Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District

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Drought hits redwood ferns hard, new study shows

Redwood ferns

The native ferns that form a lush green understory in coastal redwood forests are well adapted to dry summers and periodic droughts, but California’s current prolonged drought has taken a toll on them. A comprehensive study of water relations in native ferns, conducted during one of the worst droughts in California’s recent history, shows that extreme conditions have tested the limits of drought tolerance in these plants.

“We’ve seen permanent dieback in some patches,” said Jarmila Pittermann, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UC Santa Cruz.

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Source:  Tim Stephens, UC Santa Cruz, February 2, 2016


Drought Remains ‘Very Serious’ In California

The U.S. Drought Monitor says exceptional drought was reduced in one area of the northern Sierra this week, “despite heavy precipitation and rebounding stream flows in the short term the past few weeks.”

“It was decided to hold off on making substantial changes to the depiction in the far West until next week,” according to the weekly report. “This is because it takes time to assess the impacts all this moisture will have on long-term deficits and other hydrological considerations. The only change made this week was in the northern Sierra of California (El Dorado County), where the coverage of exceptional drought was reduced.”

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Source:  Ed Joyce, Capital Public Radio, February 4, 2016

U.S. Drought Monitor West

Preliminary PARS data from the USDA (through January 30th) provides an informative look at reservoir conditions for the state of California. From about Sacramento northward to the Oregon border, PARS values generally range between 70-120 percent of average, though there are values that fall outside this range. Between Sacramento and Bakersfield, PARS values generally range between 20-70 percent of average, while south of Bakersfield, there are large variations between reservoirs, in addition to a relatively small sample size, making it difficult to approximate a useful range of values.

As of February 3rd, SNOTEL basin-average Snow Water Content (SWC) values in the California Sierras range from 110-150 percent of average. SWC values in northwestern Oregon range from 25-125 percent of average, and between 125-150 percent of average in the southwestern part of the state. In western Washington, SWC values range from 90-110 percent of average.

Despite heavy rainfall in January, an above-average snowpack and rising reservoirs in many areas, the California State Water Resources Control Board recently approved an 8-month extension of existing drought-related emergency regulations. This is a reminder that although El Nino-related precipitation has been bountiful so far this winter, the drought situation in California remains very serious.

It was decided to hold off on making substantial changes to the depiction in the far West until next week, despite heavy precipitation and rebounding stream flows in the short-term (past few weeks). This is because it takes time to assess the impacts all this moisture will have on long-term deficits and other hydrological considerations. The only change made this week was in the northern Sierras of California (El Dorado County), where the coverage of exceptional drought (D4) was reduced.

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Source:  Anthony Artusa, NOAA/NWS/NCEP/CPC, February 2, 2016

Oil, Food, and Water: Challenges and Opportunities for California Agriculture

oil,food,water report cover image

A new comprehensive study by the Pacific Institute  sheds light on the risks posed when oil and gas exploration and production operate alongside agriculture.

“There is growing concern about competition for land and water, and the impacts of soil and water contamination on the food supply and health and safety of farmworkers and consumers,” said Matthew Heberger, the study’s lead author.

The disposal of oil and gas wastewater, which contains harmful chemicals, is a particular concern for agriculture. Disposal in unlined percolation pits poses a significant risk of contaminating groundwater resources that may, in turn, be used by agriculture. While this practice has been banned in several states, it is still widely used in California’s Central Valley, one of the nation’s most important agricultural regions. There are also serious deficiencies in the way California regulates the underground injection of wastes – current practices are not sufficiently protective of freshwater aquifers that may be used as drinking water or to irrigate crops and water livestock.

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Download the full study here.

Source:  Matthew Heberger and Kristina Donnelly, Pacific Institute, December 9, 2015

A Step Toward Measuring California’s Water

California Drought Water School

One of the biggest problems facing California during its drought has been its failure to accurately measure water use, especially by farms. New regulations adopted by the state’s water board on Tuesday are a big step toward a solution.

Under previous regulations, farmers and other users who took water from the state’s rivers and streams were required to measure how much they took, but they could get around this rule by arguing that measurement would be too expensive. Around 70 percent of those subject to the requirement claimed this exemption. And while users with rights to draw water established after 1914 were required to report their water use every year, those with pre-1914 water rights only had to report at three-year intervals.

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Source:  Anna North, The New York Times, January 21, 2016

The Tiny Critters Beneath Our Feet Keep Us Healthy

Scientist are discovering that preserving biodiversity in the soil lets life flourish aboveground.


Diana Wall has spent so much time studying soil in Antarctica that there’s a region, Wall Valley, named after her. The soil ecologist and professor at Colorado State University has gotten to know soil pretty well, yet she continues to learn about ways in which healthy soil is important not just for good agriculture but for entire ecosystems and, increasingly, for human health.

Last November, a few weeks before departing for her latest research trip, Wall published a paper highlighting examples of the link between soil health and human health. Strongyloides, for instance, are parasites that can penetrate human skin and reproduce in the intestine. Researchers found higher rates of infection in areas of Cambodia where there was a loss of organic carbon in soils that had been converted from forest to agriculture. It’s unclear what drives infection rates, but the connection suggests that increasing organic carbon levels in cropland—also a tactic for combating climate change—could be effective in reducing disease-causing parasitic worms.

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Source:  Rachel Cernansky, Take Part, February 3, 2016

Could The Future Of Urban Farming Be Found Inside Of An Old Shipping Container?

When Michael Bissanti opened Four Burgers in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 2008, he knew he wanted to create a fast food restaurant with a strong sense of sustainability. Initially, that meant procuring only ingredients deemed natural, as well as sourcing from organic and local farms. But Bissanti quickly realized that the “natural” label wasn’t a panacea for a sustainable food system — and so he went looking for a way to bring sustainable, local ingredients even closer to his kitchen.

Today, those ingredients could hardly be closer — Bissanti only needs to walk out the back door of his restaurant to pick all the fresh lettuce, arugula, mustard greens, and herbs he needs. Even in the cold Boston winters, Bissanti is merely feet away from fresh produce, in spite of the fact that his restaurant is located right in the middle of an urban thoroughfare between Harvard and MIT.

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Source:  Natasha Geiling, Think Progress, February 4, 2016