California scientists are helping the state’s farmers make their own smart conservation and irrigation decisions and they’re doing it by sharing information they’ve gathered from land, water and now even space.
For California producers, 2015 may be all about conserving water.
“Our water is low, critically low,” said Sacramento Valley rice producer, Mike DeWit.
Thankfully today, there are tools to help to determine where you need water and when you need it.
“If you save water, that means you save money and energy. In California, we have to pump water across distances to move it from one part of the state to another. If you use extra amounts of water, you’re probably using more than you need to,” said California Department of Water Resources researcher, Bekele Temesgen.
For over 30 years, scientists like Bekele Temesgen with the California Department of Water Resources have worked on a system called CIMIS: California Irrigation Management Information System. The system gathers an exact measurement of how much water has evaporated in different areas so farmers know how much water is lost. That information can tell them when to irrigate and how much water to use.
“That over irrigation would have been used by someone else downstream or would have stayed in the river,” said Temesgen.
There are over 145 land stations like this one in California, planted with sensors that measure soil and air temperature, wind direction and speed as well as precipitation. The system studies evapotranspiration, which shows loss of water to the atmosphere, how much evaporated from soil or plants. The minute by minute measurements are uploaded to the web.
“It needs to be set up on a grass surface that is well maintained, well irrigated year-round so it seems like the conditions we have in an irrigated field,” said Temesgen.
If a grower is in between two sites, they can use a ‘middle-man’ called special CIMIS. It’s a satellite posted between both stations.
“We calculate solar radiation from the satellite,” said Temesgen.
To further research, scientists installed floating water stations like this one early this year in Folsom Lake, near Sacramento early this year to measure how much water evaporates over bodies of water. It’s a new way to see how water disappears from reservoirs, lakes and ponds.
“We have to figure out just how much of that stored water is lost to that moisture so that you know how much is left for distribution for different water users,” said Temesgen.
Those are tools that could help producers like Mike DeWit in the Sacramento Valley. “I haven’t seen anything like this.
"We had a big drought in the late 1970’s but that only lasted two years,” said DeWit.
“Whatever water we have, we need to conserve. This is the future,” said Temesgen.
Scientists say all kinds of growers with different types of commodities can utilize these tools. The California Department of Water Resources is currently working on an on-going program with NASA.