POINT REYES STATION, Calif. — As Earth Day approaches, the Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT) has announced approval by its board of directors for phase 3 of MALT’s Drought Resilience and Water Security (DRAWS) initiative, with an additional $250,000 in funding. Launched in April 2021, DRAWS has already allotted $500,000 in two funding phases to help Marin County ranchers and farmers address critical water shortages.
“Despite some early-season rains across the region, forecasts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other experts indicate we’re facing a third year of historic drought,” said Scott Dunbar, MALT’s stewardship program manager for sustainable agriculture. “After monitoring the drought situation closely, MALT’s board came to the conclusion that acting now to provide additional relief will have the greatest benefit for our agricultural community.”
An extension of MALT’s Stewardship Assistance Program (SAP), DRAWS awards grants of up to $15,000 per project to provide ranchers and farmers with technical assistance and funding to design and implement water infrastructure projects. Unlike for SAP projects, however, all Marin ranchers and farmers are eligible to apply for DRAWS grants, regardless of whether their property is protected by a MALT agricultural conservation easement.
DRAWS Initiative Generates Results—and Appreciation
The previous two phases of DRAWS funding translated into 41 ranch and farm construction projects—including developing new water sources, through springs and wells; building water distribution projects that expand and connect water systems across a ranch, often using pumps and piping; and adding water storage capacity. An additional seven applications were received last fall that can now proceed using the latest phase 3 funding.
For a number of Marin ranchers and farmers, the DRAWS funding has been greatly appreciated.
“Last year our ranch went completely dry. Storage ponds dried up. Wells dried up. We were completely reliant on trucked-in water,” said Linda Righetti Judah of Lazy R Ranch, which does not have a MALT easement. “Thanks to DRAWS, we have installed a rain catchment system and a new 5,000-gallon storage tank. This has been a game changer for us. Our DRAWS water infrastructure project is part of a broader effort on our ranch to fence off and restore riparian habitat along Stemple Creek. We are so grateful to DRAWS and other funders who make it possible for us to be good stewards of our land. Thank you!”
“With the DRAWS funding we were able to tackle an old spring that had been impacted by cattle grazing on the ranch,” said Terry Sawyer, co-owner of Hog Island Oyster Company and of the recently purchased and MALT-protected Leali Ranch. “Water quality and performance were poor. We were able to improve production, secure the spring with gravel and a casing, create water storage and install a water trough away from the source. What seems like a small step enhanced this section of the ranch and allowed us to be better stewards of the land.”
“Life on a ranch is a good life with many challenges: drought, fences and invasive plants,” said Nancy Chaffin, co-owner with her sister Betsy of the 208-acre Leiss Ranch, protected by a MALT easement since 2003. “With the help of DRAWS and SAP, we have been able to complete many projects on the land. The financial aid is very helpful.”
From Water Security to Drought Resilience
The DRAWS initiative is designed to offer short-term, emergency drought assistance, funding smaller, quickly completed projects to help enhance water security on Marin’s working lands.
For larger and more complex solutions that work toward longer-term drought resilience, MALT offers SAP projects, working closely with partners such as the Marin Resource Conservation District (Marin RCD), the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE)/Marin County, the Marin County Department of Agriculture, the Marin County Farm Bureau and Point Blue/Students and Teachers Restoring A Watershed (STRAWS).
“MALT is fortunate that we can contribute to projects that make an immediate difference through the DRAWS initiative, while also working with partners through SAP to help local agriculturalists improve their water and soil quality over time,” said Dunbar. “It’s all part of MALT’s vision for a thriving agricultural community in a healthy, diverse natural environment.”
Marin Agricultural Land Trust is a nonprofit organization created in 1980 to permanently protect Marin’s agricultural land for agricultural use and establish Marin County as a thriving and inclusive agricultural community in a healthy and diverse natural environment. Some of the Bay Area’s most highly acclaimed dairy and meat products and organic crops are produced on farmland protected by MALT, which totals more than 54,000 acres. To learn more about MALT, visit malt.org.
–Marin Agricultural Land Trust