The reality is with the requirements of the Sustainability Groundwater Management Act, the amount of farmland that can be used will continue to be reduced.
But there are efforts to make sure that farmland doesn't completely go to waste. A bill to administer a program to help land that no longer can be used as farmland to be used for other purposes is making its way through the State Legislature.
Assembly Bill 252 has passed the State Assembly and the State Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the bill on Thursday. The bill, the Multibenefit Land Repurposing Incentive Program, would set up a program administered by the California Department of Conservation to distribute grants to help lost farmland be used for other purposes. The program would serve areas that have groundwater basins that have been over drafted.
Under the SGMA, the pumping of groundwater must be reduced. As a result there will be farmland that will no longer be able to be used due to the lack of water. It's estimated a million acres of farmland in Central California will be lost due to SGMA restrictions.
AB 252 co-authored by Assemblymen Robert Rivas, D-Hollister, and Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, would address that issue. It's designed to make sure farmland taken out of production is used for other purposes such as conservation, recreation or other activities that benefit local communities.
The bill would create a pilot program to support using formerly irrigated farmland for such purposes as groundwater recharge, biodiversity conservation, as pollinator habitats, cattle grazing, and other uses that would be beneficial and would use less water.
Among the projects could be restoring habitat for wildlife such as migratory birds and endangered species such as the Valley's kit fox.
Wildlife-friendly groundwater recharge basis could also be created, floodplains could be restored and farmland that heavily uses water could be converted into dryland farming. The program could also be used to develop parks and recreation areas.
The program requires special consideration be given to agricultural land that's 500 acres or less and to socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
Those behind the bill said the program is also needed to prevent a patchwork of dusty land full of weeds that would result from the loss of farmland, thus helping air quality.
Among those who have supported and sponsored the bill are the Environmental Defense Fund. The organization stated AB 252 would be an important step in transforming the Valley's farmland that would otherwise be lost.
“This land repurposing program will help make the critical transition to sustainable groundwater manamgent less disruptive to California's agricultural economy by creating new opportunities for how farmers can use their land,” said Ann Hayden, Senior Director, Water, Environmental Defense Fund. “The program proposed in this bill also can reduce potential negative impacts of taking land out of production, such as spreading invasive weeds and greater dust emissions and instead bring substantial benefits to rural communities and wildlife habitat.”
There's no funding component to AB 252 as it creates a program to administer grants. Block grants to groundwater sustainability agencies and other local organizations would be provided in the program. The bill also requires local agencies that receive grants to receive input from community members.
Those grants could come from Governor Gavin Newsom's $5.1 billion plan to address the drought and water infrastructure which include $500 million for the repurposing of lost farmland.
There's optimism the bill will pass the senate and be signed by Newsom.