June 16, 2023
Sacramento, CA – Today, the California Department of Conservation (Department of Conservation) announced that Westlands Water District Groundwater Sustainability Agency (Westlands GSA) has been awarded a grant through the Multibenefit Land Repurposing Program (MLRP). The Westlands GSA serves as a Groundwater Sustainability Agency for the Westside Subbasin, a critically over-drafted basin in Fresno and Kings Counties. As part of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act’s goals to mitigate and improve groundwater overdraft, the MLRP program aims to repurpose agricultural land to reduce reliance on groundwater while ensuring the voices and needs of marginalized communities are included in the process.
“Despite our wet winter, there are still many places in California where groundwater basins have been drawn down significantly over years of extreme drought, which cannot be adequately replenished by one wet year,” Department of Conservation Director David Shabazian said. “Part of our department’s mission is to protect farmland and promote a sustainable economy. If we’re taking land out of production, we want to ensure regions are ready to pursue beneficial land use opportunities – floodplain restoration, groundwater recharge, safe drinking water, more renewable energy, habitat enhancement and benefits to the local environment and economy.”
Recognizing the importance of finding ways to repurpose agricultural land that maximizes community benefits and minimizes the impacts of reduced economic activity, Westlands GSA has partnered with CivicWell, Sequoia Riverlands Trust, Linguistica Interpreting and Translation, the Leap Institute, and Vista Consulting. These organizations are well-versed and experienced in community empowerment, job training, outreach and education, habitat restoration, and project organization for this effort and will support the program’s goals of achieving equitable groundwater sustainability.
“There are a number of beneficial options for repurposing agricultural land, and it’s crucial that community needs and desires are central to that decision. We are thrilled to be part of this diverse project team—bringing our strengths in community outreach, engagement, and facilitation—and to help transform local vision into positive and creative outcomes,” said Grace Person, CivicWell Water Senior Project Manager.
Over the next 3.5 years this project team will bring together local voices to develop and commence implementation of a multi-benefit land repurposing plan while simultaneously mitigating the effects of agricultural job loss through job training.
“Investing in priority populations on the west side of the Valley is critical in the advancement of climate resiliency and equity. The opportunity to train and certify local farmworkers, under-employed and unemployed residents will create jobs, save homeowners money, reduce greenhouse gasses, sequester carbon, and empower the local economy,” said Rey Leon, Mayor of the City of Huron and Chief Executive Officer of The Leap Institute.
The program will assist the Westlands GSA to identify and put into practice long-term opportunities to repurpose agricultural lands, cut groundwater use, reduce subsidence, improve groundwater supply, and provide benefits to disadvantaged communities.
“We look forward to rolling up our sleeves with our partners to develop a comprehensive resident-informed plan to improve communities, economic wellbeing, water supply, habitat, and climate benefits,” said Allison Febbo, General Manager of Westlands Water District.