River Friendly Agriculture in the San Gregorio Watershed
California’s unique geography and Mediterranean climate have allowed the state to become one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world. California produces over 250 different crops and leads the nation in the production of 75 commodities. Most of this production would not be possible without irrigation—agriculture and water are inextricably linked. In an average year, California agriculture irrigates 9.6 million acres, accounting for roughly 80 percent of the water use in the state.
As the state continues to face water supply challenges, such as population growth and a changing climate, pressure has increased for agriculture to use water more efficiently and to make more water available for urban and environmental uses. Numerous technologies and management approaches that conserve water while maintaining yield and production standards are being pursued throughout the state.
The American Rivers’ California Regional Office, with funding from the EPA West Coast Estuaries Initiative Grant Program, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and Wildlife Conservation Society is piloting one such approach in the San Gregorio Creek Watershed.
San Gregorio is a coastal watershed that provides water for a rural agricultural community and for sensitive and endangered species. Agriculture remains a primary activity, bolstering the regional economy and underpinning the cultural identity of the San Gregorio community. In fact, several farms are operated by third or even fourth generation farmers. The watershed is also home to coho salmon, tidewater goby, and steelhead trout, the first two federally listed endangered species and the latter listed as threatened. Other endangered, threatened, or species of special concern residing in the watershed include: California red-legged frog, San Francisco garter snake, marbled murrelet, southwestern pond turtle, and Pacific lamprey.
American Rivers and our partners are implementing an innovative approach to address the issue of water supply in the San Gregorio Watershed—the legal transfer of agricultural water rights from low-flow summer diversions to winter storage diversions.
This means that those who have the right to take water out of the stream during the dry summer months will instead take that water during the wet winter months and store it for later use. By leaving water in the river in the summer months, the San Gregorio Creek watershed is able to maximize the benefits a healthy river provides, including providing flows that help sustain fish and other species. In addition, this approach allows agricultural water diverters more security in the amount of water available to them as they divert during the high-flow winter months.
American Rivers hopes to further benefit California’s communities by replicating the San Gregorio Creek watershed approach along the coast and perhaps more broadly.