Partnering with Farmers to Promote Efficient Water Use

Despite significant advances in water delivery and irrigation efficiency, many of California’s most productive farming regions increasingly face issues of water supply uncertainty, groundwater overdraft, nitrate contamination and declines in the health of California’s rivers and wetlands. With ever more variability in annual rainfall and snow accumulation predicted, there is an increased need for coordinated management of our water supplies.


Tracking Water Use in California’s Pajaro Valley

Farmers in the Salinas Valley measure soil moisture. Photo: Lisa Lurie.

Farmers in the Salinas Valley measure soil moisture. Photo: Lisa Lurie.

California’s Pajaro Valley, spanning the Santa Cruz-Monterey County line and home to some of the most productive farmland in the nation, is largely dependent on groundwater for its farming and urban needs. The region’s underground aquifer is annually overdrawn by 12,000 acre-feet, equivalent to about 600 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Decades of groundwater pumping in excess of natural replenishment have resulted in a diminishing groundwater supply. One unfortunate result is the spread of saltwater from the Monterey Bay into the aquifer, which impairs drinking water quality for residents and becomes unsuitable for crop production.

To tackle the water issues in the Pajaro Valley, Sustainable Conservation is partnering with local water management agencies, industry leaders, conservation organizations and farmers to identify incentives to encourage farmers to deploy new technologies that improve water and fertilizer efficiency.

We’ve teamed up with Driscoll’s Berries and the Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz County to develop and test a combination of performance-based measures. These measures help producers gauge the amount of water used against how much water their crops actually need.

Access to this information is integral in helping producers more efficiently manage their water use, while improving crop yields and quality. Tracking water and nutrient efficiency also helps growers provide sustainability reporting to produce buyers and water quality regulators.

The performance measures Sustainable Conservation promotes have been tested over the past two years across a number of strawberry farms. Scaling our solution involves conducting an economic evaluation of the cost savings realized by growers who are able to measure water and nutrient efficiency.

Driscoll’s is leading the charge to encourage and support strawberry growers to track water and nutrient use as a way to improve crop production, conserve water and protect the environment. The hope is to reduce farming’s water use in the region by 30%, or 5,000 acre-feet, which will also help keep the region’s streams and groundwater free of nitrates that are often flushed out of fields by inefficient irrigation.

Scaling Our Solution

Although the Pajaro Valley watershed is only 120 square miles, the lessons learned have prepared us to adapt the performance measures for vegetable production and expand into the nearby Salinas Valley, as well as other coastal areas facing similar water supply and quality issues. We have initiated a partnership with the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops to test our performance metrics with lettuce growers in partnership with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Resource Conservation District of Monterey County.



Driscoll’s Berries

Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz County

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