<![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 Sat, 28 Feb 2015 22:51:36 -0800 Sat, 28 Feb 2015 22:51:36 -0800 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[City Considers Water Waster Fines]]> Tue, 24 Feb 2015 20:58:01 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/tap+water+faucet.jpg

A San Gabriel Valley city is expected to take drought plans to the next level by authorizing fines for households and other customers that fail to cut back 30 percent or more.

The item will go before the Sierra Madre City Council Tuesday night for final approval. It passed its initial review two weeks ago.

"It's time for us to demonstrate that we are serious about it, because our water supply is still in jeopardy," said John Capoccia, mayor pro tem of a city especially hard hit by the drought and entirely reliant for the past year and a half on water imported on an emergency basis.

The 3-square-mile city of 11,000 people has its own municipal water division.

The city's conservation goal was upped from 20 percent to 30 percent a year ago, and voters approved rate annual rate increases on the order of 15 percent.

Since then, 75 percent of the city's water customers have achieved the conservation goal, Capoccia said, and about 20 percent more are close, with the remaining five percent considerably exceeding the usage limit. The fines are intended as incentive.

"It's necessary to do it to force the conservation," Capoccia said.

The fine would effectively double the cost of water for all usage that exceeds the customer's bimonthly allocation.

When Gov. Jerry Brown declared a statewide drought emergency in January 2013, he asked all Californians to conserve 20 percent.

Last summer, California's Department of Water Resources banned specific practices such as washing off driveways as wasteful. Some cities, including Los Angeles, have authorized fines for violators, but as a matter of policy, declined to do so in favor of education.

Few water districts have enforced mandatory conservation targets with financial penalties, as Sierra Madre is poised to do.

Until 2013, wells supplied all of Sierra Madre's water, and the city never joined the Metropolitan Water District (MWD), the Southland's largest wholesale importer, bringing surface water from the Colorado River and the State Water Project.

Since September of 2013, Sierra Madre has relied entirely on water purchased from the San Gabriel Valley Municpal Water District.

Sierra Madre is hopeful it can again tap groundwater before the end of the year,
Capoccia said, but the city will be dependent on importing water at least two more years.

Despite the recent rains, Sierra Madre counts barely seven inches since October, far from its once-typical 25 inches a year. In California, February historically is the wettest month of the year, with precipitation declining significantly after March.

In the state's fourth straight year of below average precipitation, more districts may have to impose mandatory conservation measures. The State Water Project plans to deliver only 15 percent of historic allocations, it was announced last month, though that could be increased if late season storms bring more snow to the Sierra.

The MWD indicated that in April, it will consider cutting back allocations by 5 to 10 percent.

Some entities, however, have reported progress this winter.  Groundwater level in a test well for the Water Replenishment District  (WRD) stopped its decline, and since November has risen six feet, according to spokesman Peter Brown.  Responsible for monitoring and replenishing groundwater basins in southern Los Angeles County, WRD relies increasingly on recycled water,   for reasons that include reducing its vulnerability to drought cycles.  

In Sierra Madre, July would be the first billing cycle that could levy fines, for usage during the May-June period.

Photo Credit: Tim Graham]]>
<![CDATA[Storms Bring Some Drought Relief, Fail to Pack Sierra Snow]]> Thu, 12 Feb 2015 06:43:27 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/215*120/02-12-2015-drought-map-ca.jpg

The first significant rainfall since mid-December brought improved drought conditions to parts of California, but the February storms did not bring much-needed snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range where snowpack figures suggest no relief from the dry spell, according to this week's U.S. Drought Monitor report.

Most of the precipitation from the subtropical storms that swept through northern California fell as rain. Snowfall was limited to higher elevations, generally above 8,000 feet. Improved conditions in Californians rely on snowpack in the Sierra Mountains, where melting snow in spring provides freshwater for an estimated 25 million residents.

"Overall, the storms had little impact on the well-below-normal snowpack conditions across the Sierra Nevada and Cascades ranges," according to the report.

California's statewide snowpack remains about 27 percent of normal for this time of year.

The storms didn't bring a snowpack punch, but parts of northwestern California and areas between San Francisco and Santa Cruz saw improved drought conditions compared to a week ago. Water runoff from the northern California storms provided about 500,000 acre feet of water flow to four major reservoirs -- Folsom, Oroville, Shasta, and Trinity -- that have been at critically low levels.

An acre-foot is a commonly used unit of volume used to measure large-scale water resources, such as reservoirs. It refers to the volume of one acre to a depth of one foot.

Nearly 100 percent of California, entering its fourth dry year, remains under some type of drought, the severity of which falls under four Drought Monitor categories -- moderate, severe, extreme and exceptional. Last week, 77 percent of the state was under extreme drought, but that figure improved to 67 percent in the report released Thursday.

State climatologists estimate the state would need at least 150 percent of normal precipitation by the end of the water year, which is Sept. 30, if California has any chance of significant drought improvement.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency in January 2014 and asked Californians to reduce water use by 20 percent. State records show its a figure residents have had difficulty meeting, except for in December when statewide figures showed a 22-percent water-use reduction.

Photo Credit: KNBC-TV]]>
<![CDATA[Water Recycling Program Brings Questions About Waste]]> Fri, 06 Feb 2015 23:33:03 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/188*120/2-6-15-garcetti+recycled+water+golf+course.JPG

Mayor Eric Garcetti along with Councilman Felipe Fuentes turned the knob Friday on the first watering system at Hansen Dam that's 100 percent recycled waste water.

The mayor touted his October directive for the city to lower its water usage by 20 percent by 2017 as an ambitious but attainable goal, the Hansen Dam project one example.

The golf course will use about 170 million gallons of the recycled water every year, an amount that's roughly the same amount of water 1000 households in LA use in a year.

The city had to fund the project to pipe in the water direct from the city's water treatment plant and the mayor said more projects are on the table.

"Roosevelt Golf Course, you're next," Garcetti said.

The water comes from all the used water from the city, it's cleaned and treated at the plant and is not drinkable, but it usable as a watering aid.

But during the news conference Friday morning on the 9th Hole of the Golf Course, an LA resident and general contractor, Scott Sterling, asked the mayor a pointed question.

"I want to keep the water on the property as much as possible," he told the mayor. "So I want to know what you're doing to help with that."

Garcetti explained his Low-Impact Development Ordinance (LID) which requires new builds to recycle their own water for their own use, but said the city was still looking at ways to do the same on a smaller-scale, for residential homeowners.

"So often I have to take the water out to the street and then it has to go through expensive processes to get recycled," Sterling said. "I want to keep the water on our property."

LA Department of Water and Power's Assistant General Manager of the Water System said it's a tough topic.

"You have to be careful," Marty Adams said. "Because you're dealing with waste streams and so it has to be done correctly."

At issue is the sanitation around using waste water without treating it. The city does offer rebates for those who change their lawns into drought-tolerant landscapes and for those who collect rainwater for later usage.

And yet while the city works to reuse water and touts lower overall usage by residents, water waste continues in some neighborhoods. The LADWP Water Conservation Response Unit said it relies on neighbors and drive-bys to catch people who water their laws between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. and on their "off" days.

"We try to look into every single one," said Rick Silva, the Unit's supervisor. "But some don't have enough information to act on."

Silva said of the 1,000 complaints over the last year, only 50 were cited — and of those, only 4 faced a financial penalty.

Silva admits, though, even the financial fines have not been paid, saying, "As long as we get the change we want or get them to comply, that's the main purpose of our program and we're OK with that."

Residents who may be concerned about water waste can call 1-800-DIAL-DWP or use the My311LA app to report it.

Photo Credit: Bobbie Eng]]>
<![CDATA[PHOTOS: SoCal Drought Shaming]]> Tue, 21 Oct 2014 06:00:35 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/201*120/Water+Wasters+Santa+Ana.jpg NBC4 viewers sent in these photos of water going to waste in Southern California. On Tuesday, California officials banned public water waste in response to the statewide drought, and Governor Jerry Brown has called for a 20 percent cutback in water use. If you see water waste in your neighborhood, send pictures to NBC4 at isee@nbclosangeles.com.

Photo Credit: Catie Rae Chornomud]]>
<![CDATA[Where Is Water Use Decreasing in California?]]> Thu, 05 Feb 2015 14:58:08 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Drought-generic-water-irrig.jpg

Californians met Gov. Jerry Brown' goal of a 20-percent reduction in monthly water use -- part of his drought emergency declaration in January 2014 -- for the first time in December.

