Yolo County farmer John Stephens is the recipient of the Inaugural Farm Water Steward Award from the Pacific Institute, presented at an award dinner celebration on World Water Day, March 22 at the T.S. Glide Ranch in Davis, Calif. A fourth-generation farmer on the Oakdale Ranch, John Stephens worked with Audubon California to improve water quality, drainage, and wildlife habitat on his property by restoring Willow Slough, which runs through his property.

This work addressed major watershed concerns in the area, including a lack of vegetated riparian corridors and high rates of erosion and sedimentation of local waterways, as identified by the Yolo County RCD and Cache Creek Watershed Stakeholders Group. In the future, Stephens hopes that his riparian restoration project will be linked to other projects, creating a healthy riparian corridor along the length of Willow Slough.

The Pacific Institute, one of the world’s leading research institutions on water and sustainability, marks its 25th Anniversary this year, and part of that celebration is inaugurating the Farm Water Steward Award to recognize leaders and innovators in the agricultural community. The 2012 award was presented by Craig McNamara, president of the California State Board of Food and Agriculture, and California State Senator Lois Wolk delivered welcoming remarks.

The Stephens Family has owned and operated the 400-acre Oakdale Ranch in Esparto, Calif. since 1852. John Stephens’s waterway restoration project on the ranch is one of the 12 case studies and interviews from the Pacific Institute, at http://www.pacinst.org/reports/success_stories.

The Pacific Institute in partnership with the California Roundtable on Water and Food Supply launched an interactive database and map in December,featuring innovative and effective efforts like Stephens’s to improve on-farm and regional water management, available on the California Agricultural Water Stewardship Initiative site at www.agwaterstewards.org.

In a video interview, Stephens said, “To my neighbors and fellow farmers, obviously they’ve been looking over the back fence watching what’s going on over here and I’ve started to get more and more questions – what do you think? Did it work? Is it working out for you? And I have nothing to say but positive [things] about the situation. I don’t think it cannot work. It helps the drainage, which most farmers are worried about draining off their property. Is it helping the water quality? Yes, we’re starting to see that already.”

“John put in so much of his own resources and his own wonderful energy to have the vision for better water and restored habitat,” said Dr. Juliet Christian-Smith of the Pacific Institute, who serves on the Steering Committee of the California Roundtable on Water and Food Supply. “His success is a great example and resource for other farmers, and he’s creating a tremendous legacy for his family. The Pacific Institute is proud to have him as the first Farm Water Steward Award honoree.”

Presenters at the award dinner included: Craig McNamara of the California Board of Food and Agriculture, the Honorable Senator Lois Wolk, Dave Runsten of the Community Alliance with Family Farmers, and Katy Mamen of the Ag Innovations Network. The Pacific Institute recognized these and many other partners in the agricultural community for their work to help sustain a vibrant agricultural community and sector in California in the future.