<![CDATA[NBC Southern California - Running Dry]]>Copyright 2016http://www.nbclosangeles.com/feature/running-dry http://media.nbcnewyork.com/designimages/NBC4_40x125.png NBC Southern California http://www.nbclosangeles.comen-usSat, 03 Dec 2016 20:05:59 -0800Sat, 03 Dec 2016 20:05:59 -0800NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[California's Declining Water Conservation Leveling Off]]> Tue, 01 Nov 2016 14:32:20 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/sprinklers-generic.jpg

SAN FRANCISCO - Urban Californians still are saving less water since mandatory conservation measures were lifted earlier this year in the state's drought, but monthly figures released Tuesday show the conservation backslide is leveling off.

Californians used 18 percent less water than usual in September than in the same month during the benchmark year of 2013. That compares with 26 percent less usage in September last year when the state's mandatory conservation order still was in effect for cities and towns, the state Water Resources Control Board reported.

California remains under a nearly three-year-old state-declared drought emergency, despite improved rain and snow since last winter. Environmental groups argue declining water conservation over the past four months warrants a return to mandatory conservation, while water agencies are fighting the idea.

Water officials on Tuesday declared themselves satisfied overall with the latest figures.

Continuing water savings - while not as big as during Gov. Jerry Brown's 25-percent conservation order - show the order served its purpose, water board member Steven Moore said Tuesday.

"It's really changed the culture of the state," Moore said. "Mandatory was a good idea to get things going. And now, things are going."

September's water savings were better than last month's sagging conservation report, which showed water use shooting up by a third.

In all, Californians since summer 2015 have saved enough water to supply 10 million of the state's 39 million people for a year, the state said.

Amid a wet start to California's current rainy season, and some mending of Californians' backsliding ways on conservation, the advice of the state's drought czar: Relax and enjoy the rain, for now.

"These last few years ... I practically kiss each raindrop," Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the state water board, said before Tuesday's meeting.

Northern California, the site of most main reservoirs, has logged an unusually wet October. San Francisco is ending the month with three times the normal rainfall for the period, and Sacramento, five times, the National Weather Service said.

Currently, just one-fifth of the state - in the south - remains in the most severe category of drought. That compares to nearly half the state at this time last year.

In January, the water board is due to take stock of the state of drought and Californians' conservation. Options then include re-imposing some statewide conservation requirement, if needed, Marcus said.

<![CDATA[Rain Was a Drought-Buster in NorCal]]> Mon, 10 Oct 2016 17:26:30 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Rain_Was_a_Drought-Buster_in_NorCal_1200x675_783123523643.jpg Water regulators say that conservation will have to become the "New normal" in California. Gordon Tokumatsu reports for the NBC4 News on Monday, Oct. 10, 2016.]]> <![CDATA[Californians Still Saving Water in Drought But Not as Much]]> Wed, 07 Sep 2016 14:23:34 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/drought-generic-april-13_3.jpg

Californians are still saving water despite the recent lifting of mandatory statewide conservation, but not as much as they were last year at the peak of the drought, water officials said Wednesday.

Monthly figures showed water conservation in cities and towns statewide dropped 1 percent in July from the previous month.

July water-savings were down 11 percent from July 2015, which marked peak urban water conservation under last year's mandatory 25-percent statewide cutbacks for cities and towns.

The state Water Resources Control Board began lifting the statewide cutback order in the spring after an El Nino weather pattern brought near-normal rain and snow to Northern California.

Water board member Steven Moore stressed on Wednesday that California households and businesses are still using significantly less water than at the start of the five-year drought, even though the state's population has increased by more than 3 percent since 2013.

"These are promising trends and it's good to place this in context," Moore said.

Drier and hotter Southern California, which gets much of its water from Northern California rivers, marked one of the bigger drops in conservation last month, saving 16.9 percent compared to 28.2 percent in the same month last year.

This year's welcome wet winter filled many state reservoirs, although four-fifths of California remains in drought. State water officials in June turned conservation efforts back over to local leaders, putting them in control of how much water their residents and businesses should conserve, if any.

More than 80 percent of the state's water districts told the water board earlier this summer that they have adequate supplies to handle continued drought and should not be subject to mandated conservation targets.

Officials continue to urge conservation statewide, however, not knowing if this coming winter will begin to erase the extended drought or plunge the state back into the dry spell.

Water officials say they are monitoring monthly water use figures and may adjust conservation requirements after January.

Photo Credit: Getty Images file]]>
<![CDATA[Calif. Drought Continues to Raise Fears ]]> Sun, 19 Jun 2016 09:48:52 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/180*120/466896433.jpg

California's drought and a bark beetle epidemic have caused the largest die-off of Sierra Nevada forests in modern history, raising fears that trees could come crashing down on people or fuel deadly wildfires that could wipe out mountain communities.

Aerial images show vast forests that have turned a rust-color. The epidemic has killed an estimated 40 million trees since 2010 in the central and southern Sierra, and it's spreading north.

Officials who are cutting down and stacking the most dangerous trees in piles across six counties, however, say they are stumped by how to get rid of them all. 

One solution is to fire up a fleet of 10 large, mechanized incinerators the state recently purchased. Promoters say they burn so hot that they spew little if any smoke, making them environmentally friendly.

Environmentalists contend the burners undercut an emergency order by Gov. Jerry Brown — considered a global leader in the fight against climate change — who called for sending the trees to biomass plants and converting them into energy.

Chief Ken Pimlott, who manages the state's response to the die-off as director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, defended the air burners as one of many tools.

He acknowledged the burners will contribute to air pollution, as with any work in the forest, but much less than a large wildfire, which the air burners may prevent by removing dead trees.

"We could have a catastrophic wildfire in any of these communities," he said, adding that sending trees to electricity-generating plants remains a priority. "We have to be aggressive in terms of protecting life and property."

