On the Water Front

This Leadership Institute graduate sees a path to water security through an often overlooked strategy: innovation.

Joseph GallegosJoseph Gallegos’ interest in water and climate change began as a hobby after he retired as a telecom executive during the 2015 drought. Tired of watching his lawn go brown, Joseph decided to build a system to take water use by his washing machine and deliver it to his lawn, since no such product existed at the time.

His solution took off and is now available at Lowe’s under the brand Grey4Green, a company Joseph founded that aims to promote water and climate resilience through innovation and community outreach. In 2019, Joseph started working on another system to substantially reduce water use on farms, which is called the aquifer pipe.

I first learned about Joseph’s innovative and entrepreneurial drive when planning for the next cohort of the Leadership Institute, a program he participated in last year facilitated by the Environmental Defense Fund and Rural Community Assistance Corporation. The institute builds capacity and leadership skills so members of disadvantaged and underrepresented communities can more effectively engage in water decision-making and help develop equitable, long-lasting water solutions.

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This farmland repurposing project is delivering 3 benefits. A park may be next.

Farmland repurposed for groundwater recharge with Huron in background Sarah Woolf, a member of a Fresno County farm family, is standing on the edge of a field that most recently grew hemp; garlic, tomatoes and onions before that; and cotton years ago. On one side is the dry Arroyo Pasajero Creek, bushes, and a wild, scraggly tree that looks like something from a Dr. Seuss book. On the other side in the far distance is the small farming town of Huron.

This former hemp field has been regraded to recharge groundwater from the creek during the next big storm in order to provide both water supply and flood control benefits. It’s an example of the kind of project that could be funded by the state’s new Multibenefit Land Repurposing Program, which launched this year with an initial $50 million. The program was created to help ease the transition for farmers to sustainable groundwater management while creating new benefits on previously irrigated land.

My colleagues and I recently visited the Arroyo Pasajero Creek and talked with Woolf and later Huron Mayor Rey León about the project and current drought. In addition to conserving water, here are three additional benefits of this land repurposing project — and one envisioned for the future — that they highlighted.

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Welcome to the first edition of On the Water Front, the new blog and newsletter of EDF’s Water Program

World Water Day Groundwater Image

Welcome to the new monthly e-newsletter from EDF’s Climate Resilient Water Systems team. It seemed fitting to launch this effort on World Water Day because the theme this year aligns so closely with our work: “Groundwater  Making the Invisible, Visible.”  

Over these past two challenging years, the pandemic, my own health issues and family needs have highlighted some major flaws in our health care system that reminded me of … groundwater. When a crisis arrives, our response can be quick, aggressive and sometimes even highly effective. This same system isn’t as good at long-term health — supporting the patient in their ongoing well-being, anticipating possible or even likely future conditions, and taking actions in advance to avoid a crisis.

I see a similar pattern in how we manage our groundwater. When there’s an obvious crisis from groundwater depletion (wells going dry, land subsidence or saltwater intrusion, for instance), we jump to action, attempting to treat a long-declining patient with a single surgical procedure. Sure, we need these procedures, but often we do them without the support of the whole health care system.

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Crop-switching in the megadrought: Can guayule help Arizona farmers use less water?

Guayule and ladybugs

This year, farmers in Pinal County, Arizona, will lose two-thirds of their irrigation water from the Colorado River because of a historic shortage declaration triggered by the driest period in more than 1,000 years. And within two years, they will be completely cut off from the Colorado River.

Some farmers are responding by fallowing fields. Others are selling their land to solar companies. And then there’s Will Thelander, a farmer who partnered with EDF, Bridgestone Americas and the University of Arizona to test a new crop that uses half as much water as the alfalfa he previously grew.

Crop-switching to a desert shrub called guayule used to produce rubber is one of just many strategies that will be needed in Arizona and other regions to adapt to water scarcity and maintain agricultural economies in a new era of aridification. However, it’s not nearly as simple as just planting different seeds in the ground.

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