As climate change intensifies, one of our most valuable natural resources – water – is at risk and communities across the country are contending with worsening issues in water safety, access, and supply. To mark World Water Week 2023, TSC has invited Dr. Samuel Sandoval Solis, an associate professor and cooperative extension specialist in water management at UC Davis, to take part in our Science is Everyone: Voices in STEM campaign.
Below, Dr. Solis reflects on key aspects of his research and how to modernize water research and the water workforce itself.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR RESEARCH IN ONE TWEET.
I am a water accountant, I count water! How much it rains, how much gets into rivers and aquifers, how much we use for agriculture, cities, and the environment. I do research related to water, social, and environmental justice, such as the Human Right to Water Sanitation (HR2WS) estimating how many people do not have access to sanitation services at home or for their disposal. Also, I do research related to food security in terms of installing food systems (aquaponics) that produce fresh, healthy food (fish protein and vegetables) for farmworkers, who ironically produce all the food we eat but, because of their low wages, cannot afford the same food they produce. Finally, I do research in low water intensive crops, specifically agave, that are drought tolerant, culturally adequate for Hispanic farmers, and hopefully helping first generation Hispanic farmers to grow agave, a crop they grew up seeing. We have developed guidelines for selection and production of agave in California in English and Spanish. Our Water Management Lab group is trying to address the root of the problems (lack of water sanitation, lack of healthy food, reducing water demand), not the symptoms!
HOW HAS FEDERAL FUNDING FURTHERED YOUR RESEARCH?
I have had federal funding throughout my career because I am a “Cooperative Extension Specialist”. Cooperative, because it is a cooperation between local (county), state, and federal funds. The Morril Act of 1862 funded land-grant universities, one for each state, and the University of California is the one for California. Later, the Hatch Act of 1887 funded research in agriculture and natural resources, and finally in 1914 through the Smith-Lever Act, extension was funded to “extend the knowledge from the University to the society”, and since then, through the federal appropriation of money in the Smith Lever Act, I receive part of my salary to communicate science, to solve on-the-ground problems (in my case water problems related to agriculture, society, and the environment) and to provide my expertise to those that otherwise may not be able to hire an expert. I typically say when I am giving a presentation to the public, “your tax-payer dollars at work” because literally, they are! I try to work with institutions, individuals, or organizations that traditionally have problems hiring a water expert to advise them. For instance, I have worked with the City of Ukiah, Ukiah Valley Basin Groundwater Sustainability Agency, Russian River Flood Control District, Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency, Water Education for Latino Leaders, and Permanent Forum of Binational Waters, among others.
YOU’RE AN EXTENSION PROFESSOR AND AN EXPERT AT ENSURING KNOWLEDGE GLEANED FROM RESEARCH REACHES COMMUNITIES IN NEED. TELL US MORE ABOUT WHAT THAT MEANS ON A DAILY BASIS.
Phew, well, it’s never the same and It’s never boring, that’s for sure!
Last week, I went to Monterey, CA to share some thoughts about present and future challenges of water in California with the Board of Supervisors of Water Education for Latino Leaders. Also, I was interviewed by Dr. Thyonne Gordon of the podcast “In Clear Terms” from AARP about the state of water in California. I also worked on developing a survey as a means to identify waste water weeds in California, and we discussed issues related to desalinization along the border between the U.S. and Mexico in the Permanent Forum of Binational Waters. Finally, I hosted some students from Stanford University that wanted to learn what our campus can offer for graduate education.
Diversity and inclusion in the water sector is also very important to me. The chart below shows that, compared to other sectors, the representation of women in state government positions in California is low when it comes to water. Further, mostly non-Hispanic white males dominate chief executive roles, and the representation of people of Hispanic and other non-white ethnicities in water agencies is disproportionate to their share of the population in California. (for example, Hispanics account for 39% of California’s population, however in the best case, they have a representation of 15%). I am committing to ensuring the water workforce is not just diverse, but also inclusive and reflects the people we serve.
Source: Who makes decisions about California’s water? A data-based look at the race and gender of the people who control California’s water at the state, local and individual level. Presented by: Megan Fidell and Paul Shipman. January 9, 2023.
ANY CLOSING THOUGHTS?
Water is an essential shared resource for everyone, water is a human right! If we agree on the previous statement, then we can find commonalities regardless of who we are. Water is a shared resource, not a private resource. This is important, because everyone has the right to clean and affordable water at home for drinking, cooking, and personal hygiene. Unfortunately, communities in many parts of the nation do not have access to water at all or access to water that does not meet the quality standards. When was the last time you do not have water at home? Well, for me it was about a year ago when our sewer system got obstructed and we had to shut down water. My wife and I couldn’t cook, go to the restroom, take a shower, etc. We stayed without water for two days, so it wasn’t that bad. There are communities in the U.S. for whom this is their day-to-day living, mostly communities of color. I would never want to experience a lack of access to water again, and I am certain I do not want this to happen to any readers. We have to make sure that everyone has access to water. These communities that lack access to water are not asking for more, they are asking for the same amenities that most of us have.
Finally, because water is a shared resource, the question becomes who takes water first, and second, and so on. Let’s first provide water for cities and towns, then keep a healthy environment, and then see how we can distribute the rest of it to meet the remaining needs. This order is very important, as we have seen communities lacking in access to drinking water due to dried out lakes and rivers develop respiratory problems because people are breathing in the fine particulates from lakebeds and river beds. Yes, I value food and agriculture, I am a good eater. I support agriculture that is environmentally responsible (protect natural resources and do not exploit it) and socially responsible (protect their workers, pay good salaries, and invest in local communities). A lot of non-responsible agriculture is spreading throughout our nation, and we need to protect our people and our natural resources, I also think that we can agree on that. Water is a shared resource, thus, it is a responsibility for everyone to take care of it.