Westside Resource Conservation District


About Us...
  The devastating soil erosion and human suffering caused by the 1930s Dust Bowl prompted Congress to create the USDA Soil Conservation Service and to encourage state conservation departments to form resource conservation districts (RCDs). As subdivisions of state governments, RCDs educate landowners to care for natural resources to assure the long-term sustainability of their own farms and ranches and to prevent threats to soil stability, water quality, fish, wildlife, and public health.
  Under the authority of the California State Department of Conservation and with the help of the Soil Conservation Service, the Westside Resource Conservation District was established in 1984 as a non-profit organization to conserve not only soil in western Fresno and Kings Counties but water, air quality, and energy as well.  The district reaches from mid-Fresno County on the east to the crest of the Coastal Range on the west and from Kettleman City in the south to Mendota in the north. (See the map of California RCDs.)  One million acres of the district lie in Fresno County, and 52,000 acres are in Kings County. The programs the Westside RCD is currently implementing are explained below.

Watershed Management
  The marine and continental shelf soils of the Westside Resource Conservation District contain naturally occurring salts, selenium, and boron. Additionally, streams flowing from the Coastal Range transport and deposit selenium, boron, asbestos fibers, and salts on the plains of the westside during storm events. By forming stream groups for Coastal Range streams and developing ranch plans, the Westside RCD has been able to organize landowners and operators and find grants to install water lines and troughs to water livestock away from easily eroded stream banks. This has reduced the amount of harmful sediment that west hills streams carry to the valley floor. The Westside RCD has also encouraged farmers to vegetate stream banks in the plains. Together these measures keep Coastal Range storm waters from carrying selenium, asbestos fibers and other contaminants to the California Aqueduct, where they could pollute the drinking water of millions of Southern Californians. Checking the flow of storm water also prevents flood damage to Interstate 5 and the entry of contaminants into the San Joaquin River on the east flank of the Westside RCD.

Drainage Management
  Over 400,000 acres in the Westside RCD are irrigated. Because of the naturally occurring salts in west side soils and salts brought to the soil in surface and well water, a certain fraction of the water applied to irrigate crops is used to flush the salts below crop root zones. This saline, subsurface water percolates down until it reaches an impermeable layer of clay, usually 6 to 10 feet below the surface. Once this drain water encounters impermeable clay, it flows laterally northeasterly to the eastern edge of the Westlands Water District. Approximately 200,000 acres of farmland in the eastern half of the Westlands Water District has become too water-logged and saline to grow crops. Westside farmer and Westside RCD board member John Diener has successfully drained damaged crop land and rehabilitated the soil, and the Westside RCD has published a manual to show how to do this.
  The drainage and rehabilitation process is called Integrated On-farm Drainage Management (IFDM) and starts with installing perforated pipes 3 to 6 feet below the surface of the land about 100 feet apart to capture the drain water carrying salts away from the crop root zone. This drain water is typically 3,000 to 4,000 parts per million (ppm) salt and is diluted with surface or well water to irrigate Jose tall wheat grass, a forage grass that removes selenium from the drain water and soil to produce a preferred selenium-rich forage for cattle whose diet is selenium deficient. The drain water from the forage field has a higher concentration of salts than the initial drain water. That water is diluted and used to irrigate a salt-tolerant crop like cotton. The drain water from the cotton field is higher in salts than the forage drain water and is diluted to irrigate salt-loving plants called halophytes. The drain water from the halophytes has a very high concentration of salts. This water goes to a solar evaporator where the salts are separated from the water as it evaporates to the atmosphere. The salts are collected and sold commercially. Using this IFDM method of drainage and soil rehabilitation, 98% of drainage impacted crop land can cleaned to the point that it can grow high value, salt-sensitive crops like lettuce. The remaining 2% of the land is dedicated to growing a small acreage of Jose tall wheat grass, salt-tolerant crops and halophytes. IFDM can be scaled up to treat tens of thousands of acres of drainage challenged Westlands Water District land. The Westside RCD will guide the implementation of  this immense drainage management project.

Habitat Development
  In response to the drainage problem in the lower-lying part of the Westlands Water District, the District has purchased over 70,000 acres of water-logged, saline, unproductive crop land that it has retired. Upland habitat consisting of native grasses and shrubs can help the Westlands Water District control weeds on its retired land, provide habitat for endangered species like the San Joaquin kit fox, and create strategically located insectaries to build populations of beneficial insects. Riparian habitat in the lower parts of west side streams can become wildlife corridors, insectaries for beneficial insects, and refuges to build biodiversity. Both riparian and upland habitat can supply pollen and nectar for native pollinators, offer naturalists places to watch birds and other animals, and eventually become centers for eco-tourism. By growing insectaries, wildlife habitat can enhance Integrated Pest Management on nearby farms; and by growing native plants it can reduce the pressure of noxious weeds on adjacent farm land. The Westside RCD will oversee the development of tens of thousands of acres of upland and riparian habitat in the next 10 to 15 years.

Clean Energy Project
  A new and growing activity of the Westside RCD is getting farmers and agricultural processors to implement energy efficiency projects and to follow on with renewable energy projects as they become cost-effective. Three-fourths of the electricity for pumping water in west side orchards and vineyards could be supplied by solar photovoltaic panels. Lettuce and melon coolers could use solar thermal and absorption chilling technologies to refrigerate their cooling facilities. Almond and pistachio hullers could convert tree wood and nut shells into synthetic diesel fuel using advanced gasification technology. Over the next 20 years the Westside Resource Conservation District will play a major role in converting agricultural operations in our district to renewable fuels and energy.

WRCD area map, click to view pdf version of map


Address:
Westside Resource Conservation District
P.O. Box 6079
Fresno, CA 93703-6079
Phone: 559-230-9050
email: hydrobuffalo@sbcglobal.net