Cover photo for Bird Returns Colusa County Recharge

Bird Returns Colusa County Recharge

The Nature Conservancy,
Colusa Groundwater Authority

Closed August 15, 2023

Working in partnership with the Colusa Groundwater Authority, The Nature Conservancy is conducting an on-farm, multi-benefit program, which provides an opportunity for growers to receive financial compensation for recharging groundwater in the course of normal farming operations on a variety of crops while also providing critical “pop-up” wetland habitat in early fall when water is scarce on the landscape and shorebirds migrating along the Pacific Flyway often have nowhere to stop over on long migrations.

This on-farm recharge program requires short-term commitments from growers to irrigate and maintain shallow depths of 4” or less on enrolled fields. The program pays for field preparation, irrigation and water costs.


Land must be in the area approved for this project, encompassed by this map.

Required Water Management

In addition to the straw management requirements, BirdReturns requires participants to maintain shallow-flooded conditions – saturated soil on the entire enrolled acreage and no more than 4″ depth.

Growers may use surface water or groundwater (or a combination of both) to maintain water on their enrolled field.

Required Field Conditions

BirdReturns requires participants to achieve certain field conditions, mainly by performing post-harvest mechanical treatment(s) which disrupt the soil and encourage straw-soil mixing and straw decomposition so that the field is free of standing vegetation or matted straw. For rice fields which do not already provide suitable migratory bird habitat with their typical practices, some modifications or additional treatments may be required to create suitable habitat. Thus, proper straw management is a critical component of this program’s success and TNC’s ability to continue this incentive. 

Rather than prescribe a specific practice, TNC is attempting to maintain flexibility by describing the desired field conditions and allowing growers to implement any one of the following practice combinations after harvest:

Chop + Disc + Roll

Chop + Disc 2x

Example Pictures at the bottom of this page.



The set up and implementation dates are somewhat flexible. Water spreading will take place between Aug. 15 -Oct. 15, with set up taking place earlier. Timing will vary depending on water availability and crop schedule. Let TNC know what will make these practices workable with your crop production schedules!

July 1-August 15

Application: (1) Let TNC know your field location and availability, crop types, and timing by phone or email, (2) Fill out the 1-page application and attach a map and 10-year crop history.


Selection: TNC selects fields based on soil and crop type and timing.

Field Verification: TNC verifies suitable conditions.

Contracting: Selected participants sign contracts with TNC.

Field Set Up: (1) Engineers will survey the field and install pressure transducers or flow meters at inlets and outlets and in adjacent wells to measure water and groundwater depths. (2) Field prep to remove or incorporate vegetation may be recommended. (3) Soil and water samples collected to monitor impacts on water quality. (4) Installation of wooden stakes to monitor water depths and bird presence.


Implementation: (1) Participants spread water on fields for 4-6 weeks, maintain shallow depth (4” maximum), and record changes in water flow on an irrigation log. (2) TNC records field depth and bird presence. (3) Consulting engineers monitor water delivery and changes in groundwater depth.


Payment: Contract fees paid after completion of program requirements.

Application Instructions

Two ways to apply:

  1. Let Birdreturns know your field location and availability, crop types, and timing by phone or email, or

  2. Fill out the 1-page application and attach a map and 10-year crop history.


Release Date

July 1, 2023


August 15, 2023

Financial Instrument


Updated July 7, 2023

Image Credit: Ashwini Chaudhary

This information was gathered from public sources. Ambrook is not responsible for or able to affect the results of any financial programs listed, nor are they responsible for any incorrect information that is listed or is on the hyperlinked external sites. All information is subject to change.

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