How is California’s drought affecting farming, rural communities, and the environment? How much water do farms use, and how do they benefit the state’s economy? What are farmers doing to improve how water is managed? These were some of the big questions discussed by a panel of experts at the October 20 event “Weathering Drought: Farming Solutions for a Thriving California,” organized by the nonprofit group Sustainable Conservation and held at PPIC’s Bechtel Conference Center.
Ashley Boren, Sustainable Conservation’s executive director, moderated the discussion with Ellen Hanak, director of the PPIC Water Policy Center; Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture; Don Cameron, general manager of Terranova Ranch; and Kat Taylor, co-owner of TomKat Ranch.
The panelists talked about a range of water-management efforts that are being tried on the state’s farms. Terranova Ranch is the site of a particularly promising approach to water storage. Cameron said the farm is building infrastructure to funnel excess flood waters from the Kings River to fields, where it will soak into the ground. This helps replenish the groundwater basin—which has dropped after serving as a vital reserve over three years of drought—as well as reducing flood risk to downstream communities. Taylor described efforts to rebuild the health of the soils—another vital store of moisture—on the grazing lands at TomKat Ranch.
While acknowledging the challenges California is facing from the drought, the panelists also described positive changes underway. Ross noted that in her travels around the state’s agricultural regions, people are talking about unprecedented levels of cooperation to help each other get through the dry times. The message she’s hearing is we’re all in this together, and we’ll get through it by working together.
Read Sustainable Conservation’s blog about the event
Read Reforming California’s Groundwater Management (PPIC fact sheet, June 2015)
Read our report What If California’s Drought Continues? (August 2015)