Karrie Reid’s work helps optimize urban landscape irrigation, conserve water
Karrie Reid didn't plan to become a scientist, but she fell in love with plants. Reid joined UC Agriculture and Natural Resources as the environmental horticulture advisor for San Joaquin County in 2010, with funding from the county's Public Works Solid Waste Division. She plans to retire Sept. 30.
Reid, who was born in Jackson in Amador County, earned her bachelor's degree in biology from UC Santa Cruz and her master's degree in horticulture and agronomy from UC Davis. She has written nearly 100 articles on – and trained hundreds of people in – sustainable urban landscape management.
“After spending several years teaching and raising my children, I decided to go back to school for my graduate degree mostly because I saw such a great need for better planning and management in urban landscapes.”
While working on her graduate degree, Reid began assisting Loren Oki, UC Cooperative Extension landscape horticulture specialist in the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences, on two projects related to landscape water conservation and quality.
For one of those projects, she identified chemicals in urban runoff water from single-family homes and educated homeowners on practices to reduce pollutants sent to local waterways. In the other, she ran irrigation and climate zone trials on landscape ornamental plants in Northern California at Davis and Southern California at UC South Coast Research and Extension Center in Irvine.
“At the time, I didn't know the job of environmental horticulture advisor even existed, so when I discovered it, I was eager to try that career path,” she said.
As a UCCE advisor, Reid has continued to collaborate on the UC Landscape Plant Irrigation Trials project, sharing the results with UC Master Gardener volunteers, landscape professionals and home gardeners, who use the water use and climate performance data to select their plants. Because about half of urban water in California is used for landscape irrigation, the plant varieties chosen can help conserve water.
When asked what stands out looking back on her career, Reid said, “I feel most proud of my role in the UC Landscape Plant Irrigation Trials because it has reached so many people and had such a high impact for the nursery and landscape industries. We had a lot of detractors, but we continued to pursue it because we believed in it. It has been a powerful vehicle for raising awareness and changing practice around urban landscape water conservation.”
In 2020, Reid and Oki received nearly $1 million from the CDFA/USDA Specialty Crops Multistate Program to fund a new Climate Ready Landscape Plants project, expanding the research trials to Washington, Oregon, Utah and Arizona. She is currently finishing up that research and the results will help people in the other Western states make informed decisions to select low water-use landscape plants.
In 2020, when the county considered redirecting funding for Reid's salary as a UC Cooperative Extension advisor to cover new mandates, several people who had collaborated with Reid over the years wrote letters urging the county to continue funding her position.
One of her supporters was Todd Rocha, Parks and Recreation superintendent for the city of Tracy.
“When I reached out to the UC Cooperative Extension for assistance with an issue in a streetscape, Karrie responded,” Rocha wrote. “Upon her arrival, it became immediately evident she is knowledgeable and eager to share that knowledge. As an added result to the solution she offered that day, we coordinated a landscape irrigation seminar in which she presented basic irrigation principles in a manner that was straightforward and understandable by my maintenance staff.”
Pleased with Reid's seminar, Rocha arranged for her to provide Green Gardener training to City of Tracy's parks staff and school ground staff. Green Gardener's environmentally friendly landscape practices conserve water, prevent polluted runoff, divert green waste from landfills and use best management practices to care for grass, shrubs and trees. After the training, the city diverted thousands of yards of chipped tree trimming to be used as mulch.
“What they are learning in this program will improve the conditions of our sites, make the facilities safer and just as importantly – help us protect and conserve resources,” wrote Don Scholl, Tracy's Public Works Department director.
Reid said, “I am also quite satisfied with the Green Gardener Training I put together for landscape maintenance professionals and the large number of folks in the industry that educational program has helped during my relatively short career with UCCE.”
Timothy Pelican, agricultural commissioner in San Joaquin County, wrote: “The job she does in helping gardeners understand the use of integrated pest management helps to protect our air and waterways from unnecessary pesticide exposure. In San Joaquin County, runoff from improper pesticide use oftentimes ends up running off into the Delta, endangering both people and wildlife.”
Steve Dutra, president of Tree Lodi, wrote that he has attended several of Reid's workshops. “As a certified arborist, I have relied on this advisor numerous times,” Dutra wrote. “It is a known fact that not everyone can know everything in their given profession. From my prospective, having the expertise and experience available is of great value.”
Farmers also voiced appreciation for Reid. Jerry Barton of Ripon worked with her to recycle his orchards by chipping trees for mulch rather than burning the wood.
“In Karrie Reid you have an exceptional person working as our environmental horticulture advisor in San Joaquin County,” Barton wrote to the Solid Waste Division. “On numerous occasions I have called on her for advice. She is always prompt in her response and I have even received her counsel after normal business hours. She represents the very definition of an exceptional public servant.”