<![CDATA[NBC Southern California - Running Dry]]> Copyright 2016 http://www.nbclosangeles.com/feature/running-dry http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/NBC4_40x125.png NBC Southern California http://www.nbclosangeles.com en-us Wed, 10 Feb 2016 00:55:01 -0800 Wed, 10 Feb 2016 00:55:01 -0800 NBC Owned Television Stations <![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
This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.]]>
<![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."

<![CDATA[LADWP Rate Hike Coming to Residents' Monthly Bills ]]> Wed, 21 Oct 2015 18:31:28 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/water-faucet-generic.jpg

Despite water use going down, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power will raise water costs for consumers by 4 percent, the department said Wednesday.

The reason for raising costs is because the agency is receiving less money as a result of lower water use, making it harder to fix leaks and pay the salaries of LADWP crews, the department said Wednesday.

"As Angelenos use less water, there is less water revenue generated," LADWP said in a statement.

Conservation had reduced revenues by $110.7 million, the LADWP said.

Officials said those who conserve will still be saving, just not as much.

The average customer used 1200 cubic feet of water last year, and paid $54.79 per month.

This year, average use dropped due to water conservation, as did the monthly bill to $49.73.

This new rate "adjustment" will raise that monthly bill to $51.53, reducing customer savings to just $3.26 a month.

Customers have expressed frustration with the latest increase.

"It feels like they are attacking us," said Paul Jones, a SoCal musician who pays close attention to his water use. "We do our share and then this. It doesn't seem right."

Even with the increase of 4 percent, LADWP will be receiving less money because of water conservation.

"They still have a 6 percent savings — it just isn't as big as it was," said Jeff Peltola, the agency's chief financial officer.

LADWP critic Jack Humphreville, who runs the website CityWatchLA.com, said the adjustment is likely justified, but he is concerned over a higher rate hike currently in the discussion phase.

"If your rate hike is 50 percent, even if you save a bunch of water you aren't going to be saving 50 percent," Humphreville said. "So people are going to be looking at a substantial rate hike."

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[El Nino's 'Strong Influence' Might Ease CA Drought]]> Thu, 15 Oct 2015 11:40:17 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/AP_623882555131.jpg

Weather systems influenced by El Nino will bring above-average rainfall, but not necessarily the much-needed snowfall that parched California needs to improve long-term drought conditions, according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.

NOAA on Thursday issued its winter forecast, heavily influenced by one of the strongest El Ninos on record. California is forecast to get more than the usual precipitation during the critical time its reservoirs usually fill, but there's no guarantee.

"A strong El Nino is in place and should exert a strong influence over our weather this winter," said Mike Halpert, deputy director, NOAA's Climate Prediction Center. "While temperature and precipitation impacts associated with El Nino are favored, El Nino is not the only player.

"Cold-air outbreaks and snowstorms will likely occur at times this winter. However, the frequency, number and intensity of these events cannot be predicted on a seasonal time scale."

The already strong El Nino has a 95 percent chance of lasting through the winter before weakening in the spring, according to NOAA. In Southern California, the probability of a wet winter has increased from 40 percent to 50 percent with some areas of the state in the 70-percent range.

In the last 65 years, there have been just six strong El Ninos and only two led to weather patterns that produced major precipitation statewide, according to the California Department of Water Resources. One of the strongest occurred in 1997-98, when storms damaged strawberry and artichoke crops, pushed houses off hillside foundations and washed out highways.

The weather pattern influenced by El Nino, a warming of the water off the Pacific coast of South America, means central and southern California might see some drought improvement by the end of January, according to NOAA.

"While it is good news that drought improvement is predicted for California, one season of above-average rain and snow is unlikely to remove four years of drought," said Halpert. "California would need close to twice its normal rainfall to get out of drought and that's unlikely.

The state finished its water year on Oct. 1 as one of the state's most severe dry periods on record. Recovering from four years of below-average precipitation will depend largely on when and where snowfall occurs -- two factors NOAA's seasonal outlook does not predict.

Those forecasts depend largely on the strength and track of a storm. Heavy snowfall accumulation in the Sierra Nevada would bode well for California's drought outlook because springtime runoff from melting mountain snow flows into the state's major reservoirs, providing water for millions of Californians.

More than 97 percent of the state is under moderate to exceptional drought, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor. The weekly report shows 46 percent of the state under exceptional drought, the most severe of the Monitor's four drought categories.

In April, Gov. Jerry Brown issued an executive order mandating a statewide 25-percent reduction in urban water use. Californians surpassed that mandate to save water for a third consecutive month, using nearly 27 percent less in August than the same month in 2013, according to the state's water board.

