SGMA to Dry Up One-Fifth of Irrigated SJ Valley Farmland

Mar 23, 2020 at 9:00am

Western Farm Press, Todd Fitchette

The cost of fallowing upwards of one million acres of farmland across California will be measured in the billions of dollars to the state's economy as an estimated 85,000 jobs are lost and farm income declines by more than $7 billion annually, according to a university report.

An economic analysis of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), a law passed by the Legislature in 2014 to make groundwater supplies sustainable after decades of over-pumping, paints a grim economic picture for California as the first hurdle towards groundwater sustainability was reached earlier this year.

The act calls for local agencies to craft plans to make groundwater pumping sustainable by 2040. The attempt to stop the over drafting of groundwater basins is also said to prevent further damage to water infrastructure caused by ground subsidence as these aquifers are depleted. While some California farmers still have access to surface water deliveries, those supplies too are being cut back by state and federal regulations aimed at protecting fish and wildlife.

The report by David Sunding and David Roland-Holst, professors at University of California, Berkeley, estimates that one-fifth of cultivated farmland in the San Joaquin Valley will be permanently lost as groundwater plans take hold and water supplies are severely restricted. In short, changes to agricultural production in California's San Joaquin Valley will include:

  • A loss of nearly 800,000 acres of farmland;
  • A reduction of nearly $6 billion from crop revenue; and,
  • A loss of $1.6 billion in on-farm operating income.

Statewide these losses could total about 992,000 acres in farmland, losses of over $7 billion from crop revenue and a loss in farm operating income of nearly $2 billion.

With roughly 5 million acres of irrigated farmland in the San Joaquin Valley, these estimates imply that the scale of farming across the valley could fall by 20% across the region.

"Valley-wide impacts mask the effect of SGMA and surface water supply reduction on the southern portions of the San Joaquin Valley where impacts are proportionally larger," the report concludes.

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