Droughts are not uncommon in California. In fact, there have been several long-term droughts over the past century. However, the drought that we are currently experiencing is the first to occur since the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) and is affecting the entire state, with 41 states experiencing emergency-level conditions.
Growers face far-reaching challenges in the face of dwindling supplies of water, especially considering that California is the primary agricultural center in America. Here, we’ll cover the latest government initiative to address the California drought and steps that you can take to help.
New Drought Relief Package for California
On May 10, 2021, Governor Gavin Newsom announced a four-year, $5.1 billion package to tackle California’s drought, both immediately and in the long term. This package is an expanded version of the drought emergency proclamation made on April 21 and includes the 41 counties that are most affected.
In this package, $1.3 billion will be allocated to drinking water and wastewater infrastructure, with other funds going to:
- Groundwater cleanup
- Water recycling projects
- Sustainable Groundwater Management Act implementation
- Multi-benefit land repurposing
- Wildlife corridors and fish passages
- Habitat restoration projects
- Flood-risk reduction projects
- Critical data collection
- Grants to help farmers improve their water efficiency and emit fewer greenhouse gases from agricultural pumping
- Fisheries and wildlife support
- Solutions for drinking-water shortages
The California Fresh Fruit Association (CFFA)’s Response
Upon hearing the announcement, CFFA President Ian LeMay expressed his support of the California drought resiliency package, describing it as “a step in the right direction” towards “California’s short- and long-term water resiliency.”
Until now, the CFFA has been advocating for the solutions found in the Water Blueprint study, with a special focus on the San Joaquin Valley. Many of the recommendations from the study are addressed by the new drought relief package, indicating that it is indeed “a step in the right direction.”
What California’s Growers Can Do
As the primary users of water in the state, California’s growers are some of the most critical players in California’s drought. Not only do we need water in order to produce food, but we also need to know how and where to source our water to protect — and not jeopardize — the water security of everyone in the state.
While we have written about this topic before, this latest announcement provides further food for thought and specific steps that growers can take:
Reduce Irrigation Water Use
The first and most important step is to reduce irrigation to an absolute minimum. Fortunately, there are several ways to reduce irrigation without putting the health of your crops at risk:
- Switch to low-water crops like pistachio.
- Water in the cool of the day to reduce evapotranspiration.
- Apply mulch and green manures to reduce evaporation from the soil.
- Build up your topsoil to improve water filtration into the ground.
- Collect and recycle irrigation runoff.
- Water with a sensor-based soaker system rather than traditional “flood” irrigation.
Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Greenhouse gas emissions are closely related to the California drought via the ongoing (and worsening) effects of climate change. Droughts become longer and more severe, forests dry out exacerbating wildfire damage, and the water that didn’t fall during the drought arrives all at once in a flood.
In California, the pumping of water for agricultural irrigation uses more electricity than the State Water Project, Colorado River Aqueduct, and Central Valley Project combined — contributing to the worsening of climate change and more severe drought-and-flood cycles. In the San Joaquin Valley, diesel-fueled agricultural pumping is the 8th largest emitter of nitrogen oxides, and in the Sacramento Valley, it’s the 10th largest source.
As one of the items in the 2021 California drought relief package, the governor announced an allocation of funds to the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program for grants to help farmers reduce their agricultural pumping emissions. This can be achieved by using less water by switching to practices that are more efficient.
Find Out about Land Repurposing Opportunities
As outlined in the Water Blueprint study, extensive areas of land may need to be left fallow and/or repurposed for activities that use less water. As part of the new California drought package, growers might be able to receive funds (or revenue) for the following land uses:
- Conservation banks and easements
- Solar leases
- Grazing leases
- Conversion to low water intensity crops
It is estimated that 500,000 to 1 million (or more) acres might need to be repurposed in the San Joaquin Valley, so it’s worth considering the options ahead of time to ensure the best economic outcome.
Prepare to Collect Water when it Floods
Finally, it’s important to prepare for intense flooding when the downpour eventually comes. This will help to mitigate crop damage and provide a source of water for the next period of drought in California. The following strategies are inspired by a Permaculture approach to floods:
- Plant vines, crops, and orchard trees along the contours of the land rather than vertically down a slope to minimize runoff and soil erosion.
- Reforest high ground areas and ridges to reduce water runoff.
- Establish water meadows in low-lying areas that are likely to flood.
- Improve the soil structure to encourage better water absorption.
- Identify the natural flow of rainwater on your property and build dams (and/or underwater tanks) that can hold flood-level amounts of water.
Preparing for the most extreme conditions now is an excellent proactive step to take. Interestingly, strategies like planting on the contours (rather than down the slope) can help with drought relief for your plants as well.
Adapt to the California Drought with Fruit Growers Supply Company
Water shortages in California pose a real threat to agriculture. That’s why Fruit Growers Supply Company has been working on real, innovative solutions that benefit growers and consumers alike.
Our custom irrigation systems are designed to deliver the exact amount of water that your crops really need with the use of sensors and crop-specific solutions. This reduces irrigation water use to a minimum and helps with the California drought.
To further reduce your environmental footprint, our irrigation systems are entirely run by solar power — the green alternative to diesel pumps with no ongoing costs besides the occasional maintenance.
In our five full-service retail stores, we also offer products like organic matter to help you improve the quality of your topsoil. This, in turn, improves water filtration, reduces runoff, and helps to prepare your land for a flood.
Now that California drought measures have been announced, it’s time to adapt before time runs out. Contact Fruit Growers Supply to schedule a complimentary site visit and take advantage of the latest drought relief provisions for your farm.
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