Improving on-farm water management: Lessons from California

By Daniel Collins 17/03/2010

The Pacific Institute, based on Oakland, CA, has recently released a report describing seven case studies of how farmers in CA have improved water management. They illustrate…

“…diverse strategies for innovative water planning, use of technology, institutional management, economic incentives, and environmental protection and restoration.”

And they serve as lessons for other farmers in CA, but also in other water-challenged regions of similar socioeconomic and technical standing – New Zealand included.

The crops included in the stories number more than just seven: corn, rice, pasture, tomatoes, artichokes, lettuce, almonds, grapes, etc etc.

The approaches used to improve water management are also varied. Peter Gleick summarises several of the conclusions thus:

Managing for multiple benefits. Each of the case studies offers multiple benefits and collaborations among diverse sectors of the economy.
Accurately measuring and monitoring water use. The most significant improvements in efficiency require good information on water use, climate and weather conditions, and more.
Capturing the untapped potential of existing technologies. In recent years, California farmers have made progress switching to water-efficient systems for distributing and using water but much more potential remains untapped. No new magic technology needs to be developed.
Setting targets and providing economic incentives to accelerate progress. Several of the case studies show how quantitative targets and economic incentives can be effective tools to accelerate water management improvements.”

The second point is the very same that won Fruition Science its Imagine H2O prize: monitoring transpiration of grape vines and irrigating when necessary.

Given the similarities I think exist between California and New Zealand, Canterbury and Hawkes Bay in particular, I expect to delve deeper into this report in the future.