<![CDATA[NBC Southern California - Running Dry]]> Copyright 2014 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, 20 Dec 2014 09:21:01 -0800 Sat, 20 Dec 2014 09:21:01 -0800 NBC Owned Television Stations <![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.

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<![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.

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<![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[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."

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<![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.  

LEARN MORE ABOUT HOW THESE PIPES WORK

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.  

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<![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.

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<![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.

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<![CDATA["Water Hog" to Curb His Water-Wasting Habits]]> Wed, 08 Oct 2014 05:41:29 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/216*120/waterhog.JPG

A city leader, who was the biggest "Water Hog" in an NBC4 investigation, says he’ll start watering his lawn only four days a week, after being exposed by the I-Team.

The I-Team, partnering with the Center for Investigative Reporting, found that Riverside City Councilman Mike Soubirous used more water during this recent drought than nearly 150 other public officials in California.

Soubirous’ home has been guzzling over 1 million gallons a year the last two years — more than eight times the typical California household.

One of the main reasons: the I-Team’s cameras caught Soubirous illegally running his sprinklers seven days a week, even though he voted to forbid residents of his city from watering more than four days a week.

"Councilman Soubirous … has adjusted his watering schedule to four days a week," city of Riverside spokesman Phil Pitchford told NBC4 in an email. "He also advised me that he would not be available for a follow-up interview."

After the I-Team’s report, Soubirous’ constituents lashed out at his water-wasting ways on the councilman’s Facebook page.

"The time has passed for having an acre of green grass in California," Ted Beckwith commented. "To pass a law and then proceed to break it is hypocritical."

NBC4’s Facebook page also received over 140 comments, many angry at Soubirous.

"FIRE HIM," Tracey Lundy wrote.

"Arrogant and selfish," Tracey Hering Goodman wrote.

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<![CDATA[Water Officials Aren't Following Own Call for Conservation]]> Thu, 09 Oct 2014 17:19:18 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/AP223500730484.jpg

By Lance Williams and Katharine Mieszkowski

Broadcast story by Joel Grover and Jacquelin Sonderling

Mike Soubirous is a prodigious water user, pumping more than 1 million gallons per year at his lushly landscaped home on a hot, windy Southern California hilltop.
Soubirous also is a member of the Riverside City Council, which in July voted unanimously to impose tough new water conservation rules in this desert city of 317,000.

Yet as California's drought worsened from 2012 to 2013, Soubirous consumed enough water to supply eight California households -- more than any other top water official in the state, records show.
 
Soubirous knows he should cut his water use to set a good example, he told The Center for Investigative Reporting. But he has a 1-acre lot with cascades of flowering shrubs and a weeping willow tree, and summer temperatures hit 100 degrees. Conservation isn't that simple, he said.
 

"Do I have to sell my house to set that example, or do I have to just abolish all my shrubs?" Soubirous said. "I don't know what to do. I don't know how I can reduce my water rate."

Like Soubirous, many of the local officials urging the public to save water during California's crippling drought actually are profligate water users themselves, a CIR investigation has found.

Water bills obtained via the state's Public Records Act show that in 2013, nearly half of the officials who supervise the state's biggest water agencies used more water than the typical California household.

And water officials tended not to cut back as the drought persisted. Even as their agencies scolded ratepayers on conservation, 60 percent of these officials used more water in 2013 than they had in 2012, records show.
 
Some officials used extraordinary amounts.
 
In addition to Soubirous, two other officials -- a Fresno city councilman and a member of Riverside's utilities board -- pumped more than 1 million gallons in a single year during the drought, records show.

Eight other officials used more than 1,100 gallons per day in 2013. That's triple the state's average. Among them was Randy Record, chairman of the board of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which recently launched an advertising blitz to persuade 19 million people to save water.
 

Fifteen additional officials used double the statewide rate. One was Ashley Swearengin, Republican candidate for state controller and incumbent mayor of Fresno, where residents are allowed to water lawns twice a week now and not at all in winter.
 
As the drought has worsened,local agencies have kept up a steady public relations drumbeat, urging Californians to take shorter showers, limit car washing and even tear out their lawns in the name of conservation.

This summer, the state told local agencies to enforce tough new rules: Ratepayers can face $500 fines for offenses such as permitting excess runoff from outdoor watering or cleaning sidewalks with hoses. Around the state, according to news reports, neighbors have begun reporting neighbors for wasting water.

When contacted, some water officials bemoaned how much they were spending on water and blamed undetected sprinkler leaks, overzealous gardeners or heavy use of the family swimming pool. All said conservation is important. All vowed to do better.

But not all are following their own water rules. Last month in Riverside, an NBC I-Team crew collaborating with CIR on this story caught on video sprinklers running seven nights in a row at Soubirous' home. Yet in July, Soubirous joined the council in forbidding watering more than four times a week. When asked about it, he acknowledged he might have unintentionally overwatered.
 
Trent Orr of the Earthjustice environmental law firm in San Francisco said the officials were "blatantly defying" the conservation ethos they impose on ordinary citizens.
 