But the state is entering a fourth consecutive dry year with reservoirs at critically low levels and few signs of relief due to a diminishing Sierra Nevada range snowpack -- a vital source of water for 25 million Californians.

So which communities are contributing most to the water-use reduction? Use the tool below, courtesy of NBC4 radio partner KPCC, to compare water-use figures across California.

Photo Credit: NBC 7]]>
<![CDATA[Drought Update: Lack of Snow "the Consistent Issue"]]> Thu, 05 Feb 2015 07:27:18 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/214*120/02-05-2015-snow-sierra-nevada-california-january1.jpg

A lack of snowfall during what are typically the wettest months of the year in California continues to dampen hopes for drought recovery, according to this week's U.S. Drought Monitor Report.

The report highlights the importance of snow accumulation in the region's mountains, including the Sierra Nevada range -- the source of springtime water runoff that provides freshwater for an estimated 25 million Californians. Statewide snowpack was at just 25 percent of normal for this time of year, according to a manual survey conducted last week that confirmed readings from electronic sensors.

The snowpack survey results, described by state water officials as "dismally meager," illustrate the fact that December's drenching storms brought above-average rainfall in some parts of the state but not much snow in the Sierras.

"The consistent issue in the west this current water year is the lack of snowfall, even in the highest elevations," according to the Monitor statement released Thursday. "The majority of the precipitation has fallen as rain, which has impacted many groups who count on snow for their livelihoods.

"Many valley locations are showing adequate rain this winter, but the same cannot be said for the upper elevations and their snow totals. This has made depicting drought quite difficult, as the runoff associated with the upper elevation snowpack is vital."

The snowpack measurement is an important factor in the drought forecast because spring runoff from the Sierras flows into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which then feeds California's major water reservoirs. Without adequate spring runoff, those reservoirs will remain at critically low levels into the dry, hot summer months.

This week's Drought Monitor report shows a small portion of the extreme southeast corner of the state no longer in drought, but 99.84 percent of California remains under some type of drought category. The Monitor depicts drought conditions using five categories -- abnormally dry (D0), moderate (D1), severe (D2), extreme (D3) and exceptional (D4).

Nearly 40 percent of the state falls under the exceptional category.

The percentage remain largely unchanged since last week as the state endured another stretch of mostly dry conditions in January. San Francisco received no rain for the entire month for the first time in 165 years.

Figures released earlier this week show California is at 85 percent of normal precipitation for this time of year. That includes a stormy December when the state reached 131 percent of normal precipitation.

Significant rainfall is expected late this week for the northern part of California. High-elevation snowfall is possible with the storms, whic moved into extreme northern California early Thursday.

State climatologists estimate the state would need at least 150 percent of normal precipitation by the end of the water year, which is Sept. 30, if California has any chance of significant drought improvement.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency in January 2014 and asked Californians to reduce water use by 20 percent. State records show its a figure residents have had difficulty meeting, except for in December when statewide figures showed a 22-percent water-use reduction.


Photo Credit: NSAS]]>
<![CDATA[California Meets Water-Use Goal for First Time]]> Wed, 04 Feb 2015 17:13:08 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/180*120/drought-453835906_10+%282%29.jpg

The state's monthly water-use report card released Tuesday shows that Californians have met the state's 20-percent water-use reduction goal for the first time.

The report, a monthly snapshot of how 400 local water agencies are doing when it comes to water conservation efforts across drought-stricken California, shows Californian's reduced water-use by 22 percent in December compared to December 2013.

The reduction might be due in large part to a rainy month.  Officials at the State Water Resources Control Board said the extra rain minimized the need to water lawns.

"It reinforces what we thought all along that the extent of outdoor water use is a huge driver of water conservation and water use," board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus said.

The State Water Resources Control Board began collecting and publicizing the water-use numbers as part of its ongoing conservation campaign as the state enters its fourth consecutive dry year. The board imposed restrictions on watering lawns and washing cars last summer after Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency for the state in January 2014.

Brown asked residents to reduce water use by 20 percent, a goal that has been difficult to achieve. The closest Californians previously came to reaching that goal was in August, when water use dropped 11.6 percent compared with the previous year, according to the monthly surveys of water suppliers.


Dry conditions are still looming. Downtown San Francisco had no measurable rain in January for the first time in recorded history. A snow survey last week found the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains, which supply about a third of California's water, contained 12 percent of the normal water expected.

Springtime water runoff from melting snow in the Sierra range provides water for an estimated 25 million Californians.

The water board's mandatory water restrictions are set to expire in April. The board is also considering extending and expanding those rules later this month.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Quake on San Andreas Fault Could Threaten Water Supply]]> Sun, 01 Feb 2015 18:45:25 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/1030-2014-aqueduct.jpg

When an earthquake hits, there's more to worry about than meets the eye - especially in a drought.

NPR reported Saturday that a 7.8 magnitude quake on the San Andreas Fault could sever all four aqueducts at once, cutting off more than 70 percent of the water sustaining Southern California.

Professor Emeritus of Geology, San Diego State University Pat Abbott explains that much of our water supply crosses over one of the earth's most active fault systems

“We have to have the water. And it's in danger of being cut off by a major fault movement,” Abbott said.

Much of Southern California’s water comes from aqueducts in the northern part of the state. The problem is that those channels run over the San Andreas Fault.

An example of potential damage can be seen in the 1857 Fort Tejon earthquake, Abbott said.

“The land shifted horizontally 30 feet in 2 minutes. Well, a 30-foot horizontal offset of an aqueduct,” he said. “Boy, that's going to take some time to clean-up and cause a lot of mess in the meantime.”

Repairs could take a crucial amount of time especially when you're talking about cutting off water to countless homes and businesses.

When it comes to our water supply being in danger, costly long-term projects will be worth it, Abbott said.

“We're going to spend tremendous amounts of money and difficulty but the people of California are not going to be left to perish for lack of water,” he explained.

In the San Diego area, more water storage is possible after additions to the San Vicente Dam which is located west of the fault.

Read how the city of Los Angeles is planning to serve citizens with water in the case of such an interruption in the NPR report here.

Photo Credit: Joe Rosato Jr.]]>
<![CDATA[Latest CA Snowpack Survey "Dismally Meager"]]> Fri, 30 Jan 2015 06:14:25 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/202*120/01-29-2015-drought-snowpack.JPG

California appears to be facing a fourth consecutive dry year, with water reservoirs already at critically low levels, the results of the state's second snowpack survey suggest.

Snowpack levels in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, where spring water runoff produces a vital source of water for more than 25 million Californians, are "dismally meager," according to the Department of Water Resources. The agency conducted its second manual snowpack survey of the season Thursday, confirming the below-normal levels reported by electronic sensors.

At Echo Summit, about 90 miles east of Sacramento, snowpack was at 12 percent of normal for this time of year. Statewide, levels are 25 percent of historical average, according to the water agency.

The numbers are even lower than the previous manual survey conducted in late December. January is typically one of California's wettest months of the year, but precipitation has been well below normal after a few storms brought rain and snow to the state in December.

"Unfortunately, today’s manual snow survey makes it likely that California’s drought will run through a fourth consecutive year," DWR officials said in a statement.

Heavy precipitation and cooler temperatures would be required over the next three months to provide any reason for optimism around California's water supply, according to the agency.

The snowpack measurement is an important factor in the drought forecast because spring runoff from the Sierras flows into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which then feeds California's major water reservoirs. Without adequate spring runoff, those reservoirs will remain at critically low levels into the dry, hot summer months.

For example, the State Water Project's principal reservoir, Lake Oroville in Butte County, contains just 41 percent of its capacity.

State climatologists estimate the state would need at least 150 percent of normal precipitation by the end of the water year, which is Sept. 30, if California has any chance of significant drought improvement.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency in January 2014 and asked Californians to reduce water use by 20 percent. State records show its a figure residents have had difficulty meeting.

Photo Credit: Getty]]>
<![CDATA[CA Considers Temporary Delta Dams]]> Tue, 27 Jan 2015 06:17:51 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/180*120/drought-453835906_10+%282%29.jpg

State water officials say they may dam parts of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in an emergency measure to protect freshwater used by millions of Californians.

The Department of Water Resources said Monday that if the drought persists they may build temporary rocky barriers blocking three channels on the Delta. They say the dams would decrease the amount of water released from upstream reservoirs to keep saltwater from creeping inland from the San Francisco Bay, contaminating the Delta.

The Delta provides 25 million people with drinking water and irrigates millions of acres of farmland.

