The world-famous Californian sprawling beaches, skyscrapers and bridges are rare sights in the San Joaquin Valley. Here, extensive farmlands and oil fields indicate how the region significantly contributes to the state’s $2.7 billion economy. However, a six-year drought has left the region with quadrupling water challenges. It is now more important than ever for you to embrace sustainable Agriculture.
Central Valley is known as “the food basket of the world” due to its rich agricultural soils. Most of America’s nuts, wine grapes, dairy, cotton, and other farm products originate here. The region is now grappling with a major transition to balance its immensely shrinking groundwater accounts. This is just one of the numerous water challenges that have hit the region. What caused it and how can you adapt?
The Origin of the Water Crisis
A world-famous network of aqueducts, reservoirs, canals, pipelines, and channels shunt water up and down the agricultural region. This allows for farming of most of the thirsty crops produced in the farmlands. However, surface water has grown increasingly scarce leading to over-exploitation of other natural sources. Underground aquifers.
As a grower in this region, you obviously remember the historic 2011-2016 drought. You may not be the only grower who had to drill a well to nurture your farm. In what seemed like a groundwater arms race, farmers competed to reach thousand-year aquifers. Most folks have had to drill thousands of feet deep in recent years to nourish your farm.
Aquifers may not be replenished as fast as they are pumped. When that happens, it is called an overdraft. Currently, water overdraft accounts for about 15% of the total water used in the region. This represents a historic imbalance rate of 1.8 million-acre feet per year. This means that the region’s aquifers lose about 587 billion gallons of water every planting season.
One of the immediate problems associated with the excess overdraft is sinking of land. Some areas have sunk more than 2 inches causing visible cracks and holes. Sinking land also damages aqueducts and water pipelines, complicating the process of moving water. This causes increased costs of production. Depletion of groundwater may also prompt you to drill deeper and more expensive wells.
Overdrafts have brought with them a host of numerous other farming and social problems. Some of the most prevalent issues include:
- Minimal farming water
Low water supply due to groundwater depletion and destroyed surface channels poses a huge risk to farming. You need a regular supply of water as a grower in the region. Farming accounts for 87% of the water used in the valley region. You and other growers collectively use about 16.8 million acre-feet of water. Reduced supply could significantly hurt your farm and the region’s overall production
- Water poisoning
A new report indicates that over-pumping of aquifers risks the release of arsenic. The dangerous chemical can significantly increase cancer, diabetes, and heart disease risks if heavily abundant. The report showed increasingly dangerous arsenic levels in 10% of the wells tested in the valley region.
- Lack of drinking water for rural communities
In 2016 alone, California budgeted $19 million for provision of emergency drinking water to disadvantaged communities. The main trigger for this was the increased concentration of poisonous materials in tap water. Roughly 100,000 people in rural central valley lack access to clean and safe drinking water. They have, as such, been forced to spend up to 10% of their income on toxin-free water.
Dairy farming is one of the contributors to increased poisoning of tap water other than toxins in groundwater. This is because farmers use their nutrient-rich manure lagoons as fertilizer sources. After some time the excess nitrates leach into the water table and often into drinking water wells.
- Environmental degradation
The long-term effects of overdrafts include irreversible changes on land and soil profiles. The sinking of land is a leading cause of degradation on other agriculturally productive land. The sinking regions are also left with damaged infrastructure.
Water Regulation Laws
The national and state governments have proposed several regulations to curtail aquifer overexploitation. The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) is one of the much-popularized bills. It will be active from 2020 to 2040 and seeks to return groundwater use to sustainable levels.
The bill has triggered formation of more than 120 local “groundwater sustainability agencies (GSAs)”. Such agencies are tasked with managing their basin portion to prevent aquifers’ depletion. When its implementation begins, people might be forced to leave some of their farmlands idle.
The residents will be forced to comply with the regulations proposed by your local GSA. However, farms vary in scale due to differing human and financial resources. The valley made up of both small and large farms is making compliance with the law to have varied effects. It could cause a significant shift in the region’s agricultural diversity.
One sure is that the law might drive up pumping capital and operational costs. This includes expenses associated with new or updated infrastructure, compliance fees, and also monitoring and training.
The California Public Policy Institute recently released a report advocating for better water management strategies. The report details how you can adapt better methods of using water whether as a small or large farmer. Some of the proposed long-term solutions include:
- Manage groundwater resources
You should rely on your local GSA to learn better methods of exploiting groundwater resources. They will have the technology to explore the amount of water available and that withdrawn. They will also advise on recharge and withdrawal reduction methods.
- Expand usable supplies
You can embrace better methods of capturing and storing local runoff. This can help to reduce your reliance on groundwater as you also reuse water within your farm. Larger infrastructure investments could help to improve conveyance of water from the San Joaquin River delta.
- Reduce demand
You can majorly implement this by idling some farmland. This is more important for areas where it is impossible to switch the groundwater supply with new supplies. Less cultivation could lower your farm’s water needs when you cannot get surface water.
This might be essential largely because that state agencies might cut pumping by 2.5 million acre-feet per year. Such a shortage would drive up the price of water. You may have to pay more to import water from other regions. An alternatively better idea would be to leave some lands fallow that could allow for reduced costs.
Rotational fallowing is a great strategy coupled with cultivation of a cover crop during the fallowing period. The long term benefits include improved soil health and moisture retention and infiltration capacities.
- Explore multi-benefit options
Scientists advocate for you to manage groundwater in ways that you can preserve both its quality and quantity. You could, for instance, tailor your irrigation methods and crop choices to maximize clean recharge.
- Water trading
This is one of the strategies that most farmers used in the recent drought. This includes those who could abandon the growth of high-value water-intensive crops like grapes and almonds. Growers from the Kern basin, for instance, could buy water rights from farmers in the wetter, northern districts.
- More crop per drop
This strategy requires you to reduce the amount of water it takes to grow a particular crop. The Almond Board has been able to do this for almonds, one of the water-intensive, high-value crops. Officials from the board say that they have gotten “more crop per drop” in the last 20 years. They have been able to reduce water consumed by a pound of almond to grow by 33%.
The Need for Better Irrigation
To stay in the farming business, you will need water, despite the growing challenges to source it. As a Central Valley grower, you should be thinking of how to increase yields with lesser water. This requires you to understand how your irrigation system operates.
All over California, farmers apply irrigation water in numerous methods. One of the most prevalent mechanisms is surface and pressure irrigation systems. Surface irrigation, through furrow, flood, and basin systems, might be one of the methods you use. Unfortunately, these methods may not be very efficient. They can cause uneven water distribution and drive up water pumping or supply costs.
Your irrigation system should be highly efficient such that it leads to zero wastage of precious resources. You also need to monitor minor challenges before they quadruple to cost you a fortune. As such, the design of your irrigation system and associated services are essential for your farm’s profitability. You have to be proactive at implementing effective irrigation scheduling and maintenance strategies.
There is a huge need for proper design and installation at your farm. This is essential when you need to either install a new system or update the current one. You should find an experienced team that follows the best practices and offers the latest irrigation technologies.
At fruit growers supply we have a team of skilled professionals ready to offer comprehensive irrigation support. You can get the following smart and efficient irrigation-related services:
- Free water analysis
- Monthly monitoring of drum treatment levels
- Monthly visual inspection of filtration for leaks and missing or broken items
- Monthly system flows and pressures when applicable
- Post-harvest or custom sand levels checks in tanks
- Comprehensive service reports
Do you need customized irrigation support? Contact us today to know how to start using water sustainably and increase profitability at your farm.