As groundwater sustainability agencies have to bring irrigated acreage in line with the sustainable yield of the groundwater basin, they will be retiring irrigated lands (Dr. Burt: 1-1.5 million acres; Dr. Lund: up to 2 million acres). I say 3 million acres, because so far everything we’ve predicted for climate change has been an underestimate.)
I have two top priorities for the Central Valley’s farmland.
- Preserving about 5 million acres of the best ag land for growing food for humans, mostly Californians. I don’t worry too much about this goal, because we have about 9 million acres of ag land now, so we could lose quite a bit before I get concerned.
- Minimizing the human misery from the transitions brought by climate change. Assuming that retiring farmland sucks for the farmers whose land is retired, and sucks for their communities as people leave farms, that means choosing to retire lands that support the fewest people and communities. It turns out there are entire water districts where not one single person lives. Not one person would lose their way of life if these districts closed.
27,000 irrigated acres, approx. 80,000AF/year
32,000 irrigated acres, approx. 90,000AF/year
Dudley Ridge Water District (no website):
17,000 irrigated acres, approx. 34,000AF/year
The owners of Westlake Farms do live on the farm, so if that acreage were retired, they would feel misery and so might their 11-50 employees. But that’s still not a whole lot of people.
There is a lot of acreage like this. Compared to the southwest corner of the valley, even the notorious Westlands Water District is relatively populated. For contrast, look to the east in the Friant. Those are towns and many, many farms. Were those acres retired, many people would feel miserable. My second criteria for retiring ag lands (minimize human misery) leads to preferentially retiring lands in the western valley. Responsive local groundwater sustainability agencies should think carefully about their criteria for land retirement. Geology and hydrology are only two factors. The way their constituents want to live going into the next few decades should matter far more.
A CONTRARY TAKE:
I would listen to an argument that minimizing human misery might mean evacuating the San Joaquin Valley. With the higher day and night temperatures, the upswing in air pollutants from heat, the decrease in breeze and fogs, maybe the SJV will be an overheated hellscape by the end of the century. In that case, minimizing human misery could mean huge agribusiness with minimal human labor. In that case, the districts above are the ideal and should be favored by GSA policies.