Officials say that despite a wet December no major storms have hit California in January to replenish the reservoirs. Officials considered building the dams last year, but spring rainstorms made it unnecessary.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency for California due to critically low reservoir levels and consecutive dry years.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA["Exceptional Drought" Expands in Parts of CA]]> Thu, 15 Jan 2015 11:43:57 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/191*120/01-15-2015-chowchilla-drought-454716928.jpg

Nearly 100 percent of California remains in drought after only light to moderate rain fell in parts of the state during early January, according to this most recent report from the U.S. Drought Monitor.

The percentage of the state in "Exceptional Drought," the most severe of the Monitor's five categories, increased from 33 percent to nearly 40 percent since last week. Ninety-eight percent of the state is under at least one drought category, representing no change since last week.

At the start of October, more than 58 percent of the state was in "Exceptional Drought" and 100 percent of the state was under some type of drought.

Minor improvements were reported in west-central California, including Marin, Sonoma, San Mateo and San Francisco counties.

"Farther east, improvement has not been as resilient in much of the Sacramento Valley," according to a Drought Monitor statement.

The state's water reservoirs have been well below normal during the three-year dry spell. Reservoirs near and north of the Sacramento Valley are above critically low levels at the start of the water year in October, but water-year-to-date totals have dropped back to near average after last month's storms brought precipitation to the region.

The disappointing state of the Sierra Nevada snowpack is another concern. Springtime runoff from the mountains provides a vital source of water for agricultural areas and heavily populated cities south of the range. "Exceptional Drought" expanded along and east of the central and southern Sierra Nevadas.

"Subnormal winter precipitation has combined with abnormal warmth to leave Sierra Nevada snowpack well short of the historic mid-January average in central and southern parts of the range," according to the Monitor statement. "Since October 1, 2014, precipitation totals are 3 inches to locally over a foot below normal from the slopes of eastern Fresno and adjacent Inyo Counties northward through eastern Nevada County."

The mountain runoff supplies about a third of the water needed by residents, agriculture and industry as it melts in the late spring and summer.

The start of 2015 marked on year since Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency for the state and called for a 20-percent reduction in water use as the state's reservoirs reached critically low levels and Sierra snowpack diminished.

The latest Water Resources Control Board figures show Californians are having a tough time reaching that goal. Californians cut overall water use by 9.8 percent in November compared to the same period a year ago.

Click the map below for a larger view.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[2014 Temps Top SoCal Record Books: NWS]]> Mon, 05 Jan 2015 09:08:40 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/AP281311805550.jpg

Sure, it's been cold the last couple of weeks. But that didn't make up for the rest of the year -- the hottest on record in many places in Southern California.

Until a series of storms slammed the state in December, California's biggest weather story was how parched it was, and the thermometer reflected that. Average temperatures in Long Beach, Burbank, Santa Barbara and other cities in the area were never higher than in 2014, the National Weather Service said.

Cities in Ventura county, San Fernando Valley and Antelope Valley were especially hot last year -- Camarillo's average temperature of 64.5 degrees was one-and-a-half degrees hotter than the previous high in 1976, according to the NWS.

Los Angeles International Airport has had one hotter year than 2014, while downtown Los Angeles only had its fifth hottest year, the NWS said, though its records date back further than other Southern California Locations.

High temperatures and very little precipitation were to blame for the hot year, meteorologists said. In late December, nearly 95 percent of the state was experiencing a severe drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Other cities across the West experienced record temperatures last year, too.

Las Vegas averaged 72 degrees in 2014, which "smashed" the previous high of 71.2, the NWS said.

It was the same story in Death Valley's, whose average high was 94.5 degrees, a scorching new record that bested 2012 and 1934, which tied at 94 degrees.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Storms Provide "Foothold for Drought Recovery"]]> Thu, 18 Dec 2014 18:07:43 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/221*120/12-18-2014-drought-monitor-ca.jpg

A string of storms that marched across California this month provided enough rain to boost reservoir levels and slightly improve drought conditions after three consecutive dry years.

The state still likely needs several consecutive wet winters, but the latest U.S. Drought Monitor report offers reason for "cautious" optimism with several months left in California's wet season. This month's storms brought precipitation to most of California, pushing the Sacramento River to its highest level since Dec. 31, 2005.

Consecutive days of rain and snow led to a decrease in the percentage of the state under the Monitor's most severe drought category, called exceptional drought (D4). Last week, 55 percent of California was in the exceptional drought category. The latest report shows 32 percent of state in the D4 category.

Nearly 95 percent of the state remains under severe drought, according to the Monitor.

California's critically low water reservoirs remain well below historical average for mid-December, but Drought Monitor researchers noted "good capacity increases" of 6 to 10 percentage points in northern and central California's major reservoirs.

"It takes years to get into a drought of this severity, and it will likely take many more big storms, and years, to crawl out of it," said Jay Famiglietti, a researcher at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

A study of satellite data released by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory earlier this week found that at the peak of the drought earlier this year, water storage in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins was 11 trillion gallons below normal seasonal levels.

"With several more months still left in the wet season, it is possible that additional storms similar to the ones that just occurred will continue to chip away at the long-term hydrological drought, and the addition of lower temperatures would help build the snow pack," according to the report.

Rainfall has been trending above normal in many places so far during the 2014-2015 rain season that began July 1. As of Wednesday, downtown Los Angeles had collected 4.47 inches, more than 1.4 inches more than normal to date. A year earlier, it had collected just 0.86 inch to date. Downtown San Francisco had tallied 13.40 inches, or nearly 6.5 inches more than normal to date.

But drought improvement will depend largely on this season's precipitation in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. Springtime runoff from the melting Sierra Nevada mountain range snowpack supplies water for an estimated 25 million Californians. In November, the southern Sierra had received just 47 percent of its normal rain and snow so far, and the northern Sierra 79 percent.

The report noted that temperatures remained above normal, so more rain than snow was reported at higher elevations.

The tropical Pacfic Ocean phenomenon known as El Nino also could have a say in California's drought situation. The chance of El Nino weather conditions, which can potentially usher moisture into California, developing this winter for the Northern Hemisphere increased to 65 percent in December.

That figure represents an increase from last month's estimate of 58 percent.

Gov. Jerry Brown in January declared a drought emergency, and asked Californians to cut residential water use by 20 percent -- a mark that has not been met, according to recent estimates. Farmers in the Central Valley have fallowed fields and mandatory water restrictions are in effect as California faces a fourth-consecutive dry year.

Photo Credit: US Drought Monitor
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<![CDATA[Water Officials Optimistic About Rain Season]]> Mon, 15 Dec 2014 22:22:46 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/flooding-generic.jpg

California water officials are optimistic that the state’s rain season is on the right track after last week’s record rainfall.

A cold front is forecast to bring more rain and mountain snow Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday will be dry, then showers will return Friday and Saturday, forecasters say.

Last week’s storms first brought showers that saturated the parched ground, followed by a heavy downpour that resulted in massive runoff.

“Winter is starting the way we were hoping it would start,” said Brando Goshi, a Metropolitan Water District policy manger.

But much more wet weather is needed to pull the state out of its severe drought.

Two critical reservoirs in Northern California, Oroville and San Luis, help feed water to the Southland. While they are still far from full, officials say they are several feet up from their near-historic lows.

"In most years, snow pack is more important at this time of year because that’s where water is held. But in this case I think some of that water got into those reservoirs and that’s going to be a good thing,"

What they are hoping is for a season of storms like last week – at least half a dozen or more – that are staggered as not to cause flooding.

"There’s a great deal of concern because where we started, but there’s no denying that’s a great start to the water supply season,” Goshi said.

<![CDATA[LA Banks 1.8 Billion Gallons of Water in Storm]]> Sat, 13 Dec 2014 20:10:09 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/lafile-rain-water-capture-containers.jpg

While officials continue to warn that a few days of rain won't end California's drought, one local utility was celebrating how much water they collected from Friday's heavy rain.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Works tweeted the "sunny news" Saturday that it captured 1.8 billion gallons of stormwater, enough to supply 44,000 people for a year.

The county's tweets were a bright spot during the storm, which drenched parts of the area with 5 inches of rain -- at first 390 million gallons were collected at an intake center in Pacoima, they tweeted Friday morning, then 1 billion https://twitter.com/LAPublicWorks/status/543447263775707137.

Dams and water storage basins were used to capture excess water, according to the often-updated Twitter account. 

But it wasn't all drought savings they were reporting. For example, the Department's Twitter account explained as the rain fell that 30,000 cubic yards of debris clogged Lake Hughes Road near Castaic Lake, which wasn't expected to reopen until Wednesday.

