Follow Our Blog: The Confluence
Finding a tree that produces the right amount of tasty fruit or nuts under the unique growing conditions of a given orchard takes a lot of science and a little bit of art. It's a mix and match process that involves finding a tree base, or rootstock, that is well-adapted to a particular place and also manages to get along well with the fruit or nut tree cultivar that is grafted to it.
“Rootstocks are incredibly important in agriculture because they help us produce a uniform product under very different growing conditions,” says Katherine Jarvis-Shean, an orchard systems advisor with the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources in Yolo, Solano, and Sacramento counties. She is researching rootstocks that can tolerate high levels of boron, which she says manifests as a kind of salt toxicity, for the almond, walnut, prune, and pistachio trees she specializes in.
“Boron is an issue up and down the state. Here in the Sacramento Valley, it is found in both soils and irrigation water. Some of that is natural and some of it comes from recirculating irrigation water, which then further concentrates boron in the soil,” says Jarvis-Shean.
“In other areas of California with boron-heavy groundwater, ‘clean' surface water irrigation can help dilute it.” However, this is not the case in the Sacramento Valley. “Here, we have a decent amount of rainfall that helps leach some boron out of the soil. But, it's become a bigger problem with the shift from annual crops like tomatoes and corn to perennial crops like almonds,” says Jarvis-Shean. “Almonds, in particular, tend to build up boron in the tree itself over time, though it doesn't pose any food safety concerns. It does, however, get in the way of yield, which is the thing we care about at the end of the day.”
To carry out her boron-tolerant rootstock research, Jarvis-Shean has been partnering with a grower to trial different options. “We really depend on grower collaboration, and he had been trying to figure this problem out on his own. He was willing to spend some money, in the form of dedicating some land and labor, on the problem in the short-term to have an answer in the long-term,” she says. “We've been able to help with more systematic investigation and analysis.”
“This work was started by my predecessor, and I've continued it now for many years. We grow different sets of rootstocks with the same cultivar on top. We measure the effect of high boron conditions on nutrient uptake, water stress, and basically anything that might help explain yield differences over time,” she says. “Ultimately, the most important measurement comes at harvest.”
Her results have been incredibly valuable. “We've found that the ‘go-to' rootstock here is actually terrible at dealing with boron because it doesn't come from an area where there's a lot of salt build-up. Instead, we've found that peach-almond hybrids are best at managing the high boron conditions here,” says Jarvis-Shean. “We're getting yields that are on par with low boron levels, up to a point. Once you've got a lot of boron, you have to grow pistachios instead. They love boron and that's why we've seen big growth in pistachio acreage.”
In addition to her work on boron, Jarvis-Shean has also researched the effects of a changing climate on agriculture. “My doctoral work was about how tree crops and orchards respond to warmer winters. We studied almonds, pistachios, and walnuts and found if we don't adapt, we will be in a heap of trouble,” she says. “That's especially true with pistachio, cherry, and walnut. Almonds require the least amount of winter cold of any tree crop in California, so they're in a much better position.”
Jarvis-Shean notes that within the next forty years, winters are projected to be warm enough that in roughly a third of the Central Valley, current crop varieties “aren't going to cut it.” However, she says, “With proper support and incentives for breeding programs, we can figure out how to get these crops through a warmer future. It just takes time, energy, and money, and we're doing some of that work now. For example, we're testing chemical treatments that trick trees into thinking that winter has been cooler than it has been.”
In addition to her research on trees, Jarvis-Shean says her work is similar to that of all cooperative extension advisors, which is a grab-bag of issues that are important to the people she works with and include everything from discussing best practices with small, diversified farm operations to thinking about how soil health relates to water infiltration. For example, she explains, “Given that we do get decent rainfall, we'd like to store more water in the ground locally. That provides an incentive for growing cover crops in this area.”
