Posts Tagged: Water
Study: Climate impacts widespread across California, fueling worries over water supply
As water system managers across California devise strategies to help secure their water supply, they often face a major obstacle to implementing those measures: a lack of interest or will to act among community members.
“One of the things that the literature has found is that even if water system managers and local decisionmakers are really worried about climate change and water security, a lot of the adaptation strategies that they have in their toolbox actually require support from residents,” said Kristin Dobbin, a UC Cooperative Extension specialist focused on water justice planning and policy.
Because popular support is essential for realizing many water-related adaptations – from changing the rate structure to approving bonds for new infrastructure – Dobbin and her colleagues recently published a paper looking deeper at residents' experiences of, and concern about, climate impacts to household water supply.
Through a drinking water-focused portion of a long-term panel survey administered by California State University, Sacramento, scholars in the Household Water Insecurity Experiences research network had the opportunity to query Californians on how they are experiencing the climate crisis at their taps. Specifically, the researchers sought to analyze respondents' perceptions of future climate risks to water security.
“As a group that studies drinking water access in California, we're often looking at the system level and community level,” said Dobbin, based at the UC Berkeley Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management. “So it was exciting to dive into the household level and understand what's happening at a more individual level.”
Climate impacts seen ‘up and down the state'
The statewide survey, conducted in spring 2021, elicited 704 responses from the panelists, representing every census region in the state and nearly every county. More than one-third (34%) of respondents said that their water supply had been affected by an extreme weather event in the past five years. Given the timing of the survey, drought was unsurprisingly the most frequently mentioned impact. Importantly, these climate impacts were felt across California.
“There is an inclination to assume that drought and other impacts are a geographically bounded issue, but what we really see is that is not the case,” Dobbin said. “These impacts are happening up and down the state, all the way to the Oregon border.”
Overall, 85% of respondents reported that they were concerned about the long-term reliability of their water supply. Crucially, the study also indicated that residents were making the connection between climate impacts and risks to their future water security.
“The more impacts they reported, the more concerned they were about future supply and reliability,” said study co-author Amanda Fencl, a senior climate scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Droughts and heat waves, in particular, seem to increase residents' concerns over water supply the most. Dobbin suggests that framing the need for water-security adaptation strategies around those specific weather events could be particularly useful in marshaling community support.
Knowing the level of concern within the community – and understanding the best way to convey the urgency of climate adaptation measures – could be a boon for local managers seeking to gain public backing for more expensive water projects. Such projects might include self-sufficiency measures that reduce reliance on imported water from other parts of the state.
“That could bolster some water managers to have more confidence in using climate change and extreme events as a way to motivate ratepayers to get on board with these bigger investment decisions,” Fencl said.
Study highlights avenues for more research
While flooding barely registered as a climate impact in the 2021 survey results, Dobbin said that the responses would likely be very different today, after atmospheric rivers inundated the state this past winter. Floodwaters can damage water treatment plants – and storms can knock out power to private wells and larger water system treatment and distribution facilities.
In fact, from the 2021 survey, power outages due to utilities' wildfire prevention policies were the climate impact most frequently mentioned in the “other” category, highlighting for researchers the need to consider and plan for the interconnectedness of water and power systems.
“People forget about the interplay between a reliable electric grid and the ability to run water in your house and the ability for water systems to pump and treat water,” Fencl explained. “When we think about disaster response and disaster preparedness, we need to be a bit more holistic.”
The researchers also pointed to significant differences in experiences of climate impacts across gender and racial demographics, with Latino, Asian American Pacific Islander and LGBTQ+ respondents reporting higher rates of impacts. Given the relatively small sample sizes, however, Fencl said there needs to be larger – and more inclusive – surveys to get a clearer picture of those disproportionate impacts.
Even still, Dobbin added that their study serves as a reminder for scholars, water managers and policymakers to re-center community members, in all their diversity, as key players in the push for more effective and sustainable climate adaptation strategies.
“One of the takeaways from the paper is that we can't forget about the role of the public in this conversation – and we can't bypass the public,” Dobbin said. “The bottom line is that most of the adaptations that we have available to us require some level of residential involvement.”
In addition to Dobbin and Fencl, authors of the study, published in the journal Climatic Change, include Gregory Pierce, UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation; Melissa Beresford, San Jose State University; Silvia Gonzalez, UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Institute; and Wendy Jepson, Texas A&M University./h3>/h3>/h3>
Ibrahim Yaaseen, member of the Palos Verdes Peninsula (PVP) 4-H club, grabs a hard hat and places it on top of his head. He then reaches for a bright orange safety vest and goggles to complete his safety gear outfit before joining the rest of his club members who are dressed the same.