Experts warn that California's historic drought will need a lot more rain to replenish depleted aquifers and restore mountain snow packs.

"We're still in a deep drought, and the rains provide a great opportunity to conserve water that we can use later," said Marty Adams, deputy assistant general manager of the water system for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

<![CDATA[El Nino Chance Increases to 65 Percent]]> Fri, 05 Dec 2014 15:53:41 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/236*120/12-05-2014-EL-NINO-sea-surface-latest_sst.jpg

The chance of El Niño weather conditions developing this winter for the Northern Hemisphere increased to 65 percent, but any hopes for drought relief during California's three-year dry spell should be tempered.

The latest figure, released Thursday by the Climate Prediction Center, represents an increase from last month's estimate of 58 percent. The tropical Pacfic Ocean phenomenon affects weather patterns and can potentially usher moisture into California, which needs about 150 percent of its normal annual rainfall to recover from the historic drought, according to experts.

If El Niño develops, forecasters said it is expected to be weak. A weak system probably would not generate enough rainfall this winter to significantly improve drought conditions in California, which recently marked its driest three years on record, the federal government's National Climatic Data Center said.

El Niño forecast updates are released on the first Thursday of every month.

Nearly 80 percent of the state is under extreme drought, the second most severe category listed by the U.S. Drought Monitor. One year ago, about 28 percent of the state was under the severe drought category.

Not all of the precipitation from this week's California storms could be included in the latest Drought Monitor report released Thursday. Along with rain and snow, drought monitors consider the water levels in reservoirs, rivers and streams, soil moisture, and dozens of other factors.

The past two months have brought several back-to-back rainstorms, and the rain in late November and early December was among the heaviest that some areas had seen in years. The system dropped widely varying amounts of rain, ranging from trace levels in some areas to 14.5 inches at Yucaipa Ridge in the San Bernardino Mountains.

San Francisco saw 4.3 inches, while 1.5 inches fell on downtown Los Angeles, according to the National Weather Service. The San Francisco Bay Area reached or exceeded normal annual rainfall totals for the first time in years.

The storm put downtown Los Angeles slightly above normal for the season to date. Since July 1, it has recorded 2.30 inches of rain compared with the normal average of 2.14 inches by Dec. 4.

Climatologists have stressed that California needs to see a consistent pattern of storms to move beyond its driest three years on record. Critically low reservoir levels and diminishing Sierra Nevada snowpack prompted Gov. Jerry Brown in January to declare a drought emergency and ask Californians to cut residential water use by 20 percent. California's reservoirs are at 39 percent to 60 percent of normal.

Before this week's storms, snowpack in the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains had received just 47 percent of its normal rain and snow so far, and the northern Sierra 79 percent. Springtime runoff from the melting snowpack supplies water for an estimated 25 million Californians.

Photo Credit: NOAA
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<![CDATA[Skies Clear, But CA Drought Outlook Remains Gloomy]]> Thu, 04 Dec 2014 09:37:18 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/12-04-2014-drought-map-1200.jpg

Nearly all of California remains in moderate or worse drought, according to a weekly report that does not take into account all of this week's rainfall after back-to-back storms.

The weekly U.S. Drought Monitor report released Thursday shows that 99.72 percent of the state remains in the moderate to exceptional drought category. The Monitor categorizes drought severity in four levels, ranging from moderate (D1) to exceptional (D4).

Fifty-five percent of the state is still considered in the most extreme category of drought, marking only a slight decrease since the start of the state's water year on Oct. 1.

Data for the report was gathered Tuesday so the cutoff for the drought update means not all this week's rain was considered. But it's unlikely the state would see significant relief even with all of this week's steady precipitation included in the report.

Climatologist Brian Fuchs at the National Drought Mitigation Center in Nebraska told The Associated Press that California would need to see a consistent pattern of storms to really move the state out of its three-year drought. Besides rain and snow, drought monitors also consider the water levels in reservoirs, rivers and streams, soil moisture, and other factors.

California's reservoirs are at critically low levels -- 39 percent to 60 percent of normal -- and snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains has been lagging. Before the Tuesday storms, the southern Sierra had received just 47 percent of its normal rain and snow so far, and the northern Sierra 79 percent.

Springtime runoff from the melting snowpack supplies water for an estimated 25 million Californians.

California officials estimate the state would need 150 percent of its normal annual rainfall to recover from the historic dry spell. The latest storms lifted downtown Los Angeles to slightly above normal for the water year at 2.25 inches.

Gov. Jerry Brown in January declared a drought emergency, and asked Californians to cut residential water use by 20 percent. The latest figures released Tuesday by the state show that Californians managed to reduce their daily water use by only 6.7 percent in October compared to the same period last year.

As of this autumn, the state had marked its driest three years on record, the federal government's National Climatic Data Center said.

Photo Credit: US Drought Monitor]]>
<![CDATA[Glendora Remains on Alert]]> Wed, 03 Dec 2014 12:57:19 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/12-03-2014-storm-glendora-urban-search-rescue.jpg Glendora residents awoke to sunshine after a day of pounding rain, but homeowners remained concerned about the possiblity of mudslides in a burn area. Toni Guinyard reports for the NBC4 News at Noon on Wednesday Dec. 3, 2014.

Photo Credit: KNBC-TV]]>
<![CDATA["The Hill Is Stable"]]> Wed, 03 Dec 2014 12:53:24 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/web_camarillo_gordon_noon_1200x675_366696003891.jpg Evacuation orders were lifted in Camarillo Springs, where residents were on alert Tuesday because of steady rains that soaked a burn area. Gordon Tokumatsu reports for the NBC4 News at Noon on Wednesday Dec. 3, 2014.]]> <![CDATA[Rain Runoff Represents Missed Opportunity]]> Wed, 03 Dec 2014 12:13:44 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/206*120/12-2-2014-Runoff.JPG

In a drought-plagued state begging for rain, most of what falls on urban areas of California is allowed to run off into the ocean.

Systems to capture and recycle a significant amount of rain run-off are years away, according to watershed experts, though they see progress in reducing the amount of pollution that run-off carries out to sea.

However, runoff this week was expected to deliver enough contaminants into Santa Monica Bay that public health officials issued a warning for beach-goers to avoid areas near storm channel outlets.

The warning will remain in effect at least through Thursday evening, and then be re-evaluated, according to a statement issued by Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, MD, interim health officer for Los Angeles County.

Pollutants carried into the bay by the flood control system typically include trash, oil from roadways, and excrement from dogs whose owners failed to pick up after them.

"Our wet weather is when the largest amount of pollution gets flushed out to the bay," said Sarah Sikich, VP of the environmental organization Heal the Bay.

But surveying the beach in Santa Monica at the foot of Pico Blvd. during Tuesday's rain, as a torrent of runoff rushed out of the Pico Kenter storm drain, she saw fewer plastic bags, styrofoam cups and disposable food containers than seen in years past before many communities imposed restrictions.

Another factor is steps taken by beach communities to intercept the trash that still does get into storm drains.

Since the millennium, Santa Monica has installed several underground filtration systems in the main storm channels that empty into the bay.

"We're screening and separating out the solids so they don't go to the ocean," said Neal Shapiro, Watershed Programs Coordinator for the City of Santa Monica.

Lifting a maintenance cover in a parking lot near the pier revealed trash swirling inside the chamber filtering runoff from the city's downtown area.  It's called CDS--Continuous Deflective Separation-- and it has no moving parts, instead relying on the energy of the rushing runoff .

In the next two years, the filtration system for Pico-Kenter, the highest volume drain in Santa Monica, will be upgraded to trap more of the  solid contaminants, Shapiro said.

The Bay City has also invested in a treatment plant dubbed "SMURFF"--Santa Monica Urban Runoff Recycling Facility."  It captures, treats and recycles so called "dry" runoff that comes from yard watering  and other water uses when it is not raining.

The recycled water is then put to use on municipal properties for irrigation and other non-drinking purposes.

Some of the larger sanitation and water districts also recycle sewage, often using the treated water to replenish groundwater reserves.  

SMURFF can process as much as 500-thousand gallons a day, Shapiro said, but lacks the massive storage capacity to accommodate the vastly larger surges of runoff that occur during  times of rain.

In Los Angeles county during a typical rain, as much as 10 billion gallons of rain runoff goes out to see, according to an estimate cited by Heal the Bay.

"I see the water running off and it's like, 'Boy, if we could capture that or let it get back into the ground,'" Shapiro mused.

Large-scale systems appear less feasible for now than runoff recovery on a neighborhood scale, where water can be captured with rain barrels and re-designed landscaping.

