<![CDATA[NBC Southern California - Running Dry]]> Copyright 2015 http://www.nbclosangeles.com/feature/running-dry http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/NBC4_40x125.png NBC Southern California http://www.nbclosangeles.com en-us Fri, 09 Oct 2015 10:47:14 -0700 Fri, 09 Oct 2015 10:47:14 -0700 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Pumpkin Farmer Drastically Cuts Water Usage]]> Thu, 08 Oct 2015 07:10:06 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/214*120/NC_pumpkinwater1007.jpg A pumpkin farmer in Utah used to use 1,500 gallons of water a minute for 19 hours each week. With smart irrigation techniques, he cut his water usage by two-thirds.]]> <![CDATA[Ventura County Preps for Winter of El Niño Storms]]> Wed, 30 Sep 2015 23:33:17 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/150930-ventura-county-levee.jpg

The scenario of a massive mudflow clogging a flood control channel seemed almost unimaginable on another 80 degree, blue-sky day of drought. 

But for officials in Ventura County, the prospect of an extraordinarily wet El Niño winter means need to prepare and drill for a sudden transformation from running dry to overflowing.
"We have to be concerned, and that's why we're translating that concern into preparation," said Mike Powers, Ventura County CEO.
The county's Emergency Operations Center in the city of Ventura took charge of managing and directing the response to the exercise as it will for the real thing.
One of the key elements to be put to the test is a new data management system for tracking and processing multiple emergency reports during a natural disaster or other widespread crisis, Powers said.
In the field, a public works crew on patrol in the agricultural community of Somis came across the blocked culvert scenario, and deployed an excavator to clear it.
Officials acknowledged strong storms could bring far worse situations, including the failure of a levee that is adjacent to major recent development in the city of Oxnard.
Southern California has often received far greater than normal winter rainfall during past occurrences of the so-called El Niño phenomenon, marked by warming tropical waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean offshore from the Americas.
The chance of El Nino continuing through winter--when the impact is felt most--is 95 percent, according to the Climate Prediction Center.
Heavy rain winters--including one in 2004-05 that was not linked to El Niño--have taken a toll on the county.
After a series of strong storms in January 2005, a massive mudslide buried a portion of the community of La Conchita, claiming 10 lives.  At its mouth, the Ventura River crested over its banks, partially flooding the Ventura Beach RV resort, and closing the 101 Freeway where it crosses the river.
The RV resort had suffered even worse flooding a decade earlier during the El Niño winters of 1995 and 1992, when some parked vehicles were literally carried out to sea.
During winters since those episodes, resort management has kept vehicles farther from the river, and before forecasted major storms, moved its guests to the county fairgrounds, said TJ Staben, whose family owns the resort.
A major public safety concern remains the homeless who for decades have set up encampments amid the riverbed foliage during dry times.
In 1992, some of the unpermitted campers were caught up in the sudden flooding, and though several were rescued, one man died. The riverbed was made off limits, but keeping people out has been a continuing challenge.
In anticipation of this El Niño winter, county agencies have already begun clearing out encampments and relocating the homeless to temporary shelter, said Jeff Pratt, director of Ventura County Public Works.
Another concern he cited is the aging earthen levee that keeps the Santa Clara River from the Oxnard flood plain.
Portions of the levee have failed during three previous winter storms, Pratt said.
In the years since, the major planned community River Park and the Collection shopping mall have been developed in Oxnard not far from the levee.
Pratt said significant repairs and reinforcements have been made over the years and as recently as this summer, but ultimately the levee will have to be rebuilt at an estimated cost of as much as $50 million, for which funding is yet to be arranged.  The county is hoping for help from the Army Corps of Engineers, the builder of the original levee prior to World War II.
Resident JP Latham, who moved to California and settled in Oxnard three years ago, said he had taken note of the levee work a month ago and is not concerned about flood risk, but then added: "I might change my mind in an instant if the river rises quickly."
The Public Works director said officials will keep a close watch on the levee, and have a number of evacuation routes ready to be used if needs be. 
"If it fails, we'll just start getting people out of the way," Pratt said.

Photo Credit: KNBC-TV]]>
<![CDATA[Men Invent Device to Help Save Water]]> Sun, 13 Sep 2015 00:19:16 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Men_Invent_Device_to_Help_Save_Water_1200x675_524497475959.jpg Three friends from Santa Ana had never invented anything before. Their backgrounds are in digital marketing and film production, but they were so inspired by California’s drought, they put their heads together to invent a solution: a “smart shower.” Angie Crouch reports for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015.]]> <![CDATA[Foothill Residents Asked to 'Judiciously Water Plants']]> Tue, 08 Sep 2015 00:00:43 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/150907-altadena-neighborhood.jpg

As the severe drought continues to grip California, residents of an Altadena neighborhood have been told for more than a year to conserve water.

Residents have dutifully installed water-stingy sprinklers and drip irrigation systems. Others have let their lawns go completely brown.

So it came as a surprise to some when they received a letter from LA County's fire chief late last month asking them to "judiciously water plants and ornamental vegetation in accordance with your local water restriction ordinances" - effectively asking neighbors to keep their lawns and gardens crisp without going overboard.

In the foothills above Pasadena, fires are a constant concern. In his letter, Fire Chief Daryl. L. Osby said if plant life is tinder dry because residents have stopped watering their plants altogether, fires can be even more devastating than they have in the past.

More than 52,000 households received the letter, in neighborhoods from Santa Clarita to Glendora and Azusa to Altadena.

Some residents said the message is mixed when it comes to watering or not.

"That's kind of confusing because you tell me to stop and now you just want me to leave it on," one neighbor said.

Photo Credit: KNBC-TV]]>
<![CDATA[California Drought Images: Disappearing Water]]> Thu, 27 Aug 2015 09:05:10 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/182*120/04-02-2015-orville-lake-ca-drought-3.gif

The images below illustrate the severity of California's drought with past and recent images from around the state, now in its fourth consecutive dry year.

Some of the images are from north-central California's Lake Oroville, where receeding water levels over the past four years have revealed large swaths of lakebed. Other images from NASA show the dramatic snowpack reduction in the Sierra Nevada range, where springtime runoff provides water for an estimated 25 million Californians.

App Users: Scroll to bottom of article to access images on mobile site

Lake Oroville: July 20, 2011 - Aug. 19. 2014

The image below shows Lake Oroville near the Bidwell Marina in north-central California. The first image shows full water under the Green Bridge in July 2011. The second image from August 2014 shows a dramatic change as the lake reached 32 percent of its total 3,537,577 acre feet.

Folsom Dam: July 20, 2011 - Aug. 19, 2014

In the image below, full water levels are seen at Folsom Dam at Folsom Lake on July 20, 2011 in El Folsom, California. Significant lower water levels are visible behind the dam on August 19, 2014 in the next image, which shows the lake at 40 percent of its total capacity of 977,000 acre feet.

Bidwell Marina, Oroville: July 20, 2011 - Aug. 19, 2014

The images below show Bidwell Marina at Lake Oroville in north-central California in July 2011 and August 2014. Lake and reservoir water levels across the state are at historic lows.

Lake Oroville, Enterprise Bridge: July 20, 2011 - Aug. 19, 2014

The before-and-after images below provide an aerial view of Enterprise Bridge over Lake Oroville. The first image show full water levels in July 2011, the second image shows a significant water-level drop in August 2014.

Sierra Nevada Range: January 2013 - January 2014

These NASA images show the difference in Sierra Nevada range snowpack between January 2013 and January 2014. Springtime runoff from the snowpack provides water for millions of Californians.

Mount Shasta: Nov. 1, 2013 - Jan. 4, 2014

NASA's Operational Land Imager on the Landsat 8 satellite captured these images of California’s Mount Shasta. The first shows a snow-covered peak in January 2014, the second shows a naked landscape in November 2014 after a dry season.

More California Drought Images

Click on the galleries below to view more drought images from around California, including a look at the dismal snowpack in the Sierra Nevadas.