Called air-curtain burners, the 20-foot long, steel containers blast a sheet of air over the open top, disposing of up to eight trees an hour. The state bought them for roughly $1 million, part of a $5 million investment in equipment to meet the epidemic. 

A lack of visible smoke, however, doesn't mean the air burners are clean, said Chad Hanson, a forest ecologist at Earth Island Institute's John Muir Project. He called them a waste of taxpayer money and a misguided approach to managing California's forests. 

"You're still pumping a lot of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere," Hanson said.


Living trees absorb and store carbon dioxide, a major source of greenhouse gases, which is released again when the wood is burned. Hanson said he favors leaving the trees that need to be cut down on the forest floor to naturally decompose as wildlife habitat.


He urged Brown to withdraw the emergency declaration, fearing that it would increase logging of dead trees that forests need to replenish. Hanson added that dead trees don't fuel more fierce wildfires as commonly believed.


Last year alone 29 million trees died at the height of California's drought now in its fifth year, the U.S. Forest Service reports. Officials say they'll soon release an updated count.


Drought makes trees vulnerable to the insects' attack, officials say.


A beetle epidemic in forests of the Rocky Mountain states was blamed in 2013 for contributing to Colorado's second largest wildfire, forcing entire communities to be evacuated, said Jeff Mai, aerial survey manager for the U.S. Forest Service based in Colorado.


Officials removed some trees throughout the region that threatened people, selling them as lumber products like fence posts. Most were left to decompose naturally. Mai said that in California, bark beetles have killed five times more area of forests than in Colorado.


It's unclear how many trees in the Sierra will be cut down. Officials say the first job is removing those that threaten motorists and mountain communities.


Declaring the emergency on Oct. 30, Brown formed a task force, including representatives of the energy industry and environmentalists, that is charged with carrying out the order, which emphasizes sending the trees to biomass plants that turn agriculture and tree waste into electricity.


That has moved slowly because California's few remaining biomass plants are closing as utility companies turn to cheaper sources of solar and wind.


Another solution to turn the dead trees to lumber has hit obstacles because they quickly deteriorate, and beetles carry a fungus that stains the wood blue, diminishing its value.


Urgency for residents at the heart of the tree epidemic remains high as California enters another potentially explosive wildfire season.


"One big fire in the wrong place will become very big, very fast," said Randy Hanvelt, a Tuolumne County supervisor. "I'm afraid people are going to die."


CalFire plans to start running the air burners around the clock this fall.


An environmental benefit of the air burners is that they eliminate the soot, a major contributor to climate change, said Norbert Fuhrmann, vice president of Air Burners, Inc., the device's Florida-based manufacturer.


Jim McDougald, a CalFire division chief in Fresno County overseeing the burners, said he prefers turning the trees into energy, lumber or opening undiscovered markets to give them value.


But the air burners are one means for the state to get rid of trees in the massive die-off that's changing the Sierra's landscape for years to come, he said.


"This is bad," said McDougald, standing at a lookout point south of Yosemite, where a few patches of dead trees two years now dominate the vista. "It'll never come back — not in our lifetime."

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[California Drought Update: April 2016]]> Thu, 21 Apr 2016 12:13:15 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/April_21_California_Drought_Update_1200x675_671017027964.jpg There are signs of significant improvement for parts of California. Crystal Egger has a drought update for Thursday April 21, 2016.]]> <![CDATA[With Deeper Snowpack, CA Prepares to Ease Goals]]> Thu, 31 Mar 2016 04:20:55 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/216*120/03-30-2016-snowpack-survey-2016-2015.jpg

With the Sierra snowpack back to near normal, and some major reservoirs almost full, it is expected that state conservation requirements will be rolled back, officials with the Water Resources Control Board said Wednesday.

"I think we're going to be able to relax them," said Max Gomberg, the board's manager for Climate and Conservation. "We've had a good year. It hasn't been great.  But we've really recovered from where we were a year ago."
Board Chair Felicia Marcus made similar comments to the San Jose Mercury News.
"We are likely to ease the rules or lift the rules," Marcus said.
In response to an executive order from Gov. Jerry Brown a year ago, the water board imposed 
conservation levels on water districts throughout the state. In Los Angeles, the target is currently 16 percent below water consumption during the 2013 baseline year. Fines have been levied on some districts that did not meet their targets.
How much the targets can be relaxed will be discussed at public meetings in April, and likely go before the board for a vote in May, Gomberg said.
The statements by Gomberb and Marcus came on the day California's Department of Water Resources (DWR) announced that statewide, snowpack moisture level  is 87 percent of the historical average, bouncing back from only 5 percent around the same time last year.
Snowpack is significant because snowmelt supplies as much as 30 percent of the state's water, collected and distributed by a network of rivers, reservoirs, and aqueducts.
Unlike the northern half of the state, Southern California had another significantly drier than average winter for the fifth year in a row. Downtown Los Angeles has recorded only 6.57 inches of rain since last October, barely half the 12.38 inches typical by the end of March, according to the National Weather Service. Easing the drought squeeze on the Southland will depend on importing water from the north. 
Word that the state is considering easing conservation goals came on the anniversary of Governor Brown's visit to the snowpack measuring point at Phillips Station, elevation 6,873, in the Sierra Nevada off Highway 50. A year ago spring, the meadow was utterly bare of snow. The Governor
walked through dry dirt and brush. Wednesday, the survey team recorded 58 inches of show, with a water content equivalent to 26 inches of water.
Even more significantly, two major reservoirs, Shasta and Oroville, have reached levels so high, water has had to be released. According to DWR figures, Lake Shasta is at 88 percent of capacity and 109 percent of average for this time of year.  Lake Oroville is at 86 percent of capacity and 113 percent of normal. Both feed the Sacramento River, which empties into San Francisco Bay.  At the delta the river shares with the San Joaquin River,  some of the water is diverted into the California aqueduct to be delivered to the San Joaquin Valley farmbelt and to Southern California.
South of the Tehachapi Mountains, aqueduct water is distributed by the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) which is now scheduled to receive twice as much water as last year, 900,000 acre feet. 
"We may actually be able to replenish some water in our storage, unlike previous years when we've had to pull storage down," said Deven Upadhyay, MWD's Water Resource Manager.
Even if the state were to ease conservation goals, Gomberg would expect prohibitions to remain on such water-wasting practices as hosing down hardscape.  He pointed out that 35 percent of the state remains classified as in most severe drought.
"Don't stop conserving," Gomberg said.
At a news briefing Thursday morning, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti will urge Angelenos "to continue water conservation efforts," said Amanda Parsons of the city's Department of Water and Power (DWP).
While the state water project draws on snowmelt from the western side of the Sierra Nevada, the DWP has its own aqueducts on the east side, where the snowpack overall has not been as close to normal, said Marty Adams, DWP Senior Asst. General Manager.
DWP expects to resume delivering water from the eastern Sierra, Adams said, but at lower levels than pre-drought. 

