California's Groundwater

California’s Groundwater

The management and preservation of Groundwater has become an urgent topic in California’s water plan.

Groundwater provides an important adjunct to the State’s rainfall, snow melt, and Colorado River import. As with surface storage, underground reservoirs have the potential to store huge volumes of water that can be relatively easily accessed. According to the California Water Atlas, a somewhat dated but still a pertinent and comprehensive water data reference, the total groundwater on earth is more than 30 times as much as all the water in lakes and rivers, plus all the moisture in soils and in the atmosphere. The largest groundwater reservoir in California is the Central Valley Reservoir, with has a usable storage capacity estimated at 100 million acre-feet. When taken as a single encompassing reservoir, it lies beneath a not always contiguous 15,000 square-mile area. In fact, it is the equivalent to the total area of the other 50 groundwater reservoirs from which significant volumes of water are pumped.

Groundwater extraction provides a reliable and moderating influence of the boom/bust cycle of winter surplus and summer deficiency that comes from winter rains, followed almost invariable in Southern California by summer drought. If we are fortunate, seasonal rains will exceed the retention capacity of the soil, causing at least some of the water to percolate downward until it reaches the saturation zone and becomes part of the groundwater supply. Still, even with some degree of recharge, this groundwater supply is not inexhaustible. Pressure from the addition of new wells and over-pumping of existing wells, have led to a startling diminishment of groundwater supplies.

New protections and groundwater regulations are on the horizon. Efforts will be made to provide additional recharge for depleting reservoirs. Limits will almost assuredly be placed on how much water can be taken from saturation zones, and begin watching for stringent new rules on the application of fertilizers and other materials that can negatively impact the quality of groundwater.

water audits

Water Audits Procedures

WBA conducts water audits for all sizes of turfgrass and landscape. A client can expect the following steps to be completed and a detailed compilation of reports to be submitted.

Initial Visit

An initial visit to the designated area will be done; meeting with the superintendent and maintenance staff. An area will be selected to conduct the water audit, and the following information will be obtained:

  1. The Irrigation Controller will be identified.
  2. The clocks will be activated and all sprinklers will be flagged. Each sprinkler will be checked for proper operation, and adjustment.
  3. A field test area data map will be drawn. Sprinkler operating pressure, static pressure, dynamic pressure, and sprinkler head spacing will be recorded.
  4. A soil probe will be used to determine root depth, thatch layer buildup, organic matter accumulation, and the soil moisture content.
  5. The number of catch devices will be determined for use on the lawn surface when performing the catch can test. Each catch location will be recorded on the map.
  6. A programmed run time will be used to collect water in the catch devices.
  7. Water volumes will be read and logged on the test area map.
  8. The distribution uniformity and precipitation rate will be calculated and recorded.
  9. The irrigation controller and backflow information will be documented.
  10. The current water schedule for the turf zone will be verified.
  11. After discussing the sprinkler uniformity with the supervisor or superintendent, it will be decided if there is a need to retrofit the current spray nozzles with more uniform rotating nozzles.

Second Visit

A second visit will be conducted and at that time, if there is a need to retrofit spray nozzles, it will be performed at this time. The following procedures will be performed and the resulting information will be collected:

  1. The clock will be activated and all sprinklers will be checked for proper operation, adjustment, and operating pressures.
  2. The decided number of catch devices will be placed on the lawn surface and separate columns will be used to distribute all of the catch devices.
  3. A programmed run time will be used to collect water in the catch devices.
  4. Water volumes will be read and logged on the test area map.
  5. The distribution uniformity and precipitation rate will be calculated.
  6. An irrigation schedule will be developed utilizing the plant water requirement, sprinkler performance, and soil-water properties.
  7. Properly managing an irrigation schedule will incorporate the following scheduling factors.
  • The proper amount of water (considering weather and turf).
  • The proper frequency of irrigation (based on the soil’s ability to store water and the intake rate of the soil).
  • The performance characteristics of the irrigation system (how quickly and evenly water is applied to the turfgrass).
  • The features of the irrigation controller and the characteristics of the site that determine appropriate program start times and maximum station run times without runoff.

Please click on the below link to see an example of our water audits.





Irrigation Water Quality

A thorough understanding of irrigation water quality is very important to the successful management of turf sites.

Understanding such major water quality factors as pH, nutrient content, alkalinity, salinity and the concentration of elements and compounds toxic to turf is crucial when developing cultural practices programs. Information regarding irrigation water quality is also very important when selecting turf species for the site.