Given the many issues growers in the Sacramento Valley are facing – climate change and labor among them – Jarvis-Shean says water remains a critical issue. “Water will continue to be a big concern for California agriculture. Warmer winters are an issue, but I think with enough time and money we can sort that out. It's a heavier lift to have enough water available and allocated to keep growing all these things, which has always been the case.”
Tap water stands at the intersection of multiple issue areas including water resources, the environmental impacts of beverage choices, and infrastructure needs. Tap water is also a public health issue. COVID-19, for example, has elevated the need for tap water access for basic hygiene such as handwashing.
The University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI), coordinator of the National Drinking Water Alliance, puts a focus on plain water as a healthy replacement for sugar-sweetened beverages. These beverages are the largest single source of added sugars in the American diet, a top source of calories, and a risk factor for numerous chronic diseases. However, concerns about tap water safety and barriers to access present challenges to making water the beverage of choice.
Lorrene Ritchie and Christina Hecht of NPI are among the co-authors of “Drinking Water in the United States: Implications of Water Safety, Access, and Consumption,” a new paper published online in Annual Review of Nutrition. The authors use a socioecological lens – considering the complex web of individual, relationship, community, and societal factors – to review the dynamics of drinking water consumption. This socioecological framework elucidates myriad factors that bear on the ability to drink tap water, including disparities in safety, access, and consumption.
A brief review of the evidence comparing current trends in drinking water intake in the U.S. to requirements across age and racial/ethnic groups reveals that most people do not drink enough plain water. While fluids can come from a variety of sources, there are many benefits of choosing water over sugar-sweetened beverages. Primary among these are the health benefits. Consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease and other metabolic diseases, dental decay, certain cancers, and risk of mortality. In addition, water, especially tap water, is not only a healthy form of hydration but is affordable, has a smaller environmental footprint, and, often, is fluoridated to strengthen and protect tooth enamel.
However, to enable tap water consumption, U.S. tap water safety must be ensured. While most U.S. tap water meets federal and state standards, there are times and places where it does not. The paper makes policy recommendations to improve tap water safety in the U.S. For example, lead in drinking water remains a concern. As the authors note, “drinking water can represent 20% or more of an individual's total lead exposure” and the potential lead exposure for infants fed with formula made of powder reconstituted with tap water is a particular concern.
Regulatory mechanisms to reduce lead in drinking water include federal, such as the Lead and Copper Rule, and state, such as mandates for testing for lead in school or childcare tap water. Challenges to detecting and reducing lead in tap water range from the building-specific nature of lead in plumbing to the lack of consensus on an acceptable level of lead in drinking water. Strategies to reduce drinking water exposure to lead include, as examples, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission program to provide no-charge home tap water lead testing for families in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC, a federal child nutrition program) and efforts in cities to remove and replace both the utility-owned and privately-owned portions of all lead service lines.
Crucially, the authors' advance the concept of “effective access” to drinking water, which includes not only physical elements but also strategies for drinking water education and promotion. They write: “Effective drinking water access is necessary to maximally promote consumption. Key components include safety and aesthetics of drinking water; characteristics, features, location, and placement of drinking water sources; upkeep and maintenance; availability of drinking vessels; and water-related education and promotion.”
Each of these components is reviewed with a discussion of strategies to achieve effective access across the lifecourse from pregnancy and infancy to older adulthood, focusing primarily on U.S. settings but including approaches from other countries. Recommendations for research, policies, and practices needed to ensure optimal water intake by all include protecting watersheds and sourcewater from contamination by industry, agriculture, and other human activities; enhancing oversight of public water systems; and supporting increased capacity among small and rural water systems.
It is also important to improve infrastructure from public water systems to taps; establish a health-based standard for lead from taps in homes, schools, and childcare facilities; issue U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) guidance for monitoring tap water safety and remediation in schools and childcare facilities that participate in federal nutrition programs; and disseminate best practices for school districts and childcare providers to resolve water quality issues. Furthermore, there is a need to counter misperceptions of tap water safety and place accurate information about water quality within a broader context of costs and relative risks so that consumers can make more informed beverage choices.
