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Sharp ag losses without sustainable water supply

February 13, 2023

More irrigation water efficiency, reuse, storage advised

The Public Policy Institute of California reports that the biggest threat to Central Valley agriculture is a “one-fifth decline in annual water supply expected by 2040 because of (a lack of) groundwater sustainability measures and climate change.” Opportunities to less the impact include groundwater recharge, farmland and water reuse, water storage investment, and increasing water trading.

The policy brief also identified a need for a coordinated “series of strategies for reducing demand for irrigation.” Without consensus to close the gap between water demand and supply, the study’s authors predict that “900,000 acres of farmland will be fallowed at a cost of 50,000 jobs and a 2.3 percent drop in the valley’s economic output.”

Ag contributes to about 14 percent of the San Joaquin Valley’s economic output, 17 percent of employment (340,000 people) and 19 percent of total income.

The findings and recommendations are familiar, but the urgency for a sustainable water supply is greater as the state has experienced three straight years of drought, and forecasters expect 2023 to be another hot, dry year.

Ian LeMay, President of the California Fresh Fruit Association said. “Now we need action. The end result of inaction, got us to this place, sadly… ”

Besides produce growers, dairy and beef producers are likely to be “hurt as water flows away from (water-intensive) feed crops like alfalfa toward specialty, perennial crops like grapes and pistachios.”

PPIC estimated at best, half a million acres will come out of production by 2040 — 11 percent of the San Joaquin Valley’s total acreage as of 2018. In turn, the idle farmland will increase dust, exacerbate weeds, invite pests, degrade soils and decrease air quality. Land use may entail water-limited agriculture, habitat restoration, and solar farms.

Both “unprecedented coordination among local and regional parties” and strong partnership, financial support and regulatory incentives from state and federal agencies will be required said report authors Alvar Escriva-Bou, Ellen Hanak, Spencer Cole and Josué Medellín-Azuara and research support Annabelle Rosser.

The report included an optimistic scenario: “If farming efficiency gains continue at even half the rate during the past 40 years, then half the expected economic costs would be avoided by 2040.”

Local farmland appraiser and broker Mike Ming expressed that “local farmers are heavily invested in increasing irrigation efficiency and look forward to increased state and federal flows to local water banks.”

LeMay said investments in water storage infrastructure and progress on urban water recycling are needed.

The need to for data-driven coordination of irrigation water efficiency on the crop scale motivated KISTERS to develop the FieldRay agrimet solution. A on-farm network of soil moisture and weather sensors help growers to manage water demand and supply. The product is an extension of our 40-years of expertise in supporting complex water data management and analytics at large-scale irrigation districts