Surf’s Up

Time flies! It seems like just yesterday that I walked into the Resource Conservation District office and introduced myself to everyone. Now I only have about a week left here before I start my second and last year at MIIS. Regardless, I plan on keeping in contact with my awesome coworkers.


Birthday card from my coworkers. They already know  me so well.

When I’m not in the office I’m out having a good time in beautiful Santa Cruz. For my birthday last week one of my friends got me surfing lessons! I plan on spending some time in Cowell Beach to learn how to surf properly (currently I just splash around and stare at the sea otters).

Today’s weekly staff meeting was a ‘Surf Staff Meeting’ (only in Santa Cruz!) where some of my coworkers surfed in front of Jack O’Neill’s house in Pleasure Point while those of us who woke up too late to get out there watched from afar.


Jack O’Neill’s house

Hopefully I’ll have the proper surfing etiquette down soon so I can ride waves with all of the expert locals.


Javier’s Organic Farm

Last week I had the opportunity to attend an ‘Organic Training for Agriculture Professionals’ workshop. This training was funded by Oregon Tilth, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting and advocating organic food and farming. The workshop’s objective was to help its 20 participants gain a better understanding of how to implement practice standards in organic systems and an increased ability to assist organic producers with the development of a conservation plan.

The first day we were in a classroom setting and learned about various different topics in relation to organic systems:

  • Cover crops
  • Nutrient management
  • Pest management
  • Crop rotation
  • Conservation buffers
  • Soil analysis

While I don’t mind a classroom setting, I learn more efficiently when I’m out on the field. The second day of the training we got to practice what we learned in the classroom on an actual farm. Javier’s farm was one of the most beautiful sites I’ve ever been to.


Organic farm in the Salinas   Valley

Javier, an extremely cool organic farmer based in Salinas, primarily grows organic strawberries.


Organic strawberry

He also grows raspberries, cilantro, parsley, chard, and he has about 100 organic-egg-laying chickens! They like to hang out in a redwood tree which is just great/ hilarious and they get to live a happy, free-range life.


Happy chickens

We applied everything that we learned in the classroom the day prior and tested the soil quality on Javier’s farm. By doing this we were able to recommend the amount of nutrients (P, K, N) that he should be adding to his soil (whether he needed to increase or decrease quantities).

It’s challenging enough to be a farmer. After this training, I realized that it’s even more challenging to be an organic farmer. Not everyone is like Javier, who has all of his documents neatly organized “so it’s easier when the inspector comes.” There’s SO much more that goes along with the planting of a seed.

I’m learning to appreciate farmers on a whole new level – organic or not. After all, they grow all of the food that you and I eat every single day, and it’s NOT an easy job.

The Magnificent Pajaro Valley Water Tour

Last Friday’s ‘Magnificent Pajaro Valley Water Tour was close to perfect, living up to its name (that’s really what we called the tour). Everyone who joined, including the regional board members, were genuinely interested in the information that was presented, asked questions, participated, and gave great feedback. The first stop of the tour was the Harkins Slough Recharge Basin.

Harkins Slough Recharge Basin

Harkins Slough Recharge Basin

The Harkins Slough Recharge Basin seasonally stores wet weather flows from Harkins Slough. Stored water is then pumped from a series of wells and delivered to coastal farms.

The take-home message was that Managed Aquifer Recharge (MAR) is part of the solution for water supply and has the potential to benefit water quality through denitrification. We need to ensure that these projects continue to be implemented and studied in order to better understand their benefits.

The next sites we visited were two farms. At Taylor Farms, we made the point that vegetable growers are using the available technology and California Irrigation Management Information System (CIMIS) data to improve water and fertilizer use efficiency as much as possible.

Michael Cahn describes the Soil Nitrate Quick Test

Farm Advisor Michael Cahn describes the Nitrate Quick Test

At Reiter Berry Farms, strawberry and raspberry growers explained how nutrient management and irrigation efficiency go hand in hand (ie. nutrient leaching is a result of overwatering; less water = less leaching). Growers described their various management strategies which result in water and nutrient conservation.

Grower explains how he irrigates  his crops efficiently

It was definitely a successful tour. We gained a lot of knowledge along with a lot of berries (free berries = awesome). Most importantly, we left the tour with an optimistic view about the fact that something IS being done about the water resource issue here in the Pajaro Valley.

The Vineyard

During the last few weeks my supervisor and I have been busy preparing for tomorrow’s regional board field tour.

The objectives of this “water” tour are to (1) raise awareness of water resource issues in the Pajaro Valley, (2) highlight water conservation as a strategy for protecting water supply and reducing nitrate leaching, and (3) emphasize industry led conservation efforts. We will go to various different sites in Watsonville, each of which somehow demonstrates one or more of these objectives. I’m looking forward to it, and I’ll blog some photos of the tour next week!

In the midst of all the meetings, research, writing, and emailing, I often go to meetings or workshops that employees of the RCD Santa Cruz County are invited to. Yesterday we got to spend almost all work day on an organic vineyard doing various tests for soil quality.


Organic Vineyard in Santa Cruz   County

It was all hands on (hands in the dirt), extremely fun, and I learned a lot about different soil types. Next week I get to spend two days at a workshop that will teach different practices related to pest management on organic farms.



There’s no better way of learning anything than going out there and doing it yourself!

