Posts Tagged: water
[From the August 2015 issue of the UC IPM Green Bulletin] Q. How much water do landscapes use in California? A. Landscape irrigation accounts for only about 9% of total statewide developed water use, but the percentage varies widely among...
Small but mighty: researchers find periodically flowing streams in California are surprisingly diverse
When we think water in California, we tend to think big: the Sacramento River, the American, the Delta. But, the state is also filled with small headwater streams that can be particularly easy to overlook when, during the state's dry summers, they start to resemble a series of pools rather than flowing creeks. Adding insult to injury is a longstanding view that the fish and insect communities in these intermittent streams will be less diverse than those found in the larger rivers they run into.
It is against this backdrop that scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, with support from the California Institute for Water Resources, set out to study some small creeks in the northern part of the state. They have been both surprised and excited by the diversity they are encountering. For example, at John West Fork in Marin County, they observed California giant salamanders, California newts, and Pacific chorus frogs, along with imperiled steelhead trout and coho salmon. In nearby Pine Gulch, they have observed a similar suite (minus the coho salmon), including several pools supporting older steelhead trout. The presence of these larger animals is an encouraging sign of resilience. They also found an abundant and diverse range of small invertebrates like mayflies, stoneflies, caddisflies—insects that are an important part of the food chain.
“These are small streams that lack flow for part or most of the year, yet they are totally filled with life. Understanding how these tiny little aquatic organisms manage to navigate this crazy and variable landscape, and thrive in conditions that most species would find very challenging, is really cool,” says project researcher Michael Bogan.
Previous research has indicated that intermittently flowing streams in Mediterranean climates like California's might be less diverse than streams that flow year round. However, after four years of sampling and a concentrated effort to identify more species, researchers are starting to find that at least some intermittent streams may be just about as diverse as their larger counterparts. Stephanie Carlson, lead investigator on this project, notes that “Intermittent streams that flow for only part of the year don't – on first glance – look like great quality habitat for species like coho salmon and trout, but our ongoing work suggests that these species can thrive in isolated pools during the summer, particularly following wetter winters when more pools persist.”
This finding is a great reward for difficult field work in a setting where streams can go from several months of dryness to raging flood waters with a single storm. “There's a lot of slogging up and down stream channels, crawling over downed trees & logs, sliding on wet rocks, and avoiding poison oak and stinging nettle,” says Bogan, though you mostly get the sense that he doesn't mind.
Dry times can be tough times, as California's many residents know well during this fourth year of ongoing drought. While some stream communities might be able to withstand harsh drying conditions, they also depend on being reconnected by flowing water at critical points in the year. A long-term goal of the research is determining the target water levels that can sustain these diverse aquatic communities.
“In the long run, it's really exciting to think about how we can use this understanding of species ecology to inform water resource management and maximize our ability to support aquatic biodiversity and mindful agriculture and water use. In many situations, I do believe we can have the best of both worlds,” says Bogan.
The full study results are in: Bogan, Michael T., Jason L. Hwan, and Stephanie M. Carlson. In Press. High aquatic biodiversity in an intermittent coastal headwater stream at Golden Gate National Recreation Area, California. Northwest Science. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for a pre-press copy.
This research was supported in part through a grant to Principal Investigator Stephanie Carlson at the University of California, Berkeley from the California Institute for Water Resources in the University of California's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
three times the recommended amount of sugar every day, and about half the U.S. population consumes sugary drinks on any given day.
Excess sugar consumption contributes to obesity, tooth decay, early menses in girls, and chronic diseases including diabetes and heart disease. To add to the damage, doctors are now attributing too much dietary sugar to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which can lead to cirrhosis of the liver.
It's enough to make you sit up and listen to the warnings about too much soda, sugary drinks, and sugar-laden processed foods.
What is a sugary drink? It's any beverage, more or less, with added sugar or other sweeteners, including high-fructose corn syrup. The long list of beverages includes soda, lemonade, fruit punch, powdered fruit drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, sweetened coffee and tea drinks, and many flavored milk products.
People are becoming aware of the concerns of too many sugary drinks, and steps are being taken to reduce their consumption. Some K-12 school districts across the nation are limiting sales of soda, and the City of Davis will soon require that restaurants offer milk or water as a first beverage choice with kids' meals.
UC Cooperative Extension, the county-based outreach arm of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, is partnering with health agencies and conducting public service programs for youth and families about sugary drinks. UC ANR Cooperative Extension in San Joaquin County recently presented a "Rethink Your Drink" parent workshop in conjunction with the county's Office of Education, and Solano County Cooperative Extension is working with the California Department of public health to engage youth in "Rethink Your Drink" programs.
