Skip to main content

San Joaquin Valley community land use preferences


Espinoza, Vicky et al. (2023), San Joaquin Valley community land use preferences , Dryad, Dataset,


Agriculture dominates California’s San Joaquin Valley with over five million acres in production, producing 400 different commodities ranging from nuts, tree fruits, vines, and row crops. During dry years this agricultural production uses about 53% of total applied water in the state. Implementation of California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) will restrict groundwater pumping, likely reducing agricultural land use resulting in conversion to alternative land uses. This paper examines public perceptions of future land uses under SGMA through a SMS distributed web survey. Respondents (n=197) were recruited through a stratified random sample of mobile numbers registered within communities in the San Joaquin valley classified as DACs (n=32). Our results show that most respondents were somewhat (33%) or not at all (54%) familiar with SGMA, highlighting the need for outreach efforts to overcome barriers to representation, translation, and education about future water and land use decisions. Survey respondents identified secure water supplies (e.g., groundwater recharge) (35%) and less-water intensive agriculture (27%) as their top land use priorities to address groundwater overdraft under SGMA, indicating that the status quo for land use is preferred to alternative land uses such as habitat restoration or recreation. We correlated preference for maintaining agriculture as primary land use (27%) with agricultural identity and lack of interest in community or global benefits such as schools and climate change mitigation. The findings from this study underscore the challenges to engaging local communities in land use decision-making, especially as they relate to changing current practices toward a more climate-resilient but agriculturally productive future with less land and less water.


An online survey focused on alternative land uses that could address groundwater overdraft by 2040 under SGMA was developed by our multi-disciplinary research team and distributed via short message service (SMS text) from March to June 2021.

Sampling was focused on 32 DACs in the San Joaquin Valley. The sampling frame was based on the number of people in each census area, this number was then adjusted based on a power analysis resulting in a sampling frame containing 20,778 individuals. DACs were included to have a varied representation in terms of population size, environmental risk exposure, and geographic location across the San Joaquin Valley. To be included, DACs also needed to fulfill the following criteria—1) not be embedded within a major city (population greater than 5,000), 2) CalEnviroScreen 4.0 score percentiles ranging from 40–100%, based on pollution burden and population characteristics (California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, 2021), and 3) have a population less than 5,000 in 2018 (California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, 2018).

Cell phone numbers were purchased from Marketing Systems Group (MSG), which provides samples linked to geographic and demographic information (Marketing Systems Group, 2021), noted as records herein. This allowed us to capture potential spatial gradients of community land use perspectives across the study region and oversample smaller DACs, to improve the representativity of collected data. The initial sample size within each DAC was relative to the number of records in that DAC. In other words, sampling was structured by record census within a DAC. If total records within DACs ranged from 1001 to 5000, total DAC population surveys were attempted; if records ranged from 101 to 1000, twice as many surveys were attempted, and for 100 or less records, three times as many surveys were attempted. To stay within funding limits, 405 samples were removed from the entire sample.

The survey was administered using Qualtrics (Qualtrics, 2021) and distributed via SMS text services by a Qualtrics third-party partner, Twilio. Following standard survey research practices (Dillman, 2010), distribution was done across weekdays and non-holiday weekends varying distribution times (morning and noon). The survey was also offered in both English and Spanish to promote inclusion. 

The survey consisted of three sections focused on questions related to land use, agriculture, and climate change: The first section of the survey contained questions related to employment (e.g., current job and residential postal code) and familiarity with SGMA. The second section contained questions related to community vision, in which respondents were asked to what extent they agreed or disagreed with how the following five agricultural land repurposing options benefitted their community and local economy: 1) renewable energy (e.g., solar and wind), 2) habitat restoration (e.g., places to see wildlife), 3) groundwater recharge, 4) carbon sequestration (e.g., storing carbon on farmland, getting carbon credits), and 5) parks and green space (e.g., parks, trails, bike paths, and playgrounds). Additionally, respondents were asked to identify their most and least important land use repurposing option out of seven options: 1) wildlife, 2) recreation, 3) clean energy, 4) secure water supplies, 5) reduce GHG and climate change, 6) schools, grocery stores, and housing, and 7) less water-intensive agriculture. Participants were asked statements related to agriculture: 1) they live in the valley because of agriculture, 2) their job depends on agriculture, 3) agriculture is the core of the economy in their community, 4) there needs to be space between agriculture and where people live for health reasons, and 5) agricultural practices contribute to air and water pollution in their community. The third section of the survey was related to demographics: Participants were asked questions related to ethnic background, preferred gender pronouns, total household income, as well as three statements on climate change in their region: 1) climate change is happening, 2) climate change impacts water quantity, and 3) climate change impacts water quality. Participants were also given the opportunity to share anything else they would like to at the end of the survey.


Office of the President, University of California, Award: Water Security and Sustainability Research Initiative MR-15-328473

USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Award: 2021-69012-35916

AI Institute: Agricultural AI for Transforming Workforce and Decision Support (Ag AID) , Award: 2021-67021-35344