Signed in 2014, the law — known as SiGMA — requires local agencies to sustainably manage groundwater basins.
A big part of what SiGMA can be is a way to provide certainty about water allocations in the future, said Michael McCollough, professor of agribusiness at California Polytechnical State University.
“It’s really difficult to run a business when you have uncertainty and when one of your main inputs … how much you’re going to have on a year-to-year basis changes as much as it has over the last few years,” he said during a virtual session of the California Dairy Sustainability Summit.
That uncertainty makes it even more difficult and a lot riskier for farmers. SiGMA will hopefully give producers an idea of how much water will be available so they can adjust, he said.
This is the first year SiGMA has started moving into the implementation phase, and people are starting to see direct impacts, said David DeGroot, principle civil engineer at 4Creeks Engineering.
“It takes a lot of water to operate a dairy. The good thing about dairies is they recycle a lot of that water over the years to become very efficient … but at the end of the day, it’s still a numbers game,” he said.
The biggest impact for dairies may be not so much on the dairy facility but on the feed side. Without adequate water or certainty of water, the question is where the feed will come from. The implementation of SiGMA is going to impact local forages, hay, silages and wheat, he said.
What goes hand-in-hand with that is water quality because dairies need to get rid of the nutrients they produce. The most efficient way to do that is to use crops to utilize those nutrients, he said.
“But if you can’t mix those nutrients with adequate water and grow enough forages, then you’re going to have a nutrient-reduction problem,” he said.
Dairy producers need to be focused on managing their feed supply in concert with managing their nutrients, he said.
What would help dairy farmers is phased-in implementation that would give them time to adjust and SiGMA plans that allow for flexibility in water allocation and use from year to year, McCullough said.
Continued state support is also needed because everyone is impacted, not just farmers. And there’s opportunity for non-traditional collaboration to work together as a community to solve this problem, he said.
Dairy farmers also need to be prepared to take advantage of wet years and what options they have to store water, do recharge or grow feed crops to stock up for dry years, DeGroot said.
They also need to understand how much water they’re using. They need to have that information so they can react when an agency says it’s going to reduce their allocation, he said.
He also encouraged dairymen to get involved and go to meetings “because those are where the policies, the rules and the regulations are being set.”