Meantime, after three years of drought, Californians could only watch most of the recent rain disappear out to sea, still carrying some trash with it.

"This is a great opportunity to raise awareness," said Sikich "Not only of the waste going into the Bay, but of the water that is so precious."

<![CDATA["Abysmal Start" to Water Year in California]]> Thu, 20 Nov 2014 09:04:40 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/210*120/11-20-2014-drought-monitor-map-1.jpg

What is historically the time of the year when Californians can expect the most precipitation is "off to an abysmal start" after only light to moderate rainfall since Oct. 1 that did nothing to improve drought conditions.

Precipitation was recorded in central and northern California during the last week, but not nearly enough to provide drought relief, according to this week's U.S. Drought Monitor report. Three years of drought have left the state's water reservoirs at critically low levels and a mild start to the season in the Sierras suggests conditions might not improve during winter.

"The totals still fell short of normal and did nothing to offset the impacts of the ongoing three-year drought," according to the report released Thursday. "The current Water Year has gotten off to an abysmal start."

Rainfall since Oct. 1, the start of the water year, has totaled 10 to 35 percent of normal in areas around San Francisco categorized by the U.S. Drought Monitor as under "exceptional" drought conditions. Rainfall was at 20 percent of normal in exceptional drought areas around Los Angeles.

The Drought Monitor report categorizes drought severity into abnormally Dry (D0), Moderate (D1), Severe (D2), Extreme (D3) and Exceptional (D4). Nearly 80 percent of the state is under extreme to exceptional drought.

In January, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency for California as reservoirs levels dropped and snowpack diminished in the Sierras, a vital source of springtime water runoff shared by 25 million Californians. Farmers in the Central Valley have fallowed fields and mandatory water restrictions are in effect as California faces a fourth-consecutive dry year after a summer of record heat.

Some parts of the state can expect rainfall Thursday into Friday as a storm system develops in the Pacific.

Photo Credit: U.S. Drought Monitor
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<![CDATA[California Drought Drives Wildlife Into Backyards]]> Fri, 14 Nov 2014 09:03:09 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/216*120/1113-2014-Drought.jpg

The chapped landscapes of California are forcing wildlife into backyards as animals expand their hunt for water to drink.

As reports of sightings rise in the parched state's fourth consecutive dry year, wildlife hospitals say they are seeing a spike in cases.  At the Bay Area's only wildlife care hotline, calls are up 20 percent from the previous year.

"These are people having raccoons digging up their yard because raccoons like the grubs that live under a well-watered yard," Alison Hermance, communications manager at WildCare Wildlife Hospital in Marin County's San Rafael, said. "These are people that are seeing deer in their yards and they hadn't seen deer in their yards…they have a food source or a water source."

The increased interactions between humans and animals can have harmful effects. Medical staff at the WildCare Wildlife Hospital recently treated an owl for a broken wing. They say he was hit by a car, trying to find food in the middle of the road.

"An animal that usually has a territory this big,” Hermance said drawing a circle. “Is all of the sudden having to go this far in order to find water especially but also food. So animals are traveling farther."

They have also seen an unusual spike of parasites in their patients, which may be caused by dehydration.

"If the animals are down because they're dehydrated, they don't have as much energy, they're not going to move around as much because they want to conserve what they do have, then the parasites can find them a lot easier,” Wildlife Assistant Galen Groff said.

At the Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley, staff is treating 20 percent more animals than last year.
One of the ducks receiving treatment there crashed into a shallow puddle. It would normally aim for a pond.

“(The drought) certainly is a factor because they're not finding the water that is out there normally,” said Director of Operations Janet Alexander.

Wildlife advocates say to prevent animals from wandering on your property, make sure you're not providing them access to food and water.

"If it gets drier, it's just going to get more and more likely that all of the wildlife in the area are going to gravitate to the only areas where there is water, and that's our backyard,” Hermance said.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[LADWP Tests Earthquake Resistant Water Pipes]]> Thu, 13 Nov 2014 08:21:01 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/193*120/Japanese+Pipes.JPG

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) is testing water pipes that have been very successful in Japan, even following major earthquakes. 

Los Angeles is in a constant state of repairing water pipes, with its aging and corroding 7000 mile network suffering breaks each and every day. 

With so many bursts occurring on a typical day, concerns are growing about what will happen in the event of a major earthquake.

It is widely agreed that replacing LA’s water pipes is a massive, but critical undertaking. 

"This is one of the most important, if not the most important thing that we should be doing for the city of Los Angeles," LADWP earthquake engineer Dr. Craig Davis said.

"You can get by without power if you need to, you can get by without natural gas, but you have to have water," Davis added, noting water is "absolutely essential" to daily life. 

The Northridge Earthquake in 1994 had 15 seconds of shaking, resulting in almost 1,100 burst pipes.  That translates to more than year’s worth of breaks, costing more than $40 million dollars in repairs, and leaving some residents without water for almost 2 weeks. 

Northridge was a magnitude 6.7 quake, but experts continually warn "The Big One" will be even more powerful. 

"The Big One" refers to a rupture along the San Andreas Fault, a potential 7.8 magnitude megathrust quake, with up to two minutes of shaking. 

"We expect 2-3 thousand breaks or even more," Davis said, regarding the fallout from that kind of quake. 

Those breaks represent pipes in local neighborhoods.  If our aqueducts are damaged during a San Andreas quake, 70-80%  of all the imported water to Southern California would be cut off, effecting nearly 20 million people for an unknown amount of time. 

"This is a big problem and that is a huge vulnerability that we have," Davis said. 

But there are options for improving the outlook because of a pipe that is currently available that could withstand a major quake which has been very successful for over 40 years in Japan, a country which has both more extreme seismic activity than SoCal. 

In March 2011 a 9.0 quake rocked Japan, and while the tsunami that followed covered the island nation in water, there was no reports any leaks underground. 

Davis says it the pipes design that makes that the difference.

Designed by the Kubota Corporation and manufactured in Japan, it provides more space at the joint so there is room for the parts to move.  


Davis, who has been advocating for these pipes for years, believes they could last up to 200 years in some cases, and is currently overseeing a pilot project testing them at five vulnerable locations across LA. 

The first place outside of Japan where the pipe is being tested is along Contour Driver in Sherman Oaks, and after a year there have been no issues. 

"Not only have we not seen any problems but the method of installation is much smoother than with other pipes," Davis said.

The next test site will be at Roscoe and Reseda, alongside Northridge Hospital, near the epicenter of the Northridge Quake. That installation is expected to begin next week. 

But it will be years before testing is complete and a final decision is made about using this pipe across the county, and even if gets the go-ahead it will take a very long time to replace problematic pipes.

"You can’t replace all of our pipes at once. It literally takes hundreds of years to replace all of this pipe," Davis said.

And of course, there is a price, but Davis stresses the increase is a small portion of the project. "The material cost is actually 3 times more than what we normally pay but is only 4 percent of the entire project cost," Davis said.

But in a region as earthquake prone as Southern California, and given the life-saving need for water, the LADWP official insists – the time is now.  

<![CDATA[LA Rolls Out the Rain Barrels]]> Wed, 12 Nov 2014 13:18:05 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/215*120/11-12-2014-rain-barrel-la.jpg

Los Angeles will begin distributing repurposed soda syrup barrels this weekend that capture rainwater for home irrigation of plants and gardens during drought-stricken California's dry spell.

One thousand 45- and 55-gallon barrels will be distributed to preserve rainwater as California municipalities look for ways to reduce drought-related problems in a state entering its fourth-consecutive dry year. The repurposed syrup barrels, donated to Keep Los Angeles Beautiful by the Coca-Cola company, will collect water that can be used to irrigate lawns and gardens.

The free barrels are available only to Los Angeles residents who registered for rain harvesting seminars -- all of which sold out. The barrels will be distributed over five sessions in different parts of the city, beginning Saturday at Los Angeles Valley College. Other sessions are scheduled for Nov. 22 and Dec. 6, and dates for two remaining sessions have yet to be announced.

Barrel recipients will learn how to install a rain barrel and other "water harvesting" methods. Homeowners will then collect rainwater that falls on roofs and flows through gutters to the rain barrels' delivery spouts. The barrels have a tap near the base that can be opened to release the harvested water.

Residents who did not receive a free barrel as part of the pilot program can check out a do-it-yourself guide, courtesy of NBC4 radio partner KPCC.

