California’s farmers who produce our food are especially vulnerable to the state’s increasing water insecurity.

The “precipitation whiplash” the state experienced in recent years is a phenomenon that climate scientists anticipate will increase in frequency and severity in the decades to come. One recent academic literature review by six UC researchers found that by the end of the century, California can expect a 50 percent increase in the number of severe droughts, a 50 percent increase in the number of severe flooding events, and a potential 65 percent loss in snowpack (Pathak et al., 2018). Good water stewardship is key to the long-term sustainability of California’s vibrant agricultural production and communities.   

Other benefits that can come with conserving water include:

  • Lower water and energy bills for farmers
  • Reduced agricultural use of scarce water supplies
  • Improved air quality from more efficient and solar-powered irrigation pumps
  • Reduced N2O emissions from  more precise water application

New policies passed in the past eight years have laid the groundwork for long-overdue groundwater management, nitrate pollution reduction, and investments in on-farm water use efficiency.

State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP)

In 2014, under an emergency drought declaration, Governor Brown authorized a new program called the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP). The program’s funding comes from the state’s cap-and-trade and bond revenue and is used to make grants to farmers and ranchers for practices that reduce both water and energy use.

Coordinated by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), SWEEP provides cost-share grants to growers to install more efficient irrigation systems, including subsurface drip irrigation, solar-powered pumps, and remote soil moisture monitoring equipment. Not surprisingly, the program has been very popular with farmers—during the first six grant rounds, almost three times more applications were received than were funded.

Eligible projects include:

  • Implementing micro-irrigation or drip systems
  • Conversion of a fossil fuel (e.g. diesel) pumps to solar, wind, electric, or natural gas energy
  • Low pressure irrigation systems

Read more information on SWEEP.

Related Programs

Sustainable Groundwater Management Act – In 2014, the legislature passed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), a package of bills requiring local governments to monitor and regulate groundwater usage. Since then, many local groundwater sustainability agencies have formed and are in the process of developing groundwater sustainability plans. Learn more about SGMA.

Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program (ILRP) – ILRP was established in 2012 to prevent further contamination of surface and groundwater through grower education, required nutrient management planning and reporting. Learn more about ILRP.

Bond Measures

In 2014, voters approved Proposition 1, a $7.5 billion bond that included funding for on-farm water conservation that CalCAN advocated for in the bond. $30 million in grants were made in 2016 by the Department of Water Resources for a range of training, technical assistance, and demonstration projects.

In 2018 , Proposition 68 was passed by voters, authorizing a $4.1 billion natural resources bond.  Included in the bond and supported by CalCAN was one-time funding for SWEEP of $20 million, $10 million for the Healthy Soils Program and $20 million for the Farmland Conservancy Program.

Water Stewardship Bill History

CalCAN sponsored or played a lead role in the following related bills that passed and were signed into law.

AB 1532 (2012) — Introduced by Speaker John Perez, the bill includes sustainable agriculture as an eligible funding area for cap and trade investment. This has been a major funding source for CDFA’s SWEEP.

SB 252 (2017) — Introduced by Senator Bill Dodd, this bill responded to groundwater concerns of many family farmers and rural residents by requiring local governments in critically overdrafted groundwater basins to request additional information on new well permits and make the information publicly available.

AB 2377 (2018) — Authored by Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin, this bill funds technical assistance for farmers and ranchers seeking to transition to Climate Smart Agriculture practices through SWEEP and other programs.

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