CalCAN Brief: Recommendations for Scaling Up California’s Climate and Water Smart Program

Posted on Tuesday, September 11th, 2018 by Brian Shobe
Click on the image above to download CalCAN’s Policy Brief.

Today, CalCAN published a policy brief on the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP), California’s climate change program aimed at saving water and energy on farms and ranches.

The CalCAN brief summarizes the impact of SWEEP projects to date and shares our findings and recommendations for the program.

Our main takeaways are that the program remains in high demand among farmers and improves irrigation management in ways that save water, energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in strategic locations and at a critical time in the state. But more needs to be done to ensure that SWEEP is part of promoting sustainable groundwater management in the state.

SWEEP Responds to Drought

In 2014, California was in the midst of one of the worst droughts in the state’s history. In response, Governor Brown and his administration created SWEEP to provide financial incentives to farmers to improve irrigation management in ways that save water and energy while reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The program is the first of its kind in the country.

SWEEP Award Distribution

SWEEP has proved enormously popular among farmers, with applications outnumbering awards by a nearly 3-to-1 ratio. Since 2014, the program funded over 600 projects across 33 counties for a total of $62.8 million. The policy brief analyzes the distribution of those projects across various criteria. For example, we learned that 3 out of 5 SWEEP projects are located in critically overdrafted groundwater basins and 1 out of 3 are located in and benefitting disadvantaged communities. The Central Valley and Central Coast have received the greatest number of awards, while Southern California has received very few.

We also learned that SWEEP awards have been fairly evenly distributed across farm scales, as shown in the bar graph below. Overall, small and mid-scale farms (<500 acres) received approximately 75% of SWEEP awards in 2016-2017.

Findings and Recommendations

CalCAN conducted interviews with eleven technical assistance (TA) provider, three of CDFA’s application reviewers, and farmers to inform our brief. We summarized their feedback into ten findings.

One set of more granular findings addresses opportunities to improve the application process and farmer experience with the program. For example, most TA providers described the application period as too short, the application as too complex and time-consuming, and the necessary one-on-one technical assistance to successfully participate in the program as underfunded. The recommendations that come out of these findings could be immediately incorporated into CDFA’s upcoming round of SWEEP.

Another set of findings evoke a bigger picture vision of how the program could be better aligned and integrated with the groundwater sustainability and water conservation efforts of water districts, groundwater sustainability agencies (GSAs), and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The recommendations that come out of these findings require convening a variety of experts, TA providers, and stakeholders in those agencies to discuss how to better align and integrate SWEEP, so are focused more on shaping the long-term vision and future rounds of the program.

In total, the policy brief offers 11 broad recommendations. They include:

  1. Increase funding for technical assistance and improve the application experience for farmers.
  2. Convene irrigation experts, TA providers, and representatives from GSAs, water districts, and NRCS to help CDFA align SWEEP with long-term groundwater sustainability objectives and explore the barriers and opportunities for greater participation in southern California.
  3. Coordinate with those same stakeholders to improve SWEEP outreach, technical assistance, and irrigation management training.

SWEEP Public Comment Period

The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), which administers SWEEP, is currently accepting comments on its draft Request for Grant Applications (RGA). Comments regarding the draft RGA can be submitted to no later than 5:00 p.m. PST on Wednesday, September 12, 2018.

Curious to Read Stories of SWEEP Recipients and Projects?

CalCAN has profiled 10 SWEEP recipients from around the state to illustrate the many benefits to farmers, the environment and our communities that this program is delivering. Click here to browse a sampling of farmer and rancher stories from different regions.

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