How much rain will be collected as part of the program depends on this season's rainfall -- a rarity last winter as the state endured its driest year since California began measuring rainfall in 1849. A home with an approximately 1,000-square foot roof could provide about 9,600 gallons of runoff per year if Los Angeles receives the annual average for downtown LA of 15 inches of rain, according to Keep Los Angeles Beautiful.

Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement that the program is an "innovative" approach that will conserve drinking water.

But any benefit from water collected in the barrels would represent a small drop in California's drought relief bucket. Significant drought relief depends largely on the Sierra snowpack, a vital source of water for California's Central Valley agriculture operations. In January, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency as low reservoir levels and decreased Sierra snowpack led to farmers fallowing fields in the Central Valley region and mandatory water restrictions.

Forecasters are expecting a warm winter in California after a summer of record heat. California historically sees most of its rain for the year from November through February and early spring months, but even above-normal precipitation throughout the state is not likely to improve conditions because of widespread extreme deficits and what could be a warm winter.

Forecasters also are assessing the probability for El Nino, the Tropical Pacific weather phenomenon that affects weather patterns. Strong El Nino patterns draw moisture into California, but a weak El Nino would probably not generate enough rainfall to affect drought levels.

The latest estimated place the chance of El Nino at 58 percent.

Photo Credit: Board of Public Works LA]]>
<![CDATA[Minor Drought Improvement After Season's First Rainfall]]> Thu, 06 Nov 2014 08:14:25 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/209*120/11-06-2014-drought-monitor-map-2.jpg

The first significant rainfall of the season resulted in greener lawns and more water in some streams, but only minor improvements to California's drought situation as the state enters its fourth consecutive dry year.

The weekly U.S. Drought Monitor report shows a slight reduction in the percentage of the state in moderate to exceptional drought, the most severe of the the monitor's five categories. About 55 percent of the state remains under exceptional drought, down three percentage points from last week.

Nearly 100 percent of the state remains under moderate to severe drought.

Two to 3 inches of rain fell in some parts of Northern California last week, but the report serves as a reminder that drought relief will require more than a brief break in the state's three-year dry spell. Drought problems were exacerbated during a summer of record heat and a late-summer heat wave.

The moderate to heavy rains last week in parts of California contributed to stream flows and "greening" of smalls plants and grasses -- a cosmetic improvement that does not indicate deep soil moisture. Significant drought improvement will depend largely on snowfall in the Sierras, a source of water for the state's critically low reservoirs and agriculture operations in the drought-stricken Central Valley.

"During the past two months precipitation amounts for Del Norte, Siskiyou, Humboldt, Trinity and Northern Shasta Counties have been 150-250 percent of normal," according to the Drought Monitor report.

Forecasters also are assessing the potential for El Nino, the Tropical Pacific weather phenomenon that affects weather patterns. Strong El Nino patterns draw moisture into California, but a weak El Nino would probably not generate enough rainfall to affect drought levels.

The latest estimate places the chance of El Nino at 58 percent, but conditions are forecast to be weak. The El Nino forecast was at 80 percent in June.

Weather conditions and snowpack are critical to solving the state's water woes, and a ballot measure that Gov. Jerry Brown touted as part of the long-term solution went before voters this week. On Tuesday, voters approved Proposition 1, a nearly $7.6 billion bond measure placed on the ballot by the Legislature.

In January, Brown declared a drought emergency as low reservoir levels and decreased Sierra snowpack led to farmers fallowing fields in the Central Valley region and mandatory water restrictions. The next month, lawmakers fast-tracked legislation a bond funding for public works projects that Brown said will help the state better prepare for future droughts.

The water bond funds are part of work that Brown said began when he was first governor of Calfiornia, from 1975 to 1983. Those terms also happened to be during the the state's last major drought, a problem that Brown referred to as "work for a four-term governor."

Photo Credit: US Drought Monitor]]>
<![CDATA[SF Uses Least Water of Any City in State]]> Wed, 05 Nov 2014 07:43:55 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/AP36505113488.jpg

San Francisco has a right to be smug for a change.

In drought-ravaged California, its 837,000 official residents use the least water of anyone in the state.

The average San Franciscan pours out 45.7 gallons of water a day, according to the State Water Resources Board, which released per-capita totals on Tuesday.

This may always be the case: The fact that San Francisco is in a relatively cool climate, with small backyards and little garden space to irrigate means that much less water is needed than in other arid places with big yards.

The San Francisco Chroniclenotes this also means San Francisco is ahead of the curve when it comes to preparing for possible urban daily use caps of 55 gallons a day.

East Palo Alto, South San Francisco and Daly City also received high marks for using small amounts of water.

Water users in San Diego and near Sacramento were among the biggest users of water, with little in the way of reductions seen despite the drought.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[California's Historic Drought Takes Bite Out of Rice Harvest]]> Wed, 29 Oct 2014 18:26:15 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/AP554681538396.jpg

California's deepening drought is shrinking its rice harvest, and that's bad news for farmers, migratory birds and sushi lovers.

The $5 billion industry exports rice to more than 100 countries and specializes in premium grains used in risotto, paella and sushi. Nearly all U.S. sushi restaurants use medium-grain rice grown in the Sacramento Valley.

The rice harvest is just the latest victim of California's historic drought, which has sharply reduced crop production as it enters its fourth year.

With 95 percent of the state in "severe" to "exceptional" drought, farmers are leaving fields unplanted, cattle ranchers are reducing herds and almond growers are tearing out orchards.

California, the nation's second largest rice-growing state after Arkansas, usually produces more than five million pounds of rice and sells about half of it abroad.

But this year rice farmers only planted 420,000 acres — 25 percent less than last year — because of water restrictions, according to the California Rice Commission.

On a clear October day, farmer Mike DeWit watched as a giant combine harvester cut and threshed a field of rice plants, discharging the grain into a tractor-pulled wagon.

DeWit, who usually plants 1,000 acres of rice on his family farm in Woodland, outside Sacramento, said he only planted 700 acres this year because his water supply was cut by 30 percent.

So he idled one of his combine harvesters, and hired one less worker and one less tractor.

"I think it's the worst as far as the California rice industry is concerned on record," DeWit said. "One more dry year, and I think the impacts on California rice farmers will be devastating."

The reduced plantings also impact migratory birds and other wildlife that depend on flooded rice fields as habitat.

Every fall, millions of waterfowl fly south from Canada and Alaska to spend their winters in California's Central Valley.

After the fall harvest, farmers usually cover their fields with water to break down the rice stalks, creating wetlands habitat for millions of ducks and geese that can feed on uncollected grains and other plants.

"It is environmentally a very nice crop to have in the system. It mimics the natural system of a couple hundred years ago, when that area was wetlands," said Bruce Lindquist, a rice researcher at the University of California, Davis.

In a typical year, rice farms flood 250,000 to 300,000 acres in winter, but this year as few as 50,000 acres may be flooded because of water restrictions, according to the rice commission.

Conservationists are worried that waterfowl and shorebirds will be at greater risk for disease as they crowd together in fewer rice fields and wetlands.

"When you have less rice out there, the impacts are significant for our environment, our economy, for the farms as well," said Jim Rice, a rice commission spokesman.

This year, conservation groups are renting 14,000 acres from rice farmers and temporarily flooding them, turning the fields into "pop-up wetlands" for birds traveling along the Pacific Flyway.

The rice commission doesn't track prices, but Taro Arai, who runs eight Japanese restaurants in the Sacramento area, said he paid 8 percent more for rice this year and expects to pay even more next year.

Arai, "chief dreaming officer" of the Mikuni Restaurant Group, is concerned about the reduced supply and rising cost of California sushi rice, but he's reluctant to buy rice from outside the state.

So he's looking into growing and harvesting his own rice as he prepares to open more restaurants in Northern California.

"Sushi rice makes or breaks sushi for every restaurant in California or the United States," Arai said. "I hear the rumors there's a cheaper rice, but you want to eat high-quality California rice."

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[South Bay Water District to Consider Tiered Rates]]> Wed, 29 Oct 2014 06:13:36 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Drought-generic-water-plant.jpg

The Santa Clara Valley Water District may soon implement more water restrictions after calls to conserve have failed to reach a 20 percent reduction goal.

Water officials said South Bay residents have only managed to cut back use by 12 percent since February. The district's board on Tuesday held a meeting to discuss other ways to save water.

"I'm not surprised," San Jose-resident Amanda Fuehrer said of the local conservation numbers. "I know in these apartments you have to run water for 10 minutes to warm up so you are forced to waste that water."