While testing the soil for information in the above-mentioned areas is common practice, testing of the irrigation water is frequently overlooked. Actually, soil and water quality testing go hand in hand. Soil acts as filter or sponge, trapping the negative elements in the water in upper inches of the soil profile. Irrigation water does one of three things when applied to a turf site – evaporate from the soil surface, percolate through the soil profile, or is utilized for plant growth. In all of these cases, many of the undesirable elements and compounds are left in the root zone of the soil profile.

Repeated applications of poor quality irrigation water can eventually raise the concentration of these unwanted elements to levels that are toxic to the plant. This is especially true where the soil drains poorly or is already high in salts or other negative materials. So in addition to a nutrient and chemical analysis, it is valuable to do physical testing of the soil to determine soil particle size and distribution. The physical analysis will also estimate infiltration and percolation rates. This information helps tremendously in deciding the type and quantity of soil amendments, as well as the necessity of installing drainage systems in the turf and landscape areas. Soils that drain well allow for the undesirable elements to the leached or rinsed from the soil through the application of additional irrigation water.

Irrigation Water Quality


Irrigation water testing results can be matched to a chart that categorizes concentrations of different materials. A text entitled Salt-Affected Turfgrass Sites-assessment and management by R.N. Carrow and R.R. Duncan is an excellent reference. It is available through both the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America in Lawrence, Kansas, and the publisher, Ann Arbor Press, located in Chelsea, Michigan. The book deals extensively with both soil and water quality issues and their relationship.

Looking at the different analyses derived from irrigation water testing, the pH reading is a measurement of the degree of acidity or alkalinity of the water. The pH is measured on a scale of 0 –14 with a neutrality level of 7.0. Problems with pH extremes in the Southwest are almost invariable from readings on the high or alkaline side. The number measurements for pH are logarithmic, meaning that each number represents an increase in concentration of 10 times the previous number. In other words, 8.0 is 10 times great than 7.0, and 9.0 is 100 times greater than 7.0 in terms of alkalinity. The same is true with acidity, 6.0 is 10 times greater than 7.0, and so on. Extremely high pH, our primary concern, can be reduced if necessary. The primary method of achieving pH reduction of irrigating for large turf areas is through the injection of sulfuric acid.

An important category to note on an irrigation water sample report is the level of sodium and total salts. Sodium is listed separately from other salts because it has the ability to destroy soil structure as well as impact the health of the plant. Sodium concentration is listed as milliequivalents per liter. The sodium risk can be greatly buffered by concentrations of calicum and magnesium in the water. The comparison formula is called the Sodium Absorption Ratio, and the lower the number the better.

Total salinity can be listed as either Total Dissolved Salts (TDS) or as Electrical Conductivity (EC). If listed as TDS then divide by 640 to find the EC. If EC is listed, then multiply by 640 to find the TDS reading. Salts from irrigation water can accumulate in soils and cause a condition detrimental to plants called “physiological drought”, where water is present but unavailable to the plant. The rule of thumb is that an additional 12.5 percent of irrigation water is required for each 1.0 elevation in EC to provide for adequate leaching of salts from the soil profile. Salt tolerance levels vary greatly with different turf species. Knowing the salt levels in irrigation water can be tremendously helpful when selecting a turf species for a particular site or facility.

Carbonates and Bicarbonates are other detrimental compounds in irrigation water. Their presence is frequently in association with high alkalinity. Reducing the pH in extreme situations will also have the benefit of offsetting the effects of carbonates and bicarbonates. Testing the water to determine the levels of these and other compounds listed above will be a great advantage in the quest for healthy turf.


Golf in Cuba: Part II

Written by William Baker, WBA Principal.

Cubans who are involved in the country’s very limited golf industry have high hopes for the future. There are suggestions that up to 20 new golf course could be built along the north-facing shores of the island. In other words, those locations closest to Miami and other regions of the U.S. It is unclear that this is real possibility. World class golf is accessible, with better amenities, only an island away in the Dominican Republic. Those courses can be breathtaking in their design, conditioning, and seaside settings. In this regard, Cuba will have a lot of catching up to do.

As mentioned in a previous post, there is only one 18 hole golf course in Cuba – Varadero Golf Club. It is an impressive layout with some interesting history, but lacking in the tournament level conditioning that we have come to expect from top destination resorts. That will have to change to bring American players to the island in great numbers.

