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Multi-benefit Land Repurposing Program: A Holistic Approach to Managing Water and Land in the Salinas Valley

Updated: Apr 30

One of the impacts of climate change is increasingly frequent and extended periods of drought punctuated by intense storms and wet seasons. In the Salinas Valley, we’re already feeling these impacts. We are more and more reliant on groundwater during droughts, pumping water from aquifers faster than it can be replenished. At the same time, the most recent drought ended with a winter of intense rains that resulted in flood damage to homes, roads and agricultural fields.

Drone imagery of flood damage to agricultural lands from January 2023 storms
Drone imagery of flood damage to agricultural lands from January 2023 storms.

Multi-benefit land repurposing, the practice of transitioning irrigated land to new uses that conserve water and deliver benefits to communities and ecosystems, offers one way we can address the need to sustainably manage our groundwater and mitigate the impacts of flooding during intense rains. In 2021, California established the Multi-benefit Land Repurposing Program (MLRP), a statewide program run by the California Department of Conservation designed to support agriculturally dominant regions of the state transition their farmlands to a less water intensive use. This transition of land use is something that must happen, to varying degrees, for these regions to be compliant with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), which requires all groundwater supplies in the state to be sustainably managed by 2042.

In 2021, CMSF, in partnership with a group of other conservation and water management organizations, was 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. 

Left: Example of an optimal location for multi-benefit land repurposing - irrigated flood-prone farmland adjacent to a waterway. Right: Example of what a completed multi-benefit land repurposing project could look like, in this case a treatment wetland.

This grant supports establishing conservation easements on portions of agricultural fields in the Salinas Valley where interested landowners wish to transition farmlands to projects that increase groundwater recharge and storage, reduce flooding, and enhance water quality and stream base flow.  Farmers may be interested in repurposing portions of their land if these lands flood often, making them the most difficult acreage to farm and likely the least profitable.

Possible benefits from projects on repurposed agricultural lands.
Possible benefits from projects on repurposed agricultural lands.


Fortunately, the wettest lands that are the hardest to farm are also the places often best suited for multi-benefit land repurposing. Projects include restoring wetland habitat, constructing recharge basins, or any other effort that provide benefits including but not limited to flood mitigation, improvement of water quality, increased habitat or increased public access open space. Our goal with this program is to find win-win-win solutions, helping farmers off-load the hardest land to grow crops on, while restoring the ecological function of our wetlands and waterways to address the water resource problems facing the Salinas Valley.

Stay tuned for more information about the Multi-benefit Land Repurposing Program over the next month!


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