The Land Retirement Option
Beginning as far back as 1990 when the Federal/State Interagency San Joaquin Valley Drainage Program issued its "Rainbow Report," retiring the poisoned lands of the western San Joaquin Valley and the Tulare Lake Basin has been an option considered by state and federal officials.
Piping the drainage water through the Coast Range to the Monterey Bay Area and to the Delta have both been rejected politically long ago. The remaining alternatives available to growers in this region are some form or wastewater treatment or land retirement.
Study after study show land retirement is the most cost-effective option for reducing the discharge of salt and selenium into the San Joaquin River, which flows directly into the Delta and San Francisco Bay. Some key studies include:
Land retirement proved to be the most cost effective solution to resolve drainage problems in the San Luis Unit. The maximum land retirement option had a net economic benefit of $3.64 million/year. The Preferred Alternative had a net economic loss of $10.149 million/year.
Some lands have been retired. They are purchased by local water districts which place deed restrictions on the land to prevent in perpetuity growers from using irrigation water. In Westlands Water District alone, some 90,000 acres have been retired from irrigation through early 2006, according to the District's newsletter, which further reported:
They may be dry farmed (that is, growers may rely on what rainfall they receive to hydrate crops, as occurred in this area prior to the advent of irrigation in the 1960s and 1970s). Or they may be used for other purposes that are compatible with adjacent land uses.
But in the meantime, landowners in the western San Joaquin Valley want compensation in exchange for retiring their lands, and retired land must be monitored and managed to ensure that salinity and selenium discharges are minimized or eliminated. Land retirement is not free of costs. Allowing other appropriate uses on the land can enable the area to recover economically over time.