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Donald J. Merhaut, Lea Corkidi, Maren Mochizuki, Toan Khuong, Julie Newman, Ben Faber, Oleg Daugovish and Sonya Webb

Agriculture is a major industry in California, with cool-season crops grown along the state’s coasts, warm-season crops grown in the hot deserts, and many temperate crops grown in the state’s valleys. In coastal communities such as Ventura County, the Calleguas Creek and the Santa Clara River watersheds have 50,000 and 60,000 irrigated acres of farm crops, respectively. These watersheds are considered impaired by nutrients, salts, pesticides, and other agricultural contaminants. Mitigation of chemical and sediment runoff through grower-implemented best management practices (BMPs) is therefore one of the highest priorities in the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board Basin Plan. A 3-year project was designed to assist Ventura County growers in meeting regional water quality objectives. The University of California Cooperative Extension Ventura County and the University of California, Riverside, collaborated with the Ventura County Resource Conservation District and the Ventura County Agricultural Irrigated Lands Group (VCAILG) to address three project goals: increase grower and landowner understanding of local agricultural water quality issues; identify gaps or deficiencies in current management practices in agricultural operations; and reduce the contribution of nutrients, pesticides, and other pollutants to impaired water bodies. To achieve these goals, 469 surveys of agricultural water quality management practices were collected to assess the extent of current adoption of BMPs. Over 160 growers who farm more than 14,000 acres that drain into Calleguas Creek and 7,000 acres that drain into the Santa Clara River watersheds were assisted. Using the survey, growers developed site-specific farm water quality plans and received on-farm recommendations for BMPs. Additionally, 12 water quality educational programs, “including demonstrations of successful BMPs,” were developed and more than 2500 copies of educational materials published by the University of California, the Resource Conservation District, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture were distributed at on-farm visits, workshops, and other grower events. The project resulted in improved understanding, by growers and landowners, of water quality issues and significantly increased the implementation of appropriate on-farm BMPs to protect water quality. Nearly 100 new BMPs primarily aimed at managing erosion, sediment movement, and irrigation runoff were identified and documented through annual reassessments for more than 8000 acres draining into Calleguas Creek. A total of 518 people attended the educational programs, and over 90% of participants who completed evaluations rated the programs highly. In the final year of the project, 75% of attendees indicated they plan to implement new BMPs within the next 5 years, especially in the areas of irrigation, erosion, and pest management.