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Managed winter flooding of alfalfa recharges groundwater with minimal crop damage


It is well known that California experiences dramatic swings in precipitation that are difficult to predict and challenging to agriculture. In times of drought, groundwater serves as a crucial savings account that is heavily relied upon. However, few tools exist to proactively refill this crucial reserve in wet years. We explored the idea of intentional winter flooding of agricultural land to promote on-farm recharge of the underlying groundwater. Field experiments were conducted on two established alfalfa stands to determine the feasibility of groundwater recharge and test realistic water application amounts and timings and potential crop damage. We studied soils with relatively high percolation rates and found that most of the applied water percolated to the groundwater table, resulting in short-lived saturated conditions in the root zone and minimal yield loss. While caution is appropriate to prevent crop injury, winter recharge in alfalfa fields with highly permeable soils appears to be a viable practice.

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