Water Quality and Supply Issues of Irrigated Agricultural Regions – Lessons from the San Joaquin Valley of California

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
C John Suen, California State University Fresno, Fresno, CA, United States and Dong Wang, Agricultural Research Service Parlier, Parlier, CA, United States
The San Joaquin Valley of California covers 4 million hectares of farmland and produces $25 billion of agricultural products annually, but its average annual rainfall ranges from only 130 mm in the south to 330 mm in the north and nearly all occur in the winter. On the east side of the valley, irrigation water is mostly derived from the Sierra snow melt. On the west side, water is imported from the northern part of the state through the Sacramento Delta and a network of canals and aqueducts. Ground water is also used for both east and west sides of the valley to supplement surface water sources, especially during droughts. After years of intense irrigation, a number of water supply and water quality issues have emerged. They include groundwater overdraft, land subsidence, water contamination by agricultural drainage laden with selenium, salinity buildup in soil and water, nutrients contamination from fertilizers and livestock production, competition for water with megalopolis and environmental use and restoration. All these problems are intensified by the effect of climate change that has already taken place and other geological hazards, such as earthquakes that can bring the water supply system to a complete halt. In addition to scientific and technical considerations, solutions for these complex issues necessarily involve management planning, public policy and actions. Currently, they include furloughing marginally productive lands, groundwater recharge and banking, water reuse and recycle, salinity and nutrient management, integrated regional water management planning, and public education and outreach. New laws have been enacted to better monitor groundwater elevations, and new bond measures to improve storage, infrastructures, and reliability, have been placed on the public ballot. The presentation will discuss these complex water issues.