Photo Credit: Getty
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<![CDATA[Dramatic Photos of California's Drought]]> Fri, 21 Aug 2015 06:52:37 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/206*120/8-19-15+Drought+Land+Sinking.jpg Historically dry winters combined with years of below-average rainfall have taken a toll on California. From parched reservoirs to dry river beds, the effects can be seen across the state.

Photo Credit: California Department of Water Resources]]>
<![CDATA[Drought: How Thirsty Are California Crops?]]> Wed, 13 May 2015 20:41:45 -0700 2015 California Agricultural Water Use summary from the Pacific Institute. (Volume has been converted from acre-feet.)]]> 2015 California Agricultural Water Use summary from the Pacific Institute. (Volume has been converted from acre-feet.)]]> http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/180*120/alfalfa.JPG Major crops grown in California can soak up an incredible amount of water each year, according to a 2015 California Agricultural Water Use summary from the Pacific Institute.

Photo Credit: File Photo (Michael Duva)]]>
<![CDATA[Stunning Images of the Shrinking Salton Sea]]> Tue, 09 Jun 2015 13:32:27 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/AP826558593791drought13.jpg Once-bustling marinas in California's largest lake are now bone-dry

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Sinking Central California Farmland Hurts Water Delivery]]> Wed, 26 Aug 2015 09:57:39 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/150825-sinking-farmland-san-joaquin-valley.jpg

In year four of drought, Chase Hurley's feet almost get wet as he walks along the top of a dam across the San Joaquin River.

It's not because a lot of water is flowing down the San Joaquin -- it's at near record lows. Instead, the river is nearly up to the top of the Sack Dam because the dam is in an area of the San Joaquin Valley that is sinking and creating a bowl miles across.

It's called subsidence. It's linked to the massive pumping of wellwater for irrigation. And it ironically is creating problems for the surface water projects intended to reduce reliance on groundwater.

"The land subsidence has caused this area to sink, which is taking my Sack Dam with it," said Hurley, general manager of the San Luis Canal Company, which provides hundreds of farmers in the Dos Palos/Los Banos area with river water diverted at the Sack Dam into a canal.

What adds complication is the reality that the rest of the valley floor is not subsiding at the same rate -- mostly less than here. Which means that only a few miles down the Arroyo Canal from the dam, the ground has sunk hardly at all.

"So we're creating a hole here, and the water is having to push uphill," Hurley said.

Just a few miles away, where the Main Canal of the Central California Irrigation District (CCID) intersects with Russell Avenue, not all of the canal water crosses under the road bridge -- much goes right into the side of it as if it is a suspended dam, some of the precious liquid leaking out onto the roadway.

It's a two-and-a-half-million-dollar problem for the Irrigation District and its General Manager Chris White. Apart from the effect on the bridge, the subsidence has reduced the capacity of the canal by more than half. The bridge will have to be replaced with one with higher clearance.

White took a moment to explain a concept that many find confusing: how is it that the bridge and the canal bottom drop by the same amount, but the water rises?

The answer is gravity, pulling canal water into the subsidence - created bowl so that it remains at the same level as upsteam and downstream where there is less or no subsidence.

Truth be told, subsidence in the San Joaquin Valley farmbelt dates back decades, if not close to a century.  U.S. Geological Survey scientist Joseph Poland was the first to study it extensively.  A landmark 1977 photo shows Poland standing next to a telephone pole marked with signs showing that the ground level in 1955 was nearly 20 feet higher, and more than 30 feet higher in 1925.

It was in large part to reduce reliance on groundwater that the federal government and state of California built the massive postwar water projects that channeled Sierra snowmelt into the valley, and they indeed reduced subsidence, at least for a while.

But their water deliveries never fully replaced wells, and subsidence was not held at bay for long.

Three years before the famous Poland photo, and barely two decades after the federal Delta-Mendota Canal began delivering surface water, so much subsidence had occurred beneath this canal that levees and the dam at checkpoint 18 - near Russell Avenue - had to be raised several feet.

CCID's Main Canal Water was beginning to encroach on Russell Avenue, White recalls, when he joined the district in the mid-90s. He remembers a retiring employee  telling him that back in the 50s when they inspected the canal from a boat, there was enough headroom to take the boat beneath Russell Avenue.

Now, like the CCID's Main Canal, the surface of the much larger Delta Mendota Canal also brushes the underside of the Russell Avenue, and eventually will need to be replaced.

Research has shown that subsidence increases when less surface water is available, and growers pump more groundwater.  Apart from annual fluctuations in snowmelt and reservoir supplies, over the past two decades surface water allocations over-all have been in long term decline due to decisions committing flows to fish habitat.

Droughts have even bigger impact.

A newly published NASA JPL/Caltech study of satellite focuses on two main bowls in the San Joaquin Valley:  El Nido, 25 miles in diameter, encompassing Dos Palos; and to the south an even deeper bowl centered on Corcoran and extending some 60 miles.

Researchers found near Corcoran, from 2006 to 2010, the ground dropped as much as 37 inches. Then more recently, one measured spot dropped 13 inches during just the eight months from May of last year until this past January.

Almost as much subsidence was detected in the El Nido bowl:  two feet  from 2007 to 2010, then another 10 inches in the same more recent eight-month period.

The study also tracked subsidence along the state's largest and longest water delivery channel, the California aqueduct, and found that it "increased sharply" starting in summer of last year, with one location dropping 13 inches.

Long one of the few states that did not regulate withdrawals of groundwater, California's legislature last year adopted a  plan for groundwater sustainability, but with a timetable extendng over the next two decades.

Subsidence will also be a concern along the segment of California's high-speed rail line through the San Joaquin Valley.

The agency in charge, the High Speed Rail Authority "is well aware of the potential effects subsidence will have on the high speed rail system," said spokesperson Adeline Yee in an email response.

The Rail Authority is consulting with the USGS and a private engineering firm, and intends to use ballasted track and "types of trackways, pavements, and structures with inherent flexibility fo accommodate differential settlement," Yee stated.

For growers, the issues are perhaps even more complex.

The El Nido area is divided  between growers with starkly differing access to surface water.  On the eastern side of the San Joaquin River, many growers have no connection to surface water sources and are entirely reliant on groundwater.

On the west bank are so-called "exchange contractors" with strong water rights that date back to the 19th century.  Later, when the federal government wanted to tap the San Joaquin for irrigation along the east side of the valley, they exchanged their San Joaquin water rights for a federal commitment to supply surface water from other sources, primarily the Delta Mendota Canal.

The result is that the CCID, San Luis Water company, and other districts included in the exchange agreement have continued to receive surface water even during this drought, though the allocations have been cutback.  Even the CCID and some growers have wells to augment their surface deliveries, though White said their wells draw from a shallow aquifer that recharges during wet winters.

The fear with deep aquifers in clay soil is that once the water is withdrawn from deep layers of clay and susidence occurs, the aquifer is essentially destoryed.

"All the weight of the land tends to squeeze those clays together, and once they squeeze and collapse they will never recover." said White.

Now in time of drought, growers on both sides of the San Joaquin are feeling each other's pain.

The San Luis Canal Company and the federal Bureau of Reclamation have explored the possibility of building a higher dam to replace Sack Dam. It would be part of a bigger project that would include restoring salmon runs in the San Joaquin. But the Sack Dam replacement was never put out to bid, in large part due to the uncertainty over the long term effects of subsidence, Hurley said.

A bigger concern is raising water level high enough to maintain gravity flow done San Luis's Arroyo Canal.  Doing so may require building another canal coming off the San Joaquin upstream above the subsidence bowl. Another expensive option, would be to build a pumping station to pump the water uphill.

As an alternative, Hurley and White have been meeting with the growers who lack water rights in the hope of providing them access to surface water and reduding their need to pump groundwater.

"I'd rather spend the investment working with our neighbors to reduce their reliance on the deep aquifer," Hurley said.