The 4-H Youth Development Program of Los Angeles is already thinking about the future of water management and turned to the West Basin Municipal Water District in El Segundo to gain a deeper understanding of the precious resource we often take for granted.
The University of California 4-H Youth Development Program is managed through local Cooperative Extension offices. Through hands-on learning experiences, 4-H empowers youth to reach their full potential and enables them to build self-esteem, connect with their community and emerge as leaders.
Dee Keese, community club leader for the PVP 4-H club, coordinated an exclusive and interactive tour of West Basin's Edward C. Little Water Recycling Facility for the club's monthly marine biology meeting in December 2022.
Eager to inspire a stronger appreciation for water, Janel Ancayan, the West Basin's education coordinator, challenged the youth to build their own water filters using materials including fabric, a strainer, and a funnel. Since no specific directions were given, the activity challenged each student's science and engineering skills, such as carrying out an investigation, designing a solution, and communicating information with team members.
During the tour, students saw firsthand the impressive equipment and essential staff members that help to produce nearly 40 million gallons of recycled water each day. At the end of the day, students left with a deeper understanding of water resources and felt empowered to do their part to conserve water sources.
“We learned that recycling water helps to conserve our limited water supply and improves the environmental condition of our coastal waters,” said Yaaseen. “We ultimately learned a great deal about how to conserve water for future generations and that water conservation is one of the most important elements in combating climate change.”
Though Keese has volunteered as community club leader for 48 years, this is only the second time she has partnered with the West Basin. “I like to mix it up,” she said. “I'm always looking for community organizations and local businesses to partner with because these are places that the kids will likely interact with since they're nearby.”
Regardless, it's leaders like Keese and programs like 4-H that encourage water stewards like Ancayan. “I'm always so humbled and inspired when teachers make it a point to come out and visit our facility. In Southern California especially, [water] is not something we think about,” Ancayan said.
Even in a drought, water continues to flow from our faucets allowing us to shower, wash dishes or water the lawn. It's no wonder why water conservation is not always top of mind, especially for consumers. Educating the public, and targeting the younger generation, however, is a great start to prepare for the future.
West Basin offers a variety of educational programs that focus on different age groups. Many of them involve hands-on learning like the Teach and Test volunteer program, a partnership with the Surfrider Foundation, where high school students test samples of coastal water for bacteria, and then publicly share their findings to contribute to water quality monitoring in the area.
According to Yaaseen, the time spent with Ancayan at the West Basin was “one-of-a-kind” and provided a “golden opportunity” to learn why water recycling facilities are important. Ancayan hopes that her time spent with students ultimately influences them to consider a career in water.
“It's not a glamorous job but I'm really passionate about the next generation of water workers,” she said. “I hope that once they see the engineering, the excitement of these scientists that work in our laboratory and everything in between, that they start to think about water as a future career path.”
For those interested in joining 4-H, visit https://4h.ucanr.edu/Members/
To read this story in Spanish, please visit:
Programas 4-H de Los Ángeles forman a la futura generación de administradores de los recursos hídricos
UC climate-ready landscape trials identify low-water yet attractive plants
Good news: roses can be a part of your water-efficient landscape. Lorence Oki, UC Cooperative Extension environmental horticulture specialist in the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences, identified rose cultivars that remain aesthetically pleasing with little water.
Oki is the principal investigator of the Climate-Ready Landscape Plants project, which may be the largest irrigation trial in the western U.S., and the UC Plant Landscape Irrigation Trials (UCLPIT), the California component of that project. These projects evaluate landscape plants under varying irrigation levels to determine their optimal performance in regions requiring supplemental summer water.
“There are some assumptions that pretty plants use a lot of water, like roses,” Oki said. “Everyone thinks they need a lot of water, but we've found some that don't, and they still look great. A water-efficient landscape doesn't need to look like a Central Valley oak-grassland in the summer. It can look really attractive.”
In 2021, Oki's team at UC Davis identified Lomandra confertifolia ssp. pallida "Pom Pom" Shorty and Rosa "Sprogreatpink" Brick House® Pink as two of the best low-water plants in the trial.
“The useful tip or information that is shared at the end of each trial is the selection and designation of plants as Blue Ribbon winners. These are the plants that looked good with an overall rating of 4 or higher throughout and were on the low (20%) water treatment,” said Natalie Levy, associate specialist for water resources, who manages the project at the UC ANR South Coast Research and Extension Center.