Access to appealing drinking water can be improved by strategies including requiring USDA monitoring of effective access to water in schools and childcare facilities that participate in federal nutrition programs (rather than simply the presence of a water dispenser); ensuring effective water access in all public settings (e.g., public buildings, parks) in addition to workplaces and restaurants; and reducing access to unhealthy beverages (e.g., sugar-sweetened beverages).
Finally, there is a need to emphasize drinking water in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, including prominently featuring water on public-facing nutrition materials such as the MyPlate graphic, the ubiquitous nutrition-education tool in U.S. The new 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans are currently in development. Enabling consumption of water – that is, making tap water safe, accessible, and appealing -- is an essential complement to work to discouraging consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.
The review was published online in September 2020 by the journal Annual Review of Nutrition. Authors are Anisha Patel of Stanford Medicine Division of General Pediatrics, Christina Hecht and Lorrene Ritchie of University of California Nutrition Policy Institute, Angie Cradock of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and Marc Edwards of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. For more drinking water information and resources, visit the National Drinking Water Alliance, coordinated by the Nutrition Policy Institute.
Kristine Diekman is an artist, educator, and Professor of media at the California State University San Marcos School of Arts. Her digital media project, Run Dry, tells the story of the water crisis in California's San Joaquin Valley.
Could you provide an overview of the Run Dry project?
Run Dry is a story of small, rural California communities and their struggle to remain connected to the most precious resource—water. This digital media project combines short documentary films, personal stories, photographs, and data visualizations about water scarcity and contamination in the San Joaquin Valley. It asks, what does clean water bring us and why should we tell the story of its loss?
Without water, we cannot drink, bathe, cook, or clean. It is indispensable for empowerment, health, dignity, and economic security. Water is a human right, yet ten percent of the world's population, mostly in rural areas, lives without safe water. The personal stories in Run Dry investigate the significance of water and reveal the systems of power that govern its distribution. The project addresses how water is accessed, what systems govern water resources, how they have developed over decades, and how they impact human well-being today. Audiences learn specifically about how race, class, migration, water policy, climate, hydrology, and agricultural history combined to create the water crisis in the San Joaquin Valley.
What was your inspiration for the Run Dry project, and how did the project come to be?
I was inspired to connect people to a human understanding of the value of water and how scarce a resource it is. Run Dry was originally funded by the California Humanities Community Stories Grant, which supports projects that tell unheard stories of marginalized communities. In 2014 when the drought hit hard, I was compelled to collect the personal stories of people living without water, or with contaminated water, in the San Joaquin Valley. Media outlets had been focusing on these stories of hardship, and only a few sustained their reporting or connected water scarcity to larger issues. I wanted to make something comprehensive that also had community impact and empowered people living there.
I collaborated with the Community Water Center and Self-Help Enterprises in Visalia to identify individuals who wanted to share their stories. I also focused on success stories of communities connecting to neighboring water systems. I highlighted efforts to install water tanks to temporarily bring water into homes and the work of local water board members to improve community conditions. An animation I produced explaining groundwater contamination and scarcity is still being used by the Community Water Center.
This project spanned 2014-17. Since then, do you think the water shortage and contamination issues in the San Joaquin Valley have changed?
Since 2017, California has had some years with above-average rain and snowpack, but it is never completely free of drought. Climate change affects the snowpack, which previously provided reliable surface water that could be utilized over time. During 2011-15, little to no surface water was allocated to San Joaquin Valley farms from the State Water Project or the Central Valley Project.