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[LA Targets "Mega Users" of Water in Plan for Increased Conservation]]> Wed, 16 Mar 2016 22:28:06 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/6PR_PKG_WATER_WASTERS_KNSD4ZAU_1200x675_339832387667.jpg

Consumers in the highest tier of water users could be fined as much as $40,000 a month if the drought worsens and they refuse to reduce consumption deemed "unreasonable," under a plan approved Wednesday by commissioners of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

"What's been missing in the water conservation ordinance is the ability to address what we call these mega-users," said Marty Adams, LADWP senior assistant general manager, offering this definition: "The folks that we see listed in the paper, using millions and millions of gallons of water a year, and no real recourse."
DWP has not identified "mega users" by name, but has released statistics on the highest usage by area. Last year it was revealed a property in Bel Air was consuming 32,000 gallons a day.
Consumption in Beverly Hills, known for its large, lushly landscaped properties of the wealthy, has dropped since the city began threatening to impose significant fines. 
The plan for Los Angeles would amend the city's existing emergency water conservation ordinance, which dates back to the previous drought of 2008. City council approval is required and expected. Last year, the council and Mayor Eric Garcetti called for a "more aggressive approach to water conservation," as the mayor put it.
"The program approved today gives us stronger tools to fight excessive water use," said Garcetti in a written statement.
It could take effect as soon as summer.
Water districts throughout California remain under state mandate to reduce water consumption to target levels that vary by area. The target reduction for Los Angeles is currently 16 percent, and the city has met that during the past 18 months, but remains under "phase two" drought restrictions.
The DWP has a water conservation unit which investigates reports of violations of specific rules against water waste, such as yard watering during the heat of the day or more than three days a week, hosing down hardscape, and failure to repair leaks. DWP increased staffing of the unit last year, and expects to add two more personnel in the next few months, according to spokeswoman Amanda Parsons.
Under the current ordinance, consumers found in violation the first time get off with a warning. A second violation can draw a $100 fine, the third $200, the fourth $300, and a fifth can lead to the installation of a flow restrictor.
When consumers are notified, 90 percent take care of the problem, and only four $300 fines have been levied in the past year and a half, according to Adams.
DWP traditionally has relied on educating consumers, and subsidizing programs such as lawn replacement to reduce water use.
Nevertheless, DWP now sees need for changes to "better reflect the severity of the current drought conditions," said Penny Falcon, DWP manager of water conservation policy, speaking Wednesday to the DWP Board of Commissioners.
The current penalty schedule remains in effect if the drought does not worsen. But if it were to move into a higher phase, the penalties would double across the boards, and for every higher phase thereafter. If the drought were to reach Phase 5, in which all landscape watering would be forbidden, a second violation would face a $400 fine, and a fourth violation $1,200.
In addition to those fines, DWP plans a separate program to investigate the water consumption of "mega users," seeking uses that are "unreasonable" or could be reduced. If so, DWP could set a "water budget," even if the property owner is not in violation of any of the specifically forbidden misuses.
The focus would be properties where water usage rises month after month and not only in summer to tier 4, the highest level of pricing tiers under the DWP's recently revised billing system. Adams expects as many as 40,000 of DWP's customers will have tier 4 usage during the hot months of the year, but fewer in cooler months.
Consumers would be given one billing cycle to comply with the water budget, then face fines that would begin at $1,000 for every month in violation. If the consumer remains out of compliance, the fine would increase to $2,000 at six months, $3,000 at one year, $4,000 after 18 months.
Like the much smaller penalties for the misuse violations, fines for top tier "unreasonable" use would automatically increase if the drought worsened into higher phases. In phase five, the initial fine would be $10,000 a day, increasing every six months, and topping out after 18 months at $40,000.
Two DWP Commissioners questioned this, concerned the approach would not accommodate the needs of large families, or properties with orchards.
"It is unfair to penalize people who have larger properties, maybe more people living within their home," said Christina Noonan, the only commissioner who voted against the proposal.
Speaking during the meeting, Commissioner Jill Barad said she has fruit trees and grows vegetables at her home and asked staff if the water audits and budgets would account for that.
Adams said they would, along with other factors such as property size and localized climate, it generally being more extreme north of the Hollywood Hills in the San Fernando Valley.
The methodology for how to compute the reasonableness of water use is a work in progress and will be developed with technical guidance from the state, Adams said. Given the variations between properties, he sees the audits as a better approach than simply requiring all customers to reduce
consumption by the same percentage — the citywide goal set by the California Department of Water Resources.
"If someone says 'I don't need to comply, I have the money, I can afford the water bill,' then we have some teeth in the ordinance that allows us to police that and apply fines," Adams said.
Whether Los Angeles will in fact move into a higher drought phase will depend to a great extent of the results of the Sierra snowpack depth survey the first of next month, Adams said. Delivered hundreds of miles by the California and Los Angeles aqueducts, Sierra snowmelt ordinarily provides a significant amount of LA's water. Major reservoirs in the north are now near normal levels, and in some cases above.
But Southern California has had another drier-than-average winter, failing to provide much groundwater replenishment, and Adams said it would it would not be wise to drawn down the water stored in the north too quickly.