Photo Credit: KNBC-TV]]>
<![CDATA[Lawn Replacement Company Changes Name, Customers Claim 'Same BS']]> Mon, 24 Aug 2015 18:39:14 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/artificial-grass-090711.jpg

An NBC4 inquiry into why Southern California homeowners had their lawn replacement plan "voided" by Turf Terminators is leading to questions about why the company changed its name.

Jay Aldrich and Bob Dugan, of North Hills, said they wanted to take advantage of the LADWP rebate program to tear out their lawn and put in a drought-tolerant one. They called Turf Terminators, an LA-based company that promises to do the basic work at no cost to homeowners, in exchange for their city-funded rebate.

The couple accused the company of making "empty promises," while Turf Terminators said it was working to rectify the situation.

But now, the California Contractors’ State Licensing Board (CSLB) says Turf Terminators officially started doing business as "Build Savings" on July 20. When asked about the name change, the Chief Operating Officer for Turf Terminators, Julian Fox, doesn’t mention the new name, only to say the company is still "Turf Terminators," just using a "doing business as."

Fox sent this email to NBC4: "Turf Terminators did not change its name. It simply added a DBA, or 'doing business as,' which is registered with the CSLB. As I'm sure you are aware, using a DBA is a very common business practice which is why the CSLB lists our DBA on their website. Our DBA is filed with both the California Secretary of State and with the CSLB. Both of these filings are visible online at the respective state agency websites."

When NBC4 asked the CSLB about the change, a spokesman said the company cannot use the Turf Terminator name any longer without saying "DBA Build Savings." Rick Lopes with CSLB said the state investigates claims against contractors all the time and takes every one of them seriously.

"If there is evidence of them writing new contracts under the Turf Terminators name," Lopes said, "we’d be interested in learning that."

Fox says the company "is not and has not" been seeking new customers.

"We’ve eliminated tabs on the website that might make new customers thing that they are 'signing up,'" he wrote, adding, "it is important to us that our existing customers have a way to get in touch with us do that we can address issues if they arise.”

However, NBC4 noticed the Turf Terminators website was still active, with links to sign up as of Monday morning. By the afternoon though, the site had been changed to show only contact information for existing customers to contact the company. It’s a move the CSLB says is a smart one but can also be a confusing one.

"They need to be very careful since both names are part of their company," Lopes said. "a consumer needs to know what company they’re contracting with and that the company is properly licensed."

Up until Monday, both the Turf Terminators website and the Build Savings website showed the same license number.

"It’s like a company that just files bankruptcy and the next week they’re on another street doing another thing," said Turf Terminators customer Eddy Salman of La Mirada,. "Same routine, same BS, different day."

Salman says a representative from the company came to his property in February and spent three hours measuring for a project he was ready to add thousands of dollars of his own money into to expand. Now, he calls his dead lawn the "Sahara" and says his constant emails and phone calls went unanswered.

"They tell you a good lie and they never come through," Salman said. "I had to include Channel 4 News in (an email) for them to even respond to my email when they weren’t responding at all!"

Salman says he reached out to the company on Friday and was told they would get back to him. By Monday afternoon he said he still hadn’t heard anything.

Fox says the company has had to cut back on its staff but that they will rectify all claims that have approached NBC4. He suggests anyone with an outstanding case to contact Turf Terminators by email: info@turfterminators.com.

"We are willing to fix customer issues," he wrote, "but can only do so if we are made aware of them."

Fox added,: To be clear, Turf Terminators is still here and remains committed to working through its backlog of existing customers."

There has been no comment from the company about its reasons behind the name change to Build Savings.

In a statement from the CSLB, they want anyone who feels they were victimized by Turf Terminators to file an official complaint.

"The complaint shouldn’t simply be based on confusion," Lopes said. "Unless that confusion led them to sign something they didn’t understand or led them to pay money for something they didn’t completely understand."

The CSLB says all current and future contracts with the company, as of July 20, should say "Build Savings" with the license number 992766 or it should say "Turf Terminators DBA Build Savings" with the same license number. Lopes says the company should not only include the name "Turf Terminators."

"Consumers need to know what company they’re dealing with," he said. "Consumer complaints help us figure out how a company is operating and if crimes are being broken."

The CSLB says there are no disclosures on file against Turf Terminators or Build Savings.

Photo Credit: NBCDFW.com]]>
<![CDATA[Homeowners Say Lawn Removal Company Made "Empty Promises"]]> Fri, 21 Aug 2015 19:47:43 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/214*120/vlcsnap-2015-05-12-22h17m06s253.png

A Southern California couple who wanted to install a drought-tolerant lawn as part of a city rebate program said an LA-based company gave "empty promises," while the company said what happened was "certainly not a case of fraud."

Jay Aldrich and Bob Dugan say they wanted to take advantage of the LADWP rebate program to tear out their lawn and put in a drought-tolerant one. So they did what thousands before them had done — they called Turf Terminators, an LA-based company that promises to do the basic work at no cost to homeowners, in exchange for their city-funded rebate.

“Early April we contacted Turf Terminators via their website,” Aldrich said.

A field rep arrived to survey the property and draw up plans on May 7, he said.

“The plan was to tear up the front lawn only and put in their planting stuff and we were going to upgrade the rock,” he said, adding that he understood he would pay out-of-pocket for the $250 upgrade.

“He said it could be anywhere from six to eight weeks before we got final approval,” Aldrich said.

Aldrich said when he started to see reports that DWP was changing the rebate program, he got nervous.

“So I started emailing him messages saying we were concerned,” he said, adding that his field rep reassured him that everything was fine for his case and even agreed that it would be OK to let his lawn finally dry out.

Four months later, Aldrich said his field rep stopped answering emails and multiple calls to the company ended the same way, with unfulfilled promises that someone who call him back.

“Four times that happened and no one has ever called back,” Alridch said. “I just want an answer.”

NBC4 reached out to Turf Terminators. The company’s Chief Operating Officer, Julian Fox, sent this statement:

“I’ve spoken with the Dugans (Jay Aldrich & Bob Dugan) and we have expedited their installation to this Saturday. I've been able to determine the following facts about the scenario you brought to my attention. The situation is certainly not a case of fraud. At its core, the delay in their project was the result of a missing piece of paperwork.”

Aldrich said he was not made aware of any missing paperwork, but also said that he never received his official “pre-approved” notice from the company.

Fox added: “We inform all customers that the next step after signing a contract is for us to apply for their rebate to be ‘pre-approved.’ However, applications for pre-approval do not guarantee pre-approval, nor payment. As the first step in signing our contract, the Dugans signed a disclaimer stating that their ‘ … rebate is not guaranteed — it is subject to the approval terms and conditions of your local rebate program.’ As such, the Dugans would be acting at their own risk by performing any preparatory work before we informed them that their project had been pre-approved.”

Aldrich says they spent nearly $300 on succulent plants, fake rocks and border walls to enhance the upcoming landscaping work.

The statement from Turf Terminators continued that the homeowners had planned to collect the rebate check themselves and then pay the company upon completion of the work. Aldrich says that’s not true and is the basis for his constant calls to the company asking for updates — calls he said were never returned.

As for the document the company said they never received from the homeowners, Aldrich said he doesn’t know what they’re referring to.

“We were left confused about the rebate financing and could never get a straight answer,” he said.

In his statement, Fox said, “We made multiple attempts to collect this document from every customer who fell into this scenario, including the Dugans, however we did not ever receive this document from the Dugans and were not able to submit a rebate application for them,” adding, “it is unfortunate that this administrative process and delays have created a financial burden for the Dugans. I further sympathize with their frustration and challenges in connecting with the right team in our company. I am in touch with the Dugans and actively working with them to resolve the scenario. We have scheduled a crew to perform their project this Saturday, August 22.”

Turf Terminators said it is committed to rectifying Aldrich and Dugan’s case, even promising to upgrade to the river rock design free-of-charge. The company said it has not received the couple’s rebate check and cannot receive it until the work is completed and DWP does its own inspection to verify completion.

