Many of us are familiar with the saying, “where there is water, there is life”. And indeed, on our blue planet, water is life! What we may not often think about is that the inverse is also true, where there is life, there is water. In fact, living ecosystems, and the soils that support them, are key to rebalancing and restoring the water cycles upon which we all depend.
This week is Healthy Soils Week, an annual collaboration between federal and state agencies to celebrate the value of California’s soils and highlight efforts to improve soil health across the state. Within our Agency we are working with our departments, stakeholders, and local and federal partners to address one of the major impacts to the health of our state drought through one of the most promising solutions we have- the soil.
Healthy soils, rich in microbial life and organic matter, are darker and spongy when squeezed into your hand. Like a sponge, they allow water to infiltrate-which reduces runoff during rainstorms, and they hold more of the water they receive for longer. These factors increase water efficiency and help keep soils and plants cooler in the face of prolonged drought and extreme heat. The combination of more carbon, water, and microbial life in healthy soils creates greater natural fertility, making plants grown in it stronger and more nutrient-dense. The benefits from increasing soil health are synergistic and compound positively, helping both the farmer and increasing the health of the greater landscape in which the farm resides.
Over the past two decades, California, along with several other western states, has been experiencing what scientists call a megadrought (watch 20 years of drought https://i.imgur.com/DxNUclC.gifv). The lack of regular rainfall and the steep decline in the seasonal snowpack has led scientists to add a new classification of drought; “exceptional drought.” Currently, 100% of our state is in drought with 28%, stretching from Stockton down through the south-central San Joaquin Valley to Los Angeles, in the “exceptional” category (CA drought map https://www.climatehubs.usda.gov/hubs/california/drought-map).
Healthy soils support soils rich microbiology and plants, which in turn build small water cycles. Like many small wheels driving the turning of a larger wheel, the functioning of many small water cycles supports the larger hydrological cycle. In short, healthy soils and the life that grows within and around them are incredibly powerful tools when it comes to building resilience to drought and may, over the long-term even help us reverse it. This is why California is acting on several fronts to invest in the stewards of our natural resources and our natural and working lands. This year the Governor included $5.2 billion to support immediate drought response and build long-term water resilience and $915 to support climate-smart agriculture, including the nationally recognized Healthy Soils Program at our sister agency CDFA. Here are CRNA through the Natural and Working Lands Climate Strategy. We are connecting the dots between the many state programs that support nature to rapidly scale up our collective capacity to address drought and climate change on the ground.