Elkhorn Slough © K. Roehler

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Water and the Pajaro Valley


The Pajaro Valley is a fine place for growing things. Berries, broccoli, artichokes, lettuce, kale and many other vegetables are grown in abundance in the rich alluvial soils. The Valley watershed empties into the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and includes 1,300 square miles, four counties, over 90,000 residents, and a distinctive economic and social identity. Farmers familiar with the Pajaro know the increasing fragility on which their abundant harvests rest: the water supply is shrinking due to severe overdraft of the Pajaro aquifer. In dry years the overdraft exceeds 22,500 acre-feet, while in wet years it is as little as 2,500 acre-feet. The consistent overdraft leads to a single conclusion, if water continues to be used at this rate, future generations will not have an aquifer to draw on, and this highly diverse agricultural community will lose their livelihood.

At EcoFarm, we’re concerned not only about the Pajaro Valley, one of our nearest neighbors, but with the severe water shortage situation all over California. For 32 years we’ve worked to find innovative and ecologically sound solutions for farmers managing their water use, soil, crops, and livestock. Mounting evidence shows that the best approach to any one type of resource management is a whole farm approach that respects the surrounding ecology. EcoFarm champions this perspective in every project we undertake.

In association with our partners and allies from the California Water Stewardship Initiative (CAWSI), EcoFarm has been holding educational forums around California for farmers to discuss their water concerns and to learn about ecological techniques for on-farm water management. In collaboration with the Community Alliance for Family Farmers (CAFF), we are gathering farmers to discuss the Pajaro Valley water situation and to disseminate water conservation information in a Water Forum to be held in November, 2011.

Community talks on the Pajaro Valley water shortage are on going and businesses, such as Driscoll’s, have played a leading role in gathering farmers together in quarterly Community Water Dialogues. The Community Water Dialogue discussions involve Pajaro Valley farmers mostly from the conventional berry and vegetable sectors interested in developing new best practices for on-farm conservation and in hearing about salient research on managed aquifer recharge. Other stakeholders invested in the dialogues are the Santa Cruz Resource Conservation District and the local branch of the National Resource Conservation Service. Stakeholders have organized themselves into four working groups: recharge, big projects, land management & irrigation best practices, and communications. Each working group researches and reports back to the group as a whole.

 EcoFarm and CAFF see an opportunity to extend this dynamic and important discussion to more organic, diversified, and small and mid-scale farm operations so that they too are well versed in the issues, the strategies to overcome the overdraft and the imminent regulations coming from the Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency.

Conservation practices to address overdraft such as tension based crop irrigation are quickly becoming available and farmer education will be critical to their widespread adoption in the Pajaro. If you’re interested in becoming a part of the discussion and part of the efforts to bring on the ground, accessible solutions to reduce Pajaro aquifer overdraft, please get in touch by emailing recharge@eco-farm.org. You’ll have the opportunity to help us plan the event scheduled for November 2011. In addition to this local gathering, EcoFarm will be working with partners throughout California to develop on-farm water management resource guides.

More to come on EcoFarm’s next installment of Recharge!

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