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New land trust focused on groundwater aims to give farmers options

 •  by Lois Henry
The lower Deer Creek watershed where farmers and conservationists are hoping to preserve both groundwater and wildlife habitat as an option for taking farm ground out of production under new groundwater restrictions. COURTESY: Tule Basin Land and Water Conservation Trust

Southern Tulare County farmers inching toward a cliff of groundwater restrictions that could dry up tens of thousands of acres have joined with conservationists to potentially soften their own landing and help improve wildlife habitat at the same time.

At least that’s the goal of the newly formed Tule  Basin and Water Conservation Trust.

“Land retirement is not a popular concept with farmers,” said Eric Limas, Treasurer for the Tule Trust and General Manager of the Pixley Irrigation District and Groundwater Sustainability Agency.

But the reality is, there is no way to bring the aquifer beneath Pixley, in southwest Tulare, into balance without a significant reduction in groundwater pumping, Limas said.

“When you look at the numbers, if we did nothing else, (such as bringing in new water supplies) about 20,000 acres would have to come out of production,” Limas said. “That’s one-third of the district.”

When that realization sank in, he said, Pixley’s landowners got creative.

That’s where the Tule Trust comes in.

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