Growing Returns

Measuring irrigated water use has been a challenge for decades. This new tool will change that.

Over my nearly 30 years of working on water issues in the West, I have repeatedly thought there has got to be a better way to measure how much water is used to grow the food we eat. This data is surprisingly complex, and up until now, it has been expensive to calculate.

That’s why it’s difficult to contain my excitement as this “better way” comes to fruition in the form of a new web platform called OpenET that EDF is developing with NASA, Google, the Desert Research Institute, the U.S. Geological Society and dozens of other partners.

Using publicly available data and satellite imagery, OpenET will for the first time make data on how much water crops use widely accessible at no to low cost to farmers and water managers large and small in 17 western states. OpenET will go live next year. Read More »

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Don’t let funding dry up for safe and affordable drinking water

Two important water reports were released recently that address the lack of safe and affordable drinking water in some California communities, despite our state’s position as an environmental leader. 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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3 strategies to create a resilient water supply for Texas

The world is a different place now than it was when I grew up in Houston in the 1980s. I have vivid memories of steamy summer thunderstorms consistently interrupting my afternoons at the neighborhood pool. My sister and I would head home and swap our swimsuits for raincoats, then stomp around muddy ditches and dig up crawdads while thick warm raindrops drenched our faces.

My sons will have very different memories growing up in Texas. Their memories will be marked by extremes — football games either played in dust bowls or canceled because the field had become a lake.

As my children grow up in this era defined by persistent drought, periodic floods, and now the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m concerned about their future as nature will continue to test the state’s best-laid plans.

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Arizona leaders must finish what was started on groundwater 40 years ago

Forty years ago, then Democratic Gov. Bruce Babbitt signed Arizona’s landmark Groundwater Management Act, which created a system to manage groundwater in five regions of the state where overpumping was most severe and aquifer levels were declining rapidly.

“I called the leaders of the water establishment together on the day after Thanksgiving in 1979,” Babbitt recalled in an oral history. “I personally sat them down and met with them once or twice a week for nine months and just kind of shut the door and said, ‘We’re going to reform our way out of this problem, and we’re going to draft a meaningful water management system for the state of Arizona.’” Read More »

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Why I’m visiting the California Capitol to testify on groundwater

Update: This bill passed out of the Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife in a 14-0 vote. It is expected to go before the Appropriations Committee in early June.

California lawmakers returned to work last week after taking measures to minimize the spread of COVID-19 in the state Capitol, acknowledging they must continue to tackle many other challenges still facing the state. Water is one of those perennial challenges.

That’s why I will be testifying Thursday on a bill, AB 2642, that will help farmers transition to more sustainable groundwater use.

(Photo Credit: Andre M.)

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A low snowpack makes it imperative to better manage groundwater supplies. Here’s how.

Despite the much-needed April showers we saw this week, our normally wet January and February were bone dry in most of California. So it came as little surprise when the annual April 1 snowpack measurement in the Sierras came in low, at about 53% of average statewide. It’s another important reminder of how California’s weather, and consequently our water supplies, are swinging to greater extremes.

The low snowpack and extreme weather makes it more imperative than ever to carefully manage another part of our water system: underground water supplies.

We need to measure groundwater as actively as we measure snowpack and double down on efforts to successfully implement the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). Here are three ways to help ensure more sustainable groundwater supplies for generations to come. 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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One area in California will tap regional planning to respond to the state’s groundwater law. Here’s how it could help farmers.

Now that critically overdrafted groundwater basins in the Central Valley have submitted their sustainability plans, the hard work begins for them to balance groundwater supply and demand in ways that minimize economic disruption.

A state program called Regional Conservation Investment Strategies (RCIS) can help.

RCIS wasn’t created to help groundwater basins comply with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). Rather, it was established in 2016 as a framework for regions to prioritize and develop measurable habitat conservation outcomes including those needed to  adapt to climate change.

This week, however, the Kaweah Subbasin was awarded $515,000 from the state’s Wildlife Conservation Board to develop an RCIS plan, becoming the first region in the Central Valley to leverage the process in response to SGMA. We at EDF think it could serve as a model for other communities for two reasons: Read More »

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This bill will protect scarce water supplies for rural Arizona, if the Legislature can pass it

Breakthrough reporting by the Arizona Republic widely exposed what is perhaps one of the state’s darkest water secrets: Groundwater pumping is essentially unregulated in nearly 80% of the state, putting the livelihoods and water supplies of up to 1.5 million residents at risk.

Groundwater is essential for life in the Southwest. It makes up about 40% of the water that Arizonans use each year. In many of the state’s rural areas, groundwater is the only available water supply.

Although Arizona regulates groundwater in and around Phoenix and Tucson, there are no limits on groundwater pumping in most of the state. As a result, more than a third of Arizona’s perennial rivers have been lost or altered; the city of Kingman’s main aquifer is projected to run out of water in 60 years or less; and residents in rural Arizona are already seeing their wells run dry.

Lack of oversight and transparency on groundwater pumping has left communities and rural citizens powerless to secure their water supplies.

Without action by the Arizona Legislature to address this crisis, rural communities will face ever-mounting groundwater challenges as populations grow, out-of-state mega farms move in and persistent drought continues. Fortunately, state leaders – both Republicans and Democrats – are now coming forward with legislation to tackle rural groundwater challenges. Read More »

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