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Don't know much about hydrology

The California drought is complicated.
Nathanael Johnson of TheGrist.org set about clarifying some myths related to California's drought situation, leading him to declare - according to the article's headline - "Everything I thought I knew about water in California is wrong."

The first myth he debunked has been circulating since Gov. Brown announced steep water cutbacks for the state's municipalities. "He didn't mention agriculture, and that made people suspicious," Johnson wrote.

For clarification, Johnson spoke to Doug Parker, the director of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' California Institute for Water Resources. Brown didn't talk about ag in his big announcement because growers are already operating under an 80 percent cut from their normal water share from the State Water Project, and a zero percent allocation from the federal Central Valley Project.

"California farmers took about 5 percent for their land out of production last year, and that number will surely go up this year," the article says.

Other myths tackled in the story include:

  • Agriculture uses 80 percent of California's water
  • Dumb laws prevent the buying and selling of water
  • Farmers are wasting a lot of water
  • Farm conservation measures can free up plenty of water
Posted on Monday, April 20, 2015 at 4:34 PM

Almonds get roasted over water use

Hensley Lake in Madera County, a reservoir on the Fresno River, is at 8 percent of capacity.
People around the world are eating 1,000 percent more California almonds than they did just a decade ago, and last year almonds became the top export crop in the nation's top agriculture state, reported Ellen Knickmeyer of the Associated Press. China's booming middle class is driving much of the demand.

The issue of increasing almond production is raised because of its water use. According to the story, almond orchards consume more water than the indoor use of all 39 million California residents combined.

The AP article was picked up by the Fresno Bee, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Houston Chronicle, and may other media outlets.

UC Agriculture and Natural Resources advisor David Doll is featured in many of the images distributed with the story. In one he holds an almond he says is smaller than normal in size due to the drought. Doll displayed micro sprinklers, used by almond growers to conserve water, and in another photo he is seen talking with an orchard manager who uses a floating pump to bring water from the Merced River to his almond orchard.

UC Cooperative Extension hosts water supply meeting
Rich Greene, Daily News
UCCE hosts a regional meeting in Corning April 30 where local efforts to sustain water supplies will be discussed. The meeting will cover the numerous events that have occurred on the water front since September 2014. That included the passing of the Groundwater Sustainability Act and the disappointing rainfall and snowpack numbers from 2015.

Drought issues, trial studies at center of UC desert field day
Michael Dukes, Imperial Valley Press
An update on the statewide drought topped the agenda for the Agronomic Crops and Water Conservation Field Day held at the UC Desert Research and Extension Center here early Thursday morning. The event, sponsored by Imperial County's UC Cooperative Extension and the California Department of Water Resources, played out in a six-stop tour, with specialists from across the agribusiness world providing attendees with an inside look at a variety of initiatives taking place within the Valley and all over California.

Posted on Monday, April 20, 2015 at 1:28 PM

6 ways to reduce water use without killing your garden

Spray heads can get knocked out of alignment. Check all spray heads to ensure they are hitting the target.
On Earth Day, April 22, people around the world will be taking action to enhance our environment. To conserve water and meet California's new water-use restrictions, one place to start is literally in one's own backyard. More than half of all household water use is typically used outdoors on landscape, according to University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources experts.  

For homeowners, there are six key things to do to conserve landscape water, says Karrie Reid, UC ANR Cooperative Extension advisor, in San Joaquin County. Reid gives the following six tips:

  1. Tune up your irrigation system right away. When water is efficiently and accurately applied, less water is needed to keep plants healthy. Spray heads can get knocked out of alignment and end up spraying the sidewalk, street or driveway and running to the gutter. Check all spray heads to ensure they are hitting the target and twist those that aren't back into place. Some heads have adjustable angles of spray, which can be fixed with a tool available at a hardware store. Look for cocked heads, which spray water up into the air, and sprays blocked by grass or those that have sunk below grade. Make sure all spray heads are made by the same manufacturer and are from the same line so they deliver water at the same rate, otherwise they'll leave dry spots. Low-volume spray heads or rotators deliver water more efficiently.
  2. To check the watering depth, use a soil probe.
    Water the whole root zone. On allowed watering days, irrigate until the water reaches 12 inches deep for grass, 12 to 18 inches for shrub and perennials, and 12 to 24 inches for trees. This provides a greater reservoir of water for the plants to draw from, and many will be able to get by on weekly, twice-monthly or monthly irrigation if they are conditioned to send their roots deep. To check the watering depth, use a soil probe or push a long screwdriver into the ground. The depth it reaches easily indicates how deeply the water has infiltrated.
  3. Avoid wasting water to runoff. If water runs off before the watering cycle finishes, split the cycle time. Set the timer to water in two, three or even four cycles at least an hour apart to allow the water to soak in. To ensure water isn't flowing below the root zone, check the watering depth after each cycle. An irrigation scheduling worksheet created by the Center for Urban Horticulture at UC Davis helps fine tune irrigation timing. The worksheet is available for free online at http://www.ccuh.ucdavis.edu.  
  4. Switch to inline drip tubing for beds.  Drip irrigation applies water where it is needed with less loss to the air. Be sure to lay tubing so water reaches plants' entire root zone.
  5. MULCH, MULCH, MULCH. Adding 3 or 4 inches of organic material such as wood chips, shredded bark or bark nuggets will improve soil health while retaining water and lowering stress on your plants. Place mulch away from the street curb to prevent heavy rains from washing it into the storm drains.
  6. Inline drip tubing applies water where it is needed.
    Replace water-needy plants with low water users in the fall. All plants use a lot of water to get established when they are planted in the spring and summer, and for about a year after. Trees may need extra water for several years until their roots have grown well into the surrounding soil. By waiting until temperatures cool in the fall to plant, it will be easier to abide by the water restrictions. It's also important to use hydrozoning, which means placing plants with the same water needs on the same valve.  Otherwise, irrigating to the thirstiest plants on that station will give other plants more water than they need.

WUCOLS IV provides an assessment of irrigation water needs for over 3,500 taxa. Photo by Ellen Zagory.
To find low-water use plants that are suitable for a specific location, check UCANR's online Water Use Classification of Landscape Species at http://ucanr.edu/sites/WUCOLS. Click the Plant Search Database tab, enter the name of the city, then select the desired type of plants (shrubs, perennials, trees, etc.) and the preferred water category (low, moderate, high).  The application will generate a list of plants suitable to grow in a location that fit the specified criteria.

Posted on Monday, April 20, 2015 at 8:35 AM

Coho salmon endangered by drought

UC ANR Cooperative Extension is working with a number of agencies to protect coho salmon. (Photo: Cal Dept of Fish and Wildlife)
The drought is imperiling coho salmon in Sonoma County, where streams may shrink and become disconnected from the Russian River, reported Guy Kovner in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

“It's grim. It's going to be a rough year for the coho,” said Mariska Obedzinski, a fish biologist who coordinates the coho monitoring program. “They can't get where they need to go.”

Obedzinski is part of the UC Sea Grant program, based at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego.

Two coho spawning streams — Porter and Pena creeks — are already cut off from the river. If no more rain falls, other tributaries, including Green Valley, Dutch Bill and Mill creeks, will likely go dry in spots, Obedzinski said.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is already planning rescue operations to save the smolts and younger fish in disconnected streams.

Last year some streams disconnections took place in late May, toward the end of the salmon run. The drying being seen in mid April may be unprecedented. Obedzinski said it was possibly the worst year for the fish since stream monitoring began in 2005.

A multiagency effort to save the Russian River coho began in 2001, when the fish were on the verge of extinction. The effort includes California Fish and Wildlife, National Marine Fisheries, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and UC Sea Grant.

Posted on Wednesday, April 15, 2015 at 2:26 PM

Q&A: UC ANR's Doug Parker talks drought

Recently, the UC Food Observer caught up with one of California's foremost experts on water: Doug Parker of the University of California. Parker is the director of the University of California's Institute for Water Resources. The mission of the institute is to integrate California's research, extension and education programs to develop research-based solutions to water resource challenges. The institute has recently launched a blog, The Confluence.

Doug Parker
As director, Parker works with federal, state and local agencies to guide academic expertise toward finding solutions to California's water challenges. He brings together local, state and federal stakeholders to identify issues and sources of political and financial support for water-related research. Dr. Parker is vitally concerned about improving the understanding of the complexities surrounding California and water, and to that end, he also serves as a key spokesperson on the state's water issues. 

Prior to joining UC, Parker worked on water quality issues related to the Chesapeake Bay as an associate professor and extension specialist in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of Maryland. An economist by training, he earned his Ph.D. in agricultural and resource economics at UC Berkeley, and was on faculty there as an extension specialist. He holds bachelor's degrees in economics and environmental studies from UC Santa Barbara.

 

Q: Governor Brown recently issued an executive order that will restrict urban water usage by 25 percent. How do you see this being enforced across the state? What might enforcement mechanisms look like?

A: The State Water Resources Control Board will set restrictions for each of the over 400 water districts that serve residential consumers in the next month. The 25 percent reduction is meant to be a statewide average for urban users, and the actual reductions will be based on per capita water consumption in 2013. So, areas that are already conserving water will not be asked to reduce as much as the largest water users, who will have to make bigger reductions.

