Hero Image

A Drop in the Bucket: reclaiming water for farming

During the early to mid-1900s row crops of all kinds painted Marin’s rural landscape. Before the county’s deep alluvial soils were covered with houses and water was pumped in from the Russian River to serve a quarter of a million residents, water was more available for growing everything from peas to tomatoes and almonds to apricots. Some of Marin’s fertile valleys, including much of the greater Novato area, were veritable fruit baskets while hydrologically challenged areas produced crops that could be dry farmed, such as hay, grains, silage crops, and potatoes.

       Today, we find ourselves in an era where water is not only in high demand for residential, manufacturing, and other urban uses, but also for the fish and other important creatures that live in our streams, lakes, and wetlands. With all of these competing needs, it seems that there is barely enough to go around for all users. Somewhere along the way, farming seems to have been all but forgotten as Marin developed and commercialized. It is time for farmers to reclaim a greater share of the water supply.

       Local food production has gained acceptance as the most sustainable way to protect the security of our food supply. Local production means that less fossil fuel is used for long-distance shipping and it guarantees the availability of healthy foods to local residents. But it takes water to grow food.

       Thanks to the interest and efforts of forward-thinking local farmers and a supportive county government, a small group of producers and ag staff have started meeting to explore ways to make a little more of Marin’s water available for local food production. Ideas include development of non-riparian rainfall catchment ponds, capture of underutilized reservoir water, and other low-impact water developments. Although Marin is a dry county due to its geology, it is rich in dedicated, creative community members who are ready to get to work on this issue.

       As Warren Weber said, “if a farm or ranch could have just five percent of the rain that falls on it, imagine how much food we could grow.” That really does not amount to much, with total water usage in Marin County from Marin Municipal Water District and North Marin Water District alone estimated at 40,000 acre-feet per year. Irrigation of an additional 100 acres of fruit and vegetable crops in Marin (a 50 percent increase) would require an additional 150 acre feet or so of irrigation water —just a drop in the bucket. -Lisa Bush