Several hotels in the area promote themselves as golf resorts. One might expect from the advertisements that each hotel / resort has its own golf course.   But apparently they are all sharing the one course on the Varadero peninsula. Golf destination travel usually allows for experiencing a variety of good courses. Using the Dominican Republic again (due to its proximity to Cuba), a number of beautiful and challenging courses can be found in the Punta Cana region. About 40 miles away, near the city of La Romana, six golf courses can be found inside the Casa de Campo Resort. One of these, “Teeth of the Dog”, is consistently rated in the “Top 100” in the World by Golf Digest.

One of the great challenges to golf expansion is Cuba is almost the total absence of Cuban players. In preparation for an international tournament at the Club earlier this year, they were unable to field a team of 50 golfers from across the country. This will change, but it will take time. There is clearly great enthusiasm for golf tourism from the U.S. to develop. But hopefully the uniqueness of the island and the wonderful culture will not be lost in the coming commercialization.

Technical Feasibility of a Project

Golf In Cuba: Part I

Written by William Baker, WBA Principal.

There is only one 18 hole golf course in Cuba. It is located in the tourist zone of Varadero, about a two-hour drive from Havana. It is a great layout. The course opened in 1933, as part of the private estate of French American millionaire Irenee Dupont de Nemours. He was the chairman of the Dupont Company. He retired in 1927, when he was 49 years old. Looking for a place to spend his leisure years, he purchased 450 acres of land o the Hicacos Peninsula and started building a retirement paradise.

The home he built there remains part of the golf course property, serving now as a small hotel with an elegant bar and restaurant. It’s a fascinating place, with four floors, 11 bedrooms, three large terrance, seven balconies, and a private dock. Rooms are available for stays at a very reasonable price.

The golf holes along the beach and surf are reminiscent of other great courses in the Caribbean Islands. But the course feels more like a well-kept secret, probably due to the inability for most US golfers to play there for the past several decades.   Current playing conditions would be on par with relatively good municipal golf courses in the States. One can only imagine the difficulty of keeping conditions even at this level with no industry support, or even any Cuban golfers.   About 90 percent of the players are Canadians that venture to Cuba during the cold winter months at home. Others are mostly European tourists.

Several large hotels are on the peninsula, with most of them requiring the purchase of an inclusive package. Smaller hotels and rooms can be found in the little town of Varadero, a couple of miles away. The beaches are very accessible, with white sand and water a soothing color of blue. Lots of small shops and bazaars with numerous booths are along the main street.

The people are fascinated with Americans, since they have seen so few of them. People are friendly and helpful wherever you go. Canadians are common to see in the winter months. They often mistake Americans for fellow Canadians. Crime seems low in Cuba, and this is especially true in Varadero. One can walk in the evening in the downtown area to local clubs and restaurants, without having any anxiety in doing so.

tree preservation programs

Why Smart Controllers Rock

By Lori D. Palmquist, CID, CIC, CLIA, CLWM

Smart irrigation controllers rock! How do I know? I’ve installed 30 of them (12 different models), and I’m seeing terrific results. On the average, I’ve seen them lower water consumption by 40 percent. Smart controllers, also known as ET controllers and weather-based controllers, respond to daily changes in the weather by adjusting either the runtime of the individual irrigation zones, or the watering days, or both.

Smart irrigation controllers have revolutionized the way we water our landscapes. The old behavior of programming irrigation controllers for existing conditions, and leaving that schedule until someone returns to change it, is becoming a thing of the past.

It is a generally accepted statistic that we overwater our landscapes by a margin of 200%. There is a great need for the use of controllers that adjust their schedules daily, in response to weather conditions.

The current trend is toward state legislation requiring weather-based irrigation controllers.

An important point needs to be made here. Inefficient, problem-riddled irrigation components will not magically improve their performance, if a smart controller is installed. If anything, a smart controller will very quickly reveal the weaknesses of an inefficient or faulty system.

When an irrigation system has bad coverage, due to poor design or broken, sunken, tilted, or blocked sprinklers, traditionally we have added more runtime minutes to apply more water, resulting in significant water-waste. Smart controllers are very different from standard controllers, in that they have no feature to allow the user to simply “add minutes.” If you want a smart controller to compensate for irrigation inefficiency, you have to learn how to program it in such a way as to “outsmart” it, as it is programmed to behave in efficient ways only.

There are two sources of weather data that inform smart controllers. One is professional grade, off-site weather stations. The smart controllers that access off-site weather data often have a monthly, small fee for the acquisition and delivery of the data. The other source of weather data is on-site weather sensors, monitors, and soil-moisture sensors. This strategy involves buying the equipment up front, with no on-going, data-service fees.

