Three Ways California Agriculture Can Reduce Water Use

(3BL Media/JustMeans) Almost the entire state of California is suffering from the fourth year of a historic drought. California is also the state with the largest agricultural sector in the U.S. Half of the domestically grown fruit, nuts and vegetables are grown in the golden state, which leads the nation in value of agricultural products. 

California agriculture uses much water, about 80 percent of the state’s water supply. The state’s agriculture has a tremendous economic value. In 2013, the value of California agriculture’s exports accounted for $21.24 billion in value. California’s agriculture ranks between fifth and ninth globally, ahead of Canada and Mexico, which makes it one of the top 10 global economies. 

Given the economic value of California’s agriculture, it is clear that something must be done to reduce water use. Some folks say we simply can’t innovate our way to water solutions in a drought afflicted state. However, here are three innovations that can help California farmers reduce their water use. 

1. Recycled water. 

Treating wastewater and using it to water crops is a great way that farmers can reduce groundwater pumping. A Pacific Institute report highlights a farm in the Salinas Valley along the Central Coast called Sea Mist Farms, which has used recycled water since 1998. The farm uses recycled water to irrigate 80 percent of its acreage that include artichokes, spinach and lettuce. Recycled water accounts for two-thirds of Sea Mist’s total water use. Sea Mist only uses well water when its water demand is greater than its recycled water supply.

Sea Mist gets its recycled water from the Monterey County Water Recycling Projects, consisting of the Salinas Valley Reclamation Plant and the Castroville Seawater Intrusion Project (CSIP). CSIP is a 45-mile water pipeline built in 1998 by the Monterey Regional Water Pollution Control Agency in order to reduce seawater intrusion in the aquifers that area farms rely on. Sea Mist is the biggest user of CSIP. 

2. Crop water use monitoring.

There are two different California based companies that offer crop water use monitoring systems. One of them is a soil moisture monitoring system from a company called Hortau. Based in the Central Coast town of San Luis Obispo, Hortau's system consists of soil tension sensors are used to determine the exact amount of water a farmer needs to apply to crops. 

A University of Californa, Davis Ph.D student developed a crop monitoring system and teamed up with a software engineer to create the company Tule Technologies in 2013. The company’s monitoring system provides a farmer with evapotranspiration (ET) data. It is the only commercially available technology that measures actual ET. Actual ET is the amount of water that is vaporized and transpired from a field and lost to the atmosphere. A sensor remotely reports ET data back to the Tule dashboard daily and provides information for irrigation decisions. 

3. Polypropelyne trays.

Israeli based Tal-Ya’s Agriculture Solutions’ polypropelyne trays cover a plant’s root system, and direct water to the root. The trays, which are compatible with drop irrigation, can reduce water use by at least 50 percent. The tray traps moisture which continually evaporates from the earth and leads it to trickle back to a plant’s root.

Photo: njhdiver