Water scarcity due to persistent droughts in California’s Central Valley is forcing scientists and farmers to find innovative and sustainable ways of utilizing this precious resource. Through collaboration, the community has found ways of reusing water several times in a bid to fully tap into its benefits.
The process of conservation and recycling starts just a few miles downstream of all major rivers and streams in the state. With the main source of water for the Central Valley being the Sierra Nevada snowpack, the community relies on a series of infrastructures to utilize the water every step of the way. Structures such as the Pine Flat Reservoir are vital to the plan of minimizing water use.
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The reservoir serves as a hydroelectric power station point, utilizing the speed of the free-falling water to turn turbines to generate electricity for the region. Given that hydroelectric power is a greener source of electricity, locals ensure that they have cut down reliance on fossil fuels.
Further into the Central Valley, the same water is put to use by farmers who utilize technology to minimize water use. Famers collaborate with local institutions such as the Fresno State Center for Irrigation Technology to adopt sustainable irrigation methods.
“So we have basically three essential functions,” said Charles Hillyer, director of Fresno State’s Center for Irrigation Technology. “We do field testing and technology. We do research relating to agriculture specifically for irrigation, and then we have a laboratory that tests and certifies equipment for different research experiments that are all testing different aspects of water use efficiency. One is focused on a product that may reduce consumptive use of water.”
Hillyer further explained that irrigation has become mandatory to all farmers in California because of droughts. As a result, they have to adopt methods of sustainable agriculture.
“So irrigation matters to everybody who eats in California,” Hillyer said. “That’s why sustainable production practices are important because this is how we’re going to continue to feed ourselves and the rest of the world.”
From training irrigation managers to finding new, sustainable methods of irrigation, Central Valley farmers will have to adapt to the reality of climate change. But Hillyer noted that the future for sustainable water use is bright.
“My hope is that this institution will continue as it has done in the past to generate research and pure science research that is useful not only to agriculture but other scientists,” Hillyer said.
Image via Mia S