The Environmental Defense Fund, a nonprofit environmental advocacy organization, is developing a plan to help Western farmers deal with their water scarcity issues and conserve water all at once. The strategy, which is still in the works, would help farmers adhere to California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) as well as create water markets where farmers can sell or trade their extra water so it doesn’t go to waste.

Here’s how David Festa, a senior vice president at EDF, summarizes the new approach:

We’re pulling on four specific threads. First is to make agriculture part of the solution. They own something on the order of 80 percent of the water rights and much of the habitat we’re going to need.

Second is to empower local leaders, particularly among disadvantaged communities. That’s important because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it’s critical to building the political momentum we need to sustain these efforts.

Third is to close the “escape hatch,” or the use of groundwater as a backup for shortages in surface water supplies. We can’t solve unsustainable surface water management by continuing unsustainable groundwater management, so that means making sure things like the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act succeed.

Fourth is to improve the effectiveness and accountability of habitat improvements – everything from fish screens to mitigation banks. We want habitat improvement to be happening faster, be more cost-effective and get the recognition it deserves.

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