Lucia Kaiser, UC ANR Cooperative Extension nutrition specialist, co-authored a policy brief about California's rural immigrants who have poor-quality tap water, or perceive tap water to be bad. Kaiser, who is also a nutrition faculty member at UC Davis, noted that studies have found a link between water quality and consumption of sugary drinks, which is a concern in low-income communities that don't have resources for clean water.
As of this month (July 2015), UC San Francisco is no longer selling sugary beverages on its campus, and UCSF has launched a Healthy Beverage Initiative. UC Berkeley held a Sugar Challenge this year, and UC Davis is conducting a Sugar Beverage Study on women.
Scientists at UC San Francisco, UC Davis, UC ANR's Nutrition Policy Institute, and other universities are studying the health effects of sugar and implementing health outreach programs. And UC's Global Food Initiative is building on the momentum of excessive sugary-drink consumption.
A healthy alternative to sugary drinks? Water, of course. Many universities and public places are replacing traditional drinking fountains with water stations so that students and others can fill their own bottles and have water “on the go.” And UC President Janet Napolitano is working with the Nutrition Policy Institute on a bold and sensible request to place water on the USDA's MyPlate nutrition guidelines.
The next time you're thirsty, drink wisely to your good health.
- Sugary drinks are hiding under a 'health halo'; UC ANR Food Blog, Aug. 6, 2014
- Nutrition Policy Institute, UC ANR
- UCSF Launches Sugar Science Initiative, a national initiative
- Learn the Facts about Sugar: How Sugar Impacts your Health, UCTV Video, May 2015
- The Hidden Costs of Sugar; UCSF news release, Nov. 2014
- Why Sugar? Why Now?, blog article by Laura Schmidt, UCSF
On March 17, 2015, the California State Water Resources Board voted to extend and expand the water use restrictions put in place last year in response to the drought. For those who escaped restrictions last year, this means limiting your irrigation...
Drought has gripped much of the western U.S. this year, with a particular stranglehold in California. In 2014, the majority of the state was classified as experiencing “extreme” to “exceptional” drought. Even recent large storms, while welcome, have not made much of a dent in the state's water deficit after several hot, dry years. This drought, ongoing for three years and counting, presents several complex, important issues:
- Reliance on Snowpack: California's current water infrastructure depends largely on snowpack. But this dependency will pose significant challenges in the future. Unlike the majority of the U.S., California has a Mediterranean climate with wet winters and dry summers. It uses the Sierra mountains as a natural reservoir: The snow gathers there during the wet season and continually melts during the warmer months, supplying much of the state with water during the summers. If there isn't an adequate amount of snowpack, water storage and delivery will become huge issues. Even with recent rains, many of the reservoirs continue to hover at low levels.
- Climate Variability: We are learning more about California's climate from paleoclimate research (the study of past climates). For example, Lynn Ingram at the University of California, Berkeley found that the state previously experienced periods of prolonged drought. Professor Ingram's research suggests that we may be entering another period of dryness, the likes of which has not been seen in at least 500 years. Her research also shows that some portions of the state have undergone droughts that lasted decades. In fact, the last 150 years or so have likely been some of the wettest in California's history. And it's in that time period that most of our large dams (and other water infrastructure) was built. More recently, scientists Daniel Griffin and Kevin Anchukaitis used soil moisture to measure drought. They found the 2011-2014 period to be the driest on record in about 1200 years. These paleoclimate studies are helping us understand California's highly variable climate, which can help guide water management efforts. Predicting how long this drought will last, however, remains a challenge.
- Climate Change: In addition to climate variability, all signs indicate that global climate change is exacerbating the drought. While it's difficult to tease out cause and effect, we do know that we are seeing less snow in the mountains and less fog in the Central Valley. We are also seeing fewer big winter storms, which we rely on for our year-round water supply. In addition, 2014 is almost certain to go down as California's hottest on record, complicating the already dry conditions. For example, Griffin and Anchukaita (cited above) found that California's reduced precipitation has been compounded by increased temperatures.
- Groundwater Usage: In 2014, the agricultural community relied quite heavily on groundwater to get through the drought. They turned to groundwater because surface water allocations were greatly reduced. Many farmers pumped groundwater from old wells, dug their wells deeper, or created new wells. Research from UC Davis estimated agricultural economic losses due to the drought to be around $2 billion. These losses would have been much, much higher without groundwater. A long-term look at groundwater depletion led by Jay Famiglietti, a scientist at the University of California, Irvine and NASA, found that high levels of long-term groundwater depletion has caused land to sink in agriculturally intensive areas, such as the Central Valley. Homeowners in these areas have seen their residential wells run dry. Unable to afford digging deeper, they've replaced well water with trucked in or bottled water.
