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Posts Tagged: water

Headwaters

I have the privilege of engaging California's communities with the aspiration of safeguarding the sustenance and well-being that its oak-woodland watersheds and the people that are a part of them provide. This millennia-long integrated relationship of humans and land has parallel histories in other Mediterranean parts of the world. The following blog is the first of occasional installments about working Mediterranean landscapes in California and around the globe. Combined they will explore the concepts of watershed functions, working landscapes and Mediterranean climate, vegetation and management. Join me in experiencing these settings, growing our appreciation for the integrated nature of these landscapes and people, and gaining understanding and tools for our tenure as stewards. - David Lewis, director, UC Cooperative Extension, Marin County

Ghost pines, live oaks, black oaks and madrones, among other trees, make their stand interspersed with annual and perennial grasses at the headwaters of a California watershed. (Photo: David Lewis)

I am standing where stream flow begins, in a nameless tributary of the Russian River to the east of Hopland, Calif. This particular spot and location has been a grazing livestock ranch, primarily sheep, going back more than 100 years (learn more). This is one of thousands of spots in a watershed where water comes to the surface, joins in a channel and starts its path downstream. Many of us have stood at a confluence of two rivers or an estuary where a watershed's outfall meets an ocean. These locations are the stream's or river's end, their terminus. Where I am standing, is the headwaters of a stream system, where water is initially released and visible as a thin, shallow bouncing band.

Watersheds collect, store, and transport water. The transport function is performed by streams and rivers. These are dynamic, pervious channel networks each with a beginning and an end. At any part of the network, the channel is that lowest point in the landscape, stretching from one stream bank to the other, and generally widening in the downstream direction, until the stream mouth empties into another water body. 

At the other end of a network is the channel head, where the channel begins. This is where I am standing. Channel heads are found in small, intimate folds in the landscape. These depressions are referred to by many names — draws, bowls, hollows — the place in hills where the slopes become shallow and coalesce.

Like an amphitheater, the surrounding hillslopes rise around me. Reaching out at shoulder height, I can almost touch these slopes. The mixed oak woodland and interspersed grasslands are in attendance across these slopes. Ghost pines, live oaks, black oaks and madrones, among other trees, make their stand interspersed with annual and perennial grasses blanketing the ground. This mosaic of vegetation is hosted and sustained by the complex mix of marine sediments that have been pushed up, forming these hills, and erosion carving the stream channel. Below the surface are soils one to three feet deep that have developed from the underlying geology.  

It's March 3, 2019, and on the cusp of spring. Between the light breezes, the stream water sings its way downstream. I think back to the intense storms that moved across this part of California the week before and the resulting floods in the lower portion of the Russian River. Those and earlier winter storms soaked into the soil until the soil reached its capacity to hold water. Once the soils were primed, water was released to the channel network. That water is still being released now, days later, and will be for several more months into May or even June. Rainfall for this area and most of California has been substantial, matching amounts not seen since 1983, and definitively ending the nearly five-year drought. This contrast in extremes is the norm for California, meaning the next drought or next flood is only a year away.  

Downstream the Russian River is perennial, flowing year-round. But here at the channel head, flow is intermittent on an annual cycle. Rains begin in the fall, with headwater surface flows starting in late fall or early winter, once soils are saturated. This wetting up process reverses in the spring, until the channel head is dry.  

At some point this year flow in the headwaters will stop. Saturated soils releasing water laterally below the ground surface, will gradually release less and less water to the channel. Trees and grasses will demand more and more water as they leaf out and grow. As soils pores empty of free water, the remaining moisture is held more tightly to soil particles and plant root surfaces through a physical tension. Eventually the channel head will run dry.

While you may not have the opportunity to visit a channel head and experience the place where stream flow starts and stops each year, you are often closer to one than you think. Driving a rural road or hiking in a favorite park or open space will invariably find you crossing one of these unnamed headwater streams. As you do, give a look upstream, from where the water going past you has come. Up the channel into the bowl is one of the channel heads and headwaters for the watershed you are in.

I don't know when I will get to this channel head again. However, this place where surface flow is initiated will be close in my mind, particularly, as I visit the confluences and estuary of the Russian River, during the wet and dry periods and high and low rainfall years to come.

To learn more about these specific watersheds and research conducted in them this article is suggested. If interested in learning how stream flow is generated in California oak woodland watersheds you may want to read this article

Posted on Monday, April 15, 2019 at 9:38 AM
  • Author: David Lewis
Focus Area Tags: Natural Resources

UC and Israel sign agricultural research agreement

From left, Ermias Kebreab, Eli Feinerman and Mark Bell sign agreement for Israel and California scientists to collaborate more on water-related research and education.

Pledging to work together to solve water scarcity issues, Israel's Agricultural Research Organization signed a memorandum of understanding with UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources and UC Davis on July 16. The signing ceremony kicked off the 2018 Future of Water for Irrigation in California and Israel Workshop at the UC ANR building in Davis.

“Israel and California agriculture face similar challenges, including drought and climate change,” said Doug Parker, director of UC ANR's California Institute for Water Resources. “In the memorandum of understanding, Israel's Agricultural Research Organization, UC Davis and UC ANR pledge to work together more on research involving water, irrigation, technology and related topics that are important to both water-deficit countries.” 