Without surface water for irrigation, farmers pumped water from underground aquifers at greater and greater depths, some as deep at 2000 feet, which depleted shared groundwater. Private family wells that reach on average 100 to 200 feet began to run dry as the aquifer lowered below that of private domestic wells. Well drilling is very expensive and most rural residents could not afford to drill deeper wells. The State Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) was enacted to alleviate this through regional water regulation. But equitable solutions are still in the future as plans for water sustainability won't be fully implemented until 2040.
The project highlights how important it is to inform people about the personal impacts of water access. What do you hope people will take away from the stories in Run Dry?
When I show these videos to people, they are shocked. Viewers generally don't know a lot about the human impacts of water scarcity, even in their backyards. I found it sadly ironic that some scientists who viewed it – people that have the most in-depth information about water science, hydrology, climatology, and climate research – did not necessarily connect the importance of their work to the human condition. This is not their fault. The compartmentalization of knowledge and research, especially the divide between the arts, humanities, and the sciences leads to this disconnect. My hope is that the films help people feel personally connected to the issues through storytelling.
The public was also not aware of the threat of water scarcity due to drought. One of the messages is about water conservation, which everyone can do. Find out where your water comes from. Once you understand the complexities of water conveyance in California, you will be more likely to conserve what does reach your faucet. In the video This Happens to Real People, Mary Schaffer says, “Go to one of these areas that don't have no water and see how the people are having to live and what they are having to do to get by. You'll be more conscious with your water. Conserve that water, because we could run out. We are very close to being out again, and this time it will be everybody.” We need to work together as residents, policy makers, and scientists to make sure our water use is sustainable, not just now but into the future.
Watching these stories can lead to feeling a bit hopeless. How did gathering them impact you?
I have made several documentary and educational films that focus on telling the personal stories of struggle. These include films about gang prevention, pregnancy prevention, the legal system, and others. Each time I engage with an interview subject, I am deeply affected. My role as filmmaker is to facilitate the stories and be a witness. I provide time and space for someone to tell me about their life or community. As a filmmaker I often do not go into these projects with a deep knowledge of the subject. I let the experts and community members educate me.
With this project, I started to educate myself about water conveyance, water science, and water policy. It is truly a complex and unending story. I do think there is hope in mitigating water contamination. There are grassroots organizations, like the Community Water Center, that work tirelessly to facilitate community members speaking at hearings for policy change. They connect municipal systems, help to install water treatment facilities, and gather data to support their mission. Water sampling and monitoring is crucial, and the state is working towards compliance. As for drought and climate change, I believe that California will always have a tenuous relationship to water – either too much or too little. Do we spend on storage or environmental health? Agriculture or wildlife? Small rural communities or urban centers? I do hope that the State Groundwater Management Act will reflect true community need.
What are you working on now, and what are your plans for future projects?
I haven't truly finished Run Dry yet. There are two outstanding features. First is real-time GIS maps, which I will add to the Run Dry website. I want people to understand the relationship between climate change, water, socio-economics, agriculture, migration, and other factors. I hope that when people see this data visualized, they will understand how interlocked these factors are. Second, I promised to bring the project back to the San Joaquin Valley, where it originated. The public library system in Tulare County has agreed to house the project, show the films, and create a place for residents to provide feedback. Because of COVID-19, this project is temporarily suspended.
Educating young people about climate change is important, too. I am working across academic disciplines to create college curricula that helps students connect science to the human condition. A team of faculty from across CSU campuses in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities developed a proposal for an integrated, interdisciplinary, and experiential hydrosocial curriculum for students. Hydrosocial studies focus on how people, societies, institutions, technology, science, and geo-political interests interact synergistically to allocate, protect, and understand water's importance as a community resource. The curriculum is designed to address both social and environmental relationships we have with water in California from humanistic and scientific viewpoints, something I think is desperately needed.
As the climate heats up and droughts intensify, especially in the American Southwest, it's crucial that households reduce their water usage. Water districts urge their customers to save, but their messaging generally lacks rigorous evaluation of efficacy.