"You should be leading by example," Orr said, "not telling the little people you regulate that they need to tighten their belts while you proceed as if nothing had happened and in fact use more water."
 
Water bills for most Californians are confidential. But bills for officials who set water rates and policies are public under the state's open records law. CIR obtained more than two years' worth for the elected and appointed officials who oversee 22 of the state's biggest water agencies - about 150 officials in all.
 
For comparison, a 2011 study commissioned by the state Department of Water Resources found that occupants of a single-family home in California use, on average, 361 gallons per day -- or nearly 132,000 gallons a year.

North and south, Californians use about the same amount of water indoors, the study found. But Southern Californians use far more outdoors to keep their landscaping lush and swimming pools full. Overall, Northern California households use about 295 gallons per day, while Southern Californians use 523 gallons, according to the study.

CIR's analysis found a similar variance: Water-guzzling officials were concentrated in the drier, thirstier parts of the state - the Central Valley and hot inland areas in Southern California. Bay Area officials used far less: 255 gallons per day -- slightly below the Northern California average.
 
In the Central Valley, where summers are scorching, water officials included in the CIR analysis averaged 855 gallons per day in 2013. The Central Valley's average use was less than 565 gallons. Because cities in the region have been slow to install residential water meters, bills weren't available for many officials.
 
Fresno City Councilman Oliver Baines said a horrendous malfunction in his sprinkler system made him a million-gallon user in 2013, the first year that water meters kept track in his west Fresno neighborhood.
 

Baines' first metered bill showed he used 4,000 gallons per day -- about 11 times the state average. The city, which says it has the lowest water rates in California, charged him $182.43 for that water.
 
One year and 1.24 million gallons later, Baines finally solved what he called a "freak situation" involving his sprinklers: In the middle of the night, water would stream from defective sprinkler heads, flooding the yard. The ground became so saturated that a sinkhole opened up behind his house, he said.

After repairs, Baines used 149 gallons per day in March. But the memory still rankles.
 
"Well, you know, I apologize," he said. "Clearly, I am not a model of water usage."
 

Nobody in the valley rivaled Baines, though. Swearengin, Fresno's mayor, averaged 850 gallons per day in 2013. She didn't respond to a request for comment.
 
In Southern California, water officials averaged 541 gallons per day, exceeding both the state and regional rates. Officials in coastal cities tended to have far lower water bills than those in hotter inland areas.
 
Riverside Councilman Soubirous was the only official to use 1 million gallons in successive years, but he was not the only mega-user in the Inland Empire city, which has outlawed watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
 
Andrew Walcker of the city Board of Public Utilities used 1 million gallons in 2012. In September 2012, he pumped 6,000 gallons per day -- enough water for 16 households.
 

Walcker's 2-acre property once was a grapefruit grove. Starting 18 months ago, he said he began a landscape makeover, installing a state-of-the-art sprinkler system and pulling out 12,000 square feet of lawn.
 
Water bills show Walcker's use dropped by 35 percent in 2013 and is on a pace to drop 50 percent this year. Nevertheless, in June, he used more than 1,500 gallons per day, triple the Southern California average.
 
The other big Riverside user was utilities board member Nick Ferguson. He used enough for six households in 2012 and slightly less in 2013.
 

Ferguson declined to be interviewed, but his bills may continue to decrease. In May, according to a news release, he won a $10,000 Waterwise Landscape Makeover contest sponsored by the city and the Greater Riverside Chambers of Commerce. His prize: a turf-free front yard.
 
Big water bills also prevailed on the board of the Coachella Valley Water District, which supplies desert resort cities and golf courses near Palm Springs.
 
Water board President John Powell Jr. used 1,800 gallons per day in 2013 at his home on an Indian Wells golf course, slightly more than in 2012.
 
In an interview, Powell blamed his landscaper for favoring a green lawn over water conservation. Recently, Powell said he took drastic action: He locked up his irrigation timer to prevent overwatering.
 

He said he also replaced lawns with rock and artificial turf. He expects big savings. But through Aug. 27, his water use was down 4 percent from 2013, records show.
 
Fellow Coachella board member Peter Nelson used 1,500 gallons per day last year, a 10 percent increase over 2012. Nelson says a big water bill seems unavoidable in his home near the Palm Royale Country Club in La Quinta, where his son hosted his water polo team for weekly swim parties in the family's pool.
 
Also struggling to conserve water is Record, a Riverside County rancher and local water district official who was elected chairman of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California in May.
 
For years, the consortium of 26 Los Angeles-area water agencies has promoted water conservation. Now, facing cutbacks from Northern California, it has redoubled its efforts. In May, Record and other Metropolitan Water District officials held a news conference to warn that if voluntary conservation measures fall short, water rationing would begin.
 

At his ranch house on the outskirts of San Jacinto, Record has a history of letting the water flow: In both 2012 and 2013, he used enough water to supply four families, with a summertime spike.
 
