Modernizing Irrigation Systems for a Water Secure Central Valley
Any contribution provided to the project will enable us to propose potential solutions for a water scarce Central Valley. Your donation will allow us to travel to the Central Valley to meet with irrigation district representatives, their customers, and others essential to gathering data and insight on irrigation systems in the Valley.
The team is planning on making two trips to the Central Valley and needs your help to pay for transportation, housing, and food. We are aiming to raise $750 for each of the trips to cover these costs.
Agriculture is one of California’s largest industries. The Central Valley alone produces one-fourth of the nation’s food supply, thus requiring the majority of California’s water resources. The nation’s food security and the health and livelihood of Valley residents depend on a safe, sustainable water supply. Therefore, a sustainable water management system is integral in order for agriculture to thrive in the Valley.
One problem with California’s current distribution system is the incompatibility between water districts’ delivery and farmers’ receiving methods, and the harsh realities of climate change make water resources even more scarce. This challenge forces farmers to employ old-fashioned, water-intensive irrigation practices. Gravity-fed distribution systems, for example, are not compatible with pressurized on-farm irrigation methods - modernized pressure systems require pressurized distributions. The continuing use of gravity-fed systems restrict farmers to flood irrigation, which is vulnerable to evaporation and percolation into dirt channels. Further, the recent drought intensified excessive groundwater pumping. In response to the drought and inflexible delivery schedules, more farmers drill wells to meet their crops’ water demands. Over-pumping places agricultural water supplies at risk and exacerbates land subsidence in the Central Valley. There is potential for more efficient water systems and flexible delivery schedules, but this requires additional supporting research.
For this reason, our research team is working with with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a multinational non-profit environmental group which advocates for the protection of human health and the environment. The NRDC is particularly interested in a safer, more sustainable water future for California. To consider possibilities for a water-safe future in the Central Valley, this project will assess the current techniques and realities of agricultural irrigation distribution systems in the Central Valley. Our focus will highlight the costs and environmental and economic benefits of replacing unlined, unpressurized water delivery canals with pressurized systems. With this research, we hope to find ways to conserve surface water, increase water efficiency, and lower energy demands, while also addressing potential environmental impacts, capital costs, and sufficient groundwater recharge.