Ag Water Conservation

Ag Water Conservation

Monterey County farmers and ranchers have been conserving our water resources for over two decadesh

Groundwater extraction (for irrigation) for the Salinas River Groundwater Basin shows:

  • 1996 extractions were 563,438 acre feet
  • 2022 extractions were 447,821 acre feet
  • Reduction of groundwater extractions of 20% over 26 years

Gross value of Salinas Valley agricultural production over the same time period:

  • 1996 gross value was $2,844,548,000
  • 2023 gross value was $4,638,336,000
  • Increase in gross value of 63% over 27 years


Over the decade from 2011 – 2021 (including drought years),

groundwater irrigation extractions averaged 442,200 acre feet / year.

Irrigation methods have also changed dramatically in the last 20 years, as evidenced by shifts in water delivery methods:

  • In 1993, drip irrigation was used on 26,080 acres … in 2020, drip irrigation was used on 137,000 acres
  • in 1993, sprinkler and furrow irrigation was used on 89,662 acres … in 2020, sprinkler and furrow irrigation was reduced to use on 11,000 acres

Drip irrigation is approximately twice as efficient as furrow irrigation (range of efficiency depends on the crop). 12,000 acres of grapes were added in the past 20 years utilizing drip irrigation; strawberries are exclusively irrigated using drip irrigation.

Crops grown in Monterey County require specific amounts of water to maintain adequate yields and quality uniformity.  Over the past 20 years, addoption of water saving techniques, such as drip irrigation, have allowed yields to increase while actual water use has decreased.

Source: MCWRA Groundwater Extraction Summary Reports (view the report for 2020 here)

At the height of a historic drought in 2015, The Washington Post published a report titled “Agriculture is 80% of water use in California.” And a 2022 report by Food and Water Watch, titled “These industries are sucking up California’s water and worsening drought,” again noted that, “in California, 80% of our water goes toward agriculture.”

Before we explain just how much that 80% figure is taken out of context, this fact is worth noting: Water for farmers in California produces by far America’s largest food supply, including staples that are affordable, safe, nutritious and essential for our daily lives.

Now back to percentages. An internet search with the keywords “agriculture water use in California” provides information from universities and research organizations, which highlight that agriculture uses 40% to 50% of water in California. But those numbers are derived from the state’s “captured” water, which varies widely.

For example, 2006 was a wet year when the state received more than it could capture and hold, and 2014 was a dry year when it got a fraction of normal moisture. Wet and dry years are expected to get more unpredictable—and extreme—as climate change intensifies.

Regardless of wet or dry years, academia and leading water organizations recognize that agriculture uses about 30 million acre-feet of water to irrigate some 9 million acres of California food production, with groundwater used in combination with surface water.

Our farmers lead in adoption of low volume irrigation methods, such as drip, subsurface drip, and microirrigation systems on more than 50% of irrigated acres. While 30 million acre-feet may seem like a lot, we must consider the total amount of water the state gets in precipitation. That number is 200 million acre-feet.

Therefore, agriculture uses 12% of that water in a wet year and 29% in a dry year. The environment—streams and rivers—gets 26% in a wet year, more than double that of agriculture, and 21% in a dry year, 8% less than farming.

In a wet year with above-average precipitation, about half of the total water the state receives is captured in its reservoirs. With around 104 million acre-feet captured in a wet year, agriculture’s share is about 30%. In a dry year, that share could increase to 40% to 50%, an amount often referenced by academia and research organizations for agricultural use.

Exerpt from article written by Dr. Amrith Gunasekara, California Bountiful Foundation

Monterey County’s Agrcultural Commissioner has developed a report on water conservation efforts here in the Salinas Valley area, which covers irrigation demand, salt water intrusion, groundwater levels, recycled wastewater, drip irrigation, soil moisture sensors, and other topics in depth.

View the report on the Ag Commissioner’s website here.