In 2021, California established the Multibenefit Land Repurposing Program (MLRP) with an initial $50 million investment to reduce reliance on overdrafted groundwater basins. The multibenefit land repurposing concept supports the strategic transition of least productive, most flood-prone irrigated land to new, lower water uses that will help reestablish sustainable groundwater supplies – while also providing benefits to landowners, adjacent communities and freshwater ecosystems.

The Greater Monterey County Integrated Regional Water Management (IRWM) Group has been awarded a $10 million grant by the California Department of Conservation through MLRP to strategically and voluntarily acquire and repurpose the least viable, most flood-prone portions of irrigated agricultural lands in the lower Salinas Valley.

IRWM is partnering with SVBGSA, along with the Central Coast Wetlands Group and the California Marine Sanctuary Foundation, to develop and implement this program. The Salinas Valley MLRP will support acquisition of portions of agricultural ranches where interested landowners wish to transition farmlands to projects that increase groundwater recharge and storage, reduce flooding, and enhance water quality and base flow. Additional benefits can include habitat enhancement and public recreation opportunities. The program will focus efforts in the 180/400 Foot Aquifer, Eastside and Langley subbasins.

The program will work with interested landowners who want to voluntarily retire portions of their irrigated lands that are more flood prone and least viable for production. Together they will develop multibenefit water resource projects that are compatible with adjacent, on-going farming operations. Optimal locations for farmland acquisition as part of this program include irrigated areas that are:

  • Historic creeks and lakebeds 
  • Highly permeable soils 
  • Adjacent to waterways 
  • Frequently flooded

Interested landowners will be fairly compensated for these lands, which will be acquired by the program with support of four local land trusts. Lands acquired through this program will be transitioned into multibenefit projects. Example projects may include one or more of the following features:

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  • Floodplain restoration 
  • Stormwater capture and reuse 
  • Recharge basin 
  • Treatment wetland 
  • Riparian corridor enhancement 
  • Parks/open space 

Water scarcity and groundwater overuse are driving land use dilemmas in California, particularly in agriculture. One promising solution gaining traction is multi-benefit land repurposing, which involves transforming unproductive farmland to capture rain, floods, and diverted water for groundwater recharge.

Watch this episode from Water Loop to learn more about how the Multi-Benefit Land Repurposing Program operates in the Salinas Valley Basin.