Crops and Water Preservation in California

We’ve established that capturing and storing rainwater is one of the key ways that California can address water shortage issues during drought times—but why is it so important to act now and build new infrastructure?

The biggest reason is that California’s agricultural sector is enormous. Statistics from California’s Department of Food and Agriculture reveal that this state produces almost half of all fruits, vegetables and nuts grown in the United States. They’re also a major livestock and diary producer. In 2016, California’s farms generated $50 billion in revenue, which accounted for 11% of the nation’s agricultural total in that year. Among the larger crops are milk, grapes, almonds, strawberries, tomatoes, lettuce and walnuts.

As you can see, water shortages in California don’t just affect California. They have the potential to impact food supplies throughout the United States and even around the world.

California Agriculture: The Details

Most of California’s farming takes place in the Central Valley, which spans roughly 20,000 square miles through the center of the state. This swathe of land is one of the most productive agricultural regions in the United States—and one of the most drought-prone, too. Currently, the entirety of California’s Central Valley is experiencing an “exceptional drought,” which is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s designation for the worst possible drought level.

Despite this, it is an incredibly productive region. More than 220 crops grow here—and it happens on less than one percent of the total farmland in the United States. By dollar amounts, 8% of the United States agricultural domestic product comes from here.

To illustrate how crucial irrigation and water supplies are in this region, one key metric to know is that almost 75% of irrigated lands within the state of California are within the Central Valley. Almost 20% of the U.S.’s groundwater needs come from pumping the aquifers in this region. It is, in fact, the second most-pumped aquifer system in the United States, and during drought times, it can run low.

A Crisis for California Farmers

Water uncertainty has been an ongoing concern for farmers of the Central Valley over the past several years. The years between December 2011 and March 2019 marked the most severe drought in recent memory. In fact, the years between 2011 and 2014 were the driest of California’s history since the beginning of record keeping. By June 2015, the state governor instituted a mandatory 25% water restriction. Throughout this drought, roughly 102 million trees died, which included 62 million just in 2016.

Even as this drought waned, the water crisis remained—and still does, to an extent. Regulators announced in 2016 that despite the easing drought, farmers would still see water shortages—and that was because California ground water had been over pumped. Depleted aquifers needed time to replenish. In California, between infrequent rains and decades of over-reliance on aquifers, it can take decades for groundwater supplies to refill.

In fact, some researchers argue that the drought spanning 2011 to 2019 never actually ended—and as the 2021 drought persists, this idea begins to ring hold much more weight. While some rains have eased the situation somewhat, scientists are saying that the California region is in what is known as a “megadrought,” which is an unusually dry period that can last for decades. Studies of tree rings to gather historical climate data suggest that the California area could be entering the longest period of drought in 1,200 years.

What is the Best Solution for California Producers?

It’s a tight spot for agriculturalists to be in, that’s for certain. However, there are ways that farmers can mitigate the drought—and geomembranes will play a large role in water harvesting and preservation. There are several ways in which they can be used, not only to collect water, but to treat it and transport it where it needs to go.

In the future, it’s likely that rainwater harvesting will become a more common practice. Geomembranes will play a part in creating the impermeable liners needed for capture and storage facilities that don’t allow this collected water to seep away into surrounding soils.

In the case where much of this water is captured farm runoff, or runoff from other polluted sources, these capture and containment facilities can also be used for treatment to make the water safe for fish, animals, crops and more. This is where geomembranes like BTL Liners’ ArmorPro will prove to be absolutely vital. Not only does this liner sport the toughness needed to provide the utmost protection against leaks and seepage, but it’s specially designed to withstand the harsh conditions found in ponds and containment facilities where chemical and brine levels are high.

Transportation will be another key component for agriculturists, particularly crop farmers. Pipelines are one way to move water over large amounts of acreage to hydrate crops, but irrigation trenches are often a better option because they require less maintenance. Lining irrigation trenches with a flexible geomembrane provides several advantages.

  • Geomembranes reduce water lost through seepage and leaks.
  • This type of system is much easier to clean when silt and sediments build up enough that it impacts water flow.
  • Smooth surfaces improve water flow, enhancing delivery across plots of land.
  • Geomembranes also serve as weed barriers, which prevents weeds from growing along the bottom or walls of the trench, thus impacting flow or potentially undermining walls.
  • Geomembranes also prevent erosion along the bottom and walls of trenches, which is another factor that prevents the undermining of an irrigation system.

In Conclusion

Drought periods are a way of life in California—although recent conditions have been more severe than usual and may persist for a while. However, California remains one of the world’s largest agricultural producing areas. Solutions will be needed to address water shortages, and geomembranes are positioned to be a big part of those solutions.

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