“All Hands on Deck” Approach Needed to Manage Growing Water Stress in the San Joaquin Valley
New report finds at least half a million acres of farmland will need to be fallowed to balance groundwater use with supply
The San Joaquin Valley, California’s largest agricultural region and an important contributor to the nation’s food supply, is on the brink of a major transition as it seeks to balance its groundwater accounts.
Implementing the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act—which requires overdrafted groundwater basins to achieve balance between supply and demand by the 2040s—will bring great change to the valley’s agricultural sector, regional land use, and the local economy.
The pace of groundwater pumping accelerated during the 2012–16 drought. Over the past three decades, the valley’s annual groundwater deficit has averaged nearly 2 million acre-feet—or about one Don Pedro Reservoir’s worth of water a year.
Only about a quarter of this deficit can be filled with new supplies at prices farmers can afford. Ending overdraft could require taking at least 500,000 acres of irrigated cropland out of production.
These are among the key findings of a report released today by the PPIC Water Policy Center.
The new report breaks the issues into three key areas and presents priority actions for tackling them: balancing water supply and demand, addressing groundwater quality challenges, and fostering beneficial solutions to water and landuse transitions.
“The large and complex scope of the changes coming to the valley will require cooperative solutions that bring multiple benefits and get more ‘pop per drop’ from scarce water supplies,” said Ellen Hanak, director of the PPIC Water Policy Center and a coauthor of the report.
One promising solution is to increase water trading, which can significantly reduce the impacts of ending groundwater overdraft by allowing farmers to maintain the crops that generate the most revenue and jobs. If farmers can freely trade water within their basin, it will reduce the costs of this transition by nearly half. And if they can also trade more broadly across the region, it will cut their costs by nearly two-thirds.
In addition to water shortages, the valley must respond to serious water quality problems. More than 100 rural communities have persistently contaminated tap water. Valley farmers must also meet new requirements for protecting groundwater from the buildup of nitrate and salts. The most promising tool for augmenting supplies—groundwater recharge—poses some tradeoffs with water quality goals if not managed properly.
“The solutions to the valley’s water quality problems don’t fall neatly into traditional political and institutional boundaries―and with 120 new groundwater agencies, it’s gotten even more complex,” said Sarge Green, a coauthor of the report and director of the Center for Irrigation Technology at Fresno State. “Many players will need to be involved in devising long-term solutions to these complex problems.”
The lands fallowed to achieve groundwater balance could be converted to uses such as solar energy, groundwater recharge, and restored habitat. Getting the greatest benefit from idled lands will require new levels of planning and cooperation.
Governor Newsom focused on the valley’s groundwater, water quality, and poverty problems in his recent State of the State speech and included funds to address safe drinking water problems in his first budget.
The PPIC report recommends key areas where state leadership could help—including providing clarity on how much water is available for recharge, establishing a reliable funding source for safe drinking water challenges, and supporting broad planning processes, among others.
“Leadership from state and federal partners will be critical,” said Hanak. “But the valley’s future is in the hands of its residents. The stakes are high—but the costs of inaction are higher.”
The report, Water and the Future of the San Joaquin Valley, was supported with funding from the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, the TomKat Foundation, the US Department of Agriculture, the US Environmental Protection Agency, and the Water Foundation. In addition to Hanak and Green, it was authored by Alvar Escriva-Bou, a research fellow at the PPIC Water Policy Center; Brian Gray, a senior fellow at the PPIC Water Policy Center; Thomas Harter, the Robert M. Hagan Endowed Chair in Water Management and Policy at UC Davis; Jelena Jezdimirovic, a research associate at the PPIC Water Policy Center; Jay Lund, director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at UC Davis; Josué Medellín-Azuara, associate professor at UC Merced; Peter Moyle, associate director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at UC Davis; and Nathaniel Seavy, a research director at Point Blue Conservation Science. A public event on the report’s findings will take place at Fresno State on February 22.
Water Authority General Manager Maureen A. Stapleton Retires after 23 Years
With Stapleton at the helm, agency transformed San Diego County’s water supply
From the San Diego County Water Authority:
“The positive impact of Maureen’s leadership of the Water Authority and management of this region’s water supply cannot be overstated,” said Jim Madaffer, chair of the Water Authority’s Board of Directors. “She has also been an important leader in our civic affairs for three decades and has dedicated countless hours to the betterment of our entire region. She will be greatly missed.”
Madaffer said that Sandy Kerl, the agency’s deputy general manager, will serve as acting general manager while the Water Authority Board of Directors conducts a search for its next general manager. Kerl was appointed deputy general manager in November 2009, after a lengthy career with the City of La Mesa, where she served as city manager from 2003 to 2009.
During Stapleton’s tenure leading the region’s water wholesale agency, she led a successful, multi-decade strategy to diversify and improve the reliability of San Diego County’s water supply, which now supports a $220 billion economy and the quality of life of 3.3 million people. The Stapleton era also saw the greatest investment in large-scale regional water infrastructure in San Diego County history.
“The success of the Water Authority over the past two decades is testament to the vision of the Board of Directors, the passionate commitment and dedication of the Water Authority’s staff and management team, the partnership we forged with our 24 member agencies, and the unwavering support of the San Diego region’s civic leaders,” Stapleton said. “I am immensely proud of our shared accomplishments, and I will greatly miss my Water Authority colleagues and esprit de corps we shared carrying out the Water Authority’s mission to provide our region with a safe and reliable water supply.”
The highlight of Stapleton’s career at the Water Authority was the 2003 Colorado River Quantification Settlement Agreement, and its implementation over the 16 years since that historic accord was signed in October 2003.
AWE Research Shows Landscape Transformation Programs Can Stretch Community Water Supplies
Market Analysis and Consumer Survey Determine Homeowners Ready for Sustainable Landscapes
From the Alliance for Water Efficiency:
As cities face growing challenges ensuring a safe, reliable, long-term water supply, new research from the Alliance for Water Efficiency proves that urban landscapes represent a promising source of untapped water savings that can help stretch existing water supplies and increase resiliency to potential shortages.
AWE’s Landscape Transformation study, the most expansive and diverse assessment to date of outdoor water efficiency programs, revealed that single family customers achieved average savings ranging from a 7 percent reduction in water use up to 39 percent after participating in a program. The research, conducted over a two year period, included 14 community-driven programs, including incentives for efficient irrigation technologies, free distribution of mulch, turf removal and water-wise re-landscaping, and customer site audits.
An accompanying survey of more than 3,000 North Americans revealed that homeowners are ready to embrace a new landscape ideal. With the support of well-designed programs, they achieve water-efficient landscapes that support homeowner goals, community water objectives, and healthy watersheds.
“We’ve made great strides in reducing indoor use over the past several decades, but communities are far from done with water conservation and efficiency,” said Mary Ann Dickinson, President and CEO of the Alliance for Water Efficiency. “There are still significant water savings to be found by changing the way we look at our lawns. As communities consider their long-term supply options, they should look at landscape transformation programs to help their water utility avoid more costly infrastructure-based solutions.”
LAO Report: Assessing California’s Climate Policies
The handout discusses sources of greenhouse gas emissions, existing laws and policies, overall effects of climate policies, cap and trade, and recommendations.
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