There are more than 30 weather-based smart controllers and several soil-sensor-based controllers on an approved list from Smart Water Application Technologies or SWAT. It can be daunting to know how to decide which controller would be the most appropriate in any given situation.

Following are some of the factors for you to consider when deciding which controller is the best one for the job:

  • Size of landscape
  • Number of controllers needed for the landscape
  • Budget
  • Ability of a pager or cell phone tower signal to reach the controller (signal strength)
  • Importance of accuracy of the data
  • Whether up-front costs (on-site data gathering) or on-going fees (off-site data gathering) are preferred
  • Whether you are hands-on, or want the installer to monitor and maintain the system
  • Which controller you (or the installer) feel confident using

Good Tip: The best way to determine which controller to choose is to consult with someone in your area who has hands-on experience with a number of different controllers. Contacting a local water purveyor, professional irrigation supply store, or landscape contractor trade organization, are a few possibilities.

Smart controllers are the future of irrigation scheduling. Some states already require them for new landscape installations. There are also many rebate programs offered by cities and water purveyors for retrofitting this technology into existing systems.

Know that there is a learning curve to understand installation, usage, and monitoring of irrigation systems that use smart technology. Many manufacturers offer extensive tutorial videos and literature on their websites. The manufacturers’ reps and technical support crews are also extremely helpful in ensuring that the controllers are installed and monitored properly.

I am having tremendous success with smart controllers, and endorse them wholeheartedly. I also applaud and appreciate the considerable efforts of manufacturers to produce effective and user-friendly systems. I see how proud my clients are to know that they are stewards of our earth’s resources. They’re also happy to lower their water bills. The fact that we can witness irrigation systems responding daily to changing weather conditions is an awesome notion to me. 

Lori Palmquist is an irrigation web app developer, irrigation designer, consultant, and educator in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is a strong advocate for water efficiency in the landscape.

Smart Controllers

mosquito abatement

Mosquito Abatement

William Baker and Associates LLC (WBA) are developing mosquito abatement programs for preferred clients. Elements of the program include methods for controlling mosquitoes and the associated risks, teaching staff to recognize mosquito habitat and infestations, holding open meetings to increase public awareness of West Nile Virus and other mosquito-related diseases, and assisting staff in locating qualified companies for contract applications of pesticides approved for mosquito control through the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR).

Program Development:
  • WBA will provide a written abatement program that attacks mosquitoes on several levels. These control methods include reduction of breeding areas, monitoring for infestations, instituting the relatively safer biological controls whenever feasible, and the minimal use of the least toxic pesticides that will give effective control of mosquito adults and mosquito larvae. WBA can provide written recommendations for pesticide applications when it is determined to be the best option.
  • Staff training will be conducted on how to recognize and reduce mosquito habitat on an ongoing basis. If the client chooses to have staff apply their own materials, then WBA can provide training for that. If contracting it out is a better option, then WBA can assist the client in locating qualified and properly licensed companies. In either case WBA can advise on notification of pesticide applications to residents and others in the area, pesticide materials storage, record keeping, and correct reporting procedures.
  • WBA specializes in training programs particularly with parks staffs, public works staffs, golf course staffs, and others in the landscape and green industry. Additionally, WBA personnel have recently conducted 35 separate workshops for industry professionals, with at least 10 more in the planning stages. WBA staff is involved in the development of regional or annual conferences that often have several hundred attendees. WBA is well qualified to conduct large public meetings or informational workshops related to mosquito control and the West Nile Virus.
  • WBA will provide follow-up site visits and reports to measure the program’s success. The program and its guidelines can be amended periodically to address changes in the risk of mosquito transmittable dis- eases, changes in mosquito control methods or technologies, changes in State policies regarding mosquitoes and related diseases, and/or changes in the State or Federal laws and regulations.
Contact William Baker and Associates LLC for a free estimate for developing a mosquito abatement program for your property or community at 951.741.0443.
Water Smart Parks Consulting

Water-Smart Renovation Project in Capitol Park

Capitol Park is the oldest arboretum west of the Mississippi River. It sets on 40 acres that surround the Capitol. It has been called “California’s front yard”. It was founded in 1860. It contains over 1,000 trees. Many of them are historic icons. Some were removed from Civil War Battlefields and replanted in the Park. Located on the Park grounds are over 150 monuments relating to significant events and people involving California. The World Peace Rose Garden is one of the finest in the country. It is considered the official park of California. It is worth taking the time to tour these historic grounds.

