Growing Returns

As drought intensifies, this California water manager is testing new tools to help farmers, communities and wildlife

Aaron Fukuda

Aaron Fukuda is general manager of the Tulare Irrigation District, general manager of the Mid-Kaweah Groundwater Sustainability Agency and a participant in the Kaweah Regional Conservation Investment Strategy steering committee process.

Growing up in Hanford, California, Aaron Fukuda learned about the connections between water, animals and plants at an early age. His mother, a biologist, taught him how to study owl pellets and how rain changed the landscape when he was a kid.

As an adult, Fukuda is more focused on what’s happening both on the ground and underground with the region’s increasingly scarce water supplies.

Fukuda wears three hats that give him a unique perspective on the region’s water and land issues as general manager of the Tulare Irrigation District, general manager of the Mid-Kaweah Groundwater Sustainability Agency and a participant in the Kaweah Regional Conservation Investment Strategy (RCIS) steering committee process. Read More »

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Report provides guidance on repurposing California farmland to benefit water, landowners, communities and wildlife

Over the coming decades, California’s San Joaquin Valley will transition to sustainable groundwater management under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), ensuring reliable groundwater supplies for generations to come. Sustainable groundwater management and a changing climate will inevitably affect how land is used on a sweeping scale.

By some estimates, the amount of farmland that will have to be taken out of production to balance groundwater demand and supply is equivalent to the size of Yosemite National Park — a transition that could serve a huge blow to the agricultural economy, rural communities and the environment.  At the same time, farmers are also facing steep declines in surface water supplies from rivers and melted snowpack, largely driven by climate change, as they learned just this week.

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After decades of inequity, this woman is bringing long-overlooked voices to California’s land and water decisions

Vicky Espinoza is on a mission. Vicky is passionate about making sure rural, low-income communities and small-scale farmers have a say in land-use and water-management decisions in the San Joaquin Valley.

During the last drought, California passed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) because decades of groundwater overpumping was causing drinking wells to dry up, land to sink, and millions of dollars of damage to canals and other infrastructure. This new state mandate to sustainably manage groundwater and a warming climate will drive widespread changes in both land and water use in the valley, which in turn could affect agricultural jobs and regional economies.

Vicky, a Ph.D. candidate at UC Merced, wants to ensure that rural low-income communities — predominantly Latino and Hmong residents — are directly involved in decisions about these land-use changes, which is why she’s incorporating their opinions for the first time into a geospatial model to help guide the valley’s future and minimize negative impacts. Read More »

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Location, location, location: New tool shows where groundwater recharge will maximize benefits

Recharging groundwater with rain and snowmelt is one strategy water managers are embracing to help balance groundwater supply and demand and comply with the California Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

Depending on the location, recharge can also deliver other valuable benefits, such as additional habitat for wildlife and a more resilient water supply for people. Read More »

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How water managers can build recharge basins to boost resilience for farmers and birds alike

I wasn’t expecting to see egrets, herons and pelicans on my first trip to the San Joaquin Valley — a region in the southern part of California’s Central Valley known for its impressive agricultural production and scorching summer heat. I didn’t find these birds at one of the valley’s few wildlife refuges, but at a groundwater recharge facility designed to spread and infiltrate surface water into the ground below.

Recharge basins are becoming increasingly popular in overdrafted regions in California, where water managers are seeking solutions to balance groundwater supply and demand to comply with the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). Read More »

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