Managed Aquifer Recharge

This past week I’ve been working on an information packet that will be distributed during an upcoming regional board field tour. Included in this packet is a fact sheet regarding the Managed Aquifer Recharge (MAR) Action Team.

Demand for groundwater in California is increasing but supplies are limited. Here on the coast, we have to deal with the decreased water supply issue along with the issue of saltwater intrusion. “Natural” aquifer recharge will likely decrease in the future, therefore, the Community Water Dialogue is figuring out where recharge occurs in order to protect these areas.


Simplified sketch of a groundwater recharge site

The Managed Aquifer Recharge (MAR) Action Team is one of four action teams that make up the Community Water Dialogue. The MAR team deals with private recharge and catchment projects to increase water supply. MAR projects capture surplus winter water and convey it into the aquifer through managed percolation ponds.

The Community Water Dialogue is currently involved in one MAR project located at Bokariza-Drobac Ranch. I had the opportunity to visit this site last week, which is virtually a large grass-covered hole with a drainage area of 125 acres. Sites such as this one are voluntarily offered by landowners for the cause, which is awesome. There have been a number of other locations that have recently been identified as potential MAR project sites. These sites are currently being tested for suitability.


MAR suitability map & Bokariza-Drobac Ranch recharge site

According to Dr. Andy Fisher, a groundwater expert from UC Santa Cruz who is actively involved in the Community Water Dialogue, “MAR will be increasingly important as a strategy for sustaining and improving groundwater resources.” Dr. Andy’s Recharge Initiative Program estimates that a widely distributed network of MAR projects could reduce the overdraft by as much as 20%.


Face to Face

There is a never a dull moment at the Resource Conservation District office. This past week our office has been bombarded with Japanese cakes, candies, photos, and videos. Sue, our director, just got back from a wedding in Japan and has been sharing Japanese goodies with all of us in the office. We even got to see videos of a sumo wrestling match she went to!

Despite all of the fun we have in the office, we also work, and we work hard. This past week I attended at least one meeting each day, all centered around the Community Water Dialogue. Driscoll’s is one of the main players in the dialogue. On Monday I got a tour of their fields in Watsonville and a rundown of how they go about growing their crops. They have various fields dedicated only for experimentation where they document their crop’s responses to different irrigation schedules, different amounts of nutrients, etc.

driscollsnameAlready I’ve had the honor of meeting various growers around the Pajaro Valley. Most of these grow for Driscoll’s, but others grow independently or for other suppliers. Yesterday I met a blueberry, raspberry, and strawberry grower, who personally told me that reducing the amount of water he uses to irrigate his crops by using WIN has NOT affected his crops at all. He’s conserving water, his water bill went down, and he’s producing the same amount and quality of fruits.

Face to face interactions with growers, private industry folks, and government personnel is helping me grasp the uniqueness of the Community Water Dialogue on a deeper level. We all sit at these meetings voluntarily. Nobody is holding a gun to anybody’s head, forcing them to make an effort to conserve water. All of the people involved in this dialogue are because they understand the urgency of this issue. WE ARE RUNNING OUT OF WATER. When will everybody else in the Pajaro Valley join? When they’re affected personally? When the issue  becomes catastrophic? I certainly hope not.


A Unique Effort

The first week of my internship at the Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz County is coming to an end. My focus this week has been to familiarize myself with the Community Water Dialogue (CWD) in order to put together a document describing the dialogue’s origin and what makes it so unique.

The CWD was created in July of 2010 by a group of landowners concerned with the Pajaro Valley’s water issues. The group now includes many stakeholders including additional landowners, growers, academics, nonprofits, residents, government representatives, and environmental leaders.

There are four working groups within the Community Water Dialogue:

  • Managed Aquifer Recharge: Private recharge and catchment projects to increase water supply.
  • Big Projects Committee: Deal with larger projects to increase water supply.
  • Communications: Centralized information about the water issue and progress towards solutions, and ongoing community engagement.
  • Land Management and Irrigation Best Practices: Teaching growers how they can minimize their water use, and implementing irrigation technologies to assist in doing so.
Michael Johnson of the Resource Conservation District demonstrates various tools for assisting growers with irrigation fertilization evaluations.

Michael Johnson of the Resource Conservation District demonstrates various tools for assisting growers with irrigation fertilization evaluations.

This summer I will be part of the Communications team. Some of my tasks include:

  • Conducting case studies for CWD projects, similar to the case study that EcoFarm put together regarding the Wireless Irrigation Network
  • Putting together communications pieces about the CWD’s origin and its ongoing progress
  • Developing a website for the CWD
  • Translating CWD communications into Spanish

The dialogue is still fairly new but has already accomplished a lot.

I’m excited to be a part of it and join the community’s efforts to conserve a non-substitutable and extremely important resource: water.

Community Water Dialogue

Tomorrow I officially start interning with the Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz County, located in the city of Capitola. This organization is working together with the community and with Driscoll’s to address the issue of aquifer overdraft in the Pajaro Valley.

The watershed is approximately 1,300 square miles and covers portions of Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, San Benito, and Monterey Counties.

The watershed is approximately 1,300 square miles and covers portions of Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, San Benito, and Monterey Counties.

On future blog posts I will refer to this team as it is formally known: the Community Water Dialogue. Tomorrow, the Community Water Dialogue will meet in order to outline priorities and goals for the team. I’m excited to meet everyone that I will be working with on this project and finally get started.

I look forward to updating everyone on the project’s progress throughout the summer!