(831) 464-2950

Ag Irrigation Efficiency/ Water Conservation

Ag Irrigation Efficiency/ Water Conservation

Agriculture in the Pajaro Valley is nearly wholly dependent on irrigation. Being disconnected from the large infrastructure projects that move water around the state means that irrigation water must come from underground aquifers. Unfortunately, after decades of use and overuse, the aquifer lying beneath the Pajaro Valley has been classified as ‘critically overdrafted’. This means that more water is pumped out of the aquifer than is put back in. This leads to reduced water quality and saltwater intrusion – a process in which seawater replaces the groundwater that previously existed. The RCD’s water conservation efforts work to bring balance back to the hydrology that supports our local agricultural community.

The RCD actively supports local agriculture to sustainably manage groundwater supply and achieve our conservation goals. The goal for the Pajaro Valley is to conserve 5,000 acre-feet of water per year, primarily through improved irrigation efficiency. We partner with the Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency, UC Cooperative Extension, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and others to help to support growers in their efforts to increase irrigation efficiency by improving the operation of their system and optimizing scheduling.

Experts at the RCD are available to provide FREE technical assistance and irrigation trainings to growers, ranch managers and irrigators. There is also financial assistance through grants and other programs to cover the costs of replacing old or less efficient irrigation equipment with more efficient equipment, and to cover costs for growers to trial new, more efficient practices.

Types of direct assistance available to growers include:

  • Irrigation system efficiency evaluations
  • Expert recommendations to improve the design and management of the irrigation system
  • Financial assistance including
    • Rebates and cost-share assistance from PV Water to implement expert-recommendations, and to trial new irrigation practices
    • NRCS financial assistance
    • Assistance applying for grants
  • Irrigation monitoring
  • Soil moisture monitoring
  • Irrigator trainings on drip or sprinkler systems, in groups or individually
  • Workshops and trainings on many topics based on grower interests
  • Nutrient management assistance may also be included with irrigation efficiency assistance, depending on the grower’s goals

Assistance is provided in both English and Spanish.

Would you like to schedule a field consult, or get more information? Contact us or Call (831) 464-2950 x10.

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Conservation benefit: Supports long-term groundwater sustainability by reducing groundwater pumping and protects water quality by reducing runoff of water, nutrients and sediment

Partners:
Natural Resource Conservation Service
Pajaro Valley Groundwater Management Agency
UC Cooperative Extension

Funders:
Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency
California Department of Food and Agriculture

Ag Resources Library

RCD Contact: Erin McCarthy

Assistance for Licensed Cannabis Growers

Assistance for Licensed Cannabis Growers

Legalization of cannabis has driven changes in land use and environmental management in Santa Cruz County. Commercial cannabis growers seeking a licensure must adhere to requirements from several agencies that help to protect our soil, water and wildlife resources.

Santa Cruz County watersheds drain into the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. They provide critical ecosystem services to local human and wildlife populations, including habitat for many protected species, flood protection, and clean water supply. Efficient crop production practices are necessary to avoid negative impacts to watersheds from nutrients, sediment, and other activities associated with crop production. Because Santa Cruz County is entirely dependent on local sources of water, irrigation efficiency is an important part of cannabis production.

RCD provides legal cannabis growers with confidential site visits and technical assistance to plan and implement best management practices that protect the watershed, support growers with regulatory compliance requirements, and improve the efficiency of their production practices while optimizing yields.

The RCD offers assistance with planning and implementation of best management practices that protect soil and water resources to licensed and permitted cannabis growers in Santa Cruz County. We can help growers improve efficiency and with environmental compliance including:

Assistance with the GRASS - C self-certification program

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Conservation benefit: Helping licensed cannabis growers identify and implement best management practices to protect soil, water and wildlife resources in their watershed.

Partners:
California Association of Resource Conservation Districts
Resources Legacy Fund

Funders:
Resources Legacy Fund

Licensed Cannabis Resource Libary

RCD Contact: Erin McCarthy

Best Management Practices on Farms and Ranches

Best Management Practices on Farms and Ranches

RCD provides growers across the county with confidential site visits, technical and financial assistance to plan and implement best management practices that protect water and soil resources, support producers in meeting regulatory compliance requirements, and improve the efficiency of their production practices while optimizing yields.

