Humboldt State University is among the northern-most hubs of the BlueTechValley Innovation Cluster. It’s part of the interconnection of multiple incubators, or entrepreneurship programs spanning the state serving 39 counties. The solid goal of the BlueTechValley initiative was established at Fresno State, and it’s all about managing water and energy resources in agriculture and other industries.
Lonny Grafman teaches in the Environmental Resources and Engineering Department at Humboldt State, and he’s also the Humboldt State managing director of the BlueTechValley hub there.
“It’s a new program, so that’s pretty exciting,” Grafman said. “BlueTechValley has had a lot of success in Fresno, and what we are is their far northern Californian north coast arm. So, we’re seeking to have the type of success that they’ve had in Fresno,” Grafman said. “Specifically, we’re looking for entrepreneurs, inventors, businesses that are working on agriculture, energy and water efficiency projects.”
The university is looking for entrepreneurs and startups that can address saving water and energy.
“Any start up that has the chance of saving California electric rate payers’ money, we want to talk to them and see if we have resources that could help them to bring their product to market. That is that sweet spot that we’re trying to fill, “Grafman said.
BlueTechValley’s all about entrepreneurs, startups, computer hackers.
“It can be an energy project, it can be an agriculture project, it can be a water project, and it can be something at the nexus of all those things. We love those types of projects,” Grafman said. “As long as we can bring it back to how it saves California rate payers’ money, then we’re excited to explore all types of innovative ideas.
Through a competitive grant program, the Agricultural Water Use Efficiency & State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) and the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) jointly intend to demonstrate the potential multiple benefits of conveyance enhancements combined with on-farm agricultural water use efficiency improvements and greenhouse gas reductions.
The grant funding provided in this joint program is intended to address multiple goals including:
water use efficiency, conservation and reduction,
greenhouse gas emission reductions,
groundwater protection, and
sustainability of agricultural operations and food production.
It is also anticipated that there will be benefits to water and air quality, groundwater security, surface water conservation, and improved nutrient management and crop health through this program. Excellent proposals will demonstrate the specific regional needs and benefits of their proposals.
Deadline for submitting public comments is September 30, 2016.
The program will be administered as a competitive grant program and will include a joint application process involving agricultural water suppliers and agricultural operators within the service area.
Projects that enhance and upgrade the supplier’s water conveyance, delivery and water measurement system to allow on-demand and flexible farm-gate deliveries, reduce spills and losses, increase the efficiency, and improve water management. A water supplier’s proposed project must generate State benefits to be eligible for grant funding.
Benefits to the State include:
increased in-stream flow or improved flow timing
improved water quality; increased energy conservation
reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions
increased local water supply reliability.
The project must be located within California.
On-farm agricultural operations must achieve both GHG emission reductions and water savings to be eligible for funding. In addition, projects must: (i) use the associated improvements made to the surface water conveyance system proposed by the associated agricultural water supplier as part of the joint application, and (ii) eliminate on-farm groundwater pumping.
To be eligible for funding, projects are not required to be in an adopted Integrated Regional Water Management Plan or to comply with that program, but preference will be given for projects that are.
The following entities involved with water management are eligible to apply: Public agencies, public utilities, federally recognized or state Indian tribes on California’s Tribal consultation list, nonprofit organizations, mutual water companies, and investor-owned utilities regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission.
Applicants that are agricultural water suppliers and/or urban water suppliers should inquire for further information.
DWR has set aside $3 million from Proposition 1 to incentivize the water conveyance component of this joint agricultural water use efficiency and enhancement program. Proposition 1 requires that agricultural water suppliers provide a 50% cost share of total project costs.
CDFA has also set aside $3 million from the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP) to incentivize the installation of irrigation systems that save water and reduce greenhouse gases on farms in the area that will directly benefit from the conveyance system incentivized by DWR. The maximum grant award per agricultural operation is $200,000 with a recommended, but not required, 50% match of the total project cost. CDFA reserves the right to offer an award different than the amount requested.
