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Gabriela Morales

Gabriela Morales

Cohort III, NERTO, Summer Bridge Students, Masters

M.S, Geography, Graduate

Cohort Level: Cohort - III

Career Goal: After I graduate from my current degree program, I would like to work for a government organization at any level -- federal, state, or local government. I want to get experience in my field by working for a few years, then consider applying for PhD programs.

Expected Graduation Date: August 21, 2021

Degree: M.S Geography

Research Title: Agricultural Responses to a Changing Water Supply in Imperial Valley, California

Research Synopsis: The Imperial Valley in southern California is a highly productive agricultural region that serves as a large source of winter crops on both national and international levels. Situated south of the Salton Sea near the US-Mexico border, the region receives little annual rainfall; high crop productivity is enabled by irrigation with water from the Colorado River. In addition, the Imperial Valley is both the basis for the economy of Imperial County as well as a source of job security and farmer livelihood. The enactment of the Quantification Settlement Agreement of 2003 (QSA) reduced the volume of water being transported to the Imperial Valley from the Colorado River, which may have impacted crop production and livelihoods that depend on the limited water supply. The QSA and its conservation programs, however, were never fully evaluated on either a Valley-wide or local stakeholder level. Thus, I look to explore the impact of the QSA programs on the small and larger-scale agriculture dynamics of the Valley using hydrologic analysis, remote sensing, and qualitative interviews.

Research Questions 1. How did agricultural land cover change (in fallowing, crop mix, and cropping patterns) in the Imperial Valley over the years of the Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA)? a. What areas of dramatic change, or "hotspots" within the Imperial Valley can be identified using remote sensing methodology? b. Do the “hotspots” seen with remote sensing align with key informant narratives of change in the Imperial Valley? c. According to key informants, what drove the changes in agricultural land cover? 2. How did the QSA fallowing and water conservation programs influence farmer water use in the Valley? a. What drove changes in water use among farmers, according to local experts?

3. How did the QSA impact Valley-wide agricultural production, water balance, and water productivity? a. What other drivers of agricultural dynamics in the Imperial Valley contributed to changes in agricultural land cover and water use? b. Which stakeholders were impacted the most by the QSA?

The Imperial Valley in southern California is a highly productive agricultural region that serves as a large source of winter crops on both national and international levels. Situated south of the Salton Sea near the US-Mexico border, the region receives little annual rainfall; high crop productivity is enabled by irrigation with water from the Colorado River. In addition, the Imperial Valley is both the basis for the economy of Imperial County as well as a source of job security and farmer livelihood. The enactment of the Quantification Settlement Agreement of 2003 (QSA), however, reduced the volume of water being transported to the Imperial Valley from the Colorado River, which not only may have impacted crop production, but also livelihoods that depend on a now further-limited water supply.

The QSA was intended to reduce California’s overdependence on imported water. In accordance with the agreement, the Imperial Irrigation District (the water-governing body of the Imperial Valley) would transfer approximately 200,000 acre-feet of irrigation water on an annual basis to San Diego for up to 75 years. To allow for the magnitude of these historic transfers, a 15-year fallowing program in the Imperial Irrigation District was implemented along with the lining of the All-American and Coachella Canals. As the QSA approaches the end of its fifteenth year in action, I look to measure its impact and effectiveness using both qualitative and quantitative methods.

Research Questions

1. Where are the greatest impacts of the QSA felt in terms of Imperial Valley agriculture? Do these impacts manifest visually as hotspots of change that can be seen using remote sensing technology?

2. How did the different impacts of both the QSA fallowing program and canal linings (socioeconomic, political, hydrologic) triangulate to produce current agricultural dynamics in the Imperial Valley?

3. Did local stakeholders comply with the terms set by the QSA fallowing program? What were their motivations behind (non)compliance? Which stakeholders were affected most by the QSA and how did this affect their decision to continue participating in QSA programs?.

CESSRST Consortium

CESSRST is led by The City University of New York and brings together Hampton University, VA; University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez, PR; San Diego State University, CA; University of Maryland Baltimore County, MD; University of Texas at El Paso, TX.