Supercharging Our Water-Related Projects

Supercharging Our Water-Related Projects

Dear Friends of CITRIS:

It is hard to enjoy the clear warm weather in Berkeley this winter; never far from our minds is the drought that threatens to wreak havoc on the state. We use water to generate power, to grow half of the nation’s fruits, nuts, and vegetables, to preserve our environment, to prevent wildfires, to make silicon chips, and, among so many other things, to keep ourselves alive and hydrated. With the Sierra snowpack at only about 17 percent of its average for this time of year, with two dry years preceding this one, and with no significant precipitation in sight, it is beginning to look a lot like the late 1970s, when reservoir levels were so low that emergency rationing was imposed by local and state governments. That crisis had an upside, though; it gave birth to a host of new water conservation technologies and policies: low-flow showerheads and toilets; super-efficient washing machines; water recycling; xeric gardening; and drip irrigation on farms. Today we take some measure of water efficiency and conservation for granted; it took a drought to make us do so.

Similarly, the drought of 2014 gives CITRIS incentive to supercharge our water-related projects. The two profiled in this issue of the CITRIS Signal demonstrate how technology can be applied both to better understand and to ease the state’s water supply crisis. “Snow Net” a collaborative project led by teams at Berkeley and Merced, is finding new ways to better track how much water is stored in the Sierra and when it will be available. It is also detecting important but underappreciated factors like the amount of water absorbed and transpired by the same trees that endanger some California forests with catastrophic fires. It may seem counterintuitive but harvesting some trees in these areas might both constitute environmental restoration (the trees remain due to a century of artificial fire suppression) and a way to wring significantly more water out of the watershed.

>> Read “Snow Net

The second story, “Elevated Research,” focuses on a new member of the CITRIS family, YangQuan Chen, director of the MESA Lab at UC Merced. Several years ago, Professor Chen recognized the potential for a profound research tool in unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly called drones. Not only can they help evaluate water supplies (and water quality) in hard-to-reach regions, but they may also become staples on California farms practicing precision agriculture. Drones can provide affordable real-time data about the moisture and nutritive stress levels of crops on different parts of a farm, so managers can water only those crops that really need it. According to a recent report by the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, the adoption of drones in California’s Great Central Valley will create thousands of jobs and billions of dollars of new industry and agricultural savings in the decades to come. Chen and his UC Merced-based lab will be in the center of this revolution.

>> Read “Elevated Research

As California retools its water use to reflect 21st-century realities, CITRIS is positioned to make key contributions to navigating these troubled waters. And, as was the case after the last drought, the technologies developed and lessons learned in California will help quench the thirst of dryer regions around the world. Stay tuned for details about a symposium planned for late April on new technologies for environmental research and journalism.

Keep up the good work,

Paul Wright and Camille Crittenden

Paul K. Wright
Director, CITRIS
Banatao Institute@CITRIS Berkeley

Camille Crittenden
Deputy Director, CITRIS
Banatao Institute@CITRIS Berkeley