California Heartbeat Initiative

California Heartbeat Initiative 1

Water is the life-blood of California

Yet how water pulses through the state isn’t clearly known. After arriving as winter rain, summer fog, or Sierra Nevada snow, California’s water supply promptly enters a black box.

Some of that precipitation swells streams. Some filters through soil to replenish aquifers. Some gets absorbed by plants and returned to the sky.

How much does that leave for Californians to wash dishes, irrigate crops, and fill reservoirs?

The California Heartbeat Initiative (CHI) can answer that question for today and the increasingly uncertain climate of tomorrow. The effort builds on techniques pioneered by UC researchers to track the fate of raindrops as they move through the landscape. They’re tracking sap flow through trees, and measuring transpiration from leaves. They’re monitoring wells extending to bedrock, and flying drones to gauge the moisture content of forests. All of this information helps model how long water lingers in different segments of the environment.

The initiative will measure environmental water at NRS reserves and other protected lands across the state, then integrate the data into climate models. The result: five- to fifteen-year predictions of California’s water status.  

As climate change intensifies, these “look aheads” will become ever more critical to sustain our way of life. Forecasts point to greater swings in temperature and weather. Decades of drought could alternate with years of extreme floods. Information gathered and synthesized by the initiative will be provided to the public through an online data hub.

Farmers will rely on this information to select their crops. Water managers will use it to manage reservoir storage and river flows. Politicians will refer to it to guide public policies. And the public will search it out before planting gardens or making business plans.

By supporting the California Heartbeat Initiative, you can help ensure that critical information about state’s most precious resource is available to shape an environmentally resilient future.