To meet the reductions, individual water districts will each have to draft a plan of how they will bring consumers in their district into compliance. This may include restrictions on outdoor water use and pricing structures that greatly increase costs to large water users and monetary fines. In essence, the reductions are not solely aimed at individual users, but will be made by a combination of reductions by homeowners and industrial and commercial users.

In terms of enforcement, the State Board can fine water districts that are out of compliance up to $10,000 per day. Before fines are enforced, the board will engage the water district to try to help figure out how they can meet the goals.

 

Q: How much is this going to hurt the average person? What kinds of changes will individuals have to make?

A: The average person will most likely need to reduce outdoor water use, such as landscape watering, and increase conservation measures indoors as well. The easiest way to meet the water reductions is to reduce or eliminate outdoor watering. The governor's order calls for a voluntary, incentive-based program to remove 50 million square feet of turf. Many homeowners may want to consider replacing turf with drought tolerant landscaping. There will also be programs for water efficient appliances like dishwashers and clothes washing machines, and low-flow shower heads. In general, I don't see major changes for the average person, particularly if they've already been conserving and cut outdoor watering, but they will need to take action and be more mindful of their water use.

 

Q: Increasingly, the narrative of California's water problem has taken on a divisive tone that pits agriculture versus urban users, Northern California against Southern California, etc. Is there any perspective you could offer that might make people realize water issues are shared issues?

A: I find it rather disturbing that some people see this as an urban vs. agriculture issue. The California Constitution states that water belongs to the people of the state. It is our water to use for the benefit of all Californians. I myself am happy to be able to cut back on my water use so that it can be used to grow food. What greater use of water do we have? It is inconvenient and perhaps aesthetically unpleasing to have a brown lawn, but compared to food production and food insecurity, the impact on my own life seems pretty minor.

In addition to growing food, the agricultural sector supports jobs in many of our most needy communities. The agricultural water restrictions in 2014 were estimated to have cost the agricultural sector over 17,000 jobs and a loss of over $2 billion. We expect those numbers to increase in 2015.

In the urban sector the drought has had very little impact on jobs or income. In the landscaping industry it remains unclear what impact the drought is having or will have. Reductions in turf irrigation may reduce the need for mowing and other uses of labor. But an increase in turf removal and replacement with drought-tolerant landscaping will lead to an increase in landscaping expenditures and labor.

The thing that I try to keep in mind is that it's all of our water, and we're all in it together.

 

Q: What happens to California agriculture in the next few years? What might the industry look like 20 years from now? What kind of cropping patterns might we see?

A: I think agriculture will reassess their perception of how secure their water supply is. For those that are seeing large cuts in water allocations, future planting decisions may be more conservative. We may see a decrease in permanent crops to increase flexibility in response to water shortages, though this may be balanced by the fact that things like almonds continue to yield a high value and if you are already reducing crops, keeping the most valuable ones is a rational decision. We will continue to see increases in efficiency, whether through irrigation technology or management of irrigation. We will also see increased investment in surface and groundwater storage to increase resiliency.

 

Q: Historically, is this drought a bump in the road or a harbinger of things to come?

A: All droughts are a bumps in the road and all droughts eventually end. But, I think we are more used to the speed bump type of drought that slows us to 25 mph. This one is a bit more severe and we probably need to take it down to 5 mph and do some serious long-term planning. Climate models predict that we will see an increase in the frequency and severity of drought. We need to start preparing for this drought to last a few more years and for future droughts as well.

 

Q: What resources would you recommend people seek out for information on a practical level? What about resources for those who might want to dig deeper?

A: The University of California has many resources to help homeowners, businesses, landscapers and farmers adapt to the drought. Many of those resources can be found on our webpages.

 

Q: What policies do we need in California to make sure we are able to more effectively respond to these types of crises in the future? What kind of infrastructure would help us more effectively meet our water needs?

A: I think this drought has brought to light the critical importance of groundwater as a resource to lessen the impacts of drought. California passed historic groundwater legislation in 2014 that will ensure this resource is available to us in future droughts. We need to work now to implement this law as quickly as possible. The law's timeline is very generous but I believe that communities that work to accelerate the timeline will greatly benefit from such efforts.

Rose Hayden-Smith is a UC ANR advisor who writes as the UC Food Observer. The UC Food Observer is your daily serving of must-read news from the world of food, curated by the University of California. Visit our blog, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

This article first appeared on the UC Food Observer.

Posted on Wednesday, April 15, 2015 at 8:35 AM

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