In a new paper, researchers from UC Santa Barbara reveal how a large-scale field experiment in messaging based on psychological science significantly reduced water consumption on the Central Coast of California.
The paper, “How managers can reduce household water use through communication: A field experiment,” in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, details how the researchers designed messaging based on the information-motivation-behavioral skills model (IMB) for single-family households.
Co-author Sarah Anderson, an associate professor of environmental politics in the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, said the IMB model has been used successfully to modify behaviors in health care, especially in preventing the spread of HIV.
In short, the model posits that “individuals must have the requisite information, motivation, and behavioral skills to engage in and maintain behavior change,” according to a 2019 paper, also co-authored by Anderson, that analyzed 24 conservation studies that used aspects of the IMB model. “People need to know what the problem is, how they can solve it, and be motivated to take action.” That paper summarizing 24 other studies provided the impetus for the Central Coast experiment.
“Nearly every message water districts and researchers send to save water can be put into those three categories of information, motivation, or behavior,” said Anderson, who noted that while those efforts were being used, they weren't being evaluated in any kind of consistent way. “And so that led us to think, ‘Oh, it's worth trying to develop a rigorous test to evaluate messaging campaigns within this framework and see whether it appears that you need all three components or whether partial messages work.”
In the new study, the researchers randomly assigned 7,500 households to receive mailings featuring different aspects of the IMB model and measured their water use. A customer group of 2,500 households that did not receive messaging served as a control. All households that received messaging reduced water consumption — 509 gallons on average each — in the first month. As the paper notes, if all 10,000 households had been sent mailings, more than 5 million gallons would have been saved in the first month.
Researchers also found evidence that messaging using all parts of the IMB model could contribute to the savings lasting longer.
“If you include all the components of this information, motivation, and behavior,” Anderson said, “there's some indicative evidence that the effects might be a bit longer lasting. They're not necessarily bigger, but they might last a little longer, persist a little longer.”
She noted that the water district they worked with had been actively working to reduce water use with messaging and advice. So it was a pleasant surprise to find that sending another mailing further reduced water use, which she calls “promising.”
“That's a pretty cost-effective intervention if it actually works and lasts for a couple of months,” she said. “It's pretty cheap to send an effective mailer.”
Additionally, the study found that the messaging resulted in bigger reductions in high-water households. Anderson calls that “a good lesson for water districts, that those are the folks that you ought to message to if you've got a limited budget — really focus on those high water use households.”
Demonstrating the effectiveness of messaging has implications beyond reduced water usage. Not only does the study offer a kind of low-tech template for water districts, it could help protect the environment as water gets scarce in the face of climate change, Anderson said.
“Going forward,” she said, “water districts are going to be facing a choice between investing in expensive and environmentally disruptive infrastructure and just getting people to reduce their water usage. And so effective messaging has an additional dividend in not having to invest money to cause environmental destruction.”
This is a guest post from Jim Logan at UC Santa Barbara that was originally published at The Current.
Claudia Diaz Carrasco is a 4-H youth development advisor with UC Cooperative Extension in Riverside and San Bernardino counties who has expertise in developing water programs for diverse youth communities.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and your work as a 4-H advisor?
I was hired five years ago and, at the time, it was one of the few positions I saw focused on underserved communities. I'm originally from Mexico and becoming a 4-H youth development advisor gave me the opportunity to give back to my community by working with other 4-H professionals and the community itself to diversify the program locally. We are, for example, looking at how we can engage communities that might not know about 4-H but could benefit from the framework we use for developing leadership skills and life skills. In the counties that I serve – Riverside and San Bernardino – we're exploring how we can use this model for communities newly integrating into the U.S. These counties are a bit misunderstood because while we are close to Los Angeles, much of the area has traditionally been and continues to be rural. 4-H has had a strong presence here for a long time, but we've been working recently to extend the program to underserved youth. I have the privilege of being at the forefront in diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts with an organization that understands and provides space to explore and lead in those areas.
