Secure Water Future Project Explores Western Water Issues in California with Expedition Including NMSU Graduate Students
by Liam Sabiston, NM WRRI Graduate Research Assistant
The USDA-funded Secure Water Future project aims to understand, enable, and envision water management strategies through data-enabled decision-making. The project has partnered with NMSU, Utah State University, and several campuses within the University of California system, including Merced, Davis, and Berkeley. The Secure Water Future project recently held a Climate Adaptation Science Academy Experiential Learning Expedition (CASA ELE) from August 1 to August 7. CASA ELE invited graduate students from NMSU, Utah State University, UC Merced, UC Davis, and UC Berkeley to Merced, California, to experience the processes that drive decision-making on water issues in the semi-arid western US. The expedition sought to inform graduate students on topics in groundwater management, environmental water management, hydroclimatic conditions, and reconciling agriculture and ecosystems.
The group departed from UC Merced, driving east to Yosemite National Park and making stops at Olmsted Point and Mono Lake, where Dr. Sarah Null gave a lecture on the history of the lake and the legislation put in place to protect it. The group stopped in Yosemite National Park to meet with park hydrologist Rachel Hallnan, who spoke with the group and reviewed some of the daily park operations. The learning expedition continued to O’Shaughnessy Dam, where Chris Graham presented how the reservoir supplies water to the city of San Francisco and the daily operations at the site. The next several days involved rafting down the Tuolumne River, where the group gained firsthand experience of the Tuolumne River watershed. The group mentors provided daily lectures on a wide range of topics, including water policy and economics, climate change and adaptation, watershed ecology, hydrology, and earth surface processes. The group then made its way to Dos Rios, a newly proposed state park where a floodplain restoration project is being implemented to return land previously used for agriculture to its natural state. The learning expedition concluded with a final stop at Randy Fiorini’s farm, a local farmer in the Turlock Irrigation District. This last stop allowed the group to see local agricultural practices and better understand how policy, such as the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, affects stakeholders. Moving forward, Secure Water Future plans to host another expedition next summer in Utah to explore processes that drive decision-making on water issues in another semi-arid climate. An expedition will be hosted in New Mexico the following year.
When asked about their experience at CASA ELE, the NMSU students said the following:
“It was exciting and fun to learn through the mentor sessions’ hydrological processes, earth surface processes, aquatic ecology, climate science, and water policy and economics for the understanding of river systems and fluvial processes, in this particular experience, the Tuolumne River in California.” – Sabrina Galvan Ontiveros
“The time I spent conversing with other people during mentor sessions, sitting on the beach, or during lunch breaks were extremely helpful in obtaining effective insights and other’s perspectives to improving research methods pertaining to water management and agriculture.” – Tasnim Kamal Shamma
“It was a remarkable experience for me to see how California is adapting to a changing climate and noting the similarities and differences when compared to the approach New Mexico is taking on the topic.” – Liam Sabiston
“It was an amazing experience to travel to the mountains and raft down the Tuolumne River to follow water and see how it’s stored and used for agriculture in San Joaquin Valley and learn from their management practices how California is working to be a resilient valley.” – Jorge Preciado