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Dataset for: Water, environment, and socioeconomic justice in California: A multi-benefit cropland repurposing framework

Cite this dataset

Fernandez-Bou, Angel Santiago et al. (2022). Dataset for: Water, environment, and socioeconomic justice in California: A multi-benefit cropland repurposing framework [Dataset]. Dryad.


Low-income, rural frontline communities of California’s Central Valley experience environmental and socioeconomic injustice, water insecurity, extremely poor air quality, and lack of fundamental infrastructure (sewage, green areas, health services), which makes them less resilient. Many communities depend financially on agriculture, while water scarcity and associated policy may trigger farmland retirement, further hindering socioeconomic opportunities. Here we propose a multi-benefit framework to repurpose cropland in buffers inside and around (400-m and 1600-m buffers) 154 rural disadvantaged communities of the Central Valley to promote socioeconomic opportunities, environmental benefits, and business diversification. We estimated the potential for (1) reductions in water and pesticide use, nitrogen leaching, and nitrogen gas emissions, (2) managed aquifer recharge, and (3) economic and employment impacts associated with clean industries and solar energy. Retiring cropland within 1600-m buffers resulted in estimated reductions in annual water use of 2.18 km3/year, nitrate leaching into local aquifers of 105,500 t/year, greenhouse gas emissions of 2,232,000 t CO2‑equivalent/year, and 5,388 t pesticides/year, with accompanying losses in agricultural revenue of US$4,213 million/year and employment of 25,682 positions. Buffer repurposing investments of US$27 million/year per community for ten years showed potential to generate US$101 million/year per community (total US$15,578 million/year) for 30 years and 407 new jobs/year (total 62,697 jobs/year) paying 67% more than prior farmworker jobs. In the San Joaquin Valley (southern Central Valley), where groundwater overdraft averages 2.3 km3/year, potential water use reduction is 1.8 km3/year. We identified 99 communities with surficial soils adequate for aquifer recharge and canals/rivers within 1600 m. This demonstrates the potential of managed aquifer recharge in buffered zones to substantially reduce overdraft. The buffers framework shows that well-planned land repurposing near disadvantaged communities can create multiple benefits for agriculture and industry stakeholders, while improving quality of life in disadvantaged communities and producing positive externalities for society.


California Strategic Growth Council, Award: CCRP0013

National Science Foundation, Award: 1639268

University of California Multicampus Research Program, Award: Labor and Automation in California Agriculture: Equity, Productivity, & Resilience (M21PR3417)

Environmental Justice Data Fund