The Santa Clara Valley Water District's groundwater supply is down to nearly a 100,000 acre feet after one of the driest seasons on record. The board is considering a more aggressive approach to saving water, including an option to implement tiered rates and requiring those who use the most water to shell out more dollars.

"There are things we look at, such as the rates we charge," said Garth Hall of the Santa Clara Valley Water District. "And do we have to increase the rates to cover our own costs."

Number since February show the San Jose Water Company saved 11 percent, Sunnyvale residents conserved 13 percent and Morgan Hill residents led the pack in the South Bay by cutting back 15 percent.

Photo Credit: NBC 7]]>
<![CDATA[Claremont Water War Will Go to Voters for Decision]]> Fri, 24 Oct 2014 21:39:27 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/214*120/10-24-14-claremont+water+war+measure+w.JPG

The home of trees and Ph.D.s is gaining a less idyllic distinction — as ground zero for something of a water war.

Unlike most of its neighbors in eastern LA County, the college community of Claremont continues to be served by a private water company instead of a public utility.
Measure W on the November ballot, if approved, would authorize the city to take on as much as $135 million in debt to acquire the local assets of the Golden State Water Company, the city's longtime provider.
Calling for "local control," measure W advocates accuse the company of being unresponsive, and
complain that they pay rates higher than residents of neighboring cities with municipal water service.
"This isn't a fight against private utilities," said Councilman Sam Pedroza. "This is a fight against this water company, Golden State.
During summer, the city made a purchase offer of $55 million, which Golden State refused.
It estimates the value at $222 million. 
In opposition to measure W, Golden State supports a "stop the water tax" campaign. The company, through its PR consultant, referred a request for comment to Donna Lowe, a Claremont resident active in the campaign.
"There's a lot of misguided anger right now," said Lowe, noting that rate increases have to be approved by the California Public Utilities Commission.
To reduce water costs for residents, the focus should be on reducing consumption, not attempting to push out a company, Lowe said. She questioned the fiscal responsibility of issuing a bond to finance the purchase.
"Seems to me this is a risk for the city we should not take," said Lowe.
In recent months, since the city council voted to placed measure W on the ballot, tensions have escalated, and Golden State has filed a series of legal actions against the city.
"Sadly, Golden State has just mismanaged their relationship with Claremont," said longtime resident Betty Crocker, active with Claremont FLOW (Friends of Locally-Owned Water). Flow has collected signatures from more than 1,100 supporters, Crocker said.
Friday evening, several dozen gathered at the busy intersection of Foothill and Indian Hill boulevards and displayed signs supporting measure W.
Claremont is a small enough city — population 35,000 — that measure W could be decided
by a few thousand voters.
Approval would not automatically mean the transfer of Golden State into public hands. If a sales agreement cannot be negotiated — and Lowe said the water company would fight the sale — it would require the city to go to court to acquire the water system through an eminent domain process. Absent an agreed upon price, the value would have to be determined by the court.
That uncertainty is chief among the reasons measure W advocates stop short of promising city
control would enable rates to be lowered. The city estimates a price of $80 million would be
the break even point. Below that, rates could be lowered. Above, rates would have to be raised.
At $135 million, the city estimates the typical bill would increase by $24, Pedroza said.
Nevertheless, advocates see value in obtaining local control.
"It's not about whether rates go down," said Crocker. "It's about owning with a reliable partner."
Claremont is not Golden State's only service area. Throughout California, it serves 255,000 customers in 75 communities in 10 counties, according to its website. A trade association for the CPUC regulated investor owned water utilities, the California Water Association (CWA), counts Golden State among its 115 members.
"It's a well managed company," said Jack Hawks, CWA Executive Director. He believes the motivation to take Claremont's water service public may be "ideological." 
Besides a distribution network, Golden State operates a series of wells that provide approximately half of Claremont's water. The other half is purchased from the Metropolitan Water District, which imports water from the Colorado River. That balance has shifted somewhat during the drought, with water costs rising.

<![CDATA[Drought's New Ally: Quagga Mussel]]> Fri, 24 Oct 2014 04:20:55 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/196*120/10-24_2014-mussel-drought.jpg

Emerging from obscurity, a tiny freshwater creature that has been a pest to boaters and water system managers for the past seven years is now making the drought even more difficult in one area.

The invasive pest is the Quagga mussel, a shellfish smaller than your thumbnail, but so prolific at reproducing it can leave room for little else.

"They will clog intake pipes. They will clog valves," said Jim Green, water systems operations manager for the Metropolitan Water District.

Native to Central Asia, quagga somehow made their way to North America. In 2007 they were discovered in the Colorado River, a major source of water for the Southwest, distributed via a network of canals and reservoirs, virtually all of which have now become quagga infested.

The MWD now spends $3 to 5 million a year on Quagga maintenance, removing the mussels from water delivery systems, only to see them reappear.

"There's no way to eradicate them," Green lamented.

There's no evidence Quagga present any health hazard, and so far, MWD has been able to work around them.

But now, in this third year of drought, Quagga have become a factor in preventing — or at least delaying — Colorado River water from being delivered to one district that could use it to replenish rapidly dropping groundwater.

Affected is the Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District, an MWD member that serves 18 cities and nearly a million residents in its 144-square mile service area.

It's a region that depends heavily on groundwater, historically replenished mainly by runoff from the San Gabriel Mountains, and to a lesser extent by imported water — both of which have been drastically reduced during this drought.

The water table, as measured at the designated key well for the San Gabriel's main basin, is now 17 feet below what is considered the minimum operating level, according to the office of the Watermaster for the Main San Gabriel Basin.

To make up for the lack of runoff, the Upper Valley District has sought to purchase 19,000 acre feet of water from MWD.

But so far this year it has received only 11,000, all from northern California via the state water project and its California Aqueduct, which so far has eluded Quagga contamination.

Dry conditions to the north have slashed the availability of water from the aqueduct.

As the region's largest wholesaler, MWD does not rely solely on the state water project.

It also imports water from the Colorado River, which so far has been less affected by the drought, and despite the Quagga issues, has made up for much of the cut in state water project deliveries.

The problem for the Upper San Gabriel Valley is how to get Colorado River water to spreading grounds for replenishment.

There is no direct connection to the Ben Lomond Spreading Grounds in Covina; the only existing link is via the San Dimas Wash, a county flood control channel.

But because the flood control system remains Quagga free — and Los Angeles County Public Works is bound by force of law to try to keep it that way — deliveries of water from the Colorado River have been prohibited in flood control channels.

There have been efforts to develop a workaround.

MWD has been working with the California Department of Water Resources on a protocol for chlorinating Colorado River water to kill Quagga and enable the water to be transported through uninfested systems.

The permit process to allow the San Dimas Wash to carry treated Colorado River water to the Ben Lomond spreading grounds is now in the public comment phase, Green said.

But Ben Lomond and an adjacent sister basin can offer only so much help.

Together, they have a storage capacity of no more than 5,000 acre feet, which would help, but represents only a fraction of the needed replenishment, according to Shane Chapman, general manager of the Upper District.

A few miles to the west of the Ben Lomond, the flood control system leads to the much larger basins along the San Gabriel River bed.

However, because there are locations along the route which never dry out and could allow Quagga to become established, even chlorinating would not be considered a sufficient safeguard, and Colorado River water could not be delivered.

Currently, Upper Valley receives 50 acre feet a week of state project water from MWD.

Even before Upper Valley's emergency resolution called on MWD to deliver more water, MWD had agreed to triple weekly deliveries to 150 acre feet, but only for the next month.

Availability of water will be re-evaluated at that point, Green said.

Upper Valley's Chapman sees a need for more, but thinks that will buy the district some time.

"What Metropolitan is doing for us today will allow us to eke through until we see how this winter develops," Chapman said.

As it is, retail water companies that pump groundwater have run into situations in which the water table is dropping below well intakes.

The San Gabriel Valley Water Company lowered the intakes for three of its wells, according to Dan Arrighi, water resources manager.

Increasing the number of wells is not seen as a solution.

"It's just a matter of getting water to the wells," Arrighi said.

Though he would welcome the availability of more water for replenishment, he does not second guess the precautions being taken to prevent the spread of the Quagga mussel, and does not think it would be wise to risk infestation in the San Gabriel Valley.

"Then how do you get rid of it?"

In an effort to stop the Quagga's spread, boaters have been required to wipe down their vessels, and have them inspected before being launched in uninfected lakes and reservoirs.

The move to stop the Quagga's advance even has a slogan: "Don't move a mussel!"