We help growers and landowners with a wide range of practices that include:

  • Irrigation efficiency
  • Erosion control
  • Nutrient management
  • Cover crops
  • Vegetative treatments (filter strips, grassed waterways, hedgerows)
  • Carbon rich soil amendments (including assistance with nitrogen immobilization)
  • Tailwater and stormwater management
  • Improving water infiltration
  • Promoting pollinator habitat
  • Tailwater treatment using bioreactors, biochar, and other methods

Site visits and technical assistance are available in English and Spanish.

Contact the RCD for assistance.

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Conservation benefit: Supports long-term groundwater sustainability, protects water quality and supports soil health and productivity.

Partners:
California Department of Food and Agriculture
Natural Resources Conservation Service
University of California, Cooperative Extension

Funders:
California Department of Food and Agriculture
California Department of Water Resources
Natural Resources Conservation Service
Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency
State Water Resources Control Board

Ag Resource Libary

RCD Contact:
Erin McCarthy
Sacha Lozano

Carbon Farming

Carbon Farming

As the impacts from climate change continue to worsen and spread, there is an urgent need to accelerate adoption of mitigation solutions and act promptly. Agriculture sits at a crossroads where impacts, causes and solutions of this global problem merge but can also be shifted to achieve favorable outcomes. While agricultural practices have historically contributed to global warming through a progressive net-loss of carbon from the large planetary soil pool (mainly because of soil cultivation), carbon farming offers an opportunity to reverse this trend and restore balance by shifting management to achieve a net increase in farm-systems carbon.

Carbon farming takes carbon from the atmosphere where due to its excess it has become a harmful greenhouse gas and puts it into plants and soil where it is helpful. Though often taken for granted, carbon is the keystone to nutrient cycling, water balance, and soil fertility in all farming systems.

Carbon farmers act as climate heroes by reviving centuries-old techniques to improve soil health, reduce erosion, save water, and enhance wildlife habitat while increasing the productivity and resilience of their lands.

How does it work? Carbon farming makes farms and ranches a part of the solution to too much carbon in the atmosphere while restoring and improving soil health.

Through photosynthesis, plants remove carbon from the air and store it in their leaves, stems, and roots to produce food, fiber, fuel, and flora. But plants also transform carbon into sugars that are released through their roots to feed a vast microbial food web and enrich the soil. As these root exudates enter the soil, carbon becomes bacteria, fungi, protozoans, nematodes, insects, etc. And as these microbes multiply, thrive, and die, nutrients get recycled and stable carbon can accumulate in the soil. So, moving excess carbon from the atmospheric pool to the half-empty planetary soil pool is a win-win that addresses the climate change problem and augments farm productivity and resiliency.

Whether soil carbon within a farm system stays and accumulates in the soil or it is released back into the atmosphere largely depends on management decisions and actions. Carbon farming applies centuries-old agricultural solutions to the modern problem of excess carbon. Techniques such as windbreak and streamside plantings, carbon-rich soil amendments, rotational grazing, and manure and tillage management create healthier soils and help store carbon for a long time.

Healthier soils hold more water and are less susceptible to heat and drought. This reduces irrigation costs and local water demand. Managing plantings, grazing, tillage, and waste to store more carbon and nutrients can increase productivity, as well as provide wildlife and pollinator habitat. By preventing erosion, and even catastrophic property loss, these practices also protect the land. Combined, these investments mean a more resilient farm or ranch, both now and in the face of future changes.

Carbon Farm Planning places carbon at the center of the planning process and views carbon as the single most important element, upon which all other on-farm processes depend. Following the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s conservation planning approach, Carbon Farm Plans identify and guide strategic adoption of practices that can directly benefit farms and ranches by improving:

  • soil health
  • water holding capacity
  • crop and forage production
  • soil carbon stock and resilience to climate change

Carbon Farm Plans can be developed for natural and working lands including rangelands, forests, croplands and orchards.

How the RCD can help. We can support producers and landowners to conduct conservation planning on their working lands through a carbon lens, and provide a broad array of services and resources to help them meet their goals related to carbon farming including:

  • Develop a carbon farm plan
  • Identify and facilitate adoption of specific carbon farming practices
  • Provide technical advice on use of cover crops, compost, and other carbon-rich soil amendments
  • Design and plant hedgerows
  • Facilitate access to technical and financial assistance through local, State and Federal programs.

