SACRAMENTO – Today at the Kern Water Bank, Assembly Members Robert Rivas (D-Salinas) and Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield) announced the inclusion of $50 million in the recent state budget package passed by the Legislature, SB 170, to create the Multibenefit Land Repurposing Program. Senator Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger), local farmers, and other stakeholders joined the Assembly Members on a tour of the Water Bank to discuss the new program, which will support the repurposing of formerly irrigated agricultural land taken out of production due to the implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).
“Unfortunately, we’re looking at the loss of hundreds of thousands of acres of irrigated agricultural land across our state due to implementation of SGMA. That’s unavoidable at this point -- but the consequences don’t have to be,” said Asm. Rivas. “I’m thrilled that the Legislature has established and funded this innovative new program via SB 170. Proactively repurposing land will help protect our water, our environment, and our communities all at once.”
“I am pleased to see SB 170 pass out of the Legislature, 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. SB 170 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.”
Previously advanced as Assembly Bill 252, the budget earmark will establish a grant program available to farmers and landowners to create new habitats, groundwater recharge sites, or other beneficial uses in critically overdrafted groundwater basins or high to medium priority basins where a drought emergency has been declared. As water becomes less available, SGMA dictates that farmers take land out of production to conserve groundwater -- likely taking land out of production in patchwork. Without intervention, these pieces of idle land will likely become hotspots for invasive weeds, pests, and dust - further impairing air quality and agricultural productivity.
This budget allocation follows years of work by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to develop a comprehensive framework for agricultural land repurposing in California, including extensive outreach to farmers, landowners, water agencies, and many other stakeholders.
“As our state struggles through another drought crisis, the Multibenefit Land Repurposing Program is an important part of a portfolio of approaches that will be needed to ease the difficult but necessary transition to sustainable water management,” said Ann Hayden, EDF’s Senior Director for Western Water and Resilient Landscapes. “It will be a valuable new tool to help create a mosaic of vibrant new land uses, like habitat corridors for wildlife, groundwater recharge areas, and outdoor recreational spaces for families.”
AB 252 received bipartisan support throughout the legislative process. The Budget Bill, SB 170, currently awaits the Governor’s signature. Additional coauthors of this bill included Assembly Members Steve Bennett (D-Ventura), Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella), and Blanca Rubio (D-Baldwin Park).
Download photos of today’s event here.
Assemblymember Robert Rivas (D-Salinas) represents California’s 30th Assembly District, which includes all or portions of the cities and towns of Aromas, Big Sur, Chualar, Gilroy, Greenfield, Gonzales, Hollister, King City, Morgan Hill, Salinas, San Martin, San Juan Bautista, Soledad, Spreckels, and Watsonville.