Water Sustainability


California is in the middle of a historical drought that, along with climate change, is drastically impacting and affecting agriculture throughout the state. CAFF has always been a proponent of farming sustainability, including using water-saving practices. This is now more important than ever, and CAFF is working on several fronts to address the issue.


Porometer-Demonstration-copyOutreach and Education about Dry Farming

CAFF is working with farmers to promote the adoption of on-farm water management practices. Through our workshop series, CAFF is actively trying to connect growers with the information, resources, and technical expertise necessary for on-farm practice adoption. Since 2009, CAFF has been holding workshop to promote dry farming – a method of wine grape growing that relies on the moisture held in the soils to support vine growth- throughout the major wine regions of California. In 2014 we expanded our program to include workshops on irrigation management. From all of these workshops, CAFF has been collecting resources on irrigation management and dry farming. Visit this page to learn about our past workshops, download the handouts and case-studies.


IMG_4518-copyCalifornia Agricultural Water Stewardship Initiative (CAWSI)

In January of 2014, CAFF became the new manager of the CAWSI online water resource center. CAWSI was first conceived of and launched in 2008 by a coalition of agricultural support agencies. CAWSI’s mission is to raise awareness about approaches to agricultural water management that support the viability of agriculture, conserve water and protect ecological integrity in California. To that end, the CAWSI online resource center has 12 practice pages describing alternative on-farm water management practices; 68 case studies, describing the practices of California farmers; an extensive technical resources library; and a YouTube Channel with links to videos on 16 different practice areas.

The online resource center is a valuable source of information for farmers, academics, water purveyors, and all those interested in sound on-farm water management in California. CAFF invites all interested parties to submit ideas for additional content, such as reports, fact sheets, websites, and to suggest farmers for case studies. You can download our case-study submission form or email us directly at info@agwaterstewards.org.


Rossi-Ranch-copyCA Roundtable on Water and Food Supply

CAFF has participated in the California Roundtable on Water and Food Supply (CRWFS; a project of Ag Innovations) since its inception; the roundtable is a forum at the intersection of agriculture and water management to uncover obstacles, identify strategic and widely accepted solutions, and generate recommendations to assure a reliable, long-term supply of water to California’s specialty crop producers while optimizing other beneficial uses of water.

In an attempt to uncover the root causes of these challenges and identify a new, strategic approach to addressing them, CRWFS has published a report, From Crisis to Connectivity: Renewed Thinking About Managing California’s Water and Food Supply. The report describes the connectivity approach, providing a whole-systems framework for our water management decisions. Accompanying the report is a booklet featuring existing efforts that already apply these guiding principles and generate the sorts of connected-benefit solutions: Applying the Connectivity Approach: Water and Food Supply Projects in California that Connect, Link, and Engage.


image (5)Legislation and Government Involvement

CAFF is co-sponsoring a bill in this session of the Legislature, the Agriculture Climate Benefits Act, SB 367. The bill is authored by Senator Lois Wolk (D-Yolo County), and is co-sponsored with our climate policy coalition, CalCAN.

Agriculture is among the only sectors that can actually draw down greenhouse gases and store them in soils and plants. These agricultural climate solutions are needed to meet the state’s goals and prevent dangerous levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. By investing a portion of the state’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Funds in agricultural projects that have been shown to move us in the right direction, we hope to avoid unnecessary regulation of farming and ranching. These programs will have a dual impact, producing climate benefits while better preparing farms to deal with drought, extreme weather events, and other effects of climate change. Because greenhouse gases in crop agriculture are often tied to irrigation, many of the greenhouse gas reducing practices will have the added benefit of reducing applied water.

SB 367’s programs are supported by scientific evidence that conserving farmland can limit urban sprawl and avoid associated greenhouse gases, and that farm management practices to improve soil health, conserve water and energy, generate renewable energy, and create wildlife habitat all have significant and measurable climate benefits. Read more here.

In addition, CAFF participated in the CDFA State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP) Program. On September 29, 2014 the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) will initiate a second application period for the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP), authorized by emergency drought legislation (Senate Bill 103). SWEEP will provide an estimated $10 million in competitive grant funding for financial assistance to agricultural operations to implement water conservation measures that result in increased water efficiency and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.


Pajaro Valley Community Water Dialogue

The Pajaro Valley is an unusually valuable agricultural resource. Despite being the most northerly coastal valley in California, it is in many ways more mild than those to the south. While the primary crops have changed through the years and will likely continue to change, there is no doubt that as long as there is land and water available, the Pajaro Valley’s extraordinary climate will be sought after for the production of important and highly valued crops.

The aquifer in the Pajaro Valley provides more than 90 percent of the water used by residents, businesses and farmers. However, a historic change in land use, coupled with urban expansion, has resulted in water being withdrawn from the aquifer faster than it can be replenished. This is causing damage to both the environment and agricultural productivity through coastal saltwater intrusion.

In response to this serious issue, a group of major landowners in the Valley created the Community Water Dialogue (CWD) in July 2010. Spearheaded by Miles Reiter of Driscoll’s, the group was trying to overcome decades of argument about building a pipeline to the State Water Project, in order to focus the community on the need to stabilize groundwater using the Valley’s own resources. (See the original letter to the Santa Cruz Sentinel.)

CAFF co-chaired the Communications Committee of the Dialogue for some years and served on the planning committee as well.  A group from the Dialogue helped the Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency re-write its Basin Management Plan to incorporate the ideas of the Dialogue, and that Basin Management Plan will carry forward some of the implementation of the Dialogue projects, in collaboration with the Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz County. CAFF continues to work with local farmers to implement efficient water management practices. We believe this effort can serve as a model for other regions facing similar groundwater overdraft.

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