On the Water Front

Selected tag(s): agriculture

Taking a big leap to solve California water problems: How uncommon partners are finding common ground on the water

Jump into Tuolomne River

This blog is co-authored by Joshua Viers, Professor and Program Director, Secure Water Future, University of California, Merced

There we were, 19 of us on the stony shore of the Tuolumne River, feeling a bit stranded like the crew of Gilligan’s Island.

Our “Finding Common Water” rafting excursion was planned around “no water Wednesday,” when river releases are held back for water conservation and infrastructure maintenance. The trip’s goal: Get off our desk chairs and onto rafts, out of the ordinary and into an extraordinary setting — a hot, highly regulated, wild and scenic river —  to push us out of our comfort zone and get to work on addressing real water problems.

Working with All-Outdoors whitewater expeditions, EDF and UC Merced teamed up to create the trip. Our premise was that paddling a raft together — and yanking each other back into the boats by our life vests — can build camaraderie and help find areas of agreement in ways that Zoom meetings just can’t.

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A conservation win and groundwater loss: Arizona ends 2022 session with mixed water record

The Verde River, one of the last free-flowing rivers in the Southwest, remains unprotected after another year of in action to address rural groundwater pumping in Arizona.

After months of negotiations, the Arizona Legislature passed a major water spending plan last month with funding for new conservation efforts to address deteriorating water supplies. However, for the fourth year in a row, state leaders failed to pass legislation to address unlimited groundwater pumping, missing an opportunity to enable a water secure future for 1.5 million rural residents and the state as a whole.

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This almond industry expert participated in the Leadership Institute to learn more about groundwater. Now he’s sharing that knowledge.

Donny Hicks

This blog is part of a series of profiles on Water Leadership Institute graduates. Sign up to participate in the Leadership Institute at www.edf.org/waterleadership or www.edf.org/agualiderazgo.

Donny Hicks knows almonds. He is a longtime almond farmer near Modesto, works as a field representative for the almond processor Hughson Nut and is a member of the task force for the Almond Board’s sustainability program. Already experiencing water cuts firsthand, Donny participated in the Leadership Institute, a program led by EDF and the Rural Conservation Assistance Corporation, last year to better understand water issues in his area. He was surprised to learn much more. Read on to learn what Donny gained from the institute and how he is adapting to water scarcity by working with another institute graduate, Joseph Gallegos, to test a new innovative irrigation system.

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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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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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