Separate contracts with each department will be necessary to receive both sets of funds. A joint proposal may include a request for up to $3 million for the water supplier’s conveyance upgrades (to be funded by DWR) and up to $3 million for enhancements of on-farm agricultural operations to be funded by CDFA (with a cap of $200,000 per operation). This would allow for 15 agricultural operations (at $200,000 each) to partner with the water supplier to submit the joint proposal at the maximum award amount of $6 million. More than 15 agricultural operations could be funded if amounts lower than the cap are requested in individual agricultural operator applications.
One of the best ways to overcome the challenges that arise in farming, is ag collaboration with countries that have already found solutions to the issues we face.
Karen Ross, secretary, California Department of Food and Agriculture, led a delegation of Californians to the Netherlands last month, “for shared discussion on all of the ways we can collaborate on climate-smart agriculture,” Ross said, “including water-use efficiency and improved fertilizer use.”
“In particular, the Netherlands has a shared issue with us—nitrates in groundwater—and what we can do to improve our water management and fertilizer management to avoid that. They’re doing some interesting things with greenhouse technologies and salt-tolerant crops, so we saw some real opportunities. We had university people with us to do some trials here.”
Ross’s group was able to visit Wageningen UR (University & Research centre), Netherlands’ prominent agriculture university. She said between the University of California, Davis and the Dutch university, “we found ways that we can collaborate together to find the solutions that are not just about here in California,” Ross said. “If we can solve these problems on water-use efficiency, desalinating brackish water, and salt-tolerant crop issues in California, we will make a contribution to solving these problems on a global basis.”
Ross’s team also visited many farmers, primarily of specialty crops. Ross commented, “We saw some of their digester technology, which we know is one of the solutions for our dairies. We really want to advance that technology, make it affordable and provide value to our dairies.”
Governor Brown has asked California’s citizens to voluntarily reduce their water consumption by 20 percent but what are farmers doing to reduce water use? Many farmers will be fallowing, or not planting, their fields simply because there isn’t enough water to meet their needs.
Crops, such as broccoli, winter lettuce, cantaloupes and garlic will not be grown in the same quantities that we normally see in California. According to Bloomberg News prices for broccoli, lettuce and tomatoes are up by double digits, with tomatoes reaching their highest prices since 2011.
A recent survey of public water agencies that deliver farm water shows that most areas of the state are being affected by the drought. Deliveries of irrigation water are expected to be cut this year by 50 percent or more.
About 2 million acres in the San Joaquin Valley are expected to receive no water this year under existing contracts with the State Department of Water Resources or federal Bureau of Reclamation.
Water Conservation or Water Use Efficiency?
The terms water conservation and water use efficiency are often used interchangeably but to water users they’re different things. Water conservation is generally perceived as an activity that reduces the amount of water used to do something, such as wash a load of clothes or take a shower.
High efficiency washers and low-flow showerheads conserve water that can then be used by another user or at a later time. Water use efficiency is when a water user does things to achieve more using the same (or less) water. An example could be a farmer who upgrades his or her irrigation system so that water is more efficiently used by the crop, producing more saleable, higher quality crop on roughly the same amount of water.
The efficiency is what is gained in crop production.
California farmers depend on reliable water supplies to grow almost half of the nation’s fruits and vegetables and 100 percent of another 14 specialty crops, including almonds, kiwis and clover seeds.
Water Use Efficiency Investments
From 2003 through 2010 San Joaquin Valley farmers invested almost $2.2 billion installing upgraded irrigation systems (drip, micro sprinklers, high-efficiency pumps) on more than 1.8 million acres.
High-efficiency irrigation systems deliver water to the crop in precise amounts on a schedule that meets the plant’s growing cycle. Drip irrigation systems limit the amount of water that is consumed by weeds, reducing the need for herbicides or repeated trips with a tractor and cultivator over the field, which saves fuel and helps reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere.