Agricultural Water Stewardship for Drought Preparedness
Photo Credit: CAWSI
As we are all very much aware, California is now faced with anhistoric drought. Among other things, this means that farmers andranchers will have limited access to surface water for irrigation, and many growers will not be able to sufficiently and sustainably substitute groundwater. To better prepare for water shortages like this one, growers can adopt on-farm ‘water stewardship’ practices to optimize agricultural production, achieve economic savings, and boost ecological and human health benefits.
A water stewardship approach carries forward the mindset of water conservation to a more integrated view of water’s place in the farm’s ecosystem. Stewardship measures are widely accepted as effective and relatively inexpensive tools to optimize water on the farm. Through sound water management, the Department of Water Resources (DWR)estimatesthat California agriculture can decrease its use by up to 1 millionacre-feetper year.
Many of these tools and techniques are not new. But according to thePacific Institute, adoption of on-farm water stewardship practices has been slow. There are many reasons why: American Farmland Trustsurveyed growersand found that risk, cost, and a lack of information are significant barriers to adopting new practices. The cost of water has been relatively low in California, which is a disincentive to conserve, and programs that provide much-needed education, outreach, and technical assistance are underfunded and understaffed. For example, with only 200 farm advisors, UC Cooperative Extension staff levels were down 40% in 2010 compared to what they were in the 1990s.
On the bright side, this means there are still opportunities for farmers to achieve enhanced drought resiliency through the use of new water stewardship practices.
So what can farmers do? Below are a few on-farm practices featured in theCalifornia Agricultural Water Stewardship Initiative(CAWSI) online resource center:
Certainpracticesoptimize water use when irrigating. Best management practices include, but are not limited to:
Photo Credit: CAWSI
This is by no means an exhaustive list of on-farm practices. Depending on the severity of water scarcity, growers may even consider switching to more drought-tolerant crops or even fallowing fields. The feasibility and usefulness of each practice will also vary by farm. Growers should consult with localUC Cooperative Extensionadvisors,NRCSstaff,Resource Conservation Districts or commodity groups such as the Almond Board or California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, for crop-specific water management advice during and after the drought.
As CAFF, CalCAN, and others have made clear, more resources for technical and financial assistance are needed to support California farmers when facing the effects of climate change, including drought.
California lawmakers have an opportunity to direct funding to on-farm water stewardship practices with the upcoming2014 Water Bond. In the past, Water Bond funding has overwhelmingly been allocated to large infrastructure projects, such as dams and pipelines. For example, CAFF estimates that nearly 70% of Proposition 50 (2002) Agricultural Water Use Efficiency grant money awarded by the Department of Water Resources since 2005 has been for implementation/infrastructure projects.
Large infrastructure projects take years to complete and, given the changing climate, the water quantity outcomes are uncertain. Meanwhile, on-farm water stewardship practices can result in immediate individual water savings, as well as increased resiliency and self-sufficiency for the future. The more farmers that use these tools, the greater the collective water savings will be. And we will be supporting California farmers in the face of drought and uncertainty.
The 2014 Water Bond needs specific language that directs funding to support on-farm water stewardship in the following areas:
There are also opportunities for a portion ofcap-and-trade fundsto go towards water stewardship activities that achieve greenhouse gas emissions reductions, with associated energy savings in having to move less water.
There is still time for spring rains to come, but in the event that the drought continues and disaster relief is needed, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) has put together aDrought Resources webpagewith news and information. Please check there for Federal and State Assistance programs, including crop insurance, disaster assistance programs, and emergency loan services.
Yolo County RCD Receives Award
SACRAMENTO -The California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) has granted the 2013 Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Innovator Award to five California businesses and organizations that use 'greener' methods to effectively control pests. This award is the department's highest environmental honor.
The IPM approach employs monitoring, record keeping and other non-chemical means to help prevent and treat pest problems.
"DPR is pleased to honor these innovative organizations who are applying skills of observation and biology to address pest management challenges using approaches that are both effective and ecologically benign," said DPR Director Brian Leahy.
Established in 1994, DPR has given more than 140 IPM Innovator Awards to organizations that take significant steps to reduce risks associated with pesticide use and share their research and practices with others.
The 2013 IPM award winners are:
For the full story see the California Department of Pesticide Regulation website at: http://www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/pressrls/2014/140123.htm
Woodland High School
Students from Woodland High School's Plant & Soil Science class joined teacher Jerry Delsol and Yolo RCD restorationist Heather Nichols for a day of learning at Lewis Butler's property in Woodland. The property had been restored with the help of SLEWS students from Woodland and Florin High Schools in 2006-07, and the 7 year old hedgerow provided a useful setting for students to learn about some of the native plants they will help reintroduce at their SLEWS site along Cottonwood Slough downstream at property managed by Blake Harlan.