<![CDATA[Dramatic Photos of California's Drought]]> Wed, 02 Mar 2016 07:57:54 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/180*120/03-02-2016-oroville-drought-water-level.jpg Historically dry winters combined with years of below-average rainfall have taken a toll on California.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Second Warmest February Closes Mountain High]]> Tue, 01 Mar 2016 07:29:29 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/212*120/2-29_Mountain+High.PNG

Those hoping to hit the slopes have bad news coming for them -- unusually high temperatures this February have temporarily closed the Mountain High ski resort in the San Gabriel Mountains through early March due to lack of snow.

It's been so warm at night that even snow makers cannot function, resort officials said.

Mountain High expects to reopen around March 11 after predicted storms bring a new blanket of snow to the mountainside, according to its Facebook page.

This February, El Niño failed to deliver more than an inch of rain, reports NBC4's Anthony Yanez. Out of 29 days, 24 recorded temperatures that were above average. The average temperature this month, hovering at around 65 degrees, is the second highest on record, behind February 1995.

The good news is that Mountain High passholders can still ski and snowboard 50 miles east, at Snow Valley Mountain Resort, at no additional cost. Hours there are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends.

The unusually dry February is predicted to turn around soon, as the first weekend of March is set to bring showers and snow in the mountains by Sunday, according to Yanez.

Photo Credit: KNBC-TV]]>
<![CDATA[Sierra Snowpack Jumps to 130 Percent of Avg.]]> Tue, 02 Feb 2016 19:13:04 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/020-2016-SierraSnowpack.jpg

The Sierra snowpack has jumped to 130 percent of average, the California  Department of Water Resources announced after it took measurements Tuesday.

Seventy-six inches of snow was measured near Lake Tahoe at Echo Summit.

"It's certainly a very encouraging start to winter," said Frank Gerhke of the California Department of Water Resources. "The thing we're really looking for is where are we going to end be end of April."

Gerhke has been taking snow measurements for years. He said the recent snowpack is good news, but no means signals an end to California's severe drought.

"It's way too premature for that," Gerhke said. "The snowpack is just one of the features we look at."

Gov. Jerry Brown is echoing water officials' continuing call to conserve.

State officials on Tuesday revealed that Californians are falling short of the 25 percent conservation mandate and used only 18 percent less water in December.

Gerhke agreed people need to continue conserving and said it was only back in April when he was measuring dust.

"It was pretty grim and it only got worse," he said.

Groundwater levels and reservoir recovery are also critical, officials said.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Drought Update: Feb. 2, 2016]]> Tue, 02 Feb 2016 13:20:56 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Drought_Water_Use_Update_February_2_1200x675_614474819552.jpg A look at water-use figures and drought conditions around California. Anthony Yanez reports for the NBC4 News at Noon on Tuesday Feb. 2, 2016.]]> <![CDATA[Gov. Brown Lays Out Revised Drought Plan]]> Thu, 21 Jan 2016 20:21:51 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/STATE-OF-THE-STATE-PKG---00001018.jpg

Caution was the theme of Governor Brown's State of the State address when it came to finances and our drought.

"Water goes to the heart of what California is and what it has been over centuries," Gov. Brown said. "There is no magic bullet but a series of actions must be taken."

The Governor gave no sense as to whether he would ease water restrictions in the near future; instead, he advanced his plans to deal with current and future droughts. Actions include systems for recycling water, capturing storm water and desalination.

This comes even as a new federal report released Thursday by NOAA predicts that parts of the Bay Area could lose their current drought status by April 30.

"What [the report is] saying is different areas in the Bay Area are getting more rain and that's good news, but we look at California as a whole," said Barbara Keegan, board chair of the Santa Clara Valley Water District.

Keegan says the U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook is more about rainfall than water supply. In areas like the Sierra, where Bay Area water supplies come from, recent rains are making a dent but El Niño won't bust the drought there.

Water experts say it will take at least three years of above average rainfall to consider ourselves drought free.

"Are we able to recharge our underground storage? Those are the kinds of things that we're concerned about. And from that perspective we still are in a drought situation," Keegan said.

The Santa Clara Valley Water District has no plans to let up on water restrictions.

East Bay Municipal Utility District says it will consider easing restrictions in April depending on snowfall levels.

State Water Resources Control Board will announce changes in water restrictions on Feb. 2.

The State probably won't ease up on conservation rules, according to public affairs director George Kostyrko, but there could be a little more flexibility for places dealing with growing populations like the Bay Area.

<![CDATA[Drought Update: Winter Storms Bring Minor Improvement]]> Thu, 21 Jan 2016 08:59:41 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/210*120/01-21-2016-drought-california-map.jpg

Waves of precipitation brought slight drought relief this week to Northern California as the region continues to see rain and snow from El Niño-fueled winter storms.

Those minor improvements were in extreme northwestern California. More than 97 percent of California remains under moderate drought as the state reaches the midpoint in its snow season, according to this week's Drought Monitor report. More than 42 percent of California is under exceptional drought, the Monitor's most severe category, down from three months ago when 46 percent of the state was under exceptional drought.

"This doesn’t mean the region is drought free by any means, but it's certainly a good start to the Water Year as we sit near the midpoint of the snow season," according to the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor statement. "Now, we'll see if Mother Nature finishes strong or changes her mind."

