Gold Ridge RCD: Using Water Catchment as a Climate Adaptation Strategy

gold ridge rcdCalCAN is pleased to consider the Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District (RCD) a partner in the effort to support farmers and ranchers in adapting to climate change. Gold Ridge RCD is a leader in on-farm and residential water catchment projects, a critical strategy as the region copes with a historic drought and an increasingly water-scarce future.

Most landowners in West Sonoma County, located in the Russian River water basin, rely on shallow wells and surface water. Gold Ridge RCD helps growers establish water catchment and storage projects to ensure the long-term viability of farming and ranching and respond to the increasing water scarcity.

Courtesy of John Green

The image on the left depicts the guiding principle of rainwater catchment projects: the amount of collectable water depends on both the roof footprint (or area) and the amount of rainwater that falls on it. For example, a 1,000 square foot roof area will shed 623 gallons of water for each inch of rainfall.

Unlike water collection from a stream, river, or well, rainwater and dispersed surface flow do not fall under the jurisdiction of the State Water Resources Control Board. Since farmers therefore do not need to obtain an appropriative right to these water resources, the only cost involved is the initial investment in infrastructure, costs that can be amortized over the many decades of the expected life of the projects.

Gold Ridge has recently implemented several catchment projects on Sonoma County farms. On the Gilardi Ranch, rainwater collected on a large roof is kept in a 235,000 gallon underground storage tank, providing water security even during a severe drought—the stored water provides most of the supply for 180 heifers through the six month dry season. At the Westview Jersey Dairy, rainwater will be directed into a 4.3 acre-foot pond, which is protected with a floating cover to minimize evaporative loss. This on-farm pond will supply the dairy’s milking parlor and herd of 200 cows with 7,500 gallons of water per day for six months.

Rainwater Catchment System at Gilardi Ranch
Rainwater Catchment System
at Gilardi Ranch

Both rainwater catchment systems replaced  shallow, near-channel wells, and both increase the resilience of the farms to the seasonal water shortages that are expected to be increasingly more frequent and more significant due to climate change. Both projects aim to enhance instream flows in order to provide better dry season habitat for the young endangered salmon living in the adjacent creek.

Farmers can enjoy numerous benefits of rainwater catchment and on-farm water storage facilities, such as energy savings, the mitigation of conveyance and evaporative losses, and the enhancement of water security and local control over supply. Further, many farmers who work with the Gold Ridge RCD report better water quality from rainwater catchment than from shallow wells, which enhances animal health and even dairy cow milk production.

Gold Ridge RCD takes a holistic approach to managing water resources, by evaluating supply, demand, existing conservation practices, potential alternatives, collection and storage capacity, seasonal fluctuations, and water rights. Understanding how all of these factors interact is key to the development of successful water catchment and storage operations, which secures farmers’ water supply even during severe drought.

To learn more about the water catchment work of Gold Ridge RCD, check out our webinar with Executive Director Brittany Heck and Lead Scientist/Project Manager John Green.

Image credit to John Green.

Stay Connected
Get newsletter and blog updates and action alerts from CalCAN