Gov. Gavin Newsom Approves Budget with $50 Million for Farmland Repurposing in Response to Drought

Program will support sustainable water supplies, rural communities and wildlife

September 23, 2021
Ronna Kelly, (415) 293-6161,

(Sacramento, CA — September 23, 2021) As California experiences another severe drought, Gov. Gavin Newsom approved a budget in SB 170 today that dedicates $50 million for a new land repurposing program to help farmers reduce groundwater use while simultaneously creating new benefits for people and wildlife.

The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, passed in 2014 during the last drought, requires California regions with the most critically overdrafted groundwater basins 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, or roughly 15% of farmland in the San Joaquin Valley.

The $50 million in the state budget will create the Multibenefit Land Repurposing Program within the Department of Conservation to allow landowners to voluntarily put previously irrigated agricultural lands to work in new ways and ease the transition to sustainable groundwater management and water scarcity overall.

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.

The Department of Conservation will prioritize achievement of benefits for disadvantaged communities when implementing the program.   

“This state funding for farmland repurposing is a very important initial investment to respond to drought and water scarcity and help ensure California has enough water for agriculture, people and wildlife for decades to come. Farmers need flexible options, like those included in this program, to help meet this challenge.

“The funding will help move the state down the path toward achieving sustainable groundwater management while improving the health and well-being of communities and wildlife. More funding will undoubtedly be needed in the future to support this challenging but necessary transition to balancing groundwater supply and demand.”

“We thank Assembly Members Robert Rivas and Rudy Salas for their leadership in securing these resources and look forward to rolling up our sleeves and beginning to implement multibenefit farmland repurposing projects on the ground.”

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