More storms are expected to bring rain and snow to Northern California late this week.

California is in its driest four-year span on record, and officials anticipate a possible fifth year of drought.  A strong El Niño weather system points toward more rain and snow this winter, but one good year won't be enough to rehydrate the parched landscape.

The warming of Pacific waters influences weather patterns around the world. Most of the precipitation has stayed to the north this season, an encouraging sign for the vital Sierra Nevada snowpack. Springtime runoff from the mountain range flows into the state's diminished water reservoirs.

The strongest El Ninos have led to devastating floods and landslides in Southern California, and experts have warned that the damaging effects of the storms could still be ahead for the region. February and March are expected to see the bulk of this season's storm activity in Southern California.

Photo Credit: US Drought Monitor]]>
<![CDATA[CA Considers Easing Some Water Restrictions]]> Sat, 16 Jan 2016 00:54:24 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/california+drought+lawn.JPG

California cities that are hot, dry or crowded, or have managed to come up with new sources of water, might be able to get a slight break in the state's drought-time water-conservation targets, state officials said Friday.

California's Water Resources Control Board is slated to decide in February whether to slightly ease water-conservation targets for some cities and towns. Gov. Jerry Brown mandated last year that the state overall had to see 25 percent less water use by cities and towns to cope with the state's four-year drought.

Water board officials gave details Friday, saying they are considering reducing conservation targets by up to 8 percent for some of the state's more than 400 water agencies. That's higher than an earlier draft in December, which suggested up to 4 percent cuts in the targets.

Eric Oppenheimer, the board's chief deputy director, said the changes would be only "modest adjustments" in conservation goals for the drought.

The San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA) has been asking for this kind of relief since the control board released mandatory water conservation standards, implemented last June. Water districts in San Diego must save between 12 and 36 percent of their water.

But local water officials say those targets were passed down from the state without taking into consideration what San Diego has done to become more water independent in the last two decades.

Notably, the county opened the largest desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere to provide a drought-proof source of water.

Earlier this month, the SDCWA filed formal comments asking that the water board ease restrictions for districts in the San Diego region.

State water officials said Friday that communities that were especially hot or dry might be able to get a slight cut in their conservation targets. So may communities with fast population growth, and communities that have developed desalination plants, wastewater-recycling plants or other sources of new water also might get a break.

Water agencies will likely have to apply for some changes, while others would be automatic.

California is in its driest four-year span on record, and officials anticipate a possible fifth year of drought. Weather forecasters say a strong El Nino weather system could drench the state, but one good year won't be enough to rehydrate the parched landscape.

Board chairwoman Felicia Marcus said officials will reassess conservation requirements in April after the rain and snow season.

In Southern California, local governments have argued state officials should acknowledge huge investments in new supplies to prepare for drought. Orange County recently expanded wastewater recycling to produce 100 million gallons of drinking water daily.

<![CDATA[Drought Update: Slight Improvement]]> Thu, 14 Jan 2016 08:24:14 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/206*120/01-14-2016-drought-ca-11.JPG This week's U.S. Drought Monitor report shows only slight improvement after a week of storms in California.

Photo Credit: KNBC-TV]]>
<![CDATA['Exceptional' Drought Improves Only 2 Percent]]> Thu, 14 Jan 2016 11:44:00 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/206*120/01-14-2016-nino-storm-rain-clouds-AP_492750685630.jpg

Parts of drought-stricken California saw only minor improvement this week after a series of storms marched through the region.

This week's California Drought Monitor shows only a 2 percent improvement to the exceptional drought category -- the most severe -- in Northern California following storms that brought rain and snow to the state. Water reservoirs remain below normal as the state's hopes for a degree of drought recovery hinge on the effects of a strong El Niño.

"Even with the rain and snow received over the last several weeks, many areas are still running below normal for precipitation and snow for the current water year," according to the weekly report. "Wells, reservoirs, ground water, and soil moisture are all recovering slowly, which is to be expected after three-plus years of drought."

The warming of Pacific waters influences weather conditions around the globe and could mean a wetter-than-normal winter for California.

More than 42 percent of California remains under exceptional drought. That figure is down by about 4 percentage points since the start of the water year at the end of September.

More than 87 percent of California remains under severe drought.

Recovery is expected to be slow and require much more rain and snowfall, according to the report. Northern California could see more precipitation in the coming week.

"Remember, it took many years to get here," said NBC4 forecaster Crystal Egger. "We need to see more storms coming into our state over the next several months. We will put a dent in our drought if we keep up with that storm track to our north."

The storms dump snow on the Sierra Nevada Mountains that melts and runs off in spring, flowing into reservoirs.

Photo Credit: AP
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<![CDATA[Californians Miss Water Conservation Target]]> Tue, 05 Jan 2016 13:01:18 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-467452442.jpg

 State officials say drought-stricken California used 20 percent less water in November, once again missing the 25 percent conservation mandate set by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Still, the State Water Resources Control Board reported Tuesday at a meeting in Sacramento that California remains on course to beat its long-term goal through February.

Residents have saved a combined 26 percent since the mandate was issued in June.

Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus says the cumulative numbers show considerable savings, indicating that residents understand the drought isn't over.

Brown ordered the statewide cutback during the state's fourth year of drought. California posted savings of 22 percent in October compared to the same period for 2013.

The latest figures come as a series of much-anticipated El Nino storms begin to drench the state and boost the snowpack.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[State Regulators Propose Relaxing Water Savings]]> Mon, 21 Dec 2015 20:49:00 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/rain-gutter-water-drought-generic.jpg

California regulators on Monday proposed relaxing water conservation targets that have required communities statewide to cut use by 25 percent during historic drought.

Communities in hot inland regions and those using new sources, such as recycled water and recently built desalination plants, could be eligible for reduced conservation requirements, said Max Gomberg, climate and conservation manager for the State Water Resources Control Board.

