The Drought Solution That’s Under Our Feet

Author: Padma Nagappan

Now in the fifth year of an epic drought, Californians have explored ways to save water and wring it out of typical and atypical sources. The search has spanned the gamut from funding research, investing in expensive solutions like desalination plants, toying with the idea of recycling wastewater, imposing water-use restrictions, letting lawns go dry and experimenting with irrigation efficiency techniques for the crops that feed the country.

Thirsty crops, a burgeoning population and below-average precipitation have also led to seriously overdrawn groundwater sources that took a very long time to fill up. The state’s agricultural industry, which grows more than 250 crops, has also been vilified for its heavy water use.

But is the Golden State missing a solution that could offer a high payout – a solution that’s right under its feet?

Healthy soil that’s rich in organic matter has an ability to retain water that surpasses much more expensive solutions to the drought, yet not many people are aware of its potential to reduce farm water use.

“Name something that doesn’t come from the soil?” asked Tony Rolfe, a California state soil scientist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), a U.S. Department of Agriculture agency. “It’s not just food, but also your clothes that come from cotton, construction and homes that rely on wood, even oxygen because you need soil to grow the plants that take in carbon dioxide and give out oxygen.”