September figures will be released later this month.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Pumpkin Farmer Drastically Cuts Water Usage]]> Thu, 08 Oct 2015 06:10:06 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/214*120/NC_pumpkinwater1007.jpg A pumpkin farmer in Utah used to use 1,500 gallons of water a minute for 19 hours each week. With smart irrigation techniques, he cut his water usage by two-thirds.]]> <![CDATA[Ventura County Preps for Winter of El Niño Storms]]> Wed, 30 Sep 2015 22:33:17 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/150930-ventura-county-levee.jpg

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

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

Photo Credit: KNBC-TV]]>
<![CDATA[Men Invent Device to Help Save Water]]> Sat, 12 Sep 2015 23:19:16 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Men_Invent_Device_to_Help_Save_Water_1200x675_524497475959.jpg Three friends from Santa Ana had never invented anything before. Their backgrounds are in digital marketing and film production, but they were so inspired by California’s drought, they put their heads together to invent a solution: a “smart shower.” Angie Crouch reports for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015.]]> <![CDATA[Foothill Residents Asked to 'Judiciously Water Plants']]> Mon, 07 Sep 2015 23:00:43 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/150907-altadena-neighborhood.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: KNBC-TV]]>
<![CDATA[California Drought Images: Disappearing Water]]> Thu, 27 Aug 2015 08:05:10 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/182*120/04-02-2015-orville-lake-ca-drought-3.gif

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sierra Nevada Range: January 2013 - January 2014

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

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

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

More California Drought Images

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

Photo Credit: Getty
This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.]]>
<![CDATA[Dramatic Photos of California's Drought]]> Fri, 21 Aug 2015 05:52:37 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/206*120/8-19-15+Drought+Land+Sinking.jpg Historically dry winters combined with years of below-average rainfall have taken a toll on California. From parched reservoirs to dry river beds, the effects can be seen across the state.

Photo Credit: California Department of Water Resources]]>
<![CDATA[Drought: How Thirsty Are California Crops?]]> Wed, 13 May 2015 19:41:45 -0800 2015 California Agricultural Water Use summary from the Pacific Institute. (Volume has been converted from acre-feet.)]]> 2015 California Agricultural Water Use summary from the Pacific Institute. (Volume has been converted from acre-feet.)]]> http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/180*120/alfalfa.JPG Major crops grown in California can soak up an incredible amount of water each year, according to a 2015 California Agricultural Water Use summary from the Pacific Institute.

Photo Credit: File Photo (Michael Duva)]]>
<![CDATA[Stunning Images of the Shrinking Salton Sea]]> Tue, 09 Jun 2015 12:32:27 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/AP826558593791drought13.jpg Once-bustling marinas in California's largest lake are now bone-dry

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Sinking Central California Farmland Hurts Water Delivery]]> Wed, 26 Aug 2015 08:57:39 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/150825-sinking-farmland-san-joaquin-valley.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Droughts have even bigger impact.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For growers, the issues are perhaps even more complex.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: KNBC-TV]]>
<![CDATA[Lawn Replacement Company Changes Name, Customers Claim 'Same BS']]> Mon, 24 Aug 2015 17:39:14 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/artificial-grass-090711.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: NBCDFW.com]]>
<![CDATA[Homeowners Say Lawn Removal Company Made "Empty Promises"]]> Fri, 21 Aug 2015 18:47:43 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/214*120/vlcsnap-2015-05-12-22h17m06s253.png

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: necn]]>
<![CDATA[Drought Concerns Prompt Cancellation of Annual Grand Prix]]> Fri, 21 Aug 2015 03:09:12 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/214*120/grand_prix_event_canceled.PNG

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

<![CDATA[El Niño Forecast Reaches 'Very Strong' Category]]> Fri, 14 Aug 2015 08:00:43 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/189*120/08-13-2015-el-nino-ocean-temperatures.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: NOAA
This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.]]>
<![CDATA[Pastry Makeover: Fighting the Drought With Doughnuts]]> Tue, 11 Aug 2015 12:37:27 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/214*120/Randy%27s+Donuts+Water+1+8-11-15.JPG

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: KNBC]]>
<![CDATA[SoCal City May Ban Construction of New Pools]]> Tue, 04 Aug 2015 12:20:14 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/pool+generic.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: NBC New York]]>
<![CDATA[Drought Sparks New Concerns of Falling Trees ]]> Thu, 30 Jul 2015 04:27:48 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/RMG_Pasadena_Tree_Pt_2_1200x675_493111363832.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The incident remains under investigation.

Jessica Perez contributed to this report.