The state's overall water conservation target could drop to about 22 percent if all of the 411 eligible water agencies apply for adjustments, he said, adding that the moves come in response to some community leaders who complained that strict conservation targets assigned to individual communities are unfair.

"For right now, drought conditions are persisting," he said. "We're proposing modest changes."

California is in its driest four-year span on record, and officials anticipate a possible fifth year of drought. Weather forecasters say a strong El Nino weather system could drench the state, but one good year won't be enough to rehydrate the parched landscape.

Gov. Jerry Brown earlier this year required communities throughout the state to reduce water use by 25 percent. State water regulators set individual targets for local agencies to meet, varying between 4 and 36 percent compared with 2013, but those targets will expire in February.

Brown recently extended his executive order, giving regulators authority to enforce conservation measures through October 2016, if California still faces drought in January.

Local community leaders have criticized the individual targets as unfair and unrealistic. In Southern California, local governments argued state officials should acknowledge huge investments in new supplies to prepare for drought.

This year, the San Diego region completed a $1 billion seawater desalination plant, the largest in the Americas. Orange County recently expanded wastewater recycling to produce 100 million gallons of drinking water daily.

"It has been difficult to tell our ratepayers that their investments in local supply projects have not resulted in providing the buffer against drought as intended," Halla Razak, the city of San Diego's public utilities director, wrote state regulators this month.

Some environmental groups oppose giving local governments credit for new supplies, saying it might discourage conservation.

The state water board will take public comment on the proposed changes for roughly two weeks. Gomberg said the state water board could hold a public hearing Feb. 2.

<![CDATA[Drought-Dry Island Looks to Ocean]]> Tue, 01 Dec 2015 02:37:14 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/200*120/catalina+island.JPG

A newly installed desalination plant, removing salts from seawater, will enable the tourist destination of Catalina Island to avoid pending additional drought cutbacks, according to the Southern California Edison Company, the agency that delivers the island's water.

Unveiled Monday at a ribbon-cutting ceremony and due to go online next week, the plant was put together in less than five months on an urgent basis as an alternative to doubling the required conservation level from 25 to 50 percent.

At the current level of conservation, households are limited to 30 gallons a day, and businesses also face limits so strict that hotels are sending their laundry to the mainland, and many restaurants have stopped serving tap water in favor of selling bottled water customers drink straight from the recyclable plastic, to reduce dishwashing needs.

"We had to do something," said Anni Marshall, mayor of Avalon, the only city on the island 26 miles off the California coast. "Oh my gosh, we would have had to turn people away, I believe."

The new desalination unit is an addition to the facility that first went into operation in response to a previous drought nearly a quarter century ago, when Avalon became one of the first California cities to use desalination to supply a portion of its drinking water.

Catalina has relied on a mix of desalinated water with less expensive wellwater. During the drought of the past four years, the island's main reservoir has dropped to less than a fifth of capacity, according to Greg Ferree, Edison's vice-president for distribution.

The dropping reservoir is nearing the level when the increased conservation would have been required under long-standing guidelines. Edison got permission from the California Public Utilities Commission to waive that requirement in light of the new desalination capacity.

"We are just happy to be able in a very short order to respond to a pretty dramatic situation in terms of the drought here," Ferree said. The original desalination plant can produce 200,000 gallons of water a day. The new unit adds an additional 125,000 gallons of capacity.

On winter days, Catalina often uses no more than 200,000 gallons, but demand skyrockets during the summer tourist season to as much as 800,000 gallons a day, Ferree said.

Avalon has a year-round population of only 4,000, but the island receives an estimated 700,000 visitors every year. During the past year, Catalina has been able to reduce its water usage more than required, 38 percent, despite an 18 percent increase in visitors, Mayor Marshall said.

Catalina residents have not forsaken hope that El Niño conditions will bring a wetter than usual winter, and rollback much of the drought's impact. But need is seen to lessen the island's long-term reliance on wellwater.

"This is a desert island and will always be subject to drought," said Ferree. "Having this desalination ... is prudent and wise."

The new desalination unit is designed to treat the brine produced by the original desalination unit. Doing so simplified the permitting process and enabled the new unit to be brought online more quickly, said Ferree.

Edison intends to seek the necessary permits so that the new plant will also directly draw seawater, which will increase its capacity to around 200,000 gallons a day, said Ron Hite, Edison's district manager for Catalina Island.

The new unit cost $3 million, $500,000 of which was covered by the city of Avalon. The project is seeking additional funds from the County of Los Angeles and possibly a grant in order to reduce the financial load that will otherwise have to be borne by Catalina's 2,000 ratepayers.

Shopkeepers say paying a little more for water is preferable to further water restrictions. "It's the cost of doing business over here, of living in paradise," said Steve Bray, owner of Steve's Steakhouse and Maggie's Blue Rose.

At this point, Edison cannot say whether it will seek a rate increase to cover its portion of the capital cost, and also the additional cost of operating it. The desalination process is electricity intensive. Every gallon of water from the new unit will cost about three times more to deliver than a gallon pumped from one of the island's wells, Hite said.

Catalina Island ordinarily receives even less rain than the Los Angeles basin, and has no access to the aqueducts from northern California and the Colorado River that augment the water supplies available to most of the rest of Southern California. The island historically feels the pressure of drought sooner and more severely than the mainland.

On the mainland, desalination is less common than using recycle water to recharge groundwater supplies. Decades ago, Avalon took a different approach to recycling, equipping homes and businesses with a separate plumbing system to deliver ocean water for flushing toilets. Avalon officials are now looking at upgrading the city's sewage treatment plant to recycle it, said Oley Olsen, a member of the city council and mayor pro tem.

Given the current state of the infrastructure, Edison and city officials agreed it would be better, given the urgency, to purchase the desalination unit, which conveniently operates within the cargo container in which it was shipped.

