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Land-Use Optimization for Sustainable Agricultural Water Management in Pajaro Valley, California


The uncertainty of water resources availability is a growing problem in California as agricultural industrialization, population growth, and climate change affect water resources. The intense manipulation of the hydrological regime has led to the depletion of the water resources in the state and the subsequent use of various adaptive management strategies to cope with environmental conditions and social concerns. The historical imbalance between water pumping and replenishment in Pajaro Valley has led to overdrafted aquifers, seawater intrusion, and salinization. The objective of this study is to estimate the sustainable carrying capacity of agricultural land in Pajaro Valley while preventing groundwater overdraft. A groundwater box model was built and calibrated using historical data to represent current and future hydrology and water management strategies. An optimization model maximized the economic profit using the agricultural acreage as the decision variable with a set of constraints aimed at determining the sustainable carrying capacity of the groundwater basin. Model constraints include total land and water availability, crop acreage, agricultural water use, and historical demand. In the Pajaro Valley, agricultural operations must use less water more efficiently, which means changes in crop types, size of activities, and fallowing land in parts of the basin. Results of the optimal scenario over 25 years show a 15% reduction of total agricultural acreage, 8.5% reduction in food production, average profit loss of 4%, and a 79% reduction in aquifer depletion. This study provides an overall vision of what can be accomplished with coordinated land use planning using strategies that harmonize individual decisions and shared natural resources.

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