The agreement will enhance collaboration on research and extension for natural resources management in agriculture, with an emphasis on soil, irrigation and water resources, horticulture, food security and food safety.

“It's a huge pleasure for us to sign an MOU with the world leaders in agricultural research like UC Davis and UC ANR,” said Eli Feinerman, director of Agricultural Research Organization of Israel. “When good people, smart people collaborate the sky is the limit.”

From left, Ermias Kebreab, Eli Feinerman, Karen Ross, Shlomi Kofman and Mark Bell. “We need the answers of best practices that come from academia," Ross said.

Feinerman, Mark Bell, UC ANR vice provost, and Ermias Kebreab, UC Davis professor and associate vice provost of academic programs and global affairs, represented their respective institutions for the signing. Karen Ross, California Department of Food and Agriculture secretary, and Shlomi Kofman, Israel's consul general to the Pacific Northwest, joined in celebrating the partnership.

“The important thing is to keep working together and develop additional frameworks that can bring the people of California and Israel together as researchers,” Kofman said. “But also to work together to make the world a better place.” 

Ross said, “It's so important for us to find ways and create forums to work together because water is the issue in this century and will continue to be.”

She noted that earlier this year the World Bank and United Nations reported that 40 percent of the world population is living with water scarcity.  “Over 700,000 people are at risk of relocation due to water scarcity,” Ross said. “We're already seeing the refugee issues that are starting to happen because of drought, food insecurity and the lack of water.”

Ross touted the progress stemming from CDFA's Healthy Soils Program to promote healthy soils on California's farmlands and ranchlands and SWEEP, the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program, which has provided California farmers $62.7 million in grants for irrigation systems that reduce greenhouse gases and save water on agricultural operations.

“We need the answers of best practices that come from academia, through demonstration projects so that our farmers know what will really work,” Ross said.

Scientists from Israel and California met to exchange ideas for managing water for agriculture.

As Parker opened the water workshop, sponsored by the U.S./Israel Binational Agricultural Research and Development (BARD) Program, Israel Agricultural Research Organization and UC ANR, he told the scientists, “The goal of this workshop is really to be creating new partnerships, meeting new people, networking, and finding ways to work together in California with Israel, in Israel, with other parts of the world as well.”

Drawing on current events, Bell told the attendees, “If you look at the World Cup, it's about effort, it's about teamwork, it's about diversity of skills, and I think that's what this event does. It brings together those things.”

 

Posted on Friday, July 20, 2018 at 9:42 AM
Tags: Doug Parker (23), Israel (1), Water (98)
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture Natural Resources

Bees Need Water: Establish Water Sources in Late Winter to Keep Them Out of the Pool in Summer

Honey bees perch on a cork to drink. Notice the algae and leaf litter that has accumulated in the water. Essential bee nutrients leach from this material into the water.

Like all animals, bees need food, water, and shelter. Most insects get all the water they need from their food: think of a caterpillar that feeds on plant leaves, which are mostly water. However, the pollen and nectar that constitute a bee's diet don't contain much moisture, so bees must have a...

Posted on Monday, February 12, 2018 at 4:17 AM
Tags: Honey Bee Haven (41), honey bees (384), water (98)
Focus Area Tags: Environment Yard & Garden

California Plant and Soil Conference convenes in Fresno Feb. 6-7

The state's top agricultural scientists will gather in downtown Fresno Feb. 6-7 for the American Society of Agronomy, California Chapter, 2018 California Plant and Soil Conference.

The conference comes at a key time for the California farmers and allied industries.

“There has been a flurry of new state regulation in recent years that the industry must contend with, increasing the needs for grower certification and training,” said Dan Munk, irrigation and soils advisor for UC Cooperative Extension in Fresno County. “Never before has grower education and training been more critical for irrigated agriculture in the state.”

The conference will be held at the DoubleTree Hotel & Fresno Convention Center, 2233 Ventura St.

At 9:30 a.m. Feb. 6, California Secretary of Agriculture Karen Ross opens the event by providing her thoughts on how California agriculture can move forward given recent droughts, floods and increased environmental restrictions as well as increased grower reporting, certification and compliance requirements.

Following Ross's remarks, three speakers will discuss timely topics at the intersection of water and nutrient management. The speakers are:

Patrick Brown, UC Davis
Topic: Barriers to the adoption of recommended nutrient and water management practices

Sarah Beganska, UC Santa Cruz
Topic: Addressing groundwater recharge with an eye to water quality

Tim Hartz, UC Davis
Topic: Irrigation effects on nitrogen efficiency

The remainder of the two-day conference contains 12 sessions, presented by scientists from the University of California, UC Cooperative Extension, Fresno State, Oregon State, NASA, USDA and industry. Session presentations are slated to cover nutrient management, emerging technologies for improved crop management, pest management, site-specific management, soil biology and soil health, sustainable use of water, applied crop management and managing farm energy.