How plants earn a blue ribbon
Each trial year, the selection of new plants is based on research recommendations and donated submissions from the nursery industry. The landscape plants are trialed in full sun or 50% shade cover.
Irrigation treatments are based on the rate of evaporation and plant transpiration (evapotranspiration) measured through a local California Irrigation Management Information System (CIMIS) weather station that provides a reference evapotranspiration (ETo) rate.
Three levels of irrigation are provided to the plants equal to 20%, 50%, and 80% of ETo. The volume of water applied is the same at each irrigation based on soil characteristics, but the interval between applications varies with weather and the treatment. Using this method, irrigations for the 20% treatment are less frequent than the 80% treatment.
“The 20% treatment during the 2022 trial was irrigated an average of once per month while the 80% treatment was irrigated weekly,” explained Levy.
During the deficit irrigation trial, monthly height and width measurements are taken to determine the plant growth index. Monthly qualitative aesthetic ratings on a scale of 1 to 5 are determined for foliage appearance, flowering abundance, pest tolerance, disease resistance, vigor and overall appearance.
A second round of flowering abundance and overall appearance measurements are also taken to capture more of the blooming period. For example, UCLPIT identified in the 2020 trial at South Coast REC that the "Apricot Drift" rose had a mean overall appearance score of 3.5 out of 5, deeming it “acceptable to very nice” and a low water use plant within the Water Use Classification of Landscape Species or WUCOLS guide.
Project expands options for landscape planting
“(WUCOLS) only has 3,500 plants in it. There are guesses that there are close to 10,000 cultivars in urban landscapes in California, if not more,” said Oki. “WUCOLS also didn't have numerical ratings. Instead, you'll see verbal ratings like ‘low water use' or ‘high water use.'”
The UCLPIT project has not only developed numerical recommendations for irrigation, but it has also added new landscape plants that are compliant with California's Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance. In fact, UCLPIT's data is one of the few sources that can be used to supplement WUCOLS.
Geographic diversity of trial sites adds to knowledge base
In addition to UC Davis and South Coast REC in Irvine, the trials have expanded beyond California as the Climate-Ready Landscape Plants project and is in progress at Oregon State University, University of Washington, University of Arizona and Utah State University thanks to a USDA/CDFA grant awarded in 2020.
Lloyd Nackley, associate professor of nursery production and greenhouse management at Oregon State University, is the principal investigator of the trial in the Portland metro area, which is entering its third year.
“People know that there are drought tolerant plants, but there are many. We're trying to highlight lesser known or newer varieties. And even though the trial is three years, most gardeners would hope that their garden lasts longer than that,” said Nackley.
One of the observations that Nackley recalls is of the Hibiscus Purple Pillar plant. Unlike the trial at South Coast, the Purple Pillar did not perform well in Oregon in the spring.
“It wasn't until August that we saw the plant bloom and begin to look like what we saw from South Coast in April,” Nackley said.
Ursula Schuch, horticulture professor and principal investigator of the trial taking place at the University of Arizona, was also surprised at the range of performance among different plant types and the effects of irrigation, heat and temperature.
“This research will reassure green industry professionals that they can stretch their water budget to successfully cultivate more plants, watering them according to their needs instead of irrigating every plant according to the highest water-using plants,” said Schuch.
Although research is only conducted in the West, the hope is that there will be trials in other regions of U.S.
Doing so would yield comprehensive information about the plants and their performance in different climates. As extreme weather events persist in the U.S., disease pressure and risks do too. Trials throughout the country would provide location-specific data regarding disease susceptibility.
To learn more about the UCLPIT research project, visit https://ucanr.edu/sites/UCLPIT//h3>/h3>/h3>/h3>
Earlier this year, officials in Southern California declared a water shortage emergency resulting in restrictions such as limiting outdoor water use to one day of the week. While mandatory restrictions vary across the region, Amir Haghverdi, UC Cooperative Extension specialist and associate professor of agricultural and urban water management at UC Riverside, is using research to pinpoint irrigation strategies that will help communities reduce their demand for water and increase supply.
Haghverdi and his team are responding to a hotter and drier California by working to identify changes that can make a substantial difference in water savings.
While behavioral changes such as preventing leaks and turning the faucet off while brushing teeth can help, Haghverdi's research focuses on methodical changes like stressing green spaces, planting drought-tolerant plant species, using non-traditional water sources, and investing in technology to better control water use.
