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Master of Environmental Science and Management: Master's Group Project

Understanding Barriers to Land-use Change in the San Joaquin Valley Affecting Solar and Conservation Goals

Aerial view of solar panels on grass

Group Members: Travis Christy, Kaley Dodson, Roshni Katrak-Adefowora, Katelyn Toigo

Faculty Advisors: Kyle C. Meng

Client: The Nature Conservancy




Under California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), 10-20% of all irrigated farmland in the San Joaquin Valley (SJV) may need to be temporarily fallowed or permanently retired from agricultural production by 2040 to achieve groundwater sustainability. For conservation organizations and agencies, this potentially presents an unparalleled opportunity to restore habitat for endangered species and provide a range of additional public benefits, such as improved air and water quality or carbon sequestration. It is also an opportunity to advance the state’s ambitious goals to decarbonize the economy. Meeting these goals will require significant amounts of utility-scale solar to be sited in the SJV. This project aims to: analyze the viability of new solar development as an alternative land use for degraded or formerly irrigated lands, assess potential strategies to leverage new solar development to achieve upland species conservation goals, clarify the barriers to these potential strategies, and investigate alternative land-use incentives that could be used to achieve TNC’s conservation goals. To do this, an analysis of prior reports will be conducted to identify gaps in knowledge. Key terms and necessary assumptions will be defined. Interviews will be conducted with stakeholders to better understand the solar development and mitigation processes and landowner motivations. Finally, an economic and spatial analysis will be conducted to assess feasibility. The study will yield an economic and policy analysis report identifying the opportunities and barriers stakeholders face when converting degraded land and/or formerly irrigated agricultural land to new solar projects and upland habitat. It will also provide recommendations for how TNC can take advantage of current opportunities or address existing barriers to achieving upland habitat conservation via solar development. If time allows, a guide of options will be created for landowners who are considering setting aside or retiring a portion of their land. 

PhD mentor: Haozhe Yang

Client contact: Abigail Hart

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