- Effects on People and Animals: Not only is California the most populous state in the U.S., it's also home to Central Valley, a major supplier of the world's food. Both city-dwellers and farmers are trying to find ways to conserve. Farmers continue to work on more efficient methods of irrigation, and urban residents are being encouraged to reduce the amount water used on landscaping, which typically accounts for 50% or more of household water usage. In addition, some areas of the state where people have been the hardest hit are also the poorest, creating cumulative stressors and threatening livelihoods. Furthermore, wildlife and ecosystems have been severely impacted by the drought. For example, the endemic Coho salmon is on the brink of extinction and tricolored blackbirds have just been listed as an endangered species.
How can California even start to cope with its drought? How can it become resilient to future droughts in an arid climate? The oft-repeated phrase that crisis is an opportunity has a ring of truth to it. Although the issues are complex, there have been some achievements: This year has seen quite a bit of movement—political and otherwise—toward developing more resilient water supplies.
- Groundwater Legislation: Earlier this year, Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation mandating “sustainable groundwater management,” though the law leaves local entities to define that idea further. While some local agencies have been managing groundwater at a regional level for some time, this will be the first coordinated, statewide effort. However, even in groundwater basins that the state has deemed high- or medium-priority areas, it will take time to establish the agencies responsible for groundwater management. They will then have until 2020 or 2022 to develop a groundwater sustainability plan, and the plan will just be the beginning of the management process.
- Spending on Water Projects: This November, Californians voted to pass a $7.5 billion water bond that will fund a variety of projects. Over a third of that bond has been allocated for water storage. The specifics of the bond spending were left quite vague. The law notes only that the funds will go to a mixture of surface storage (e.g., dams) and groundwater storage (e.g., managed aquifer recharge). Like the groundwater legislation, the water bond projects may take years—even decades—to be implemented. Research and community input will be needed to understand which projects make the most sense and to decide where they should go.
- Water Independence: Over the last decade, particularly in southern California, there has been a growing focus on “water independence.” Instead of relying on water transfers from wetter parts of the state, major urban centers such as Los Angeles and San Diego have worked to invest in water that can be supplied locally. Los Angeles, for example, is rethinking how to use storm water. The water that used to clog up the drainage system during large storms is now considered a resource, harnessed through the use of permeable pavements and rain gardens, which help to recharge groundwater after a storm.
- Adapting to Variable Water Supply: Due to the growing recognition of how variable our climate is, researchers, growers, and communities are looking toward more resilient approaches to managing water. For example, the state has developed an adaptation strategy for water, which stresses the importance of efficiency in the urban and agricultural sectors, advances the concept of integrated regional water management, and focuses on improving water and flood management systems.
- Community Awareness and Support: People are banding together to support each other through this drought. The state's universities have been holding workshops and offering training opportunities for communities hit hard by drought, agriculture and ranching. People are starting to realize the scale of change necessary and are joining together in non-traditional alliances. Journalist Brett Walton noted that the success of a water recycling effort in Southern California over the last 20 years was not just a technological feat, but a testament to human partnership.
The million dollar question now is how wet 2015 will be. Most predictions are pretty dire. There were hopes that the El Nino weather pattern might pull us out of the drought, but they seem to be fading. Even in the midst of a series of storms, state water managers note that we would need 150 percent of our average precipitation to recover from the drought. Long-range weather predictions are notoriously tricky. Although we hope for rain, we are actively planning for another dry year, as we should be.
As Wallace Stegner wrote, “One cannot be pessimistic about the West. This is the native home of hope.” Regardless of whether this particular drought continues, it's clear that droughts will always be a part of life in California. Preparing for that reality is one of the most hopeful actions we can take.
- Severe Drought Has U.S. West Fearing Worst by Adam Nagourney and Ian Lovett, The New York Times
- Zero Percent Water by Alan Heathcock
- Depleting the Water by Lesley Stahl, 60 Minutes
- When the Snow Fails by Michelle Nijhous, National Geographic
- California drought: Scientists puzzled by persistence of blocking ‘ridge' by Gloria Goodale, The Christian Science Monitor
- California drought: Past dry periods have lasted more than 200 years, scientists say by Paul Rogers, San Jose Mercury News
- California Drought Saps Water Reserves Above and Below Ground, Says Satellite Data by Brett Walton, Circle of Blue
- Amid drought, California and other Western states gird for a landmark year in forest fires by Reid Wilson,Washington Post
- The Connection Between California's Drought and Climate Change by Molly Samuel, KQED Science
- California Drought Most Severe Dry Spell in at least 1,200 Years by Alex Emslie, KQED Science