Rejuvenating our Lands: Healthy Soils in the Sacramento Valley

Wednesday, Aug 18th, 2021

By Bruce Houdesheldt

With an increasing focus on the multiple benefits of healthy soils, the Budget Act of 2021 recently appropriated $50 million in one-time funding from the General Fund to the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) for implementation of the Healthy Soils Program and $40 million for State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP) to reduce greenhouse gases and save water. The CDFA’s Healthy Soils Initiative promotes the development of innovative farm and land management practices that increase water retention and infiltration, make a more effective filter that improves water quality, and sequesters carbon and reduce greenhouse gases, especially when cover crops are planted. Among the 20 projects selected for CDFA’s Demonstration Project funding earlier this year were several projects throughout the Sacramento Valley for composting and cover crops, including the Glenn County Resource Conservation District helping plant cover crops in an orchard.

Landowners and conservationists in the Sacramento Valley are working together to manage farms, ranches, refuges and wetlands to promote healthy soils that benefit agronomic and environmental efforts. Soil health and cover cropping increase the utilization of our lands as natural infrastructure for multiple benefits, a foundational value in the Sacramento Valley, which supports working landscapes, provides essential benefits for our economy, health and quality of life, including clean water, nutritious food, outdoor recreation, while contributing to the state’s climate goals.

As an example, River Garden Farms and Audubon California hosted a Field Day and Farm Tour to share how to choose and implement a cover crop within row crop production, incorporate the cover crop into nitrogen budgets, and use non-chemical pest control methods for row crops and rice. As Sacramento Valley landowner Sean McNamara of Sierra Orchards (Winters) describes in this video clip, “What’s good for the soil is generally good for us.” Chris Renteria of Sequoia Farms, an organic walnut grower in Dixon, realized they were getting the organic matter and nitrate they needed from the cover crops as he explains in this video clip.

With the focus by both state and federal leaders on nature-based solutions and increasing biodiversity, we are working with our various partners to explore “Nature-Based Solutions: Enlisting Natural and Working Lands in the Sacramento River Basin in the Fight against Climate Change,” a comprehensive efforts in the region to manage land and water from ridgetop down to river mouth to provide multiple benefits as water moves through the region.  These efforts, which include forest management, floodplain reactivation, groundwater management and recharge, and healthy soils management, support all beneficial water uses in the region (for cities, farms, fish, birds and other wildlife, hydropower production, and recreation) while also helping to combat climate change.

Healthy soils also contribute to improving the high-quality water enjoyed in the Sacramento Valley as seen in Ensuring High Quality Water in the Sacramento River Basin for Communities, Ecosystems, and Farms. Successful multi-benefit water management focuses on ensuring high-quality water is available for drinking water, aquatic species and the ecosystem, and farming–both now and as we look to the future. For generations the communities and farming families in the Sacramento Valley have cultivated a shared vision for a vibrant way of life throughout the region that depends upon high quality water for all forms of life. These leaders and their families live, work and play in the region and have a direct interest in ensuring high quality water for all these purposes. This approach builds on the culture and strong partnerships in the region with water suppliers, local governments, landowners and conservationists–all working together with state and federal agencies to ensure safe drinking water, healthy aquatic life and reliable water supplies for healthy soils and farms and ranches.

The Sacramento Valley is sourcing our sustainable future through responsible management of the essential resource that millions of birds, hundreds of thousands of fish, thousands of farms and millions of people all rely on–water.

We would welcome your thoughts by contacting me at bruceh@norcalwater.org.

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