Research

AGRICULTURE

Innovation helps sheep rancher cope 

The UC Davis Plant Sciences team visited Mel Thompson at his 700-acre ranch near Oroville, where he manages 300-500 head of sheep. Through innovative strategies, Thompson has been able to fair well through the drought. 

More on this story at UC Davis Today.

groundwater pump in California

Water availability is now only one third of normal for California crops

UC Davis scientists released an extensive forecast of the drought’s worsening impact on California agriculture at a news conference in Washington D.C., July 15, 2014.

LISTEN: Audio of National Press Club news conference featuring study authors UC Davis agricultural economist Richard Howitt and Center for Watershed Sciences director Jay Lund, along with Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

Key findings:

  • The 2014 drought is responsible for the greatest reduction in water availability for California agriculture ever seen, about one third less than normal.
  • The total statewide economic cost of the 2014 drought is $2.2 billion.
  • The loss of 17,100 seasonal and part-time jobs related to agriculture represents 3.8 percent of farm unemployment.
  • 428,000 acres, or 5 percent, of irrigated cropland is going out of production in the Central Valley, Central Coast and Southern California due to the drought.
  • The Central Valley is hardest hit, particularly the Tulare Basin, with projected losses of $810 million, or 2.3 percent, in crop revenue; $203 million in dairy and livestock value; and $453 million in additional well-pumping costs.
  • Agriculture on the Central Coast and in Southern California will be less affected by this year's drought, with about 19,150 acres fallowed, $10 million in lost crop revenue and $6.3 million in additional pumping costs.
  • Overdraft of groundwater is expected to cause additional wells in the Tulare Basin to run dry if the drought continues.
  • The drought is likely to continue through 2015, regardless of El Niño conditions.
  • Consumer food prices will be largely unaffected. Higher prices at the grocery store of high-value California crops like nuts, wine grapes and dairy foods are driven more by market demand than by the drought.
  • Groundwater management in California is a "slow motion train wreck."

Related:

Genome sequencing helps boost drought and disease resistant beans 

UC Davis plant scientist Paul Gepts is developing beans that thrive with less water.

“If you can grow the same amount of beans with less water…that’s a big contribution.”

Voices from the drought

Hear how cattle ranchers are coping with the water shortage in our podcast series, Voices From the Drought.

Produced by the Rangeland Watershed Laboratory, UC Davis Plant Sciences Department.  

More UC Davis agricultural research...

WATER SUPPLY

UC Davis researchers on Mt. Dana

UC Davis study shows water commitments are five times more than actual flow in state's rivers/streams

“We’ve created a false sense that there is sufficient water to meet everyone’s needs,” said Theodore Grantham, a UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences researcher who co-wrote the new analysis on the state’s water demands.

The research is documented in this San Jose Mercury News special report.

Putting some myths about California’s drought to rest

"As the effects of the drought worsen, two persistent water myths are complicating the search for solutions. One is that environmental regulation is causing California’s water scarcity. The other is that conservation alone can bring us into balance."

Read more in this editorial by the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences and the Public Policy Institute of California.

Will California’s drought extend into 2015?

What are the chances the drought will continue into next year?  UC Davis researchers take a peek behind the numbers with their drought prediction in the California Waterblog.  Center for Watershed Sciences Director Jay Lund says dry conditions can lead to more of the same: 

Transcript of Jay Lund on 2015 drought chances

Drought forcing many to drill for water

Kern County farmer Greg Wegis spent more than $1 million this year digging four wells on his property.

Hear his story in our Voices From the Drought series, produced by the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences.

See also: Drought drives drilling frenzy for groundwater in California. (WBZ)

Drought cheat sheet

How dry are we? How can we manage the effects of the drought?  

More in the California WaterBlog produced by the Center for Watershed Sciences.

Water bonds can't do it alone

Researchers with the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences and the Public Policy Institute say it's time to consider not only which areas are most in need of bond dollars, but also which other sources of funds and reforms are needed to keep California's water system financially afloat.  

Watershed Sciences director Jay Lund explains:

Transcript of Jay Lund on water bonds

More in the California Waterblog.

Quenching the psychological thirst

Mark Lubell, UC Davis professor of Environmental Science and Policy, thinks our response to drought should be focused on building a cushion to be prepared for the next time it happens.

ENVIRONMENT

UC Davis scientist measures water clarity in Lake Tahoe
Drought helps keep Tahoe blue

The deep waters of Lake Tahoe are clearing up due in part to reduced rain runoff.

Details in the “Tahoe: State of the Lake Report 2014,” released by the Tahoe Environmental Research Center at UC Davis.

buck fire

Drought and humans combine for dangerous fire season

Hot and dry conditions plus careless humans are fueling the early fire season in California.

Mark Schwartz, director of the UC Davis John Muir Institute of the Environment explains what's going on in this Drought Watch report. (Audio)

NOAA El Nino image

NOAA image

El Niño will not end drought nor ease fire risk

UC Davis wildfire and water experts don't expect El Niño to save California from the ravages of drought.

Read and listen to their comments in this Drought Watch report.

Connecting wildfires to climate change and drought

Jens Stevens, with the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences studied the practice of thinning forests and found this treatment makes a difference in the forest’s ability to withstand a burn in really hot and dry conditions.  Stevens specializes in what is called disturbance ecology, under the context of climate change. 

UC Davis researcher Robert Meese with blackbird

Drought partially to blame for decline in tricolored blackbird

A survey in California coordinated by UC Davis staff researcher Robert Meese found a loss of more than 255,000 birds since 2008.

The tricolored blackbird has faced breeding challenges during this time due to a variety of factors, and also has been indirectly hurt by the drought which has dried up nesting habitat in wetlands.

Is giving fish less water during drought good for water users?

"Progress in California water management and policy will require stakeholders to move beyond habitual conflicts and look toward their common long-term interests — for both water deliveries and the environment."  More in the California WaterBlog produced by the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences.

UC Davis water researchers challenged by drought

Three straight years of extremely dry conditions can make a river scientist pretty thirsty for data.

Sarah Yarnell hasn’t had a drop in five months on her stream-monitoring project - in a rainforest, no less.

She’s leading a team of researchers with the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences that has been watching and waiting for sediment movement in a coastal stream in the redwoods near Fort Bragg.

CONSUMER

Japanese maple growing in a California yard
Keeping trees healthy during drought

Many Californians are letting their lawns die to save water.  Some are adding drought tolerant landscaping. But what about the yard trees?

Dr. Loren Oki, UC Cooperative Extension landscape horticulture specialist at UC Davis has some watering tips in this Drought Watch report.

How to avoid lawn runoff

One of the things Californians can't do under new mandatory conservation rules is allow lawn and yard runoff to reach gutters.

Violators can get hit with $500 fines.

Dr. Loren Oki, a UC Cooperative Extension landscape horticulture specialist at UC Davis says you can avoid trouble by changing sprinklers and watering at less volume:

Audio transcript 8/11/14

Other water no no's:

  • Spraying down driveways or sidewalks. 
  • Using a hose to wash a motor vehicle, unless it is fitted with a shut-off nozzle.
  • Using drinking water in a fountain, unless the water is recirculated. 

ShowerCap app fights drought at home

shower head

Want an easy way to fight the drought and cut down on your water use this summer? 

There’s an app for that. 

It’s called ShowerCap, a creation of UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences researcher Nick Santos. The free app keeps track of your shower times, and helps set goals for water savings. 

Navy shower anyone?