William Baker and Associates LLC (WBA) have been consultants in the Park for over 15 years. The company Principal, William Baker, co-authored the “CAPITOL PARK TRAINING MANUAL – Descriptions and Guidelines for Horticultural Practices”. We continue to provide advice and training to Park staff, and maintain a research site on the grounds. The research is part of a study funded by the Dept. of Water Resources and managed by the University of California. WBA is the contractor on the project. Previous studies in the Park that involved WBA include an organic mulch demonstration site.

The California Department of General Services (DGS) has just initiated a new Water-Smart Renovation project in Capitol Park. A mulching demonstration site has been installed on the East steps of the Capitol. This location will be highly visible to the more than one million visitors that come to the Park each year. It is the first step towards the removal of 76,000 square feet of turfgrass. Further improvements include the creation of a drought-tolerant demonstration garden and a park-wide efficiency audit of the irrigation system. If funding is approved, a new irrigation system could be installed and operational by 2018. It would be designed to utilize recycled water.

Water Plan Update

DWR Releases updated California Water Plan

After five years of preparation and significant input from stakeholders, the California Department of Water Resources today released its updated California Water Plan which places significant emphasis on integrated regional water management and multi-agency collaboration.

The voluminous document – dubbed Update 2013 due to its original expected date of completion – outlines the goals state water managers hope to see implemented in California’s water system through 2050. Among its top priorities is the implementation of Gov. Jerry Brown’s five-year California Water Action Plan. The update contains 300 specific actions to support the governor’s plan, which include expanding water storage capacity, providing safe drinking water and making conservation a way of life.

“When it comes to water our challenges are as diverse as our state of 38 million people,” said Secretary of Natural Resources John Laird in a conference call with reporters. “Right now we face one of the most extreme droughts in modern times.”

Laird added that the water plan update is “the most comprehensive guide to statewide water challenges and solutions.”

“We have never produced a plan before that has depended so heavily on the involvement of so many stakeholders,” said Laird.

The plan also focuses on the need for stable funding for investments in water innovation and infrastructure. According to the document, local entities such as water districts, cities, counties and utilities spend about $18 billion a year on water, as compared with the roughly $2 billion spent annually by the state and federal governments. Update 2013 predicts that California will need investments of $200 billion over the next few decades just to maintain its current system and about $500 billion to upgrade it.

ACWA participated in and helped coordinate water agency stakeholder input by serving on the DWR Public Advisory Committee, which helped inform the technical and policy landscape for the CA Water Plan.

Mark Cowin, director of DWR, said that the current drought is ‘testing the system” and the water plan “lays out a basic approach of improving the resiliency of our water system and facing future challenges.”

One of the key themes of the document is a call for increased intergovernmental collaboration from the federal, state and local levels as well as the integration of land use planning with water planning.

“California’s complex water system features federal and state water projects, hundreds of local water districts, large coastal cities, and vast tracts of farmland,” Cowin said in a prepared statement.  “To manage our water wisely, Californians need a shared understanding of our challenges and a vision for the future.  The California Water Plan Update 2013 delivers that and creates a path forward.”

Officials today released a ”highlights” booklet of the plan and its first three volumes. The remaining two volumes will be released in a few weeks.

Update 2013 includes summaries of over 30 water/resource management strategies available throughout California as well as a snapshot of regional water conditions and a range of future climate change scenarios.

The water plan is available here.

Water Plan Update

Statewide Reservoir Levels Continue to Decline

As the drought continues, California’s reservoir levels have dropped dramatically, especially in the state’s major reservoirs which currently sit at 43% of historical averages. While comparisons to the 1976 water year have been made, Department of Water Resources Chief Hydrologist Maury Roos says statewide conditions are more similar to those of the 1992 water year.

“It’s probably comparable with what it was at the end of 1992, the end of 1992 water year, which was a six year period of drought,” said Roos in an interview with Capitol Public Radio.

As of November 11, DWR figures show that major reservoir levels are as follows:

Reservoir % of Capacity % of Historical Average
San Luis Reservior 20% 36%
New Melones 21% 37%
Trinity Lake 23% 35%
Shasta Reservoir 24% 40%
Lake Oroville 26% 43%
Folsom Lake 30% 60%
Don Pedro Reservoir 37% 58%

According to DWR’s current data, Lake Oroville is currently at 915,220 acre-feet – which is only 33,200 acre-feet more than the record low-level of 882,000 acre-feet for the reservoir.