SACRAMENTO – Today, Assemblymembers Robert Rivas (D-Hollister) and Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield) introduced Assembly Bill 252, which will help alleviate the impacts of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) on farmers and ensure that farmland taken out of production due to SGMA is reused to provide conservation, recreation, or other benefits to local communities. Specifically, this bill will create a pilot program to support repurposing formerly irrigated agricultural land for groundwater recharge, biodiversity conservation, pollinator habitat, cattle grazing, and other beneficial and less water-intensive uses.
“The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act was an important and necessary measure for protecting our finite supplies of groundwater, and now we need to make sure its economic impacts on our farmers are minimized while we are maximizing the benefits to society,” said Asm. Rivas, who serves as the Chair of the Assembly Agriculture Committee. “If we don’t take action, farmland will be taken out of production in a patchwork that will create hotspots of invasive pests, weeds, and dust. AB 252 will help bring a strategic approach to ensuring we are best utilizing our resources and land.”
Under SGMA, which was signed into law in 2014, local Groundwater Sustainability Agencies around the state must ensure that water users are not pumping groundwater for irrigation or other uses faster than the local groundwater basin can refill. To do this, significant amounts of farmland in certain regions will need to be taken out of production in order to reduce water demand and protect local groundwater basins. AB 252 will help to productively repurpose this land.
“This land repurposing program will help make the critical transition to sustainable groundwater management less disruptive to California’s agricultural economy by creating new opportunities for how farmers can use their land,” said Ann Hayden, Senior Director, Water, at Environmental Defense Fund, sponsors of AB 252. “The program proposed in this bill also can reduce potential negative impacts of taking land out of production, such as spreading invasive weeds and greater dust emissions, and instead bring substantial benefits to rural communities and wildlife habitat.”
“This legislation provides critical economic support to the rural communities in the San Joaquin Valley that will be most impacted by SGMA, while also providing an opportunity to restore some of our natural heritage,” said Emmy Cattani, who runs business operations for Cattani Farms in Bakersfield.
Over the coming weeks, AB 252 will be referred to committee and is expected to be heard in Spring.
“I am proud to joint-author AB 252, which will help our local farmers innovatively transition their land in ways that benefit both the environment and the economy,” Asm. Salas said. “Farming families in California are the reason that our nation can put food on the table. As our rural communities start to reduce their groundwater usage, it is important that the state steps-up and helps the folks that feed our country and depend on farmland for their livelihood. AB 252 will help rural communities convert land in strategic ways that provide economic and environmental benefits to ensure that farming families can continue to thrive throughout California.”