The California Contractors State Licensing Board says Turf Terminators officially changed their name to "Build Savings" in July.

The Board will require them to take down their website or forward customers to the new company's site.

When NBC4 asked about the name change, Turf Terminators did not respond.

Photo Credit: necn]]>
<![CDATA[Drought Concerns Prompt Cancellation of Annual Grand Prix]]> Fri, 21 Aug 2015 04:09:12 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/214*120/grand_prix_event_canceled.PNG

Organizers of the annual Lake Elsinore Grand Prix announced they were canceling this year's event because of the state's drought and water conservations efforts.

The event, normally held in November, calls for water to wash down the track circuit that motocross riders race along. The area is surrounded by about seven fire hyndrants which the event will not be able to use because of drought restrictions mandated by Gov. Jerry Brown's office, organizers said.

"All year everyone looks forward to getting in, to racing bikes, racing UTV cars," said John Pacheco of IMG Sports. IMG Sports competes every year and has won several medals in the annual competition.

The event has been held annually since 1996 and attracts thousands of visitors to Lake Elsinore. The competition is also a boon for local businesses who profit from the influx of out-of-town visitors.

"Unfortunately, we're just in a huge drought right now," said Dave Oster, president of STORM, the organization that puts together the event each year.

Organizers considered transporting recycled water to the site of the race but believed logistically it was not viable option because water would have to hauled to spots along the course. Event organizers said they hope next year they will be able to resume the event.

California is in its fourth consecutive year of below-normal precipitation.

<![CDATA[El Niño Forecast Reaches 'Very Strong' Category]]> Fri, 14 Aug 2015 09:00:43 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/189*120/08-13-2015-el-nino-ocean-temperatures.jpg

Chances continue to increase that Southern California will get major drought relief this winter from storms associated with powerful El Niño conditions, according to climate scientists and a new analysis from the federal Climate Predication Center.

The most recent forecasts show El Niño reaching the "very strong" category, and likely to persist through the winter months when the most rain and snow is likely to fall. The odds of El Niño continuing through winter are now put at 90 percent, with an 85 percent likelihood it will continue until early spring.

"It definitely looks like the real deal," said Bill Patzert, a climatologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "This is the Godzilla El Niño if it matures and comes to actual fruition."

Strong El Niño conditions are associated with wetter winters in Southern California and across the southern tier of the United States, while other areas in the states, Central America, and the western Pacific receive less precipitation.   

Data-gathering satellites have been monitoring the development of El Niñ, the term given the phenomenon in which tropical waters in the Pacific Ocean become warmer than typical near the Americas, and cooler in the western Pacific.

A larger change in temperature means a stronger El Niño. A weak El Niño has minimal impact, as last winter when drought-stricken California received below average precipitation for a fourth straight year.

The term was first applied by Spanish speakers in the Americas near the equator, where the phenomenon arrives near Christmastime. "El Niño" refers to the Christ child.

In this year's data, Patzert sees a pattern remarkably similar to the growth of the last major El Niño in 1997-98.

"Right now the signal we see, from the satellite, is larger than August of 1997," Patzert said. "This could be the El Niño of our generation."

Its moisture being seen as a potential rescuer during drought represents a role reversal for El Niño, which was blamed for billions of dollars in storm damage in 1997-98 and previously in 1982-83, when piers were torn apart by massive waves and storm surges, and floods and mudslides poured from hills.

"El Niño is definitely a double-bladed sword," Patzert said.

Some "preliminary impact" is already being felt, he said. Patzert is reluctant to ascribe specific meteorological events to the direct influence of El Niño. But he said the monsoonal moisture from the south that brought Los Angeles almost unheard of July rain last month is consistent with El Niño's development, as is the drought developing in Panama.

Since 1950, there have been 22 seasons with an El Niño. Twelve brought above-average rainfall, as much as two to three times normal. February, 1998 recorded 17 inches of rain. But El Niño is not the only factor influencing winter storms, and in fact there was no El Niño during 2004-05, LA's single wettest season recorded since the 19th century. 

In most years, equatorial trade winds blowing from east to west across the Pacific tend to disrupt the accumulation of warmer water along the Americas. In El Niño years, those trade winds largely disappear during late summer and fall.  

"The next three months will tell the tale," Patzert said.

But even a strong and wet El Niño winter likely will not be enough by itself to undo the water debt run up during the past three and a half years of drought, Patzert and water experts agree.

"It's not a drought-buster," but could be a "down payment" toward ending the drought, Patzert said.

Also being watched closely is a longer term phenomenon known as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) which cycles between wetter and drier phases than tend to last 20 years or so before a phase shift.

Western America has been under the influence of a drier phase that began around the turn of the new millennium 15 years ago.

Patzert sees evidence the PDO may have begun shifting back to a wetter phase, which would be accompanied by a more frequent occurrence of El Niño conditions.  

"That would be the drought buster," Patzert said.

But he emphasized the evidence of a PDO shift is not clear cut, and may not become apparent for several years.

Photo Credit: NOAA
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<![CDATA[Pastry Makeover: Fighting the Drought With Doughnuts]]> Tue, 11 Aug 2015 13:37:27 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/214*120/Randy%27s+Donuts+Water+1+8-11-15.JPG

The iconic planetary pastry sign at Randy's Donuts debuted its new look Tuesday morning in an effort to raise awareness to conserve water during California’s crippling drought.

Customers will now be greeted with a red faucet knob, instead of the usual giant doughnut that has attracted revelers for decades.

The Metropolitan Water District teamed up with the bakery in Inglewood to temporarily turn the sign into a reminder for water conservation.

Aside from being greeted with a new look, customers who pledged to conserve water were offered free doughnuts between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. Tuesday morning.

"We know it's our turn, we're doing our share in Inglewood, but we are so proud that we picked this iconic landmark, that is now known nationwide, to put this message out," said Inglewood Mayor James Butts. "It's everybody's turn to save water."

The enormous sign at the famous bakery has only been transformed once before in 2014, when the landmark doughnut was turned into an L.A. Kings hockey puck to celebrate the team’s Stanley Cup championship.

"We all know that we need to save water, and this is a perfect spot to pick here in the South Bay area, Randy's Donuts, because again it's a landmark, many people have come here for years," said Gloria Gray, Metropolitan director."It's all about saving water, it's all about taking your turn."

The new sign reads, "Take your turn" and includes the campaign's website, bewaterwise.com along with "Randy's Donuts" posted on either side of the knob.

"You have been doing great, but we need to do better, and it's all about awareness, and again this is a perfect place to be this morning to make sure we're all aware,” Gray said.

Photo Credit: KNBC]]>
<![CDATA[SoCal City May Ban Construction of New Pools]]> Tue, 04 Aug 2015 13:20:14 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/pool+generic.jpg

Laguna Beach may prohibit the construction of new pools, given the state's extreme drought conditions, according to a new city ordinance.

Last month, the Laguna Beach City Council approved a 45-day moratorium, prohibiting the approval of any pool construction or installation of pools and spas that don't already have review entitlements.

Now, the council is slated to discuss the moratorium, along with future policies regarding pool construction in the area, at their meeting on Tuesday at 6 p.m., according to the City Council's agenda for tonight's meeting.

The City Council is expected to consider several options which include requiring pool covers be used on every pool and spa, and prohibiting the construction of decorative water features such as ponds.

Yet, another option considers immediately ending the moratorium altogether, according to the meeting's agenda.

"With the institution of a requirement to have a pool covered, that could reduce by as much as 70 percent evaporation factor from swimming pools," said City Manager John Pietig. "It's one of a long list of things the City Council has to consider in the future in order to reduce water usage."

Possible Laguna Beach restrictions come after Gov. Jerry Brown announced a 25 percent water use reduction mandate in April.

If the city council votes to prohibit building new pools, one recommendation slated to be considered is for the council to allow the 54 pending applications submitted before July 14, 2015 to proceed, given they meet the proper requirements.

An average pool is filled with about 14,000 gallons of water, which is slightly less than the amount of water needed for a grass lawn, according to Laguna Beach officials.

