Almond Industry and Sustainable Conservation Partnership Explores Almond Acreage Groundwater Recharge

Posted October 26th, 2015

The Almond Board of California and Sustainable Conservation, a conservation nonprofit that unites people to steward California’s resources in ways that make economic sense, announced a new partnership focused on exploring the potential of California’s one million acres of almond orchards to recharge Central Valley groundwater.

The project comes just as California enters a much-anticipated El Niño year, which could bring an exceptionally wet winter. Groundwater recharge would flood almond orchards with excess seasonal storm water that would seep into the underground aquifers that together comprise California’s largest water storage system.

The partnership announcement drew widespread favorable coverage in the media, including multiple stories in the Modesto Bee, Fresno Bee, and Central Valley Business Journal, as well as stories in the Merced Sun Star, Western Farm Press, Ag Net West and an excellent story on KCRA, Sacramento’s NBC affliliate.

Some of the highlights included:

The new partnership marks the first concerted effort to increase groundwater recharge on farm land used to grow almonds. Sustainable Conservation has a strong history of working closely with California farmers to promote environmental solutions that are economically feasible.  The organization already has teamed with farmers in field trials to accelerate groundwater recharge on agricultural lands in the San Joaquin Valley. Over the past 20 years, the Almond Board funded several research projects designed to get a better understanding of water movement in the soil, as well as preserve and improve groundwater quality. 

“Leveraging almond acreage for groundwater recharge has the potential to benefit the entire Central Valley,” said Ashley Boren, Executive Director of Sustainable Conservation. “Once a farmer utilizes the land to return water to the aquifer, it serves the greater community, not just that farmer.” Boren said that capturing excess flood flows during wet years replenishes groundwater supplies for use during dry years while reducing downstream flood risk.

“Groundwater has always been a vital resource for all Californians, and has played a critical role in maintaining California's economic and environmental sustainability through the years,” said Richard Waycott, President and CEO of the Almond Board.  “The Almond Board will identify farmers who are already using or are interested in trying recharge to add to the Sustainable Conservation program.” Waycott said the partnership with Sustainable Conservation dovetails with Almond Board-funded research at the University of California, Davis to understand the impact on orchard health of applying excess water to almond trees.

The California Almond industry has focused decades of investment in research and improved production practices to protect California’s valuable natural resources. Through nearly 100 innovative Almond Board-funded research projects since 1994, almond growers have incorporated state-of-the-art, research-proven irrigation practices that reduced the amount of water needed to grow each pound of almonds by 33 percent1

Over the next two years, the partners will advance the science and practice of groundwater recharge through the following actions:

  • Grower field trials: Sustainable Conservation will compile information from almond growers who have captured excess floodwater in previous wet years, using it for managed groundwater recharge to document the methods and timing that have not caused negative crop impacts. Adding to this, the Almond Board will also look for almond growers interested in trying recharge to include in ongoing Sustainable Conservation trials.
  • Research study: This partnership is complemented by Almond Board-funded research with the University of California, Davis to understand the orchard health impact of applying excess floodwater to almond trees, monitored in three planned trial plots in Merced, Stanislaus and Fresno counties. The UC researchers will investigate how floodwater can be best applied on almond orchards for groundwater recharge without negatively impacting orchard health or crop yields.  Findings will assist in identifying the orchard practices and conditions best suited for these practices which will together advance the groundwater recharge potential of California’s almond orchards.
  • Geological analysis: Land IQ, a cutting-edge agricultural technology firm, will build on ongoing research by the California Water Foundation to identify where almond orchards and associated infrastructure requirements overlay soils and geology suitable for groundwater recharge.

As the research progresses, Sustainable Conservation and UC Davis will present findings to the public, groundwater management agencies, industry experts and farmers to help drive the development of best practices to promote groundwater sustainability in almond orchards throughout California’s Central Valley.

This entry was updated on November 13, 2015.

 


 

1 University of California. UC Drought Management. Feb. 2010. Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN. FAO Irrigation and Drainage Paper 66 – Crop yield in response to water. 2012. Almond Board of California. Almond Almanac 1990-94, 2000-14.