June 16, 2023
SACRAMENTO – California's latest drought-flood cycle has shown the need for local and regional strategies to manage and store floodwaters in wet periods to help ensure stable water supplies during times of drought.
Today, the California Department of Conservation’s Multibenefit Land Repurposing Program
awards $35 million to regions that are adapting land use to improve sustainability of groundwater basins. Across Santa Cruz, Merced, Stanislaus, Kings, San Benito, Monterey, and Fresno counties, four regional organizations will receive grants to increase regional capacity to repurpose agricultural land, thereby reducing reliance on groundwater and increasing groundwater sustainability.
“Despite our wet winter, there are still many places in California where groundwater basins have been drawn down significantly over years of extreme drought, which cannot be adequately replenished by one wet year,” Department of Conservation Director David Shabazian
said. “The grants we awarded this year build upon the first round of funding, and in some cases are adjacent to regions that received funding last year. We are creating a model of how regions can achieve groundwater sustainability in a strategic, coordinated way.
“Part of our department’s mission is to protect farmland and promote a sustainable economy. If we’re taking land out of production, we want to ensure regions are ready to pursue beneficial land use opportunities – floodplain restoration, groundwater recharge, safe drinking water, more renewable energy, habitat enhancement and benefits to the local environment and economy.”
A closer look at the grant recipients and their plans for the funding:
- Pajaro Valley Groundwater Sustainability Agency will utilize its grant to support strategic land retirement, develop habitat resources, facilitate groundwater recharge and protect and enhance water resources in the Pajaro Valley. The grant will prioritize implementation of five pre-identified projects, including the repurposing of marginal and frequently flooded agricultural lands and construction of a new recharge basin.
- East Turlock Groundwater Sustainability Agency will expand upon prior and ongoing work in Merced and Stanislaus counties within the Turlock Subbasin to identify land repurposing plan objectives. The proposal focuses on updating and refining the method of simulating recharge and repurposing strategies, identifying opportunities for restoring marshy depressions in orchards, floodplain reconnection, recharge, re-cropping and cover cropping, and identifying opportunities for solar power projects on agricultural land.
- Merced Subbasin Groundwater Sustainability Agency plans to address overall groundwater overdraft in the Merced Subbasin as well as specific “hot spots” where groundwater sustainability indicators are most troublesome. Two main areas of focus will be on the development of long-term land repurposing projects and the establishment of a wildlife habitat corridor between the Sierra Nevada and the Merced National Wildlife Refuge.
- Westlands Water District Groundwater Sustainability Agency (PDF) will expand land repurposing efforts in the Westside Subbasin -- spanning an area through Kings and Fresno counties -- through an inclusive community engagement process. Implementation projects will focus on creation of multibenefit recharge areas, transitioning irrigated land to dryland farming or non-irrigated rangeland, facilitating renewable energy projects that have an overall net greenhouse gas reduction benefit, creating or restoring wildlife habitat, and/or purchasing land and easements to support repurposing.
The Multibenefit Land Repurposing Program received 10 applications totaling nearly $85 million in requested funds this year. The Department of Conservation saw similar results last year
, receiving funding requests that were more than double the $40 million available for the program.
According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, 24.2 million acres of land were devoted to farming and ranching in 2021. The nonprofit Public Policy Institute of California estimates that up to a million acres of irrigated cropland may have to be taken out of production to achieve California’s groundwater sustainability goals.