One homeowner told NBC4 that he was a week away from final approval, after a year of design and review on his home, when the moratorium went into effect.

Yet, homeowners and other members of the public will have the opportunity to share their opinions on the issue at tonight's meeting, according to the City Council's agenda.

Photo Credit: NBC New York]]>
<![CDATA[Drought Sparks New Concerns of Falling Trees ]]> Thu, 30 Jul 2015 05:27:48 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/RMG_Pasadena_Tree_Pt_2_1200x675_493111363832.jpg

As conservation efforts continue to take effect during the California drought, many trees in parks and city streets are succumbing to the dry conditions, raising concerns among area residents.

On Tuesday, a massive tree came crashing down outside a children's museum in Pasadena, injuring at least nine children.

Witnesses said there was "no warning" when the 75-foot pine tree snapped and fell to the ground in Brookside Park outside Kidspace Children's Museum.

While experts cite several reasons for the downfall, weather conditions may be to blame.

Botanic consultant Frank Mc Donough of the L.A County Arboretum says fungus, which spring to life during a rainfall and after a dry spell, is one of the reasons why trees fall to their death.

"It will encapsulate itself in buried wood, hunker down for years at a time until conditions are right," McDonough said. "It goes into the crowd, eats up the crown, and the tree falls over."

McDonough also attributed the collapsing of trees to a "summer limb drop," which he described as a tree that already has a high center of gravity or compromised rootbase.

He says, it normally happens to trees that are irrigated in high humidity during the summer.

"Water goes rushing up into the tree towards the leaves and instead of being evaporated out because of the high humidity, the limbs get very heavy and eventually they break or snap off," said McDonough.

Trees can also get tied up in their roots, McDonough said, making them more of a risk to toppling over.

On Wednesday, an arborist examined the tree that came crashing down outside the Pasadena museum, but there was no word on what may have caused the tree to topple

Kidspace Museum CEO Michael Shanklin says the city regularly maintains the trees on the grounds and sends an arborist to examine them at least four times a year.

The incident remains under investigation.

Jessica Perez contributed to this report.

<![CDATA[Shower Curtain Lets Bathers Know It's Time to Get Out]]> Wed, 29 Jul 2015 13:40:42 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/h20-curtain-2.jpg

A London-based artist may have the solution for those who enjoy long showers even in the midst of a drought.

Elisabeth Buecher designed a shower curtain that encourages people to stop wasting water after four minutes. The project, which features a water tap sensor that triggers the inflation of spikes, is part of an installation series called “My Shower Curtain is a Green Warrior.”

Bucher said in an email that people sometimes need a little prodding to be mindful of saving water.

“I see my curtains like alarm clocks,” Buecher said. “You don’t want to get up in the morning but you have to and the alarm clock helps you to do it”.

Although the plastic spikes are harmless, Buecher found inspiration in the medieval torture devices seen in Tim Burton’s “Sleepy Hollow.”

Buecher uses her textile installations to raise awareness about social and environmental issues.

The shower curtain is currently a prototype, which the artist and educator uses for educational purposes. However, Buecher would love to see her products on store shelves.

She has also created a shower curtain that slowly inflates around a person and only allows for a four-minute shower before it traps them.

“People get very excited about it for lots of different reasons,” Buecher said. “The curtains do create a lot of interesting discussions across generations and fields.” 

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Buecher]]>
<![CDATA[State Parks and Beaches to Turn Off Rinse Showers]]> Sat, 11 Jul 2015 10:02:43 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/beach15.jpg

Sandy rides home from the beach are in store for California beachgoers, after all California state beaches and state parks were ordered to turn off their outdoor rinse showers to conserve water amid the state's record-breaking drought.

Starting July 15, the rinse stations at state parks and beaches statewide will be turned off in an effort to meet Governor Jerry Brown's 25 percent water use reduction mandate.

Although the department has already met Gov. Jerry Brown's 25 percent reduction of water use mandate, some parks and beaches will have to take additional measures such as turning off sinks and replacing them with hand sanitizers, or by installing low-flow toilets and faucets.

It is estimated that turning off the showers will conserve 1.2 gallons of water per use, and more than 18 million gallons of water a year, according to the California Department of Parks and Recreation.

The department suggests that people looking to clean themselves of sand or dirt use alternative methods like bringing a brush or towel to remove sand, or bringing a jug of water from home.

<![CDATA[Funding for Lawn Replacement Program Runs Dry]]> Thu, 09 Jul 2015 20:31:11 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/drought-generic-brown-grass.jpg

A popular water-saving rebate program that subsidized the cost of replacing lawns with more drought-friendly plants has run out of funding, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California said Wednesday.

All funding for the agency's turf removal program has been allocated after applications far exceeded the state’s $450 million water conservation budget.

The program was the largest of its kind in the nation and in May was even increased by $350 million following Gov. Jerry Brown’s call to decrease water usage by 25 percent. Residents flocked to apply for funds, quickly draining the coffers.

The agency, which imports water from the Colorado River and Northern California for 26 cities and water agencies in six counties, had expected that the funding for the program would run out by the end of the year.

"We knew that the popularity of the turf program would exhaust the available funds at some point, but even we didn’t predict just how popular turf rebates would become," MWD General Manager Jeffrey Kightlinger said in a written statement. "Metropolitan is proud to have accelerated the movement by hundreds of thousands of Southern Californians to embrace a new outdoor aesthetic and lock in water savings permanently."

The program funded turf removal projects by subsidizing $2 of every square foot of grass removed, up to $6,000 for residential properties; and $1 per square foot up to $25,000 for commercial properties in an effort to encourage Californians to replace lawns with more drought-friendly plants, gravel, mulch and even AstroTurf.

The program is estimated to fund the removal of more than 150 million square feet of turf, three times the statewide goal set by the governor.

Any projects approved through Thursday will be completed, and interested applicants will be placed on a waiting list in the event that any of those approved projects do not move forward, the agency said.

Rebates are still available for other water-saving measures such as high-efficiency washers, toilets, weather-based irrigation and rotating sprinkler nozzles.

Following the announcement, Long Beach Water said that it will continue to provide funding for $2.50 per square foot for up to 1,000 feet of residential turf removal projects, and $1 per square foot for commercial, industrial and institutional turf replacement projects through its Lawn-to-Garden program.

The Castaic Lake Water Agency in Santa Clarita, the Coachella Valley Water District, and the San Bernardino Water Department were all still offering their own turf removal rebate programs as of Thursday evening.

Meanwhile, the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District in Calabasas announced Thursday that funding for its "Mow No More" turf replacement program had been exhausted and the program would end.

Riverside County’s turf replacement rebate program was closed to new applicants July 1.

Photo Credit: NBC 7]]>
<![CDATA[El Niño FAQ]]> Thu, 10 Sep 2015 12:13:34 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/2015_What-Is-El-Nino.png

What is El Niño?
El Niño is a warming of the water off the Pacific coast of South America. El Niños are categorized by their strength, ranging from weak to very strong. This past winter was a weak El Niño. No two El Niños are alike.

App Users: Click here to view graphics in mobile site.

What does it mean for Southern California?
Weather patterns around the globe are greatly influenced by interactions with sea surface temperatures and the atmosphere. There's usually an increase in Pacific hurricane activity, and a decrease in the Atlantic. Some parts of the globe will see dry weather, and sometimes North America will see wet weather.

So it's going to be a wet winter?
Maybe. This is one of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to El Niño. There is the belief that every El Niño will be like 1997-98 where Downtown LA saw 30.57" of rain over the water year. The atmosphere is not that simple. Some El Niño seasons have been dry, some wet, and others are somewhere around average. Going back through 1950, we have seen 22 seasons with an El Niño -- 12 had above-average rainfall, 10 were below-average. This data shows a slight trend towards wet winters, but you can see it is far from a guarantee. This is the part of El Niño that is impossible to predict.

