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MAGSA Features

MAGSA Features: Mark Pitman

Securing a more sustainable future with On-Farm Recharge

Mark Pitman, like many MAGSA growers, understands the challenge of reaching sustainable groundwater levels. Farming has become increasingly complex over the last 50 years, and with the introduction of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) in 2014, replenishing the region’s groundwater supply has come front and center as a top priority.

Mark is part of the Pitman Farms legacy. Pitman Farms was established in the 1960s as a poultry farm and later expanded with pistachio orchards in 2010. Most recently, Mark planted citrus orchards.

MAGSA growers have shown resilience in the face of changing groundwater availability, and consistently adapt to extreme weather conditions including drought. On-Farm Recharge is one method MAGSA growers are aiming to use to secure a more sustainable farming operation. On-Farm Recharge is a means of recharging the aquifer beneath growers’ farms using available surface water during wet years. When Mark planted citrus trees, he knew there would be the potential for On-Farm Recharge opportunities. He kept flood irrigation infrastructure when he installed drip irrigation lines.

“The role of MAGSA is to help farmers work together to provide technical solutions to maintain the water table and help promote the options that we have to be more sustainable,” Mark said.

One of these solutions MAGSA provides is On-Farm Recharge University (OFR-U), a 6-month-long learning opportunity for a group of growers in a cohort to learn about On-farm Recharge, with exclusive access to technical experts, resources, and personalized field site consultations.

Mark said he wanted to learn all he could about every option to maintain groundwater levels. The cohort experience through OFR-U provides focused support for growers. While the course is technical in nature, experts on OFR topics provide practical support and tailored education to growers seeking to initiate or expand their On-Farm Recharge practices.

“A technical solution is the right way to think about sustainable farming, and On-Farm Recharge University is that technical solution,” Mark said.

Not only has OFR-U provided invaluable technical solutions, but Mark says it has also simplified dense information so he can transfer his own knowledge to stakeholders.

“We need to know enough about it to be able to teach our stakeholders about it,” he said.

This is a way to learn practical tools about On-Farm Recharge, and the science behind what growers are doing to their farms. OFR-U also educates growers on the means to practice it.

The benefits of On-Farm Recharge will be felt among the MAGSA community with the support of its future infrastructure projects. MAGSA is a groundwater-dependent area, or “white area”, with no historical access to surface water supplies. Balancing groundwater supplies under SGMA will require MAGSA to be creative through partnerships with growers to conduct recharge on their fields. However, before recharge can begin, the infrastructure to deliver surface water supplies must be built from the ground up.

MAGSA’s goal is for growers like Mark to use surface water for irrigation and On-Farm Recharge thanks to new MAGSA infrastructure projects in motion like the McMullin On-Farm Flood Capture Expansion Project. This expansion project is the second phase of an existing On-Farm Recharge and flood capture project. It involves construction of a canal and structures to increase the conveyance from the James Bypass from 150 cubic feet per second to 450 cubic feet per second.

The Expansion Project will increase the potential farmland acreage for receiving surface water flows for On-Farm Recharge to an estimated 15,000 acres. Projects like this will help MAGSA achieve groundwater sustainability goals by 2040. The Expansion Project will give growers like Mark surface water conveyance access, where he can put his learned skills from OFR-U into practice!

Though Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) have the authority through SGMA to enact regulations and groundwater pumping limitations, MAGSA has focused on supply-side solutions growers can make to improve groundwater conditions under their farms.

“We need everybody’s help together to recharge our aquifers. We’re all on the same team. Either we all succeed together or we all fail together,” Mark said. “We’re doing this for the next generation – for our kids and our kids’ kids.”

MAGSA Features: Michael Naito

Michael Naito has long been accustomed to sustainable farming, but now he’s chasing even more smart irrigation tools to increase efficiency.

Michael alternates between drip and flood irrigation and is open to incorporating more precise irrigation strategies when watering his permanent crops with technology’s help. Implementing smart irrigation tools will give him more specific water use data on a particular field and crop type, he said. While most growers generally know what their evapotranspiration rate is, using smart irrigation tools can zero in on precipitation efficiency and water timing. Getting the target right on those things is important, but it differs depending on crop type, he said.

When the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) passed in 2014, California was tasked with forming Groundwater Sustainability Agencies to meet groundwater sustainability by 2040 at the local level. Michael Naito, owner of Naito Farms in Madera is playing an active role in that sustainability effort, and he encourages fellow growers to do the same.

Meters and telemetry are a surefire way to accurately track water use and can help achieve Michael’s goal of efficiency. MAGSA is aggressively seeking funding to help cover the costs to implement these tools on wells in the area. One current grant opportunity is MAGSA’s NRCS EQIP WaterSMART Initative grant. If awarded, landowners could receive funding toward the cost of meters, telemetry, and other water conservation projects. MAGSA was awarded $1 million annually for another four years specifically for MAGSA landowners.

“It really is a growers-first approach,” Michael said. “MAGSA has made it as easy as possible to apply.”

The agency has created an EQIP Grant Application Guide to walk MAGSA growers step by step through the application process. The Guide includes a pathway to success recommending the most seamless application process possible for growers to be considered in the current funding cycle, with a deadline of December 9th to apply. 

Meters and telemetry have helped many growers manage water and crops more effectively by saving water. The biggest benefit is to the grower because they know how much water they’re using at any time for any crop.

Michael said he’s never seen an EQIP grant dedicated to a specific region — meaning, funding will stay within MAGSA boundaries without outside competition. MAGSA growers have a better chance of being funded because the money stays local. MAGSA has supported its growers by hosting EQIP Application Drop-Off Events in Kerman, where applicants can consult with NRCS soil conservationists about their farm operations and prospective projects that can receive funding.

Grant funding will help offset the cost of meters if growers choose to include those as projects on their NRCS EQIP applications. Water meters are placed on wells to monitor water use, and can become costly depending on how many wells a landowner has. The grant funding alleviates that burden.

Applicants who are not selected for funding this year can reapply in future cycles. For those who are not eligible for EQIP funding (read the application guide to learn about eligibility requirements), MAGSA is seeking alternative funding sources, including grants, to financially support growers installing the equipment.

NRCS staff have consulted several growers at the EQIP Application Drop-Off Events, answering personalized questions, and helping fill out forms if necessary. There is one final Drop-Off Event scheduled for Friday, November 18 from 11:30 AM – 2:30 PM at the Kerman Community Center.

“It isn’t hard to fill out the application. You don’t have to go far from home, you fill it out, and you’re done,” Naito said.

MAGSA has laid a strong foundation with landowners and depends on grower engagement in decision-making and outreach. Compliance with SGMA can be challenging, but Michael said MAGSA’s goal is to keep people farming and continue to invest in groundwater sustainability projects that benefit the GSA landowners, residents, and community.

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