number of reasons,” Nemeth said. “Something common to all of them was a lack of coordination and collaboration.”

Despite that reality, panelists at the Sept. 20 conference held at California State University, Fresno, spoke confidently of the future under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

(GV Wire/Paul Marshall)

Downsizing Farms, the Economy and Jobs

SGMA, as it’s known, mandates that aquifers be brought into balance by 2040, which will mean farmers have to stop pumping as much groundwater. Without new surface supplies to make up for that loss, a lot of farmland simply won’t have the water to stay productive.

The PPIC report estimates that even with all its recommendations, at least 500,000 acres valley wide will have to be switched from intensive irrigation to another use.

The report recommended five uses for that fallowed land:

  • Solar, 135,000 to 215,000 acres
  • Dry-land farming, 20,000 to 40,000 acres
  • Water recharge basins, 20,000 to 40,000 additional acres in addition to today’s 50,000 acres
  • Habitat restoration, up to 1.1 million acres
  • New housing, up to 50,000 acres (for an anticipated 800,000 new Valley residents by 2040)

In the worst case scenario — no new water supplies and no water trading — nearly 900,000 acres would be fallowed. The PPIC report estimated the regional economy would take a 2.3% — or $4.5 billion— hit and a loss of 50,000 jobs.

Wrong Direction

To navigate the transition ahead, the report urges intense basin-wide and regional collaboration on a variety of fronts to avoid haphazard landfallowing and its associated risks.

But cooperation has been a tripping point for several of the San Joaquin Valley’s groundwater sustainability agencies.

Out of 15 groundwater subbasins that cover the valley floor, plans covering the Tulare Lake (Kings County), Tule, Kaweah, Kern County, Delta-Mendota, and Chowchilla subbasins were deemed inadequate by DWR. Those subbasins are now coming under the scrutiny of the State Water Resources Control Board, which will consider whether the state should take control of pumping limitations, as well as issuing steep fees and fines in those areas.

“For folks who did some homework and reached a coordination agreement with their neighboring plans, they were more successful than the ones that chose to not do that,” DWR’s Nemeth said during the Sept. 20 conference. “And some are splintering further and that’s the wrong direction to be going in when we think about solutions.”

For example, water districts in the Kern subbasin, most of which had been members of the Kern Groundwater Authority, have split off to form their own agencies over the past few years.

Crucial Partnerships Aren’t Easy

In the North Kings GSA, which essentially covers the Fresno metro area, GSA Executive Officer Kassy Chauhan credited new partnerships as a key reason her agency’s groundwater plan passed state review.

The GSA is working with Fresno Irrigation District and the Fresno County Flood Control District to use sumps built for flood control as recharge basins, whenever possible. And, the GSA started building 600 acres of recharge basins in 2020, which “paid dividends” in 2023 during the floods.

GSA members were able to recharge 450,000 acre-feet working together, Chauhan said.

But, she acknowledged, partnering is not easy.

“The challenges are continuing to be coordinated and continuing to be able to stay in the same room and the fact that we are not in a bubble,” Chauhan told the conference. “It would be much easier if we were in a bubble and we could just go about implementing our plan and not worrying about the impacts from neighbors or GSAs or basins but that’s not the reality.”

PPIC Water Conference
Attendees examine the future of farming, the economy, and the quality of life in the San Joaquin Valley as less irrigation water is available. The PPIC hosted the conference on Sept. 20, 2023, at Fresno State. (SJV Water)

‘Our Communities Are Agriculture’

The PPIC report also stressed the need for funding from local, state, and federal governments, which comes as the state has begun tapering off grant funding for GSA projects.

In the worst case scenario — no new water supplies and no water trading — nearly 900,000 acres would be fallowed. The PPIC report estimated the regional economy would take a 2.3% — or $4.5 billion— hit and a loss of 50,000 jobs.

Tulare Irrigation District General Manager Aaron Fukuda said his GSA is doing its part.

“We are making investments in technology to better image our earth, we are leaning into our disadvantaged communities and helping to solve their problems, and we are looking at water trading,” Fukuda said during the conference.

Water trading, though, is not simple.

“That is interesting, fun, and controversial, it’s got everything balled up into one. If you get it wrong, how do you undo that? We don’t want to make wrong trades, let’s put it that way.”

With all the options on the table, though, he said water managers, farmers, and regulators have to be clear-eyed about the future.

“For all practical purposes, our communities are agriculture, and if we dial back agriculture, we dial back the things we see around us,” he said. “You dial back the amount of money you have to eat out, or discretionary dollars for your Little League fundraisers.”

Not Ready for Climate Swings

During the most recent drought, thousands of domestic wells went dry despite the fact that water agencies had been working under the tenets of SGMA for several years, which showed GSAs have not engaged with communities as they should, said Sonia Sanchez, a community development specialist with Self-Help Enterprises.

Self-Help is a Visalia-based nonprofit that focuses on housing and water issues for area residents. It has been called on regularly to deliver water to residents whose wells have gone dry.

Self-Help created a guide for domestic well protection and mitigation, but that guide wasn’t used by several GSAs, Sanchez said.

