Irrigation water is critical to the production of crops in this area where the average annual rainfall is about 4 inches. The sale of surface water rights on Swingle Bench has resulted in a significant acreage of privately-owned, previously farmed lands (75 plus years), without irrigation. Once irrigation water is removed, the abandoned crop fields are unable to sustain adequate vegetative cover as the remaining vegetation quick dies out, leaving a bare soil condition that is extremely susceptible to wind erosion. Rapid desertification is occurring in this area that is further intensified during drought conditions.
Health risks, air quality, vehicle safety, personal property damage, and excessive off-site costs are all associated with the resultant wind erosion. Degradation of soil quality, adverse affects to water quality, loss of wildlife habitat, and loss of property value, are additional concerns that have been identified.
The Swingle Bench demonstration project, located in a highly visible, controlled, setting can be an effective mechanism to assist planning agencies and local governments in developing effective management recommendations following land use change, and prevent further and future degradation of the natural resources of
County . Additionally, demonstration of proper management and re-vegetation planning will promote new technology and can be a very effective educational tool.
Long-term protection from soil erosion on abandoned farmlands will help ensure sustainability within the Newlands Project, but will require significant change in planning for the conversion of farmed land to non-irrigated, idle, lands.
Western US agriculture faces similar challenges in the future as the demand for alternative uses of agricultural water increases.