Progress toward new desalination facilities on the mainland has been slow, though Santa Barbara has taken steps to overhauling a long mothballed plant built about the same time as Avalon's original unit. Nearing completion in San Diego County in Carlsbad is a massive desalination plant intended to produce up to 50 million gallons a day, some 150 times Avalon's capacity.

Don Knabe, member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, has been a booster of desalination, and flew across the channel to attend the ribbon cutting.

"It's not a panacea," said Knabe. "But it's something we have to look at. It has to be on the table."

Restaurateur Bray suggests the mainland someday will be in the drought situation now confronting Catalina, and can learn from Catalina's experience.

"Watch out," said Bray. "The wave is going to be hitting you."

Photo Credit: KNBC ]]>
<![CDATA[Ontario School Accused of Wasting Water]]> Mon, 16 Nov 2015 08:53:24 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/161*120/ontario+school.jpg

As many residents across the state of California work to conserve water during a deep drought, one school in Ontario is being accused of wasting it.

Several months ago, Ontario resident Victor Martinez noticed sprinklers watering an ample lawn during a rainstorm at Bon View Elementary School.

"It was obviously raining on my windshield. There was water runoff in the gutter and the sprinklers happened to be on," said the auto science teacher.

Martinez, who prides himself on being a good citizen, and has cut back his water use, decided to record video of the incident.

Just a few days ago, Martinez captured the water saturation again, although it wasn't raining at the time. So, when he received a letter from his local water department stating he needed to conserve 20 percent more water or he would face fines, he felt cheated.

"It kind of of bothered me," Martinez said.

Hector Macias, Asst. Superintendent at the Ontario Montclair School District said the water wasting issues at Bon View were the exception, not the rule for the district.

"We share in their concern for water conservation," said Macias, who adds the district has met and exceed state mandates for water conservation.

"We do this through having reclaimed water in half of our schools, bringing in recycled water by truck during hot days so we don't need to run sprinklers."

Macias says the district also runs sprinklers less frequently, and is looking into sensors that would automatically stop irrigation on rainy days.

The Ontario Municipal Utilities Company issued a statement regarding goals for water conservation for the city, but did not address how it applies regulations to public agencies.

"Hopefully this will shed a light on things and get people to keep track and report when things aren't right," said Martinez.

Photo Credit: Inland Valley Daily Bulletin ]]>
<![CDATA[In Good Sign for CA Drought, Snowpack Improves]]> Thu, 12 Nov 2015 14:09:59 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/212*120/11-12-2015-snowpack-drought-california-1.JPG

Snowpack in the Sierra Nevada is well ahead of last year, indicating California might see improved drought conditions after a record dry spell.

Moderate to heavy precipitation was reported in the region during the last week, getting the snow season off to a promising start. Snow in the Sierra Nevada melts during the spring, providing water for millions of Californians and replenishing the state's water reservoirs, which are well below normal due to four years of drought.

"We're off to a good start with about 30 inches at the highest peaks," said NBC4 forecaster Crystal Egger.

The snowfall comes after record low snowpack measurements during 2015 in the Sierra Nevada.

NOAA images show a dramatic difference between this month and November 2014, when no snowfall was reported in the mountain range. On Monday, a wet-weather system pushed into Northern California, where forecasts called for up to 9 inches of snow along Sierra Nevada mountain passes and up to 1 1/2 feet at the highest peaks.

But that won't mean immediate or dramatic impact on drought conditions. More than 44 percent of the state remains under exceptional drought, the U.S. Drought Monitor's most severe category. The figure remains unchanged from last week's report.

More than 97 percent of the state is under some type of drought category, showing no improvement from last week's report.

"Areas where drought was more entrenched will need abundant precipitation to continue much farther into the wet season before any notable improvement could evolve," according to this week's Drought Monitor report.

More snow is expected in the Sierra Nevada Sunday into Monday as the region benefits from a strong El Nino, warming in the Pacific Ocean that influences California's weather.

Photo Credit: NOAA]]>
<![CDATA[Gov. Brown Declares Emergency From Tree-Die Off]]> Mon, 02 Nov 2015 18:52:09 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/drought+tree.jpg

As California continues to endure a four-year drought, Gov. Jerry Brown is addressing the massive tree die-off, largely caused by a beetle infestation.

Brown declared a state of emergency Friday, asking the federal government for additional funding and help for private landowners to remove dead and dying trees.

"California is facing the worst epidemic of tree mortality in its modern history," said Governor Brown in a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "A crisis of this magnitude demands action on all fronts."

The administration says the dry conditions have made trees in many regions in the state vulnerable to native bark beetles. More than 22 million trees have died in California due to current conditions, according to estimates by the United States Forest Service.

The epidemic also worsens wildfire risks, and falling trees could be life-threatening to Californians living in rural, forested communities, Brown's administration said.

Friday's announcement comes after Brown ordered a 25 percent statewide mandatory water reduction in April 2014, in response to the drought.

The proclamation will allow County departments to work with State agencies to address affected trees in the County. The County will also coordinate with a task force on emergency protective actions.

<![CDATA[LA Aqueduct Flows After Drought Dam is Dismantled]]> Wed, 28 Oct 2015 05:19:54 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/205*120/10-28-2015-GettyImages-74089139.jpg

Water in the aqueduct that helped fuel Los Angeles' growth was flowing toward the city Wednesday for the first time in six months after workers removed an earthen and concrete dam that had diverted runoff to the parched Owens Valley.

With little mountain runoff due to a historic drought, water managers made the unprecedented decision to try to meet legal obligations to keep the Owens River flowing, control dust from a dry lake bed and irrigate pastures where cattle graze instead of sending water to the city. For those in the Owens Valley, who have a history of conflict with the metropolis hundreds of miles to the south, the plugged-up aqueduct brought relief to some and misery to others.