“I think had more GSAs utilized that tool and incorporated more robust programs in their plans we would have seen more GSAs pass (state review),” Sanchez said.

On the other end of nature’s spectrum, the floods this year showed that local, regional, and state agencies were woefully underprepared to both protect communities and collect the onslaught of water for future use, DWR’s Nemeth said.

“This year taught us we’re not as ready to make use of those moments as we need to be,” Nemeth said. “This year provided a terrific example of the work we can do. We must identify places where we can have a very constructive marriage between water suppliers, groundwater managers, and local flood control agencies.

“We won’t be successful if we don’t have counties and cities as land use entities really working together in that context. But I am optimistic.”

About SJV Water

SJV Water is an independent, nonprofit news site dedicated to covering water in the San Joaquin Valley. Get inside access to SJV Water by becoming a member.

 

RELATED TOPICS:

DON'T MISS

Coalition: CA Lawmakers Need to Roll Back Proposed ‘Utility Tax’

DON'T MISS

CA’s High Construction Costs Limit Housing. A Supreme Court Decision Might Help

DON'T MISS

Now’s the Time to Register for FUSD’s Free Preschool and T-K

DON'T MISS

‘Hopeville’ Literacy Documentary Showing Tonight at Roosevelt High

DON'T MISS

Michigan Faces Probation for Football Recruiting Violations; Case vs. Jim Harbaugh Pending

DON'T MISS

What Winnie the Pooh and Mickey Mouse Can Tell Us About the Public Domain and Remix Culture

DON'T MISS

Acquisition of Historic Fresno Real Estate Brand Creates Area’s Largest Brokerage

DON'T MISS

Wall Street’s Mixed Trading Day

DON'T MISS

It’s ‘Signing Day’ for These Clovis Unified Youngsters

DON'T MISS

Clovis Armed Robbery and Pursuit Result in 3 Arrests, 1 Suspect Still at Large

UP NEXT

CA’s High Construction Costs Limit Housing. A Supreme Court Decision Might Help

UP NEXT

Now’s the Time to Register for FUSD’s Free Preschool and T-K

UP NEXT

‘Hopeville’ Literacy Documentary Showing Tonight at Roosevelt High

UP NEXT

Michigan Faces Probation for Football Recruiting Violations; Case vs. Jim Harbaugh Pending

UP NEXT

What Winnie the Pooh and Mickey Mouse Can Tell Us About the Public Domain and Remix Culture

UP NEXT

Wall Street’s Mixed Trading Day

UP NEXT

It’s ‘Signing Day’ for These Clovis Unified Youngsters

UP NEXT

Clovis Armed Robbery and Pursuit Result in 3 Arrests, 1 Suspect Still at Large

UP NEXT

Fresno Fire and Police Ramp up Probe Into Fires at Cemeteries

UP NEXT

New Recruiting Programs Put Army, Air Force on Track to Meet Enlistment Goals. Navy Will Fall Short

‘Hopeville’ Literacy Documentary Showing Tonight at Roosevelt High

Local Education /

4 hours ago

Michigan Faces Probation for Football Recruiting Violations; Case vs. Jim Harbaugh Pending

5 hours ago

What Winnie the Pooh and Mickey Mouse Can Tell Us About the Public Domain and Remix Culture

5 hours ago

Acquisition of Historic Fresno Real Estate Brand Creates Area’s Largest Brokerage

Breaking News /

5 hours ago

Wall Street’s Mixed Trading Day

5 hours ago

It’s ‘Signing Day’ for These Clovis Unified Youngsters

Local Education /

6 hours ago

Clovis Armed Robbery and Pursuit Result in 3 Arrests, 1 Suspect Still at Large

6 hours ago

Charges Against Trump and Jan. 6 Rioters at Stake as Supreme Court Hears Debate Over Obstruction Law

6 hours ago

Fresno Fire and Police Ramp up Probe Into Fires at Cemeteries

6 hours ago

New Recruiting Programs Put Army, Air Force on Track to Meet Enlistment Goals. Navy Will Fall Short

6 hours ago

Coalition: CA Lawmakers Need to Roll Back Proposed ‘Utility Tax’

A proposal to levy a fixed charge on customers of California’s big investor-owned utilities will harm low-income households, further l...

2 hours ago

2 hours ago

Coalition: CA Lawmakers Need to Roll Back Proposed ‘Utility Tax’

4 hours ago

CA’s High Construction Costs Limit Housing. A Supreme Court Decision Might Help

Local Education /
4 hours ago

Now’s the Time to Register for FUSD’s Free Preschool and T-K

Local Education /
4 hours ago

‘Hopeville’ Literacy Documentary Showing Tonight at Roosevelt High

5 hours ago

Michigan Faces Probation for Football Recruiting Violations; Case vs. Jim Harbaugh Pending

5 hours ago

What Winnie the Pooh and Mickey Mouse Can Tell Us About the Public Domain and Remix Culture

Breaking News /
5 hours ago

Acquisition of Historic Fresno Real Estate Brand Creates Area’s Largest Brokerage

5 hours ago

Wall Street’s Mixed Trading Day

MENU

CONNECT WITH US

Search

Send this to a friend