wheat corn and rice UC Davis

Perfecting hot crops

Researchers at UC Davis and around the world are scrambling to develop new varieties of food and fiber crops that will produce abundant yields despite drought and other effects of climate change. They’re also exploring more water-efficient ways to grow existing crops.

Here are snapshots of four crops and the scientists studying them:

Did you know UC Davis is home to the UC Cooperative Extension Groundwater Hydrology Program?

Scientists led by UC Davis hydrologist and groundwater expert Thomas Harter provide education outreach to farm advisors and California water managers. Their research during the drought has helped shape water policy including the recent passage of historic groundwater legislation.

Check out the Groundwater Hydrology Program website to learn more about pumping, aquifers, and the challenges of managing groundwater during dry years.

Hoping for the Best - Preparing for the Worst

Sheep rancher Dan Macon talks about his preparations for what could be another dry winter in this segment of Voices from the Drought, produced by the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences:

Drought and the bean stalk

UC Davis plant scientist in new outdoor bean greenhouse

UC Davis researchers are using a special outdoor greenhouse to help develop a new generation of bean varieties that can survive drought conditions.

Find out more about how the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences is breeding a better bean.

water transfer station in the San Joaquin Valley

California groundwater plan called “management lite” 

UC Davis environmental law professor Richard Frank says a set of bills signed by Gov. Jerry Brown to regulate groundwater pumping in California won't be a quick fix, and he worries there will be little effect during the current drought.

Listen to Frank's comments, in this California Drought Watch report.

water canal in Merced County
UC Davis study: California has given away rights to far more water than it has

California has allocated five times more surface water than the state actually has, making it hard for regulators to tell whose supplies should be cut during the drought.

That's what Ted Grantham with the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences found in a comprehensive study of the state’s water-rights database, saying the time is ripe for tightening water-use accounting.

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."


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)

More UC Davis water supply research...


Long Valley Dam

Long Valley Dam on the Owens River (Stephen Volpin)

New tool identifies high-priority dams for fish survival

Scientists have identified 181 California dams that may need to increase water flows to protect native fish downstream, according to a new UC Davis study.

“It is unpopular in many circles to talk about providing more water for fish during this drought, but to the extent we care about not driving native fish to extinction, we need a strategy to keep our rivers flowing below dams,” said lead author Ted Grantham, a former postdoctoral researcher at UC Davis.

A rarely enforced state law, California Fish and Game Code 5937, requires dam operators to release “sufficient water” to keep fish downstream “in good condition.”  For example, UC Davis invoked the regulation in a series of lawsuits in the 1980s that led to higher flow releases for native fish in Putah Creek in Yolo and Solano counties. 

UC Davis fish biologist and study co-author Peter Moyle describes the history of how Putah Creek got its flow back:

The hunt for Red Hills roach

A hunch sent fish biologists from UC Davis to a remote slice of Tuolumne County in search of a tiny fish, pushed toward extinction by the California drought.

The mission: find the Red Hills roach to prove it has survived the shrinking waters of Horton Creek and Six-bit Gulch.

Success!  After hiking through dry riverbeds and thick brush, Peter Moyle and Rebecca Quiñones found at least 200 roach in shallow Horton Creek. The discovery eased fears that this would be the first extinction of a species because of the drought.

Listen to Moyle describe the Red Hills roach in detail.

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.

UC Davis scientist measures water clarity in Lake Tahoe
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)


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?