California Institute for Water Resources
California Institute for Water Resources
California Institute for Water Resources
University of California
California Institute for Water Resources

Groundwater regulation and land fallowing: How does water scarcity impact land use?

Summary:

Limitations on agricultural groundwater pumping will be critical to reaching groundwater sustainability in California and abroad. However, land fallowing will be harmful to the farm economy and could threaten California’s position as the nation’s leading agricultural state. This project considers the impacts of groundwater regulation on land use to better understand how water scarcity in California may drive land out of production. The goal of this research is to understand how groundwater overdraft – and regulations to correct overdraft – will impact agriculture, with implications for water management agencies.

Investigator:

Ellen M. Bruno, Twitter: @ellenm_bruno
Assistant Cooperative Extension Specialist, Agricultural and Resource Economics
UC Berkeley

Project description:

Groundwater storage and groundwater levels have been declining in many of the most productive agricultural regions of the world. The sustainability of groundwater basins is further threatened by climate change because groundwater acts as a buffer to shortages of surface water during times of drought. Policies designed to reduce groundwater use will be critical to achieving global water sustainability.

Groundwater regulations will have impacts to irrigated agriculture by incentivizing farmers to reduce water use, and potentially, irrigated acreage. Some strategies on behalf of water agencies to curb groundwater overpumping involve programs to directly buy land out of production. Other water management actions will indirectly affect land use by raising groundwater prices or limiting the amount of water that can be pumped. Taking land out of production, while benefiting the underlying aquifer, will negatively impact the farm economy and the economic well-being of those that depend on groundwater as an input to crop production.

These issues are particularly salient for California, where the state legislature passed a sweeping groundwater law to reduce groundwater overdraft throughout the state over the next two decades. The groundwater law, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, provides a statewide framework for local groundwater agencies to manage the groundwater on their respective basins. Each local agency has the authority and the flexibility to manage groundwater in a suite of different ways.

With statistical modeling of agricultural water and land use, this research will unpack the relationships between water prices, groundwater regulation, and land use to predict how different water policies will influence the amount of land that is fallowed. This project seeks to inform groundwater management actions in the face of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

Ellen Bruno checking groundwater wells on the UC Davis campus.
Ellen Bruno checking groundwater wells on the UC Davis campus.

Strawberries in Fresno county. Photo by E. Bruno.
Strawberries in Fresno county. Photo by E. Bruno.

Cauliflower in Riverside county. Photo by E. Bruno.
Cauliflower in Riverside county. Photo by E. Bruno.

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