History of Rainfall to Groundwater

The history of this approach/perspective dates back to the mid-1800s, with scientific articulations by the early 20th Century, as documented in the forthcoming book, Rainfall to Groundwater: History of the Science.

But that was only revealed through a LOT of digging through the historical literature, ultimately expedited by the emergence of Google Scholar in 2005.

Verna almost unwittingly meandered into this focus for her doctoral work, having originally chosen a different topic within Conservation Ecology.  But in retrospect, she was always headed this way.

Her prior academic background in Botany and Landscape Architecture, along with extensive field experience in a variety of especially California landscapes, had imbued certain perspectives about how watersheds function.

Verna’s Master of Landscape Architecture training at Cal Poly Pomona included Grading and Drainage.  Requisite were calculations to predict increase in runoff from land development – commonly known as the rational equation or formula for Q = Peak discharge in cubic feet per second (cfs):  Q=ciA

See Glossary for more info but “c” in that equation  = Rational Method Runoff Coefficient and that runoff coefficient is determined by land cover type.  Coefficients used by some today, like the Oregon Department of Transportation Hydraulics Manual may be greatly refined and far more specific than those used during the 1980s when Verna applied them in her studies.

As a general rule, forested landscapes have a much smaller runoff coefficient than grasslands, which have a smaller runoff coefficient than developed lands, etc.

This appeared to be general knowledge at the time, certainly as applied to land development.  Verna naively imagined this perspective was more or less universal among those interested in such issues.

But a series of experiences as she interfaced with and spoke up for watersheds during the early to mid-1990s convinced her otherwise.

That exposure influenced her choice to pursue steelhead as a focal species in the geographic information system (GIS) study pursuant to, originally Ventana, later Central Coast Wildlands Project, which she established as part of her doctoral internship.

The primary aim of that project initiated 1999, was to identify regional wildlife habitat connectivity needs, but most similar studies emphasized terrestrial species.  So even evaluating watersheds and aquatic species habitat connectivity was a departure from the standard.

While the steelhead database was discussed in the final project report, all analyses conducted during that project were relegated to Verna’s doctoral dissertation.

As it turned out, even correlating steelhead habitat connectivity with the condition of associated watersheds proved unusual and it gave Verna some special insights.

Most profound was recognition of the vastness of essentially non-native annual grasslands over watersheds whose outflows are not captured by major dams/ reservoirs.

These non-native annual grasslands are lands whose detention functions have been degraded by historical, and likely even prehistorical land uses.

Verna reasoned that these watersheds might be restored to provide the baseflows steelhead need, complementing human demands on existing storage facilities.

It was simultaneously clear that restoration would benefit human water needs, reducing flooding and expanding opportunities for infiltration and percolation to groundwater upon which humans and ecosystems depend.

She did attempt to bring this concept to public agency attention, including extensive 2009 input to the California Water Plan then in progress for 2010, among other contexts, to no avail.

Then, guessing the paradigmatic tide had turned with the implementation of California’s 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act she provided input in August 2016, only to have to reiterate it in other terms, March 2017 – none of it even acknowledged.

Meanwhile, life evolved through various changes.

In 2015, Verna began an ill-fated effort to coordinate a grant proposal applying the Rainfall to Groundwater principles (under other terms then) to two large watersheds as demonstration projects, outreaching to a potential nonprofit fiscal sponsor, pertinent public agencies and other nonprofits.  That effort collapsed, partly due to a fluke, but it had not succeeded in convincing potential partners in any case.

Shortly after the demise of that effort in 2016, Verna took an online course that helped her envision a different approach to getting the word out on these vital and timely opportunities – one she could initiate without group buy-in.

Went through a couple nerdier titles before settling on Rainfall to Groundwater in May 2017.  Now, this approach gets opened up to the broader court of public opinion while Verna strives to make clear how it can benefit us all.