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Posts Tagged: Water Conservation

Urban Farming and Water Conservation: A Way of Life on the City Farm

Reyna Yagi (ryagi@ucanr.edu), Northern California Urban Agriculture Program Coordinator, University of California Cooperative Extension - Alameda and Contra Costa Counties

Raised Bed Irrigation - Treasure Island Job Corps Farm
It has been a banner year for water in California. The above-average precipitation and snowpack in 2017 have ended a five-year drought spell, leading Governor Jerry Brown to officially end the drought state of emergency last April for the majority of California counties. However, Californians know that this refreshing watery reprieve does not mean our conservation efforts stop here. With a draft plan in the making by the State Water Board appropriately dubbed “Making Water Conservation a California Way of Life,” the long term trend from this point on is efficient water use and drought preparedness, especially as we face climate change challenges.

How can we as urban farmers do our part to conserve water? Turns out there are a lot of ways that not only will help to save our beautiful state's water, but also help you build a healthier farm or garden with less work on your hands!

The Challenge of Water Access
It's hard to talk about water conservation when many urban farmers run into issues of reliable access to water and affordability of municipal water. Increasingly though, municipalities are working with urban farms and community gardens to offer discounts or grants for water meter and service line installation, help calculate a water budget, and provide a plethora of trainings and resources on efficient irrigation practices and technology. Talk with your local water municipality to see if they have discounted water pricing or special programs (San Francisco is a good example) aimed at assisting urban farms and community gardens.
 
Start with Healthy Soils
We know building healthy soils is key for the production and longevity of our crops, but it also allows plants to use water more efficiently and saves you water in the long run. Adding organic matter to your soil increases soil nutrition which helps plants produce better yields and bountiful blossoms without adding more water. Whether sandy or clayey soils, compost reduces the soil's need for water by 30% on average. Top it off with 3-4 inches of straw mulch to further your conservation efforts by keeping soil cool, preserving moisture and reducing weed germination.

Tip Sheet: Building Fertile Soil – Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems UC Santa Cruz

Know What You Grow
Did you know it takes 33 gallons of water to produce a carrot while almonds require 1,280 gallons (find more facts here)? Follow seasonal crop patterns - cool season crops will take much more water in the heat of the summer. Once you decide what to grow, choose varieties that are labeled “drought-tolerant” or “widely adapted.” Be sure to group plants by similar plant watering requirements.

Tip Sheet: Your Food Garden During Drought – UC Master Gardener Program Contra Costa County

You Can't Manage What You Can't Measure
Do you know how much water your farm or garden uses? If you use a garden hose, you can estimate your flow rate by timing how long it takes to fill a five-gallon bucket. If it takes five minutes to fill, your flow rate is 1 gallon per minute. If you have an irrigation system and a water meter, it's easy to read your meter to find out your usage. There are also water gauges one can buy at your local hardware store as well. Keep a record; you may need it later.
 
Drip Irrigation is Your Best Friend
Drip irrigation is a worthwhile investment that not only reduces your workload, but conserves water by applying it where it is needed most and at a rate conducive to a plant's use. Another benefit for the farmer: it reduces weed growth, helps control mildew plus reduces fungus problems! Drip tape, soaker hoses, micro-sprinklers are among various types of efficient irrigation products you can use. Install shut-off valves to turn off areas that are fallow. Add an irrigation timer to automate your watering schedule. Controllers can also connect with rain and soil moisture sensors which shut the system off when enough water is applied.

Tip Sheet: Drip Irrigation – Installation and Maintenance – UC Master Gardener Program of Sonoma County

Tip Sheet: For the Gardener - Water Conservation Tips – Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems, UC Santa Cruz

Other Water Saving Techniques
  • Rainwater Harvesting allows you to capture rainwater from roofs, collect it in a cistern for diversion to your landscape for supplemental irrigation. You should also observe your site's water runoff patterns and see how you can manage and maximize your runoff to deal with large rain events, stormwater runoff and infiltration around your site. Consider a rain garden!

