Making BIG IDEAS Work

Both Vic and Joe can vouch for how the power of relationships fuels creative approaches to protecting natural resources – and profits.

By engaging in candid dialogue with one another, we locate common ground on which to forge a better path forward for our Golden State.

Photos above of Vic Fanelli, Owner, Fanelli Dairy and Joe Choperena, Senior Project Manager, Sustainable Conservation

You activate our collaborative brand of environmental problem-solving across diverse industries, and we are so grateful for your part in taking care of the special place we call home.

Your support of our Making Big Ideas Work Campaign drives conservation progress rooted in trust and respect. Thank you for thinking boldly with us to ensure a healthy future for our communities, environment, and economy.


Pioneering drought solutions


California’s parched landscapes desperately need water. Through a technique we’ve been pioneering – along with farmers, irrigation districts, and researchers – we’re aiming to store water from wet seasons for dry times to come.

Flooding fields to “recharge” over-tapped subterranean water supplies has the potential to replenish up to 1/3 of the annual overdraft in parts of the San Joaquin Valley. This is great news for an area of California critical to feeding the nation.

Farmland recharge was seen as a crazy idea just five years ago, when Fresno County farmer Don Cameron diverted peak flood flows onto 1,000 acres of active cropland. Over winter and spring, he captured about three feet of water on his land and allowed it to percolate down to the aquifer below.

Thanks to your support, we now have a flood of interest in this method! Along with our partners – UC Davis and the Almond Board of California – many farmers want to demonstrate and evaluate this promising strategy to recharge our depleted groundwater. The number of farmers ready and willing to try this innovation continues to multiply, and you are enabling them to test the most hopeful new solution in years.

Your support also conserves California’s groundwater by helping us introduce farmers to water efficiency measurement practices that allow them to avoid over-pumping while growing our food under arid conditions.

In fact, our work with berry and lettuce growers in the Salinas area has shown 30% more efficient use of water as a result of our collective efforts.


Transforming excess to resource


Do you know how much waste a single cow produces each day?

120 pounds!

Multiply this by the 1.6 million dairy cows concentrated in the San Joaquin Valley and you have a mountain of a manure problem!

Dairy producers put the nutrient-rich waste product to beneficial use by fertilizing the crops they grow to feed their cows. When not managed properly, however, the nitrates in manure can leach into groundwater and pollute a primary source of drinking water for millions of Californians.

Thanks to your help, dairy farmers are testing two promising new technologies with the potential to greatly improve groundwater quality:

1. 93% of dairies hydrate their feed crops through flood irrigation, an inefficient technique that can also impair groundwater quality. In response, Sustainable Conservation partnered with Netafim, an irrigation equipment manufacturing company, and De Jager Farms in Chowchilla to pilot a liquid manure drip irrigation system that boasts triple benefits for farmers and local communities: improved water efficiency, reduced nitrate leaching, and increased crop yields.

2. In a large concrete box at Hilmar’s Fanelli Dairy, tiny red worms filter manure lagoon water into a high-value fertilizer – worm castings – and water clean enough for safe use in irrigating crops. With dairy farmer Vic Fanelli, we have conducted the first pilot of the BioFiltro worm composting box at a U.S. dairy, and the test shows great promise for reducing water contamination while producing a valuable compost product.


Clearing a path to sustain wildlife


Some endangered species of fish now number in the hundreds because they cannot access upstream spawning grounds due to many man-made barriers blocking their way.

And, unfortunately, landowners who want to remove fish passage barriers or plant vegetation along streams to improve water quality – for example – face not encouragement but roadblocks and expense.

With your help, we’re removing permitting barriers to unleash habitat-boosting projects across the state.

By securing simplified permits with all state and federal agencies with jurisdiction over restoration, land managers will be able to implement voluntary restoration work in a matter of months rather than years.

Simplified permits secured:

  • California Department of Fish and Wildlife
  • California Coastal Commission
  • State Water Resources Control Board
  • NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)
  • Fisheries for the entire California coast

To be secured:

  • NOAA for a simplified permit for the entire Central Valley
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service


Promoting non-invasive plants


“Invasive plants are like champion Olympians – higher, faster, stronger,” explains Jan Merryweather, PlantRight’s Senior Project Manager. “They are the first to get to the sun, their seed production is prolific, and they often replace the natural forage for our native animals and insects. Some clog waterways; some can even alter soil composition. Many are fire hazards, too.”

Keeping invasive plants out of our landscapes is critical to preserving California’s unique biodiversity, and you have helped us recruit the plant industry to be part of the solution! We now have agreements from The Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Orchard Supply Hardware to not sell invasive plants from PlantRight’s dynamic list in their California stores. And, because 70% of plants in gardens come from the “big box” outlets, leadership by these franchises makes a huge impact.

Working with plant scientists, breeders, and distributors to prevent problem plants from being introduced in the first place helps both the environment and the bottom line. That’s why we developed the peer-reviewed, scientifically proven decision support tool – PRE (Plant Risk Evaluation) – that predicts invasive behavior risk in any given region.

Your support enables us to promote national adoption of PRE – aiming to protect our Golden State’s unique array of plants and animals, as well as habitat throughout the U.S.

Sustainable Conservation

Sustainable Conservation helps California thrive by uniting people to solve the toughest challenges facing our land, air, and water.

98 Battery Street, Suite 302
San Francisco, CA 94111

201 Needham Street
Modesto, CA 95354

Portraits of Vic Fanelli and Joe Choperena by Paolo Vescia.