The RCD is part of a statewide carbon farm planning network involving multiple RCDs, the Carbon Cycle Institute, California Association of Resource Conservation Districts, land trusts, and support organizations such as Fibershed across California. These organizations are at various stages of working with landowners in developing and implementing carbon farm plans and activities.

Contact the RCD for assistance.

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Carbon Farming Workshops

Conservation benefit: Increasing carbon sequestration, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, reducing demands on local water sources, and enhancing wildlife and pollinator habitat

Partners:
California Association of Resource Conservations Districts
California State University Chico (Center for Regenerative Agriculture and Resilient Systems)
CalPoly Swanton Pacific Ranch
Carbon Cycle Institute
Natural Resource Conservation Service
San Mateo Resource Conservation District

Funders:
California Association of Resource Conservation Districts
California State Coastal Conservancy
CalPoly Swanton Pacific Ranch
Patagonia

RCD Contact: Sacha Lozano

Community Water Dialogue

Community Water Dialogue

Recognizing the severity of the groundwater overdraft problem in the Pajaro Valley and the need for locally-driven solutions, landowners, producers, community members, agencies and research partners came together in 2010 to form the Community Water Dialogue. This community-driven forum seeks to advance individual and collective action to bring the aquifer into balance.

Community Water Dialogue members share a commitment to protect the Pajaro Valley as an important agricultural resource, and a willingness to pursue diverse strategies which entail costs and sacrifices in order to bring our aquifer into balance. All of our members agree to the fundamental principles of this effort:

1) A commitment to protect the Pajaro Valley as an important agricultural resource

2) A willingness to pursue diverse strategies which entail costs and sacrifices in order to bring our aquifer into balance

To learn more about the Community Water Dialogue visit their website below.

CommunityWaterDialogue.org

Conservation benefit: Community driven diverse strategies that bring our aquifer into balance.

Partners:
All stakeholder in the Pajaro Valley

RCD Contact: Erin McCarthy

Erosion Control On Ag Land

Erosion Control On Ag Land

When natural vegetation is cleared and farmland is ploughed, the exposed topsoil is often blown away by wind or washed away by rain. Rain and other natural forces can also create larger erosion issues like gullies or bank instability. This often results in the loss of valuable topsoil. The soil carried away in rain or irrigation water can also lead to sedimentation and eutrophication of rivers, creeks and coastal areas, which can impact wildlife habitat. Some food safety practices make managing erosion even more challenging.

The benefits of controlling erosion may include higher crop yields, healthier and more productive soils, drought and rainfall resilience, cleaner air and water, compatibility with wildlife and avoiding unnecessary expenses.

The RCD offers confidential site visits and works closely with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and many other partners to provide expert technical assistance and financial resources to address erosion. We help landowners and growers in many ways from reduced till, cover cropping, contour farming, vegetative barriers to working with engineers to address larger issues like gullies or unstable banks.

Contact the RCD for assistance.

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Conservation benefit: Erosion control preserves soil supporting productivity, stability and resiliency on the farm while keeping sediment out of waterways where it can have detrimental impacts on wildlife.

Partners:
Natural Resources Conservation Service

Funders:
Natural Resources Conservation Service

RCD Contacts:
Sacha Lozano
Erin McCarthy

Livestock and Land

Livestock and Land

Nutrients, pathogens and sediments from livestock facilities are pollutants of concern in watersheds throughout California. This pollution critically impacts our drinking water, recreation areas, fisheries health and flora and fauna habitat. Better management of manure and drainage on properties that house livestock can lessen these pollutants.

The Livestock and Land program strives to teach Best Management Practices (BMPs) to area livestock and equine owners by providing educational publications, workshops and hands-on trainings. The program helps landowners wanting to construct conservation projects on their properties. Additional services, made available through the RCD partnership with the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), include free on-site consultations and technical assistance. The NRCS has been a key partner in the delivery and development of this program.

Last year we were fortunate to attend a Livestock and Land workshop that helped us understand different concepts for better managing our land. With both financial and technical assistance from the Resource Conservation District and our local USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service office we were able to put into place a plan to benefit our cattle, improve the efficiency of our operation, and protect the environment. - Tashana Burke, Burke Ranch

The RCD can provide services related to the following practices:

  • Composting
  • Drainage
  • Mud and manure management
  • Pasture management

The benefits to your property or ranch by incorporating BMPS include:

  • Enrich animal health
  • Ease operations
  • Enhance land aesthetics
  • Improve safety
  • Reduce flies
  • May increase property value
  • Improve local air and water quality
  • Boost neighborhood relationships

More information on these practices can be found at livestockandland.org

Contact the RCD for assistance.

