Growing Returns

Selected tag(s): SGMA

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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Small California farmers are often overlooked in water policy. Here’s a look at their unique challenges.

Ruth Dahlquist-Willard is a small farms adviser with the University of California Cooperative Extension, focusing on immigrant, refugee and other farmers with limited resources in the San Joaquin Valley.

Many of the Southeast Asian farmers she supports are first-generation immigrants who came to California starting in the late 1970s after the Secret War in Laos, or who came as recently as 2004. Some of the Latino farmers are first-generation immigrants who were previously farm laborers and are now moving into operating their own farms. Read More »

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A Craigslist for water trading? Learn how this new water management platform works

Eric Averett, General Manager, Rosedale-Rio Bravo Water Storage District

Eric Averett is general manager of the Rosedale-Rio Bravo Water Storage District in Kern County, California, which is one of 21 regions required by the state to balance groundwater demand and supply within 20 years under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

Rosedale is home to approximately 27,500 acres of irrigated cropland and 7,500 acres of urban development. Groundwater demand there exceeds supply by approximately 5,000 acre-feet per year.

To inform landowners about their water budgets, Rosedale partnered with EDF, Sitka Technology Group, WestWater Research and local landowners to co-develop a new online, open-source water accounting and trading platform.

Read More »

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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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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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Groundwater plans are due in California, but the hard work is just getting started

January 31 is a big day for California water. It’s the day when 19 critically overdrafted groundwater basins must submit plans to the state for how they will bring their groundwater demand in line with available supplies over the next 20 years.

This deadline was set by the state’s most sweeping water law change in a century – the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). SGMA, passed during the last major drought, was designed to put an end to groundwater overpumping and ensure there’s enough water for people, the economy and wildlife in California for generations to come.

SGMA is taking water managers and users into uncharted territory. Since its passage, California water managers have made important progress, creating new groundwater agencies and learning more about their local groundwater supplies and demands. These are important first steps toward sustainability, but SGMA requires a deeper paradigm shift to succeed.

Here are four actions that will help drive this massive shift and move California closer to truly balancing groundwater supply and demand.

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Broken pipes. Complex funding applications. The water challenges facing California’s disadvantaged communities.

This blog post was written by Adriana Fernandez, EDF’s 2019 Tom Graff Diversity Fellow.

California might have the fifth largest economy in the world, but many people in the state’s disadvantaged communities feel like they are living in a third world country because they don’t have safe, clean and affordable drinking water.

Throughout the past year as a Tom Graff Diversity Fellow at EDF, I had the privilege to gain a deeper understanding of these critical water challenges facing low-income, underrepresented communities in California and amplify the voices of community members left out of the decision-making process.

After conducting a series of interviews with community members, local nonprofit leaders, university professors and consultants, I identified three crucial challenges facing some of these communities. One water operator who I interviewed shared the story of a small water system in a rural community in the eastern part of Southern California that struggles with all three of these challenges. Read More »

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Five years into SGMA, here are five important considerations for balancing groundwater quality and quantity

This blog post was written by Sarah Fakhreddine, a former Lokey fellow in EDF’s Western Water program.

California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), signed into law five years ago, requires local leaders to balance groundwater demand and supplies for the first time. Groundwater is an important foundation of California’s water system, and SGMA is a crucial way of strengthening that foundation and creating a more resilient future for the state.

However, balancing groundwater budgets will not be easy. And this major challenge is further complicated by the fact that activities designed to increase groundwater supplies can unintentionally cause new groundwater quality problems or worsen existing contamination.

A new working paper that Environmental Defense Fund co-authored with Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences; Green Science Policy Institute; and the Energy and Environmental Sciences Area of Berkeley Lab outlines how groundwater management activities can affect not only the quantity but also the quality of groundwater.

Our paper aims to help groundwater sustainability agencies and local communities avoid inadvertently contaminating supplies as they change management practices to comply with SGMA. In fact, it’s even possible for some SGMA projects aimed at increasing groundwater quantity to actually improve groundwater quality, too, the paper notes.

Read More »

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The Groundwater Game: A new hands-on way to learn about groundwater management

One evening, at a community center in the Sacramento Valley, a teacher, a civil engineer, a tomato farmer and a local foundation board member found themselves standing above a table, feverishly competing to scoop the most glass beads from a large, communal bowl.

But there was a catch. Read More »

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What’s next for California’s Central Valley? Even with water cutbacks, the region can still thrive. Here’s how.

California’s Central Valley has reached a fork in the road.

By January 2020, areas where groundwater demand far outstrips supply must submit plans to bring their groundwater basins back into balance within 20 years. These plans are required by the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, or SGMA, which was signed into law in 2014 during the state’s latest multiyear drought.

SGMA inevitably means less water for irrigating farms. Worst-case estimates forecast as much as 780,000 acres of farmland — out of more than 5 million acres of total irrigated land — will have to be taken out of production. How local decision makers and community members navigate this transition to sustainable groundwater management will significantly shape the future of the region, known as the country’s fruit and nut capital.

On one path, the valley could become a patchwork of dusty barren fields, serving a huge blow to the agriculture sector and rural communities and further impairing already poor air quality. Active farms could become surrounded by fields of invasive weeds and pests, threatening productivity.

On another path, the valley could transform into a pioneering agricultural region that not only puts food on our nation’s plates but also supports thriving wildlife habitat, outdoor recreation, soil health, groundwater recharge and flood control.

EDF is working to help communities achieve this second vision through our Central Valley Resilience Initiative, which features three key strategies: conversion of farmland into wildlife corridors, water trading and community engagement. Of course, all three strategies will require additional funding at the state, regional and local levels. Read More »

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