Testing a lawn's limits
For six years, Haghverdi and his team have performed stress tests on turfgrass to identify the lowest percent of evapotranspiration rate (ETo) that it can withstand and still survive. To do this, Haghverdi's team applies different percentages of ETo, obtained from weather stations, and monitors the performance of each landscape species over time.
While both cool-season and warm-season species can be stressed and still maintain their aesthetic value for a few weeks to several months, Haghverdi's results showed that warm-season turfgrass species require less water and can withstand water stress better.
The actual duration that people can apply less water depends on the type of turfgrass, the weather conditions and the stress level. For example, results showed that hybrid bermudagrass (a warm-season turfgrass) during summer in inland Southern California could keep its aesthetic value above the minimum threshold for 30 to 50 days, depending on the weather conditions, with irrigation application as low as 40% ETo.
In contrast, tall fescue, a cool-season turfgrass, even with 20% more water, showed signs of stress after only a few weeks and could not maintain its minimum acceptable quality.
Plant drought-tolerant species
Haghverdi's work demonstrates that when water conservation is the goal, alternative groundcover species are clearly superior to all turfgrass species and cultivars that they have tested so far. In fact, his team has identified drought-tolerant species that can maintain their aesthetic values with a third to a quarter less water than cool-season turfgrass (as low as 20% ETo) and can even withstand no-irrigation periods.
Furthermore, extensive field trials showed that new plant species from different regions could be as resilient as native species in withstanding drought and heat stress while maintaining their aesthetic beauty and cool canopy. Occasionally, they have outperformed native species, underscoring the advantages of drought- and heat-tolerant species that are non-native.
Based on Haghverdi's preliminary results for minimum irrigation requirement in inland Southern California, creeping Australian saltbush, a non-native species originally from Australia, and coyote bush, native to California, were top performers. Considering cooling benefits, drought tolerance and sensitivity to over-irrigation, creeping Australian saltbush performed the best.
Counties are already using recycled water
Although he recommends renewing your landscape with drought-tolerant or low-water use greenery and identifying how long your green spaces can live without water, Haghverdi acknowledges that, while contradictory, the cooling benefits of landscape irrigation are essential in Southern California.
“This is one of the tradeoffs of water conservation,” said Haghverdi. “If the only goal is to conserve water, maybe people will conclude that we don't have enough water to irrigate landscape.”
Water conservation efforts could influence counties to stop or reduce landscape irrigation. The consequences, however, would result in hotter environments due to the heat island effect. The loss of landscapes means that the sun's energy will be absorbed into the ground, instead of prompting transpiration in plants, which helps keep environments cool.
Thus, stressing green spaces and investing in drought-tolerant plant species help reduce the demand for water, but increasing water supply is just as vital. Haghverdi urges Southern California counties to prioritize a supplemental water supply such as recycled water – an approach already implemented in Ventura, Orange and San Diego counties.
The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California's Pure Water Southern California Program, formerly known as the Regional Recycled Water Program, aims to do just that. In partnership with the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts, the program will further purify wastewater to produce a sustainable source of high-quality water for the region.
According to the program's website, this would “produce up to 150 million gallons of water daily when completed and provide purified water for up to 15 million people, making it one of the largest water reuse programs in the world.”
Smart controllers save time, money and water
Making the best use of the water you already have relies on efficiency. Sprinklers that are poorly placed, for example, are not as effective as they could be.
“What I see often while walking my dog in the neighborhood is that there's a lot of runoff, bad irrigation and bad timing like when it's windy,” Haghverdi observed. “People usually set their irrigation timer and then forget it, but they don't adjust it based on the season or weather parameters. That's not going to help us conserve water, a precious resource, in California.”
Thankfully, Haghverdi and his team have done extensive research on smart irrigation controllers, which, simply put, are irrigation timers with a sensor built in. Generally, there are two types of smart irrigation controllers: weather- and soil-based controllers.
Weather-based controllers use evapotranspiration data to automatically adjust their watering schedule according to local weather conditions. Soil-based controllers measure moisture at the root zone and start irrigating whenever the reading falls below a programmed threshold.
Smart controllers that have flowmeters can detect leaks and be activated automatically, whereas rain sensors can stop irrigation during rainfall. Although both additions are ideal for large irrigation landscapes such as parks and publicly maintained green spaces, rain sensors are easy to install and effective for residential areas too.