  Tip Sheet: Rainwater Harvesting – UC Master Gardeners of Nevada County

  • Dry Farming depends on the water stored in the soil from winter rains that plants can use in the spring as the weather warms. Plants rely on good soil moisture and deep roots to seek out this extra water without needing much supplemental irrigation. Grapes, potatoes, tomatoes, winter squash, fruit trees and grains can be dry-farmed.

  Tip Sheet: How to Dry Farm Tomatoes in  Contra Costa – UC Master Gardener Program – Contra Costa County

And Remember:

  • Deep watering wets entire root zones which promotes deeper root growth.
  • Always water early in the morning to prevent daytime water loss through evaporation.
  • Keep an eye on the weather! A refreshing rain or cool, cloudy day will extend the time between watering.
  • Maintenance, maintenance, maintenance. Visually inspect your drip system regularly for breaks, leaks and missing pieces. If you don't, your plants will certainly let you know with plant diseases.

California's agricultural industry is the largest in the nation and abroad, carrying with that a great responsibility to protect and conserve our resources. Urban farmers are highly cognizant of this. They are some of the most innovative and conservation-minded folks out there who understand the fragility of our water supply and their role in being model stewards of our lands and waters.

 

Posted on Tuesday, July 25, 2017 at 1:45 PM
  • Author: Reyna Yagi

Drought tips available for farmers

Drought strategies are available for growing alfalfa and other crops.
Drought strategies for managing alfalfa and many other crops are available free from UC Agriculture and Natural Resources. As California endures a fourth year of drought and ever-tightening water supplies, water-management strategies have become even more critical to farmers.

To help farmers make the best use of the water they have available, a series of new and updated drought tips fact sheets has been developed by UC ANR scientists and funded by the California Department of Water Resources.  

“These drought tips provide irrigation management recommendations for a broad range of agricultural crops and under different water supply conditions,” said Daniele Zaccaria, UC ANR Cooperative Extension agricultural water management specialist at UC Davis and major organizer of the drought tip series. “The information in these tips will be of practical use for growers and other water-related stakeholders now and into the future as our agricultural community continues to adapt to climate variability and to a changing water supply situation.”

UC ANR scientists have identified best management practices for a wide range of annual and permanent crops and irrigation systems and methods during the drought. In the drought tips series, they also give advice for managing soil salinity and using shallow groundwater for irrigating crops.  For beef cattle, they provide recommendations for culling herds and feeding to supplement grazing.

The following drought tips are currently available for free download at http://ucanr.edu/drought-tips:

  • Drought strategies for alfalfa
  • Drought management for California almonds
  • Use of shallow groundwater for crop production
  • Drought strategies for walnuts
  • Fog contribution to crop water use
  • Reclaiming Saline, Sodic and Saline-Sodic Soils

As fog passes through an orchard, some of the water is intercepted by trees. (Photo: CC by-nc-nd 2.0)
Several more drought tips for dozens of commodities and situations are in the process of being published and will be posted online soon.

Decades of UC ANR research underlie the information contained in the drought tips. In the 1970s and again in the 1990s, UC ANR partnered with DWR to develop a series of drought management fact sheets.

“DWR has worked with UC ANR to update the drought tips and make sure the latest and best information on water management is available to growers,” said Peter Brostrom, DWR Water Use Efficiency Section Manager.

The California Institute for Water Resources, which coordinates water-related research and extension education across the 10 UC campuses and UCANR, has the drought tips and more drought resources online at http://ciwr.ucanr.edu.

“Even if El Niño brings rain this fall, water scarcity will continue to impact California farmers,” said Doug Parker, director of UC ANR's California Institute for Water Resources. “As climate change continues to reduce the average annual snowpack, it is likely that droughts in California will become more frequent and severe in the years to come.”

UC ANR's California Institute for Water Resources and the California Department of Water Resources also offer drought-related information in a series of videos. Water experts from UC and other agencies and institutions have recorded presentations on high-priority drought topics. Currently 38 videos can be accessed for free on computers and mobile devices at http://ucanr.edu/insights.

UC Agriculture and Natural Resources researchers and educators draw on local expertise to conduct agricultural, environmental, economic, youth development and nutrition research that helps California thrive. Learn more at ucanr.edu

Posted on Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 8:48 AM

Human behavior patterns influence water conservation

Installing drip irrigation is a water conservation behavior that might 'stick,' even after rains return to California. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Getting Californians to conserve water is more complex than simply asking for voluntary cuts or making reduced water use mandatory, said UC Davis professor Mark Lubell during a Capitol Public Radio interview with Beth Ruyak. Lubell is affiliated with the UC Agricultural Experiment Station, a part of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources.

"There is a lot of collective action involved in getting individuals and farmers and water districts to come together to reduce water use," said Lubell, who is also Director of the Center for Environmental Policy and Behavior at UC Davis.

Lubell, whose research focuses on human behavior and the role of governance institutions in solving environmental collective action problems and facilitating cooperation, is particularly interested in watching the conservation efforts prompted by the California drought unfold. "It is definitely a good lab to study cooperation problems or observe them in action," he said.

The difficulty for California is akin to the classic "tragedy of the commons," in which people behave in their own self-interest even when contrary to the best interests of a whole group.

"People are being asked to make an individual sacrifice, but the costs and benefits are experienced by a lot of other people," Lubell said. "People tend to not do the behaviors that make everybody collectively better off."

The solution, Lubell said, is taking a multifaceted approach to encouraging water conservation, including water prices, penalties for not conserving, and influencing social norms. He said social norms are crucial, but they are not established overnight. And the norms can change again when conditions change.

"There will be some behaviors that stick. Some people might put in some irrigation changes where they won't go back and put lawn back in right away," Lubell said. "But short term changes will unstick once it starts raining again. We know the psychology of water use, and people very quickly forget the drier years."

Posted on Wednesday, May 6, 2015 at 10:31 AM
Tags: drought (202), Mark Lubell (5), water conservation (7)

Composting and Water Conservation

At this time of year, biodegradable organic matter such as tree and shrub leaves are often in big supply. Whether passively allowed to decompose or actively managed to speed up the composting process, and use the compost, we often turn to our backyard, community or school garden compost system as a repository for these materials. But, we may not always appreciate how the compost produced from organic materials such as fallen tree leaves, prunings and food scraps can help our farm or garden soil better hold water year-round.

To the many benefits of composting, add another: water conservation. When compost is added to bare soils as a thin layer, it is an effective barrier against evaporation of soil moisture, a practice called top- or side-dressing. Compost also reduces plants' needs for water by increasing how much water can be held by the soil - only a 5% increase in organic material quadruples the soil's water holding capacity.1

[A] 2000 study … found that increasing the water holding capacity of the soil by adding compost helped all crops during summer droughts by reducing periods of water stress. The amount of water in … 8 inches … of the compost amended soil increased to 1.9 inches compared with 1.3 inches in un-amended soil. Since vegetables require 1 inch of water a week, at field capacity, the compost amended soil held a 2-week supply of water.2

Compost is the result of a process whereby a large volume of organic matter is rapidly decomposed into a smaller volume that is then used to amend the soil. Soil particles occur in aggregates or clumps, unless they have a high amount of sand particles that do not hold together well. Soil structure refers to the arrangement of sand, silt and clay particles into larger aggregates.3 One can assess the soil structure for their home or community garden by doing the soil-ribbon test and the soils-sedimentation test. This video from Kansas State University tells you how to assess your soil texture by feel. The bottom line is that amending the soil with compost improves its structure, which significantly affects how well it holds water.

Compost is decomposed organic matter that has stabilized, yet, still continues decomposing, though, at a slower rate. The organisms that break down organic matter release glue-like substances that bind soil particles into crumbly aggregates. These irregularly shaped aggregates have air-spaces between them and can be penetrated and occupied by water, nutrients, and plants' roots. Soils rich in organic material have a sponge-like quality that holds water and, thus, plants growing in them have lower water needs.4 In sandy soils with poor water retention, compost improves the soil's water holding capacity by improving soil structure ie., aggregate stability.

Unlike sandy soils, clay soils are characterized by small spaces between the small clay particles. Clay soils have good water retention capacity, however, the spaces in between the particles can fill with water quickly, excluding oxygen and nutrients, and, essentially, drowning the plants. Water saturation in clay soils may also cause soil runoff because those soils cannot hold more water, but, adding compost aerates clay soils and increases its capacity to hold water, oxygen, and nutrients needed for healthy plant growth.

