POINT REYES STATION, Calif. — As California enters another year of an intensifying drought, the Marin Agricultural Land Trust’s (MALT) water emergency relief program, the Drought Resilience & Water Security (DRAWS) initiative, reports progress in helping to address the community’s ongoing water shortage while laying the groundwork for more strategic long-term water security for farmers and ranchers throughout Marin County.
Launched in April 2021, the DRAWS initiative provided up to 85% of the funding—with a cap of $15,000 per project—for designing and building water infrastructure projects on Marin County farms and ranches. What’s more, grant recipients did not need to own MALT agricultural conservation easements to be eligible to apply.
“Making funding available to all Marin County farms and ranches, not just those properties protected by MALT easements, increased equity in the program, addressed water security at a watershed level, and allowed MALT to connect with the people and parts of the landscape that do not have a MALT agricultural conservation easement,” said Jennifer Carlin, MALT’s acting CEO.
Carlin made a point to especially thank donors who made it possible for MALT to allocate $500,000 to the emergency program—all of which has now been accounted for.
Significant Progress in a Short Time
“DRAWS has played a significant role in securing water resources during these unprecedented drought conditions,” said Eric Rubenstahl, MALT’s stewardship program manager. “More than a few of the grant recipients told us that they would have lost some of their cattle had DRAWS not been available this past year.”
Since DRAWS began in the spring of 2021, 28 ranch and farm construction projects have been completed with $345,000 issued in reimbursements. Most of these projects focused on developing new water sources through springs and wells, expanding and connecting pumps and pipe systems for better water distribution, and adding ways to store more water. An additional 12 approved projects are currently underway, which will account for the full amount of DRAWS funding available.
While winter rains have eased some immediate water availability concerns, continuing years of low rainfall are inevitable, according to Scott Dunbar, MALT’s stewardship program manager for sustainable agriculture.
“By delivering water to areas previously lacking a water source, ranchers can improve rotational grazing of their livestock, which gives drought-stressed fields a break from livestock pressure,” Dunbar said. “Since its inception, the DRAWS program has made a significant impact for Marin’s agriculturalists, especially in addressing some of the crucial but often less-glamorous issues they face when dealing with drought conditions.”
Long-Term Water Help
While MALT’s short-term emergency drought assistance through the DRAWS initiative has reached its cap for now, its Stewardship Assistance Program (SAP) , still has some remaining budget for this fiscal year to assist ranchers and farmers with long-term water resilience projects, often conducted in partnership with other organizations.
For example, the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service administers its Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which includes drought mitigation among the issues it addresses through financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers. Locally, additional help is available from MALT partners including the Marin Resource Conservation District, the University of California Cooperative Extension/Marin County and Point Blue Conservation Science.
“The DRAWS initiative embodies MALT’s vision of a thriving agricultural community in a healthy and diverse natural environment,” Carlin said. “Securing and maintaining reliable, clean water for farms and ranches is imperative to the success of the agricultural economy in Marin County.”
Marin Agricultural Land Trust is a nonprofit organization created in 1980 to permanently preserve Marin County farmland 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