Photo Credit: KNBC-TV]]>
<![CDATA[Drought Spurs Pasadena to Tighten Water Restrictions]]> Tue, 21 Oct 2014 19:38:00 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/AP223500730484.jpg

Pasadena city officials are upping their efforts to stifle California's record drought by restricting property owners to water outdoors only one day a week starting next month.

The city's Level 1 Water Supply Shortage Plan that took effect in July restricted outdoor irrigation, such as watering landscape with sprinklers or any automated water system, to three days a week.

Starting on Nov. 1, outdoor irrigation will be limited to one day a week, either on Tuesdays, Thursdays or Saturdays.

"The community has been really receptive, and you can see that with the amount of water we’ve saved," said Wendy De Leon, Pasadena Water and Power spokeswoman.

But some residents aren't too happy with the new rules.

"I feel that we're getting more and more restricted and our personal rights are being taken away," Laura Yeghnazar said. "I think we're going a little too far and I think each homeowner should have the right to decide how much water they want to use and pay the cost accordingly."

Residents will still be able to wash their cars, but only if using a handheld container or a hose with a shut-off nozzle, officials said. No outdoor irrigation will be allowed between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., and all water leaks must also be fixed within 72 hours.

The biggest usage of water is landscape watering, De Leon. By regulating this, the city hopes to move closer to the 20 percent water use reduction goal the state has asked cities to reach.

Another resident is concerned about what will happen to his lawn.

"It looks like my lawn is ready to pass away, if I'm only going to be able to water once a week because I don't see any sign of rain," Pasadena resident Tony Annunziata said. 

Pasadena has so far reached a 10 percent reduction of water use in the few months the water savings plan took effect, De Leon said.

Once-a-week watering will only be enforced during the fall and winter months. Property owners will be able to water three days a week again starting April 1 through Oct. 31.

People can flag water waste through the Pasadena Citizen Service Center. Fines can reach up to $500 per violation for residential customers, while business owners can be fined up to $1,000 for each offense.

Ted Chen contributed to this report.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Tahoe Level at 5-Year Low]]> Sat, 18 Oct 2014 14:17:53 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/AP212794718944.jpg

Lingering drought has helped push Lake Tahoe's water level below its natural rim for the first time in five years, cutting off flows into the Truckee River, which has been reduced to a shallow stream as it meanders down the Sierra through Reno.

The Truckee Meadows Water Authority is confident it has more than enough reserves in a string of reservoirs downstream from Tahoe to meet water demand 30 miles away in the Reno-Sparks area into next summer.

But depending on winter conditions, agricultural users in the high desert east of Reno could face cutbacks on irrigation supplies for crops and livestock in the year to come.

"There's not a lot of water in the system,'' said John Erwin, the water authority's director of natural resources planning and management.

"It's typical this time of year you see water flows decline. But in a dry year like this, it's declining more than we like,'' he said Friday.

Chris Smallcomb, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Reno, said most of the Sierra has been struggling through below-normal precipitation since the "generous winter'' of 2010-11. Since October 2011, Tahoe City, California, has received only 66 inches of precipitation compared with the normal 102 inches over three years, he said.

That's why federal water master Chad Blanchard predicted earlier this year that by fall, Tahoe would drop below its natural rim of 6,223 feet above sea level. It did this week — the first time since October 2009. On Friday, it was at 6,222.9 feet.

The lowest level on record was 6,220.2 feet on Nov. 30, 1992. It also dropped below rim level multiple times in the late 1920s, early 1930s and 1970s.
Relatively small changes in water level can have big impacts because Tahoe is so large.

With a depth of 1,654 feet — second in the U.S. only to Oregon's to Crater Lake — Tahoe has enough water to cover the entire state of California 14 inches deep. Normal evaporation alone drains 219 million gallons a day. That's 80 billion gallons a year — enough water to supply more than 500,000 households.

Truckee River outfitters who normally run their rafts in the rapids through October shut down at the end of July.

Last month, Truckee flows near the state line just west of Reno were their lowest in two decades for this time of year, running at 140 cubic feet per second compared with the normal 400 cfs. On Friday, the flows fell to 70 cfs as they entered Reno.

"We're heading into our big snow months, so hopefully there will be a turnaround for our water supply,'' Erwin said. He said a century of snowpack data show it's ``very unusual to see these dry periods go beyond two or three years.''

"We are heading into that fourth year, so it could be a new record,'' Erwin said. "But we plan for the worst case.''

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration expects above-average temperatures and precipitation in December through February across most of the West.

But warmer temperatures typically reduce the chance of big storms, said Zach Tolby, weather service meteorologist. As a result, the Sierra has an equal chance of above- or below-average precipitation, he said.

"I'm hoping for at least an average winter, if not more,'' Tolby said. "Average winters in the Sierra are great, and we haven't seen one in a while.''

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[CA Drought Might "Persist or Intensify" During Winter]]> Thu, 16 Oct 2014 13:58:46 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/231*120/10-16-2014-winter-outlook-map.jpg

Drought conditions are likely to "persist or intensify" during what forecasters expect to be a warm winter in California, where water scarcity led to critically low reservoir levels and calls to conserve during the state's third consecutive dry year.

The dire winter outlook from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration comes after a summer of punishing heat and disappointing 2013 rain season that was part of California's driest year on record.

The latest U.S. Drought Monitor update has all of California in some type of drought category, just as the government-issued report has shown for the last three months. More than 58 percent of the state is considered in "exceptional drought," the most severe category assigned in the weekly report.

Some regions might see slight improvement this winter, but Californians hoping for significant and widespread relief, especially in the parched Central Valley region, are unlikely to find it during the coming months. California historically sees most of its rain for the year from November through February and early spring months.

"Complete drought recovery in California this winter is highly unlikely," said Mike Halpert, acting director of NOAA's Climate Prediction Center. "While we're predicting at least a 2 in 3 chance that winter precipitation will be near or above normal throughout the state, with such widespread, extreme deficits, recovery will be slow."

Record drought will likely "persist or intensify in large parts of the state," according to a NOAA outlook released Thursday. The precipitation outlook points to above-average rainfall across the southern half of the state and improved drought conditions for the northwest region, according to NOAA.

But any chance of significant improvement depends largely on El Nino -- the Tropical Pacific weather phenomenon that affects weather patterns. Strong El Nino patterns draw moisture into California, but a weak El Nino would probably not generate enough rainfall to affect drought levels.

Forecasters continue to assess whether El Nino conditions will develop this winter, according to NOAA. The latest estimate places the chance of El Nino at 67 percent.

The warm winter forecast follows a summer of record heat and late-season heat wave that exacerbated drought conditions and sped evapotranspiration -- the transfer of water from soil and other surfaces to the atmosphere by evaporation and by transpiration from plants.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency in January, as vanishing snowpack and rainfall has led to farmers fallowing fields and mandatory water restrictions. The next month, the Legislature approved fast-tracked legislation to address the immediate effects of the three-year drought on communities while accelerating bond funding for public works projects that will better prepare agencies for future droughts.

Last month, state water officials released plans for spending almost a third of the $687 million emergency drought relief package. More than $200 million in expedited bond funding would benefit 110 projects throughout the state.

Photo Credit: NOAA]]>
<![CDATA[Runoff Water Could Help Drought Concerns]]> Mon, 13 Oct 2014 22:44:24 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/160*120/Tuolumne-River-drought.JPG

Maybe you've seen the streams of water, flowing through LA’s storm channels and flood drains - all that water headed to the ocean, despite the historic drought.

Now, city and state officials are looking for ways to capture that runoff water.

“We're probably talking about well over a hundred million gallons a day,” Mark Gold, of UCLA’s Institute of Environment and Sustainability.

Gold’s UCLA think-tank studies water use in urban environments worldwide, and he said that runoff water, usually ignored in wet years, could potentially be used to alleviate the drought impact across Southern California.

“The water that we see in the LA River or the San Gabriel River, 365 days a year? That's 'dry weather runoff,'” Gold said.

It comes from over-irrigation, from small lawns to huge golf courses and parks. Ground water retention areas also feed the channels. It also comes from construction sites, and even sewage treatment facilities.

“A lot of that water is not being recycled - although it should be - and it ends up getting discharged in the LA River, where it goes all the way to Long Beach and the Queen Mary,” he said.

But that may be about to change. City officials and others are trying to figure out how to capture that water and put it to use in, potentially, hundreds of thousands of homes.

A bill signed into law by governor brown a couple of weeks ago mandates that water agencies work such projects into all future plans.

Gold says the city of LA is moving forward, but lags behind many of its county neighbors.

“They're planning on it. It's just, they have a lot to catch up,” he said.