Can you tell us a little bit more about what 4-H is and how the program looks in Riverside and San Bernardino counties?
4-H is a national organization – in fact, it is international – and it looks different in every state and abroad. But the main goal is to use project-based learning to foster life skills and leadership development. In California, that traditionally looks like a community club, which could be as small as five kids from three different families that get together once a month to do projects they are interested in, whether it's raising farm animals or starting a community garden. Some kids like LEGO building, others are drawn to kitchen science or canning. They might be trained by their parents who are volunteering, or by advisors like me from the university that train community volunteers or staff from other institutions, and those adults meet with the kids on a regular basis. A lot of my work in 4-H has been about engaging diverse, underrepresented youth. When I started, I saw a challenge for parents who have two jobs or work evenings and therefore don't always have the capacity to do after school activities, which limits who can participate in 4-H. Unfortunately, we don't have the budget to hire personnel to deliver the program in the community. But, we do have the recognition of the university and that opens doors so we can meet people where they are. We're now making progress on having projects defined by communities rather than a set curriculum.
You developed a water-based youth program. Can you tell us how that program came to be and what it involves?
I stumbled into water. I had a small grant with the National Parks that was blending culture and environmental education. As part of the project, we visited historical and cultural markers along the Santa Ana River – the biggest watershed in southern California – where we also saw a lot of water pollution and invasive species. Immediately the kids were like, what can we do about this? We started coming up with service projects, and that caught the attention of the Disney Conservation Fund, which supported a project specifically about water. We began by working with high school students who were already passionate about the river, then they engaged younger kids in conservation as part of a team teaching model. We try to take the kids on a field trip when we have the funds, because that's a big part of what motivates the teenagers and it's life changing for the younger kids – we made a video to show how excited the kids are outside. That's the beauty of working with youth – this was not a project that I dreamt up from my office, it was really driven by their interests.
You have spoken about the importance of having culturally appropriate youth programming. What advice might you have for others?
I start by saying one size doesn't fit all. We tend to use cookie cutter approaches because they can easily be repeated. I instead ask people if they are sure they want to do culturally appropriate programming because not all organizations are ready for that work and can make things harder for themselves and communities. That's not a reflection of whether an organization or given researcher is good or bad, it's about the effort it takes. If they are ready, I begin by teaching what culture is – there are many ways to think about it, but the shortest definition is that culture is who we are. There are things that we see like food, skin color, parties, and music. And there are things that we don't see like values and beliefs. You have to get to know the culture – shop in the same places as the community, attend events there, just to get a feel of what community members experience day to day! We have to be responsive to what is happening locally and recognize when we are not part of the culture. I'm a Latina, I grew up in Mexico, so I've experienced both Mexican and Mexican American culture, but it's not the same as people who were born here. I often need a cultural broker, someone who has the trust of a community and can be a bridge. For example, people often think if we just translate information, that makes it culturally appropriate, but you have to go beyond translation to actual engagement. Develop with the community versus for them, that's the change in mentality it takes.
What is your favorite part of the work you do with youth on water issues?
I think it's the direct connection with the culture of science. For me, it's both a personal and a professional journey. I'm a scientist, an engineer, and I was trained to be a linear thinker, teaching was just point A to point B. But then I started working with social scientists and interviewing people in the community and I had to change how I thought. Youth programming tends to emphasize the model of short, middle, and long term outcomes related to knowledge gains and changes in beliefs and behaviors. But from my own upbringing, for example, I already had a good attitude about taking care of the environment, the belief that things like not letting the water run too long mattered. All it took for me to change my behavior even more was to spend six or eight hours cleaning the river with the kids and now I see every single drop of water as precious. I wish every Californian could afford this type of experience. I think organizations need to recognize that “affordable” includes not only no fees for access, but also transportation services, and even just having free time. Sometimes our communities don't have that luxury, and recognizing that is a great place to start!