California has started to implement its Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) with a goal of reaching groundwater sustainability in over-pumped basins by 2040 or 2042, depending on the basin.
For decades, the responsibility of caring for California land has been shared by many farmers, farmworkers, and families. Through this stewardship, farms have been able to reduce water use while still increasing crop outputs and revenue.
Producing food requires large water resources, and in California, thousands of farms are mostly or solely reliant on groundwater sources. While farmers are integral stakeholders in sustainable groundwater management, the perceptions of individual farmers regarding water policy and management are not well understood. Food system and natural resources researchers at the University of Vermont surveyed Yolo County farmers in 2017 to understand their perspectives on SGMA, water management practices, and policy preferences. In 2019, with support from the Water Foundation, Meredith Niles at the University of Vermont and Courtney Hammond Wagner at Stanford University expanded their survey and analysis to farmers in Fresno, Madera, and San Luis Obispo counties, in partnership with local county farm bureaus.
Together, these four county-level surveys of 690 farmers revealed many similarities in farmers’ perspectives, despite agricultural and sociocultural differences.
Key findings include:
- 76% of farmers were at least somewhat concerned about reduction in groundwater, lowering groundwater levels, water quality degradation, depletions of surface water, and local subsidence;
- most farmers believe that SGMA is necessary but don’t believe that other farmers think the same;
- 71% of farmers agreed that the SGMA process is being managed locally and 68% agreed that it has involved farmers; and
- most farmers are likely to adopt water management practices in the future, including drip irrigation, water monitoring technology, and soil moisture sensors.