Governor Newsom's California Blueprint would add $60 million more for land-use alternatives
May 25, 2022
SACRAMENTO - The California Department of Conservation today announced the award of more than $40 million to regional organizations working to reduce groundwater reliance and create local environmental and economic opportunities through land-use changes. These organizations, which operate in five important agricultural counties, are the first recipients of funding from the Multibenefit Land Repurposing Program, part of Governor Newsom's multi-faceted response to the ongoing drought.
"Worsening drought and depleted groundwater are unfortunate realities in California," said David Shabazian, director of the state's Department of Conservation, which oversees the land program. "We are supporting local governments, farmers, ranchers, and other stakeholders in exploring whether some agricultural lands might be put into alternative uses to reduce water demand and the burden on local aquifers."
With requests exceeding available grant funds by more than 120% for this first round of funding, Governor Newsom's California Blueprint adds another $60 million to support regionally-led efforts to find land-use alternatives to reduce groundwater use that reflect local objectives and priorities. This builds on the additional $50 million investment advanced by the Governor and Legislature in last year's budget package.
“This program provides funding to help regions shape a more resilient future in concert with additional statewide efforts to tackle the impacts of the drought and unleash nature-based solutions to climate change,” Director Shabazian added. “The program’s goal is to avoid simply fallowing agricultural land and to find ways to achieve positive regional environmental and economic outcomes through different uses such as habitat restoration, renewable energy, dryland farming, or recreation.”
The grant recipients all displayed the ability to work cohesively as a region and have the capacity to oversee repurposing uses that provide community benefits alongside and in conjunction with groundwater recharge.
- Two Tulare County co-applicants -- the Kaweah Delta Water Conservation District and Greater Kaweah Groundwater Sustainability Agency -- were awarded $10 million to develop a comprehensive land repurposing program in a groundwater subbasin that has been designated as critically over-drafted by the Department of Water Resources (DWR).
- The Pixley Irrigation District Groundwater Sustainability Agency, which operates in Tulare County and a portion of Kern County, received $10 million. The grant will facilitate strategic land retirement, develop habitat resources, and protect and enhance water resources in the Tule subbasin, which must reduce overdraft by more than 115,000 acre-feet (roughly 37½ billion gallons) annually.
- The California Marine Sanctuary Foundation, headquartered in Monterey, was granted $10 million to fund work by a broad coalition, including disadvantaged communities and tribes. Partners will plan, develop, and implement strategies to repurpose agricultural lands for long-term floodplain, habitat, and groundwater recharge benefits in the Lower Salinas Valley.
- The County of Madera received $10 million in funding to pay farmers to repurpose marginal agricultural lands in three critically over-drafted subbasins with historical groundwater level declines, land subsidence, and groundwater quality degradation. This award builds on a planning effort funded by a 2019 Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation (SALC) grant from the Department of Conservation, through which the county identified marginal agricultural lands to be taken out of production and developed an incentive payments program to encourage farmers to stop farming marginal lands. The new project will expand the geographic scope of the SALC-funded effort, as well as plan for and support repurposing lands taken out of production.
Additionally, Visalia-based Self-Help Enterprises and the Environmental Defense Fund’s California Water Team were awarded a $2 million grant to provide support for the program’s block grantees with planning, project implementation, and community engagement services.
The Budget Act of 2021 allocated the initial funding for the program, of which $5 million was set aside for California tribal governments, $2.5 million for administration, and $42.5 million for grants. Department of Conservation staff received 14 regional block grant applications totaling more than $111 million plus the $2 million outreach grant request.
According to the non-profit Public Policy Institute of California, 500,000 to 1 million acres of irrigated cropland may have to be removed from production
to meet the state’s groundwater sustainability goals. According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s most recent data, California has roughly 36 million acres of farm, pasture, and rangelands, of which 8.6 million acres have been irrigated at least once in the last five years.
Governor Newsom and the Legislature last year invested more than $5 billion to support the immediate drought response and build water resilience statewide. The 2021-22 state budget includes $300 million over three years for grants to support local planning and implementation of Groundwater Sustainability Plans across critically over-drafted basins. This funding will help local agencies address known data gaps, plan and implement projects, and address deficiencies in sustainability plans.
In addition to that funding, the Governor’s California Blueprint May Revision, announced May 13, proposes another $2 billion for near- and long-term water security actions.