Water Policy Research

In 2018, CAFF began a project to interview a sample of irrigation districts about how new regulations—SGMA, instream flow requirements, measurement requirements—were affecting their operations. We expect to issue a white paper in early 2020.

On-Farm Water Use Efficiency

On-farm water stewardship practices—for example, irrigation scheduling, soil moisture monitoring, or building soil organic matter with compost and cover crops—are effective measures to optimize on-farm water use, address environmental concerns, and enhance farmer resiliency to climate change and drought. However, adoption of these technologies across California has been slow, and growers cite a lack of familiarity with technologies as a barrier to adoption. Outreach, education, and technical assistance are proven means to address this barrier. CAFF surveyed the organizations and companies in California that provide outreach, education, and technical assistance to farmers, as well as potential Federal and State funding streams for these programs, in order to assess the state of extension on water.

In June 2014, CAFF released a policy paper entitled “Beyond the Irrigation District: Investing in On-Farm Water Stewardship for California’s Future” with the results of our analysis. The message is clear: California is not adequately supporting outreach, education, and technical assistance programs. Because of this, university and non-governmental organizations, such as UC Cooperative Extension and the Resource Conservation Districts, are underfunded, understaffed, and lack the capacity to provide the outreach and assistance that California farmers need.

You can also download the Executive Summary, which we used to influence policy discussions in Sacramento, or the Appendix, which provides detailed information on the pattern of spending through the federal Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) in California.

In order to increase the capacity of these programs we recommended dedicated funding streams from the state government including:

  • $200 million in funding to be included in the 2014 water bond specifically dedicated to on-farm water use efficiency projects including direct assistance to farmers and third-party advisors.
    • The Proposition 1 Water Bond included $100 million for urban and agricultural water conservation.
  • Cap-and-trade allocations to be used, in part, to set up and sustain a competitive grants program to support on-farm water stewardship projects. 
    • The State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP) was started in 2014, funded on a “drought emergency” basis with cap and trade funds, and it grants money to farmers to improve irrigation efficiency. Through 2018, it has spent $63 million on over 600 water efficiency projects on farms.

California is facing statewide concerns over water quality, groundwater overdraft, drought, and climate change. To adequately prepare for our water future, we must increase our investment in California farmers to further optimize water use.

 California Agricultural Water Stewardship Initiative (CAWSI)

CAWSI was created to focus on agricultural water stewardship issues in California. CAWSI and its online resource center were first conceived of and launched in 2008 by an alliance of agricultural support organizations including the California Institute for Rural Studies, Community Alliance with Family Farmers, Ecological Farming Association, OAEC Water Institute, Polaris Institute, and Wild Farm Alliance. CAWSI was first convened by the Polaris Institute and then by Ag Innovations Network. It received instrumental primary support from Columbia Foundation, Gaia Fund, Clif Bar Family Foundation, and the USDA Risk Management Agency. CAWSI became a project of CAFF in January 2014.

CAFF was responsible for the content and case studies created about dry farming and ponds on the CAWSI website, and a variety of academics and practitioners were recruited to write the other sections on practices.  The CAWSI website also has case studies of water stewardship from around the state and the papers and resource links created by the project.

CAFF also worked on water policy issues in Sacramento as part of the CAWSI effort and participated in the Agricultural Water Management Council, which was disbanded in 2013. CAFF Policy Director, Dave Runsten, wrote a short piece, “Why Water Stewardship for Agriculture?” in 2010, which was widely distributed. A number of funders thought that while our policy ideas were good, we needed to involve more policy-makers in the discussion. This led to the creation of the California Roundtable on Water and Food Supply.

 California Roundtable on Water and Food Supply 

The California Roundtable on Water and Food Supply (CRWFS) was a forum at the intersection of agriculture and water management created to uncover obstacles, identify strategic and widely accepted solutions, and generate recommendations to assure a reliable, long-term supply of water to California’s specialty crop producers while optimizing other beneficial uses of water.

The Roundtable issued its first report on Agricultural Water Stewardship in June 2011 and the second report on water storage in November 2012.

In an attempt to uncover the root causes of these challenges and identify a new, strategic approach to addressing them, CRWFS published a report, From Crisis to Connectivity: Renewed Thinking About Managing California’s Water and Food Supply. The report describes the connectivity approach, providing a whole-systems framework for our water management decisions, including guiding principles for:

  • Connected thinking
  • Institutional linkages
  • Public and stakeholder engagement

Accompanying the report is a booklet featuring existing efforts that already apply these guiding principles and generate the sorts of connected-benefit solutions described in the report.

CRWFS then focused on a specific case study, Groundwater Management in the King’s River Basin, in an attempt to apply the connectivity approach in detail.

CAFF was a founding member of the Roundtable and has participated in the writing of all of these reports. These white papers have been widely distributed in the water policy community in California and have had led to important changes in thinking.