Ultimately, regularly amending with compost lightens clay soils, thus, reducing run-off, and increases the water holding capacity of sandy soils, hence, reducing the need for water. Adding compost as a thin mulch layer over bare soils reduces water evaporation, while also reducing the need for water by garden and farm raised plants. Top-dressing with compost in combination with a thin top-layer of straw mulch in food-growing areas, or a thin woodchip mulch in ornamental garden areas, can reduce plants' water needs around their roots even more, where water is needed the most.

1 Compost Fundamentals, Compost Benefits and Uses. Washington State University, Whatcom County Extension. Accessed on 28 January 2015.

2 M. Charles Gould. Compost increases the water holding capacity of droughty soils. Michigan State University Extension. Accessed on 28 January 2015.

3 Dennis R. Pittenger, ed., California Master Gardener Handbook (University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, 2002), 36.

4 For the Gardener: Building Fertile Soil. Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, University of California, Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz, CA: University of California, no date provided).

Posted on Tuesday, February 17, 2015 at 12:03 PM
  • Author: Rob Bennaton
  • Author: Adapted from an article by the Alameda County Master Gardeners Help Desk

July's high evapotranspiration rates trigger conservation efforts

The Water Conservation Act of 2009, also referred to as Senate Bill x7-7 or “20 by 2020,” mandates that California reduce urban per capita water use by 20 percent by the year 2020. It also requires all water suppliers to increase water use efficiency.

Sprinkler head spraying water in grass lawn turf.
It’s estimated that 50 percent of California’s residential water is used outdoors — to water lawns, ornamental plantings and vegetable gardens, and in swimming pools. Our water use practices can always become more efficient. 

To help us become more aware of our watering practices, July is designated as Smart Irrigation Month by the national Irrigation Association. July is the month across most of North America when evapotranspiration rates are highest. The Irrigation Association uses the phrase “saved water is money in the bank” to draw attention to the need to water landscapes and gardens, golf courses and shopping center plantings more efficiently.  

In a presentation in Groveland, Calif., Brad Lancaster, the author of “Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond” asked the question, “Why do we use treated drinking water to irrigate our lawns?” The number one use of energy in California is to pump and move water.

Many of us in UC Cooperative Extension outreach are asked over and over during the hot, inland California summers: “How much should I water?” Although there are simple rules of thumb, the answer is, “It depends.” Effective irrigation depends on type of soil, slope, elevation, type of plants, where the plant is growing, etc.

Water running off driveway from irrigation of adjacent residential landscape.
The University of California Integrated Pest Management (IPM) website offers in-depth information for California residents interested in healthy lawn care and efficient irrigation. If you aren’t familiar with the website,  check out the interactive irrigation testing and scheduling tools.

In addition to efficient irrigation scheduling, there are some fairly simple (and some not-so-simple) techniques that can help reduce outdoor residential water use:

  • Check watering depth. A long screwdriver blade will penetrate easily into damp soil.   Use it to gauge how deeply water is penetrating.
  • Add organic material to the soil. Compost, homemade or purchased, helps clay soils drain and helps sandy soils retain moisture. Compost also reduces water demands, helps control soil erosion, and reduces plant stress from drought.
  • To combat evaporation, plant closely enough that plants shade the soil.  
  • Mulch, mulch, mulch, mulch to slow evaporation from the soil surface.
  • The amount of water needed varies by species of plant, the time of year, the amount of sunlight, air temperature, etc. The general rule of thumb is that turf grasses use up to about a quarter inch of water per day during the hottest part of the summer. To replace that almost two inches of water per week, divide the amount of water needed into one to three irrigations per week.
  • Consider replacing some plantings with drought-tolerant natives.
  • Consider reducing lawn size. 
  • Check sprinklers for leaks, broken heads, misaligned spray patterns and run-off. 
  • If water is running off, “cycle” irrigation. Run sprinklers until run-off appears, stop until water infiltrates, and repeat until deep irrigation is achieved.

For more information, see the UC Guide to Healthy Lawns.

"Catch can test" checking sprinkler delivery uniformity.
Posted on Wednesday, June 27, 2012 at 9:09 AM

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