Cattleman Mark Lacey got a taste of both. In the southern end of the valley this summer where the Department of Water and Power mostly fulfilled irrigation contracts, Lacey's cattle grazed amid an oasis as cool, clear water poured onto verdant fields framed by barbed wire

About 100 miles north, where DWP cut off irrigation, the land he leases turned dry and dusty. Lacey had to lay off some ranch hands and he trucked a third of his cattle to Nebraska and sent another third to greener pastures in Nevada and Oregon.

Like others in California's massive agriculture industry, Owens Valley ranchers are subject to complex water rights and largely dependent on snowmelt from the Sierra Nevada that looms nearby.

Unlike most farmers, though, they are also at the mercy of Los Angeles, which looms even larger. LA owns most of the water rights it furtively bought in the early 1900s in a widely chronicled land grab loosely recounted in the movie "Chinatown."

William Mulholland conceived the gravity-fed channel to slake the growing city's thirst and famously quipped, "There it is. Take it," as water first flowed into LA 102 years ago.

There was no such declaration Tuesday as workers used an excavator to begin dismantling the temporary dam.

The aqueduct's contribution to Los Angeles has diminished over time, given legal fights over the environment and greater reliance on the California Water Project and the Colorado River.

The 338-mile aqueduct system typically provides about a third of the city's water, it but it can supply a larger share after a wet and snowy winter, which forecasters are predicting in the months ahead because of El Nino.

The aqueduct will only account for about 3 percent of this year's water because of the drought, said aqueduct manager Jim Yannotta. The flow is being restored because irrigation season is over and legal obligations in the Owens Valley have expired for the year.

The relationship between the locals and the "the city," as LA is called in this rural patch of high desert, has been fraught with conflict that intensified this spring when the Department of Water and Power announced that the historic low snow levels would force it to shut off irrigation water.

"There's a little bit of animosity toward DWP that wasn't there a few years ago," Lacey said. "When you get desperate times, it creates heightened tension."

Ranchers had agreed to make concessions, but DWP rejected them.

After some late spring rains, the department reversed course and said it would not send water to LA, but would dam the aqueduct and keep runoff in the Owens Valley.

DWP is required by court settlements to provide water to the Owens River and dampen the desiccated Owens Lake to control unhealthy dust that has blown since its waters were siphoned south.

Air quality regulators and environmental groups agreed to take less water from DWP for dust control and habitat protection so ranchers in Inyo County could water their pastures. Ranchers in Mono County, however, lost out because there's no legal settlement protecting their water supply.

Nathan Reade, the agriculture commissioner for Inyo and Mono counties, said shutting off the spigot to everyone would have devastated the farming industry in the area.

Farm production from the two counties barely registers a blip in the state's overall farm economy, but ranching has long been a way of life in a place that provided a backdrop for westerns starring Roy Rogers, John Wayne and Gary Cooper, and featuring the pluck of the Lone Ranger and Hopalong Cassidy.

Cattle forage on the valley floor in winter and chomp on irrigated pasture in summer. Some ranchers drive their cattle up to federal land in the mountains in summer, which is how Scott Kemp managed to keep much of his herd nourished despite water cutbacks.

The state's drought had already forced farmers to cut herd sizes. Reade estimated livestock has been reduced 40 percent to 50 percent in recent years.

Unlike row and tree crops, livestock is mobile.

Gary Giacomini, who lost most of his grazing land this summer when the Department of Water and Power cut off irrigation in Mono County, paid another rancher to let his cattle graze.

Even after reducing herd sizes significantly, ranchers have been helped by high beef prices.

Giacomini said the predicament reminded him of one of his father-in-law's sayings.

"His dad told him, 'God never intended us to have a good market and good feed at the same time,'" he said. "I guess that premise has held through the generations."

Photo Credit: Getty]]>
<![CDATA[Drought Leaves Residents Worrying Over Safety of Trees]]> Mon, 26 Oct 2015 21:13:42 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Pasadena_Fallen_Tree_Gallery_1200x675_493048899556.jpg

An added drought concern is popping up across Los Angeles, a byproduct of the great conservation strides many residents have made in recent years.

In the meet water conservation goals, many homeowners have pulled out their lawns, leaving an estimated 700,000 trees that line LA’s streets and avenues dry and vulnerable as their primary water source - lawn runoff - goes away.

"When the tree is suffering from drought there is less foliage, less canopy, less food, less root growth, less canopy growth and inherent in that is the ability to combat diseases,” said Ron Lorenzen, assistant director of the LA Bureau of Street Services.

And many residents are unaware that water trickling into the underlying ground system from front lawn watering has been keeping many of the city’s trees alive.

"I don't know if every private property owner knows that," Lorenzen said.

The public works committee of the LA City Council formally asked the Department of Street Services for an audit of the city's urban forest Monday.

As the drought has continued, the trees that have become vital to the city’s neighborhoods have increasingly become vulnerable.

"If you are walking in the middle of the street the trees are lacing like fingers,” said homeowner Jimmy Gutierrez. “It is so awesome!"

But as much as he loves it, Gutierrez still remembers the day last year when a city-owned California pine lost a thirty foot branch over his home.

"All all we heard was boom, and the whole house shook," he said.

Gutierrez said he fears the tree is becoming weaker due to the drought, and he's not alone.

An estimated 12 million trees have died in California forests, including the Angeles, San Bernardino, San Jacinto and Cleveland national forests.

Fourteen-thousand trees have died in Griffith Park alone and trees along the freeway are dying after Caltrans stopped watering them a year ago.

A lack of water has left them vulnerable to pests such as the bark beetle and a fungus called "oleander scorch".

City officials hope residents don't lose sight of the need to keep the trees alive, even as they push for conservation.

"Keep your trees alive,” said Councilman Paul Koretz. “You have to keep watering them."