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Conservation benefit: Immediate and lasting water quality and watershed improvements by helping livestock owners to implement Best Management Practices (BMPs) on their properties.

Partners:
County of Santa Cruz
Ecology Action
Multiple Resource Conservation Districts
Natural Resource Conservation Service

Funders (current & past):
County of Santa Cruz
Natural Resource Conservation Service
Regional Water Quality Control Board
US Environmental Protection Agency

Livestock and Land Resources

RCD Contact: Angie Gruys

Managed Aquifer Recharge

Managed Aquifer Recharge

The Pajaro Valley Groundwater Basin includes about 75,000 acres in southern Santa Cruz County, northern Monterey County, and a small portion of western San Benito County. The area supports a unique and valuable agriculture industry producing high value fruit, vegetable, flower, and other crops. In addition to providing water for about 30,000 acres of commercial crop production, the basin supplies water for the City of Watsonville, rural residential homes, and supports riparian and estuarine habitat for protected species like steelhead and California red-legged frog.

An average of 55,000 acre-feet of water is used each year to meet the water demand in the Pajaro Valley. The vast majority of that water is extracted from the groundwater basin, and most of it is used to irrigate commercial crops. There is no imported water supply. Over the past several decades, groundwater pumping has led to an overdraft of the groundwater basin. Lowered water levels eventually caused seawater to intrude into freshwater aquifers.

Distributed Stormwater Collection and Managed Aquifer Recharge (MAR) is a landscape management strategy that can help to reduce aquifer overdraft and maintain long-term water supply reliability. These types of projects collect and infiltrate excess hillslope runoff before it reaches a stream by using a variety of techniques including streambank filtration, dry wells, and dedicated infiltration basins.

In 2014, the RCD partnered with UCSC’s Hydrogeology Group, securing support from the California State Coastal Conservancy, to complete a Regional MAR and Runoff Analysis for Santa Cruz and Northern Monterey Counties, and to develop information and decision support tools to optimize storm runoff collection and MAR project design. More information about that work can be found by clicking here.

Distributed Stormwater Collection and Managed Aquifer Recharge Data

Recharge Net Metering Program

Through a local collaborative effort, private landowners, the RCD, Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency, and University of California Santa Cruz are implementing the Recharge Net Metering Program (ReNeM), that incentivizes private landowners to install MAR systems on their land. These MAR stormwater collection and infiltration systems are carefully designed and managed to provide benefits to both groundwater supply and water quality.

To promote the construction of MAR projects, the ReNeM Program gives rebates on a landowner’s water bill. The amount varies based on the volume of water infiltrated through the system that is installed. This helps offset the costs of operation and maintenance of the system. Participating landowners are making a valuable contribution to the Pajaro Valley groundwater supply.

Project Under Consideration:
Curtis Infiltration Pond

Selected Projects:
Bokariza-Drobac Infiltration Basin
Kelly Thompson Recharge Basin
Storrs Water and Sediment Control Project

Contact the RCD for assistance.

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Conservation benefit: Supports long-term groundwater sustainability by adding high quality water to our groundwater supply.

Partners:
Natural Resources Conservation Service
Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency
Private Landowners
University of California Santa Cruz

Funders:
California Department of Water Resources
California State Coastal Conservancy
Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation (via UCSC)
Natural Resources Conservation Service
Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency
Private Landowners
State Water Resources Control Board
University of California at Santa Cruz

RCD Contact: Erin McCarthy

We would like to see efforts of this kind extended across the region and around the state, using successes from the Central Coast as a modifiable, flexible template for incentivizing more sustainable resource stewardship. - Dr. Andy Fisher, UCSC

Project Permitting

Project Permitting

Many large and small scale conservation projects require permits from a number of local, State, and even Federal agencies. Navigating the permit process can be costly, confusing, frustrating, and time consuming. That process of applying for, obtaining, and paying for permits has been recognized as a significant barrier for farmers and landowners wanting to implement voluntary conservation measures. The RCD has expertise in securing the permits landowners may need before starting work. The RCD can help landowners secure required permits, including permits issued by the County of Santa Cruz, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the US Environmental Protection Agency, the Regional Water Quality Control Board, the Army Corps of Engineers and the California Coastal Commission. Some common projects that may require permits include removing obstructions or debris from creeks and streams, stabilizing eroding land, including gullies and streambanks, and improving rural roads. Permits are almost always required when:

  • Working in or near a waterway, riparian area, or wetland.
  • Grading land or clearing vegetation
  • Working in any area where endangered species may be affected.