When asked about cost being a hindrance, Haghverdi responded, “Not a lot of people know that there are grants for smart controllers – some that will pay either all or a majority of the cost.”
To check if grants are available in your area, interested individuals are encouraged to contact their local water provider.
“We need to move towards autonomous and smart irrigation [strategies], and water management in urban areas. That's the future. If we can build autonomous cars, why can't we build smart water management systems that apply the right amount of water to each plant species, can detect leaks and prevent water waste?” said Haghverdi.
To learn more about or stay updated on Haghverdi's research, visit www.ucrwater.com.
“I found so many things; I found a hermit crab, a starfish, a sea anemone,” exclaimed a Cherryland Elementary School student, his voice trailing off as he ventured back to the tide pools to explore more. The fifth grader from Hayward was participating in a 4-H Water Wizards course during a UC Cooperative Extension-sponsored field trip to Pescadero State Beach in San Mateo County.
In May, University of California Cooperative Extension bused 120 fifth and sixth graders from Hayward's Cherryland Elementary School – where the student population is 86% Hispanic and 6% Black – to UC Elkus Ranch Environmental Education Center in Half Moon Bay to learn about different aspects of water.
“These Black and Brown grade-school children are learning about water from people who look like them and speak like them,” said Frank McPherson, director of UC Cooperative Extension in the Bay Area, who is leading the launch of 4-H Water Wizards in the Bay Area. “As the students visit each experiential learning station and the ocean, the instructors are asking them thought-provoking questions like ‘How do you think the water will move through the landscape?' and ‘What do you see in the water?'”
4-H Water Wizards is designed to give socially disadvantaged students of color opportunities to meet diverse scientists and imagine career possibilities in science, technology, education and math, or STEM.
“I'm really happy that we were invited by the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources to come out to Elkus Ranch so my kids can participate in an opportunity to engage in not only the fun that's out here, but also the animals,” said JoDana Campbell, Ed.D., Cherryland Elementary fifth grade teacher. “I was also really impressed with the number of scientists that are actually here on this ranch that were able to work with my kids at the varying stations about this idea of water and how we utilize water. Not only in California, but just generally in the world: how does water work?”
This spring UC Cooperative Extension educator Tanya Henderson, in collaboration with Cherryland Elementary School teachers and Nancy Wright, Hayward Unified School District elementary science partner teacher, introduced four classes at Cherryland Elementary to the 11-week 4-H Water Wizards curriculum. One of the classes has had a series of substitute teachers all year, making Henderson the most consistent instructor for a few weeks.
One teacher wrote to McPherson expressing her appreciation for the teaching assistance, saying, “I am especially grateful for Ms. Tanya, our teacher. Having another adult to co-teach is invaluable to say the least. Her teaching methods and care to engage students is remarkable.”
The field trip to Elkus Ranch and the ocean expanded on the classroom water lessons.
At the first of four learning stations, UC Davis graduate students used an Enviroscape model to show the Cherryland students how rainwater runoff moves through a community. The youngsters placed plastic houses on the landscape and fashioned clay into walls and dams to protect their houses from flood waters. After observing simulated rain on their community, the students discussed the results.
“The dam made it worse!” said one student.
“Maybe we should remove the dam,” said Cassie Bonfil, a UC Davis graduate student. “The water naturally wants to flow to the river. We're blocking it from going to the river, forcing it to go up into the houses.”
Using sand between sheets of plexiglass as a window into a cross section of soil and an aquifer, UC Cooperative Extension specialist Samuel Sandoval Solis led the students in demonstrating the movement of water when it filters through soil into the ground and when water is pumped from wells.
In the Elkus Ranch children's garden, Henderson encouraged students to touch and smell plants that could be used to make soaps, salves and other products.
The students also interacted with the sheep, goats, rabbits, chickens and other livestock that live at Elkus Ranch. Beth Loof, 4-H youth community educator, discussed the role of animals in agriculture as well as their relationships to soil, water and food systems.
“I just think it's a really good opportunity to engage inner city youth in something where they do not have an opportunity to engage in normally,” said Campbell, the Cherryland teacher. “This ranch is an awesome opportunity to come out to learn, there's a great museum up the way. My kids have been very excited about the whole process.”
The curriculum and educator are funded by a grant from USDA National Institute or Food and Agriculture, but to hire more buses to transport more schoolchildren to Elkus Ranch for the outdoor experience, McPherson is raising money. Donations to the Bay Area 4-H Water Wizards project can be made at https://donate.ucanr.edu/?program=California 4-H&county=Alameda.