Does El Niño mean flooding for California?
El Niño does not mean flooding will occur in California. According to Jan Null with Golden Gate Weather Services, only 4 of the 10 costliest flood years in California (since 1950) happened during an El Niño season. There is a slight bias toward atmospheric rivers during El Niño years. Atmospheric river events increase the odds of flooding due to the large amount of rainfall delivered over the course of a few days.

Will El Niño end the drought?
The problem here is that we need not only a wet season, but a very wet season. Since we can't predict the outcome of El Niño, this is another question that we can't answer. Let's just say we have a wet season -- the next challenge will be differentiating between the meteorological and political definitions of drought. Also keep in mind that our drought is a result of several seasons of deficit.

Does El Niño have anything to do with climate change?
No, it is a naturally occurring phenomenon.

Photo Credit: KNBC-TV
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<![CDATA['Take A Turn' Saving California's Precious Water]]> Wed, 01 Jul 2015 20:00:49 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/water-faucet2.jpg

As California sits stuck in the fourth year of a grappling drought, the Metropolitan Water District is rolling out a new media campaign urging people to save every precious drop.

The message? If "all Southern Californians do a little more to save water, it adds up to make a big difference."

The "Take A Turn" summer campaign will air in English, Spanish, Mandarin, Korean and Vietnamese, will be plastered on billboards and promoted across social media.

"What I think is important about this campaign is how it is an individual call to action," Metropolitan board Chairman Randy Record said in a statement. "This campaign has a simple but powerful message. Every bit that every one of us does to save water will add up to big savings. And it is now all of our turns to take conservation to the next level."

People will be urged to turn off water knobs and faucets sooner than they may be used to doing so they can prevent wasting water as it runs down the rain.

Homeowner Louise Bianco, 87, ripped out her lawn to help support her parched state.

"It’s what everyone in California needs to do," Bianco said. "We need to acknowledge we are a desert state."

"'Turn' has a powerful double meaning: Much of water conservation begins with the action of 'turning' something off and now it’s time to take our 'turn," Metropolitan General Manager Jeffrey Kightlinger said. "The word encourages us to take action."

The MWD will spend over $5 million to get out the message of water conservation, but the total media buy of $3.7 million for the campaign is valued at more than $5.9 million, said Sue Sims, Metropolitan’s manager of external affairs.

"This added value was made possible in part by high interest from Southern California media companies to help us all get through the drought," Sims said.

The MWD provides water to more than 19 million people in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Diego and other counties.

"We’re going to have water for 2016, but it means we have to take action now in 2015," Kightlinger said. "If we did nothing we probably would be out of water in a year or two."

The campaign reveal comes on the same day the State Water Resources Control Board said cities showed their best drought conservation yet by cutting water use 29 percent in May compared to two years ago.

Ted Chen contributed to this report.

Photo Credit: NBC 5 News]]>
<![CDATA[World’s Largest Water Purification Plant Expanded]]> Tue, 30 Jun 2015 22:16:34 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/206*120/8-19-15+Drought+Land+Sinking.jpg

During a time of severe drought, an Orange County plant celebrated its first expansion Friday morning, which increased its daily production to 100 million gallons of purified water a day. 

Orange County celebrated its world-renowned water purification system Friday morning, which now produces 100 million gallons of purified water a day after an expansion was completed.

The plant was already the world’s largest, producing 70 million gallons a day, but that capacity has grown even larger with the 30 million gallon expansion that went live Friday.

State Senators and members of the House of Representatives were part of the formal dedication.

In the midst of California’s record-breaking drought, the Groundwater Replenishment System, a joint project of the Orange County Water Department and the Orange County Sanitation District, treats wastewater in a three-step process so it can be added back into the county’s drinking water supply.

Not only is the GWRS an example of local water sustainability, it is also a global model for water sustainability in other communities, said a spokeswoman for the OCWD.

The project, initially started in 2008, allotted for two eventual expansions.

With the first 30 million gallon expansion, the plant now produces enough water for 850,000 north and central Orange County residents annually.

The OCWD said they will continue to consider the feasibility of the final expansion to 130 million gallons of water a day.

Photo Credit: California Department of Water Resources]]>
<![CDATA[Residents, City Clash Over Drought Plan For Parks]]> Wed, 17 Jun 2015 08:57:47 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/188*120/06.16.15_Chemical-Park-ThousandOaks.JPG

A drought-mitigation plan that involved killing off grass at a park has some residents at odds with their Southern California city, as communities search for ways to address state-ordered cutbacks amid the state's four-year dry spell.

The residents are concerned about a chemical used to remove the grass, much of which will be replaced with wood chips. The herbicide RoundUp, a chemical the Conejo Recreation and Park District is using to kill off grass at Russell Park in Thousand Oaks, produced a strong odor.

"Everybody around here could smell it. It was terrible," said Linda Spencer, recalling the day in late May when she brought her dog to the park.

Parks officials said the chemical does not pose a health threat to park visitors.

"It is deemed safe, by our EPA, to walk on immediately after it's been sprayed," said Jim Freidl, general manager of the recreation and parks district.

Residents also are upset about what will replace giant areas of grass under the park’s shady trees, where parents watch sports and kids picnic. About 185,000 square feet of turf will be removed at the park, according to the parks district website.

"To tear this all out and replace it with wood chips, would be criminal," said Spencer.

Thousand Oaks resident John Wilcox and others started looking into drought mitigation at other parks in the district and discovered that some won't be getting any chemical spray.

"We went through every park in the whole city," Wilcox said. "Why should we be penalized?"

Conejo's general manager said desperate times call for desperate measures, and the state's water board ordered a 36 percent cut for the city's parks across the board. The parks district has turned off water for parts of nearly every park.

"This is not what we preferred to do, either," Freidl said.

Friedl said parks that were mostly sports parks were taking bigger hits, but he said he will meet with residents to consider alternatives to the wood chips.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story indicated Russell Park is in the San Fernando Valley. The park is located in the Conejo Valley.

Photo Credit: KNBC]]>
<![CDATA[Pacific "Blob" Inching Closer: NOAA]]> Fri, 12 Jun 2015 14:22:19 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/pac-blob.jpg

Scientists have been watching it since 2013: an unnaturally warm patch of the Pacific Ocean, a thousand miles long and a thousand miles wide, and growing. They call it “the blob."

Noah Diffenbaugh, Senior Fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, says it may be playing a key role in California’s extreme drought, by feeding off a ridge of high pressure that's preventing rain, or vice versa.

“This blob of warm temperature in the ocean, that's basically sitting under this ridge of high pressure in the atmosphere,” Diffenbaugh said. “So that's one hypothesis, that these two are sort of restoring each other.”

NOAA data show the so-called blob is inching closer to California. As air passes over the warm water on its way toward the state’s coastline, it brings more heat and less snow, contributing to drought conditions up and down the West Coast.

Fish, like barracuda, that have no business being in the area have been turning up.

And then there's the baby seals recently found on local beaches abandoned. Wildlife rescuers say mothers will leave their pups when they can't find enough food, another sign of warmer waters.

<![CDATA[Live Fire Training With Cal Fire Firefighters]]> Fri, 17 Jul 2015 17:07:53 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/171*120/06-12-2015-wildfire-fire-controlled-burn-brush-%282%29.jpg Cal Fire firefighters conduct live fire training June 3, 2015 in Mt. Hamilton, California ahead of what's expected to be an explosive wildfire season.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Drought Will Make LA County "Fire Critical"]]> Tue, 09 Jun 2015 00:47:25 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/150608-la-count-fire.jpg

Historically, Southern California's worst wildfires have been fanned in the fall by hot, dry offshore winds known as Santa Anas. Now, drought conditions are so severe and native foliage so dry that "significant" wildfires are possible, even in the absence of Santa Ana winds and well before fall, according to a consensus of Southland fire agencies.

"We can have a major fire incident with just normal coastal winds," said Daryl Osby, chief of the Los Angeles County Fire Department. "That's really concerning to the firefighters in this region."