More information and the complete agenda are available on the conference website, http://calasa.ucdavis.edu/

'Never before has grower education and training been more critical for irrigated agriculture in the state,' said Dan Munk, UC Cooperative Extension irrigation and soils advisor in Fresno County.
Posted on Friday, February 2, 2018 at 9:42 AM
Tags: Dan Munk (6), Soil (17), water (98)
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture

Trends we're watching in 2018: experts weigh in on water, GM, science communication and more

As we settle into 2018, it's natural to wonder what the New Year may bring. There have been dozens of "trend pieces" discussing what's in store. In this wrap, we consider possible 2018 trends in water, the GM debate, science communication, and food and nutrition.

Water

After one of the driest Decembers on record, many Californians continue to worry about water supply. I turned to UC ANR water expert Faith Kearns. Faith is a scientist and communicator at the California Institute for Water Resources, a UC ANR-based "think-tank" that integrates California's research, extension, and education programs to develop research-based solutions to water resource challenges. Faith writes about water issues for a number of publications, including UC's Confluence blog. She was recently

 quoted in a Rolling Stone article about California's "climate emergency," penned by meteorologist/writer Eric Holthaus

Faith told me this:

"Water quantity and human use tend to be the dominant lenses that we use to talk about water in California, but they're not the only thing we need to be paying attention to. For example, water quality issues loom equally as large, and are of course related. But, even beyond that, there are also many non-use oriented ways that water impacts our lives - through recreation, aesthetics, and culture, just to name a few. A trend that I hope to see in 2018 is a broadening of the conversation on water, and an expansion of the kinds of knowledge that are brought to bear on water issues."

Editor's note: The quality of American drinking water continues to be a point of local and national concern; it will undoubtedly be an important topic in the 2018 midterm elections in certain congressional districts. Learn more about this vital public health and social justice issue by visiting the National Drinking Water Alliance website (NDWA). NDWA is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and coordinated by UC ANR's Nutrition Policy Institute.

The debate over genetically modified food: Entering a new era?

UC Davis associate professor and plant pathologist Neil McRoberts - who was recently named co-leader of UC ANR's Strategic Initiative in Sustainable Food Systems - shared his ideas about where we might be headed in terms of framing the GM discussion.

"...The GM debate is entering a new era with the growing use of gene editing - CRSPR-Cas9technology. Interestingly, this time around the ethics and socio-economics debate seems to be keeping pace with the science, as witnessed by the latest issue of the Journal of Responsible Innovation, which focuses on gene drive technologies and their uses. The special issue grew out of a workshop hosted at NCSU last year. The use of CRSPR has re-opened debates about how genetic modification should be regulated and labeled."

Editor's note: You can learn more about Neil's work here. He recently wrote a guest blog post for UC Food Observer about the importance of cash crops to smallholder farmers in Uganda and Malaysia. For more about the GM debate, read the text of Mark Lynas' speech to the Oxford Farming Conference, in which he tries to "map out the contours of a potential peace treaty" between GM proponents and the technology's opponents. h/t Nathanael Johnson.

Will 2018 usher in an era of more civil communication around science-based topics?

*It depends on us.

Across the board, our public discourse took a dive in 2017 ... and that's a shame. Here's to a New Year ... and resolving to do a better job at communicating with clarity, integrity and with less judgment. The advancement of science (and perhaps the preservation of our sanity) depend upon it.

I loved this piece by Tamar Haspel, which recently appeared in the Washington Post and specifically addresses science communication and agriculture/food issues. Shorter: If we want to persuade people, we have to be respectful. She writes:

“Rudeness can increase polarization and entrench disagreements even further. Nasty begets nasty; it's regression toward the mean ..."

As both a scientist and a communicator, UC ANR's Faith Kearns also informed my thinking on where the communications trend line ought to go for 2018, telling me that:

"One of the bigger challenges, and opportunities, facing the science communication community is how to really push ourselves to better incorporate more perspectives from the social sciences and humanities. This is particularly true on issues like food, agriculture, and the environment where so much of what is truly challenging is related to human behavior, decision-making, and psychology. It's not just a matter of using research on science communication to inform practice, but also of responsibly integrating different forms of knowledge into communication efforts." 

Food and nutrition trends

There are an overwhelming number of food trend pieces out right now. The Hartman Group is a good account to follow to stay apprised of food trends throughout the year. Their Year in Review blog post is definitely worth a read. It identifies some trends from last year that will likely carry forward, including consumer demands for transparency, "conscious" consumerism, customized health and wellness, and the ways in which snacking is disrupting food culture. Bonus: you can access some of Hartman's industry reports via links included in the blog post.

For a largely culinary perspective of 2018 trends, check out the BBC's Good Food piece. Nationally-known dietitian Christy Brissette has written an interesting piece about nutrition trends (think algae, Stevia, chicory root fiber and eating for "Diabetes 3" - aka Alzheimer's).

And if you're having trouble keeping that New Year's resolution to exercise more, consider reading this piece, which reports on a study indicating that exercise alters our microbiome - which could improve our health and metabolism. Gretchen Reynolds for the New York Times.

Have a great week!

This article was first published in the UC Food Observer blog.

Posted on Tuesday, January 9, 2018 at 8:27 AM
Focus Area Tags: Food

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