Farmland Repurposing Bill to Support Sustainable Water Supplies, Rural Communities and Wildlife Advances in the California State Senate
(Sacramento, CA — Aug 26, 2021) Today, the California State Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously moved the Multibenefit Land Repurposing Incentive Program bill (AB 252), co-authored by Assembly Members Robert Rivas (D-Hollister) and Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield), off of the suspense file to the Senate floor for a vote. The bill, sponsored by EDF, would create a new program to help farmers, water managers and rural communities adapt to more sustainable groundwater use while simultaneously creating new benefits for people and wildlife.
As a result of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, passed in 2014 during the last drought, California regions with the most critically overdrafted groundwater basins will have to balance supply and demand by 2040. To make this transition to sustainable groundwater management, some agricultural land will have to be taken out of production — at least 750,000 acres, roughly equivalent to the size of Yosemite National Park.
AB 252 will help create opportunities on these previously irrigated agricultural lands and ease the transition to balancing groundwater supply and demand. It will create a new program through the California Department of Conservation to provide incentive payments to landowners who reduce groundwater pumping and voluntarily and strategically repurpose at least some portion of their agricultural land to other less water-intensive uses for at least 15 years.
Possibilities for these lands include:
- Restoring habitat for wildlife, including migratory birds, pollinators and endangered species such as the San Joaquin kit fox.
- Creating multibenefit groundwater recharge basins.
- Restoring floodplains.
- Switching to rangeland or dryland farming.
- Developing parks and community recreation areas.
“Our state is facing an unprecedented drought emergency. We are clearly at a tipping point with climate change, and how we respond will shape the future of our state and our agricultural economy.
“Without the right interventions, previously irrigated lands could become a haphazard patchwork of dusty fields with invasive weeds and pests, further impairing air quality where it is already the worst in the country and putting many farmworkers out of work. With measures like AB 252, the state could transform its previously irrigated land into a water-resilient agricultural region with a mosaic of vibrant new land uses, like habitat corridors, multibenefit groundwater recharge areas and outdoor recreational spaces for families.
“We thank Assembly Members Robert Rivas and Rudy Salas for their leadership on AB 252 and look forward to this bill continuing to move through the Legislature and quickly to Governor Newsom’s desk.”
# # #One of the world’s leading international nonprofit organizations, Environmental Defense Fund (edf.org) creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. To do so, EDF links science, economics, law, and innovative private-sector partnerships. With more than 2.5 million members and offices in the United States, China, Mexico, Indonesia and the European Union, EDF’s scientists, economists, attorneys and policy experts are working in 28 countries to turn our solutions into action. Connect with us on Twitter @GrowingReturns.