In addition to providing technical assistance with securing permits, the RCD has developed two programs that streamline project permitting to speed the process and substantially decrease the cost for some projects.

Partners in Restoration Permit Coordination program (PIR) which provides a “one-stop-shop” for permitting 15 different types of conservation projects that meet certain guidelines and specifications, thereby removing the time, cost, and complexity of individual project review.

Forest Health and Fire Resiliency Public Works Plan (PWP) which provides cost-effective, programmatic permitting for forest health and fuels management projects to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire and improve ecological conditions for forests, woodlands, and grasslands specifically within the coastal zone. A PWP is a programmatic alternative to project-by-project review for projects that otherwise would require individual coastal development permits. Read more about the RCD’s PWP here.

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Conservation benefit: Help landowners and land managers to voluntarily implement conservation, forest health and fuels management projects by reducing the time, cost, and complexity of project permitting.

Partners:
CalFire
California Coastal Commission
California State Parks
County of Santa Cruz
National Marine Fisheries Service
Regional Water Quality Control Board
San Mateo Resource Conservation District
US Army Corps of Engineers
US Fish and Wildlife Service
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Funders:
United State Environmental Protection Agency
Regional Water Resources Control Board
County of Santa Cruz

Would you like to assistance with your private
road? Contact the RCD for more information.

RCD Contacts:
PIR and other: Kelli Camara
PWP: Matt Abernathy

Soil Health

Soil Health

Soil is the foundation of agricultural production and land-based food systems. It is a living ecosystem that provides a wide array of essential services for plants, animals, and humans, including nutrient and carbon cycling, water storage, climate regulation, “waste” assimilation and transformation, information networking, and food provision for the vast majority of organisms living on land. Soil health is broadly defined by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) as the continued capacity of the soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals and humans. Therefore, a mindful and proactive stewardship of soil health in agricultural lands is of paramount importance. 

Managing for soil health (maintaining and improving soil ecosystem function) is mostly a matter of protecting its physical and chemical integrity and maintaining suitable habitat for the myriad of microscopic creatures that comprise the soil food web. NRCS identifies four principles for an adequate stewardship of soil health: 

  • Maintain soil cover throughout the year
  • Minimize soil disturbance
  • Maintain living roots throughout the year
  • Support diversity of the soil’s microbial and vegetation community
And there is a complementary fifth principle within the framework of Regenerative Agriculture.
  • Incorporate grazing animals (whenever possible)
The RCD focuses on farm management practices that support optimal soil organic matter, soil structure, soil depth, and water and nutrient holding capacity. We provide direct assistance to growers including:
  • Technical and financial assistance to implement best management practices such as cover crops, compost, mulch, reduced till and more
  • Soil health assessments and monitoring
  • Field trials evaluating the impacts of various soil amendments and management practices on soil condition and crop yields
  • Identification of site-specific opportunities and practices to improve soil management 

Contact the RCD for assistance.

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Soil works for you if you work for the soil by using management practices that improve soil health and increase productivity and profitability immediately and into the future. - USDA NRCS

Conservation benefit: Restore and augment soil organic matter and biodiversity to improve carbon drawdown, water and nutrient cycling and fertility to support agricultural production

Partners:
Agriculture Land-Based Training Association
California Association of Resource Conservation Districts
California FarmLink
California State University Monterey Bay
Kitchen Table Advisors
Local Farmers and Ranchers
Loma Prieta Resource Conservation District
Natural Resource Conservation Service
Resource Conservation District of Monterey County
San Benito Resource Conservation District
San Mateo Resource Conservation District
University of California Cooperative Extension
USDA – Agricultural Research Service

Funders:
California Department of Food and Agriculture
Natural Resource Conservation Service
USDA Conservation Innovation Grants Program

Ag Resources Library

RCD Contact: Sacha Lozano

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    Capitola, California 95010
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