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Incentivizing Groundwater Management

What happens when agencies partner with farmers to preserve groundwater?

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How can organizations finance the changes needed to preserve groundwater? In Brazil, where drought has left the countryside parched, farmers are being paid to improve infrastructure and implement groundwater preservation techniques.

In Brazil, about 60% of the country’s freshwater is used for crop and livestock production. With the understanding that poor water management by agribusiness can trigger negative environmental effects across a river basin, the ANA, Brazil’s national water agency, determined that structural changes on farms to increase groundwater were crucial.  

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The organization began a countrywide “water producer” program in 2012 in which the agency invests in construction projects to address erosion, groundwater capture, and effluent and sewage treatment to help preserve hydrological basins.

Today, the agency has invested some $11 million in projects ranging from constructing sandbars and small dams to channel and capture water to building terraces, rehabilitating springs, and reforesting land. Local governments and organizations have contributed another $42 million.

The 1,200 farmers participating in the program are paid a yearly stipend, an amount that varies according to the water preservation methods they have implemented. This encourages farmers to adopt practices that preserve the environment and contribute to water supplies.

On a farm in Planaltina, the program paid for the planting of 8,000 native cerrado trees in an area where cattle once grazed freely near a river source.

“We noticed an increase in the amount of water infiltrating the soil. We also saw the water source being filled more every year,” farmer Thiago Kaiser told Karla Mendes of the Thomson Reuters Foundation. The visible results inspired his family to plant 4,000 more trees.  

Today, in Brazil’s Pipiripau basin, 360,000 seedlings have been planted, 83 miles of roads have been improved, and about 1,000 water retention basins have been built.

What are your thoughts? Could partnering with farmers to manage groundwater be an effective strategy? WE_bug_web

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  1. I just read a book by Sepp Holzer called “Desert or Paradise…” that addresses this issue. He has some interesting thoughts. I would imagine that if you paid farmers to build water retention basins, that might be beneficial. Don’t know if it would be cost effective though except in areas with severe problems.

  2. Down in Imperial County, farmers did a lot of work in water conservation and through that effort an impressive amount of water was saved. Unfortunately, this now “surplus water”, attracted the covetous eye of one of the water moguls who used clever water attorneys to get access to the excess.

  3. The NRCS (formerly the Soil Conservation Service) uses it’s resources to fund erosion control and water runoff projects in the U.S.. At times, this could mean the installation of impoundments by farmers and ranchers to support groundwater and increasing the vegetal cover. it seems obvious that this agency is already doing some of this work and could expand in areas where groundwater is being depleted.

  4. The South Florida Water Management District is paying farmers to store water on their land, which makes sense. Farmers own large areas of land, some of which is not always in production. This not only allows for ground water recharge but also cleans any water that is temporarily stored and then discharged.

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