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UC summit: Learning to live with drought

By Dave Jones on April 29, 2014 in University

New on the California Drought Watch: Graywater project underway at Domes


By Kat Kerlin

SACRAMENTO — As a mocking rain drizzled atop the Capitol’s roof last Friday (April 25), hundreds of university scientists and state water experts gathered inside for the UC Drought Summit, organized by the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences.

“It’s wonderful we’ve been able to come here together from many universities to talk about this very important issue,” Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi said to the standing-room-only crowd of about 300. “It is critical for this year, and it will be critical for years to come.”

The day’s precipitation aside, the scientists explained that California is experiencing among the driest, warmest calendar years on record. The trend signifies increased wildfires, decreased snowpack, and a change in when and how the state is getting its water.

At the same time, several speakers said no one should be surprised by drought in California, a historically dry state.

“We’d like to drought-proof California like we’d like to earthquake-proof California or wildfire-proof California — and it’s all about equally feasible,” said Professor Jay Lund, director of the Center for Watershed Sciences. “We’re going to have to live with drought.”

Shortly following Gov. Jerry Brown’s declaration this January of a drought emergency, Chancellor Katehi approached UC President Janet Napolitano with the idea of holding a drought summit. (Coincidentally, Brown declared a second executive order to deal with the drought on April 25, the day of the summit.)

The summit organizers sought to create thoughtful discussion and inform decisions about managing for this year’s drought and future droughts at a time when the state’s — and nation’s — attention is focused on California’s water shortage.

“Droughts are a catalyst to make change,” said one of the summit panelists, Stanford University’s David Hayes, a former deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior. “One reason this conference is so well-timed is we’re in a crisis, so we have some opportunities to make a change.”

A recurring theme among speakers was that there is no “silver bullet” to dealing with the drought, and that a “portfolio” approach is best. Solutions offered at the summit included water reclamation and graywater recycling, enforcing environmental laws, reregulating dammed rivers with natural flow regimes that benefit native fish, and developing groundwater reserves during wet years.

Not all of the panelists agreed with one another — be it on whether this is the worst drought in history, to the impacts of fracking. But everyone seemed to agree that solutions to living with drought are best found together, across disciplines.

“We’re not going to get anywhere if we don’t tackle this in an interdisciplinary manner,” said panelist Glen MacDonald of UCLA. “It’s going to have to be all of us working together and talking together.”

An audience member praised the speakers for their ideas on reaching across disciplines and planning wisely. “But how can I communicate this to my neighbor who keeps their sprinkler on when it’s raining?” she asked.

“Better education” was the panelists’ response: “All of the devices in the world won’t matter if we can’t keep out neighbors informed of the right thing to do,” said Steve Macaulay, former chief deputy director of the state Department of Water Resources. 

In another panel, Frank Loge, director of the UC Davis Center for Water-Energy Efficiency, noted that effective messaging to consumers about the amount of water they are using results in an immediate 5 percent reduction in water use, and can be as much as 20 percent.

Added Samuel Sandoval Solis, UC Davis assistant professor and Cooperative Extension specialist: “What we do has a consequence when it’s raining or not raining.”

More coverage

"UC Drought Summit dives deep in state Capitol," UC Office of the President (April 28, 2014)

California's drought is putting fish, birds and tree species at risk, The Sacramento Bee (April 26, 2014)

UC professors gather to discuss the drought, KFBK (April 25, 2014)

Follow Dateline UC Davis on Twitter.





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Dave Jones, Dateline, 530-752-6556,