By next month, Osby expects fuel moisture levels in foligage to reach critical level throughout LA County, not only inland, but also in coastal Malibu and the Santa Monica Mountains.

Under a longstanding agreement, LA County Fire will once again be leasing superscooper air tankers, starting September 1, earlier than in pervious years, but not as early as Osby would like. Canada has first call on the superscoopers through August. Osby said the county hopes to discuss ways of bringing the superscoopers sooner.

Fire conditions, drought impact, and plans for mutual aid collaborations were at the top of the agenda of four fire officials from across Southern California who convened at summit in Diamond Bar Monday.

Those who live near the urban-wilderness interface were urged to remove dry brush from their property and follow guidelines for creating "defensible space."

Even there the drought is having an impact.

In years past, covering ground with lush grass has been a widespread technique for creating a fire-resistant buffer zone. Now homeowners are being praised for saving water by letting lawns go brown, but also were cautioned.

"When they die because we're not watering them, we need to maintain them and remove the flammable material from around your home," said Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott.

Conditions are especially menacing in the region's forests, where drought-stressed trees are dying at an accelerating pace, creating more potential fuel for blazes, according to Shawna Legarza, regional director of Fire and Aviation Management for the US Forest Service.

"This year we're really set up to have yet another could-be catastrophic fire season just because we haven't have had the rain and moisture for the fuels," Legarza said.

Last year, surveys of California by the Forest Service found dead trees in some 800,000 acres. This year that has grown to more than 12 million, acording to Legarza.

Adding to the concern is the resurgence of the bark beetle, which bores through the bark and can be fatal to trees under stress. Healthy trees ordinarily defend themselves against the beetles
with sap. But in drought conditions, trees lack the water needed to produce adequate sap amounts.

In some isolated areas, access to water for fire-fighting could be an issue. Except along the coast, air tankers typically refill with water from lakes and reservoirs, most of which have shrunken
significantly during the drought. Both the Forest Service and Cal Fire are doing surveys and mapping to determine what re-filling resources will be avaialable, and how best to protect
communities located in or near forests.

A single fire burning more than 100,000 acres was a rarity when Legarza began her fire-fighting career three decades ago, she recalled. Now they are almost routine.

California experienced record warm and dry conditions the first two months of this year. North of the Owens Valley community of Bishop on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada, the Round Fire
consumed 40 homes and more than 7,000 acres that ordinarily would have been under snow.

So far this year, California has seen more 1,700 wildfires, which Pimlott said is "far above normal."

During the media briefing that followed the summit, fire officials stressed the importance not only of brush clearance, but also preparation to evacuate quickly in event of emergency.

"Our success is going to depend on a prepared community," said Mark Lorenzen, Fire Chief for Ventura County.

Photo Credit: KNBC]]>
<![CDATA[Lake to Use Purified Recycled Water]]> Wed, 03 Jun 2015 21:50:17 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/WEB_OC_LAKE_MISSION_VIEJO-_VARGAS_1200x675_456932931932.jpg

Drinking water will no longer be used to fill up a lake in Orange County. That's in response to the severe drought. Instead, Lake Mission Viejo will use purified recycled water.

They're calling it designer water because it's being designed just for Lake Mission Viejo.

About half the lake is filled with recycled water, but the other half is drinking water, enough to supply 700 families a year and that's about to change.

Lake Mission Viejo is roughly one and a half times the size of Disneyland, a place where boaters cruise, swimmers splash and fishermen drop their lines.

But every year more than 100 million gallons of water evaporate from the private lake and must be replaced. The question became at what cost?

"I think people were definitely aware that we had to find a solution fast," said Eva Stark, a lake member.

The lake association voted to spend $5 million for a recycling plant like this one, but will purify the recycled water in three steps; microfiltration, reverse osmosis and ultra violet light. After that the water will go right into the 1.2 billion gallon lake.

"We're not aware of anybody else doing anything of this nature for a recreational lake," said Don Bunts, of the Santa Margarita Water District. "It is a rather unique approach."

The formula had to be safe enough for fish and for people.

Kelly Peterson admits she rarely lets her kids swim here, but doesn't want to think about the alternative.

"Probably necessary in a drought," she said. "I think it would be a shame to let it dry up."

The Santa Margarita Water District has been tasked with cutting back 24 percent of its water supplies. Once the new plant is up and running that will represent almost one fifth of the mandated cutbacks.

Lake officials say with the price of drinking water going up, in the end, the recycled water may eventually be cheaper. They estimate it will take six months to a year to bring that designer water on line.

<![CDATA[Water Conservation Goals, Penalties Vary]]> Tue, 02 Jun 2015 07:31:36 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/216*120/6-1-15-Water.JPG

In this new era of water rationing by allocation, how much you and your neighbors will be expected to conserve — and the financial pain you face if you don't — vary widely depending on where you live.

The new system took effect Monday under the oversight of the California Water Resources Control Board.

The allocation to each water district is set by the state, but how that goal is achieved is up to the individual local districts.

Among them, the Los Angeles County Waterworks Districts stand out for the method of computing individual conservation levels, and the intent to impose surcharges on users who go over their allocations.

The cost of the first 15 percent over a customer's allocation would be double.  The cost of usage over that would be billed at triple the normal rate, according to Gary Hildebrand, deputy director of LA County Public Works, which oversees the districts.

LA Waterworks serves several small unincorporated areas of the county, as well as Marina del Rey, Malibu-Topanga and much of the Antelope Valley.

The Marina and Malibu-Topanga must cut back 36 percent; Antelope Valley 32 percent.  But how much individual customers must cut back varies depending on past usage.

"We wanted out methodology to recognize that many are already conserving," Hildebrand said.

For residential customers in each service area, LA Waterworks calculated average usage over-all, then subtracted the state conservation level to determine the allocation — the same for all customers in the area.  To meet it, those who've been using more than the average will have to cut back more. Those who have already been using less than the new allocation need not cut back any further.

The system does not account for number off occupants or size of the property.  The LA County Supervisors heard from one Littlerock resident, Andrew Chadd, who said he was notified his household of seven will have to but back 70 percent to avoid surcharges.

"We have seven in our household and we're trying to figure out how we're going to do this," Chadd told the Board during public comment at the May 26 meeting.

Supervisors postponed the drought emergency declaration required for the new allocation and pricing system to proceed.  Hildebrand will go before the board to answer questions when the issue is heard Tuesday.

Things are different in the city of Los Angeles, which the state expects to cut back water use by 16 percent.

Customers who exceed that will not face surcharges.

"We're not actually applying the 16 percent on each bill," said Martin Adams, senior assistant general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

The LADWP is focusing instead on encouraging its customers to observe the curbs on outdoor watering — no more than three days a week for lawns, and never to wash off hardscape.

Violations of these rules can result in fines of up to two hundred dollars, though few have been issued.

"We rely on outdoor watering savings," said Adams. "We're sticking to that message" in the belief that will lead to the city meeting its savings goal.

Los Angeles is also considering adding two more price tiers for its residential water as a means of encouraging conservation.

In striking down one municipal water district's tier pricing schedule in San Juan Capistrano, a state appellate court held that price tiers must be based directly on the cost of acquiring and delivering the additional water.

Adams expressed confidence LADWP could provide justification for the additional tiers.

Whether surcharges as envisioned by LA Waterworks would be subject to the same principle remains untested in court.

But LA Waterworks is "comfortable with the plan," Hildebrand said.

As with Malibu-Topanga, the state has directed Beverly Hills to cutback 36 percent. The conservation ordinance passed this month empowers the city to impose financial incentives for conservation, but the city known for its wealthy residents and lushly-landscaped estates is still studying the best way to do so within legal parameters, said city spokeswoman Therese Kosterman.

For now, the LA Waterworks plan for surcharges sets it apart from most of the state's water districts. However, any district that fails to meet the state-imposed goals runs the risk of being fined by the state, up to $10 thousand per day.  Publicly-owned districts would have to recover the cost from ratepayers.

What's more, all districts that rely on importing water through the Metropolitan Water District must cut back their purchases by 15 percent, or face MWD imposed surcharges.  That includes the city of Los Angeles DWP, which has become increasingly reliant on the MWD to supplant the water it is not receiving during the drought from its own aqueduct on the eastern side of the Sierra.

"That's a real risk," said Adams, explaining that the MWD surcharge would be passed through to customers in proportion to their usage. "That would make the water more than twice as expensive as it is now."

<![CDATA[Sweeping Water Restrictions Take Effect]]> Mon, 01 Jun 2015 14:06:33 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/web_water_regs_Healy_noon_1200x675_455128131693.jpg Some California cities will have to cut their water use by 36 percent under the statewide regulations. Patrick Healy reports from downtown Los Angeles for NBC4's News at Noon on Monday, June 1, 2015.]]> <![CDATA[Rebate Mistake Could Cost Customers Thousands]]> Sat, 30 May 2015 11:22:57 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/drought-lawn-sprinkler-2015.jpg

A warning to Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) consumers eager to earn a rebate for replacing their grass with drought-friendly landscaping: application mistakes could cost you thousands of dollars.

The "Cash In Your Lawn" program offers $3.75 per square foot of lawn replaced with "California Friendly Landscaping." As drought warnings have escalated in recent months, the program's popularity has surged: since 2009, the DWP (in partnership with the Metropolitan Water District) has issued rebates for 15 million square feet of turf removal.

But the LADWP warns that utility customers should proceed with caution if they participate in the program: misunderstandings and mistakes could cost them their rebates.

Just ask Karen Lewis, who volunteered to make arrangements to transform her daughter Lauren’s Sherman Oaks front yard from "water guzzler" to "water free."

Lewis contacted Novel Remodeling of Los Angeles to do the job.

"I said 'I want to do this only if I can get the rebate,'" Lewis told the I-Team.

She claims she was assured by a Novel employee that she would not only get the rebate, but that Novel would handle the application process with the LADWP for her.

"So we said OK, great, [and] they started the job," said Lewis.

She says she paid $5,000 for the project, assuming she’d get a big chunk of that money back once the DWP approved the work.

But she discovered later no rebate application was ever filed, and because of that, the LADWP tells the I-Team that Lewis will get no rebate funds.

The I-Team contacted Novel Remodeling, which promised to investigate Lewis’ complaint that she’d been misled.

While Novel declined an on camera interview, a spokesman said via email that "we deliver exactly what we promise 100 percent of the time ... Our contract does not state anything regarding our company agreeing on getting Mrs. Karen Lewis a rebate."

The I-Team reviewed Lewis’ contract, and confirmed Novel’s statement.

LADWP Water Conservation Supervisor Mark Gentili tells the I-Team it’s imperative to pay close attention to the exact requirements of the Cash In Your Lawn program, outlined on the utility’s website. 

"The idea is that before you take your lawn out, you get a 'reservation,'" Gentili explained.

A "reservation," or rebate application, requires extensive photo submissions, detailed documentation and can take weeks to approve.

"There are some contractors [who] do it for nothing," Gentili said.

Instead of charging customers, some contractors do the landscaping for no fee, arranging instead to collect the rebate funds directly from the DWP, and allowing lawn owners to bypass the red tape entirely.

That’s the deal Lewis believed she’d struck, only to find herself with a front yard renovation that came at a steep price.

She ended up paying $10,000 altogether: $5,000 for replacing the lawn and another $5,000 for the removal of two trees she agreed to, she says, at the suggestion of Novel Remodeling.

"They’re going to make out that I’m an old woman who didn’t understand," Lewis said. "What I’d like is the amount that would have come from the rebate, that’s what I want. No more."

If you're interested in applying for a Cash In Your Lawn rebate, you can find more information at the LADWP website.

<![CDATA[City of LA Accused of Water Waste at Hansen Dam]]> Wed, 27 May 2015 19:46:07 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/191*120/05.27.15_Hansen-Dam-Water-Waste.JPG

The City of Los Angeles boasts more than 450 public parks. In one of them, NBC4 viewers alerted our crews to a newly seeded soccer field they thought was being water far too often.

Saturday, water appeared to be running for at least an hour on the fenced-in area that once held a soccer field at the Hansen Dam Recreation Area near Lakeview Terrace.

"If we’re making sacrifices, and to see the city not making sacrifices, it’s kind of ridiculous,” Matthew Bluhm said as he stopped during a hike near the soccer fields Wednesday.

NBC4 reached out to the city’s Department of Recreation and Parks and discovered the reseeding project on the soccer field could take up to three months and will cost taxpayers a lot of water – but the watering is not considered a waste.

"We just planted it Friday," said Ramon Barajas, the assistant general manager of water conservation for the department. "We save water more in other areas so we can irrigate areas that need to used for sport activities."

Barajas said LA Mayor Eric Garcetti gave the department a mandate to drop 10 percent of water use and that the reduction is already closer to 20 percent. During the winter months, the department even went 100 days without watering its parks to help.

At the soccer fields at Hansen Dam, Barajas explained that the running water is scattered across 20 sections of the field, each section running water for 10 minutes – a total of more than three hours, three times a day for the first few weeks and then slowing dying down as grass begins to grow.

"That’s our mission, to provide safe and clean places for people to recreate," he said.

But NBC4 crews noticed something else near the fields Wednesday – a running water fountain that appeared to have been running for so long, it had rusted from top to bottom.

"To my knowledge, it hasn’t been reported," Barajas explained. "We’ll get it fixed."

Barajas shared a mobile site where residents can alert Rec & Parks officials if they suspect water waste – m.laparks.org – the site allows you to make a homescreen icon on your mobile device, similar to an app.

He used that site to take a photo of the broken water fountain and just an hour later a crew arrived to repair it.

Photo Credit: KNBC]]>
<![CDATA[Water Agencies Debate Continuing Rebate Plans]]> Mon, 25 May 2015 18:03:56 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/drought-lawn-sprinkler-2015.jpg

Water agencies do more than manage water — they also manage money.

So the question in cities across Southern California is just how much do they need to pay homeowners to entice them to do their part in a drought?

Retired telephone worker Debra Woods, who lives in Fullerton, says there was a time her grass lawn made neighbors jealous.

"It was so green, there were no blemishes. I had a fertilizing company come out once a month. It was perfect, and I was embarrassed for having such a perfect lawn,” Woods says, laughing.

But that lawn is dead now, as part of her effort to help conserve water.

Eventually, she wants to replace it with drought-resistant landscaping, and wouldn't mind some help with the cost.

"I sure could use it. I am retired and I'm really squeezing by (trying) to do this," she says.

This Orange County native is the kind of customer the Metropolitan Water District had in mind when it offered $2 per square foot to anyone who would rip out their lawn.

"The public’s interest in turf removal has been phenomenal,” says district spokesman Bob Muir.

So popular, Muir says, that the $100 million allocated for the turf removal program is about to dry up, with homeowners having applied for over $330 million in rebates.

The spike came after Gov. Jerry Brown's call for a 25 percent reduction in urban water use.

"Not only in residential areas, but commercial areas as well," Muir says.

The water agency will consider boosting the turf removal fund with an additional $350 million at Tuesday's board meeting, but not everyone is in favor.

Four board members from the San Diego County Water Authority, a member of MWD, led by board member Keith Lewinger, wrote recently that "we've reached the tipping point and we don't need $2 per square foot incentives to get people to do this any longer. We can't buy our way out of the drought by removing turf. We just can't afford it."

One proposal MWD will consider Tuesday is to increase the funding for the turf removal program with new restrictions. Only residential lawns under 3,000 square feet will qualify, and the commercial rebate will drop from $2 to $1 a square foot, under that proposal.

Debra Woods can't afford it either, but says the program is so particular on what she can plant, that she may not qualify for the rebate.

Still, she doesn't regret losing her once-flawless emerald lawn.

"No, I really don't,” she says. “It wasn't a source of pride anymore."