But this year, in the name of conservation, he told CIR that he has dramatically cut back, turning off the sprinklers for a "big part of our lawn."
 
The result: In August, Record's water bill was half what it was a year ago. But he still used 1,300 gallons per day -- more than twice the Southern California average.
 
In the Bay Area, where summer nights can be cool and foggy, local water officials don't use much water: 70 percent were under the state average in 2013.
 

The region's biggest user was Martin Koller, vice president of the board of the Alameda County Water District. He used 604 gallons per day, double the regional rate. Koller said nine members of his extended family live with him, and his wife operates a day care center for 14 children out of the home.

"That's taxed our water usage," he said.
 
Otherwise, Bay Area officials dominated the list of water misers among their peers.
 
The most miserly official in California was Eric Mar of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, who lives in a condominium in the Inner Richmond district, part of the city's fog belt. He used 45 gallons per day in 2013 -- about enough to fill a bathtub.
 
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee was not far behind: He used 53 gallons per day at his Glen Park home.
 
The mayor believes "conservation is a way of life," said spokeswoman Christine Falvey, and he's often out of town on official travel.
 
As a result, Lee had some extraordinarily low bills.
 
In July, he used 24 gallons per day -- enough to wash a load of clothes. In March 2013, he used 12 gallons per day -- the equivalent of one six-minute shower. And in December 2013, after trips to China and India, the mayor's bill was even lower: zero gallons.
 
Actually, the zero is a billing anomaly, said Tyrone Jue, spokesman for the city Public Utilities Commission.
 
In San Francisco, water use is rounded off on monthly bills, he said. Customers get zeros when they don't use enough water to make the meter tick -- 748 gallons in a billing period. Their minimal use is carried over to the following month's bills, Jue said.
 
There's no way the mayor went an entire month without using a drop of water, Jue said. "Essentially, it is normal," he said of the bill.
 
This story was edited by Amy Pyle and copy edited by Nikki Frick and Christine Lee.
 
This story was produced by The Center for Investigative Reporting, an independent, nonprofit newsroom based in the San Francisco Bay Area. For more, visit cironline.org. Williams can be reached at lwilliams@cironline.org, and Mieszkowski can be reached at kmieszkowski@cironline.org. Follow them on Twitter: @LanceWCIR and @kmieszkowski.



Photo Credit: AP
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<![CDATA[Drought Blamed for Dead Fish Found at Los Gatos Lake]]> Sat, 04 Oct 2014 10:16:46 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/1003-2014-DeadFish.jpg

Piles of dead fish found in the Vasona Lake Park neighborhood in Los Gatos are the latest victims of California's severe drought.

A lack of rain has made reservoirs low, forcing the Santa Clara Valley Water District to hold back water that would normally be flowing through Vasona Lake.

Vasona's water creates algae, which sucks up the fish's oxygen and killing them.

"There are problems associated with low water, heat and temperature," said Debra Caldon of the Santa Clara Valley Water District. "And Vasona is one of those places where you have a lot of conflicts coming together."

Water officials are urgently reminding people that water conservation in one place can prevent problems in another area.



Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[NASA Images Show Severity of CA Water Loss]]> Fri, 03 Oct 2014 17:34:22 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/210*120/10-03-2014-nasa-drought-PIA18816_fig1.jpg

NASA images released this week show the severity of drought-stricken California's declining water storage over the past decade.

The images from the space agency's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellites (GRACE) show the state's accumulated water loss from June 2002 to June 2008 and June 2014. The progression of colors from green to red indicate declining water storage in a state that faces a fourth-consecutive dry year.

The GRACE satellite images depict changes in mass related to changes in water amount on or below the Earth's surface. Those changes are represented by different colors in satellite imagery.

The most severe storage losses -- depicted by the most severe color changes in the images -- between 2002 and 2014 occurred in the Sacramento and San Joaquin River basins, including the Central Valley, because of increased groundwater pumping to support agricultural production, according to NASA. The images show a large swath of the central part of the state changing from green to orange to a blistering red, representing a severe reduction in mass due to declining water storage.

The river basins lost a combined 4 trillion gallons of water annually between 2011 and 2014, according to NASA. Californians draw about 38 billion gallons per day from ground and surface-water sources, according to a USGS survey.

Earlier this year, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency in California, where state and local water agencies are urging resident to conserve and even considering plans to budget water use by creating a daily water allocation for each household.

More than 58 percent of the state is under "exceptional" drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Three months ago, about 36 percent of the state was in the "exceptional" category, the most severe of the agency's drought levels.

More than 95 percent of California is under severe to exceptional drought.
 



Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of California, Irvine]]>
<![CDATA[Drought Linked to Climate Change, Greenhouse Gases: Stanford]]> Mon, 29 Sep 2014 18:43:35 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/160*120/lake-shasta-drought-03Feb2014.jpg

The dry earth, the raging wildfires and the other symptoms of California's drought are "very likely" linked to human-caused climate change because of the abundance of greenhouse gases created by burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests, according to a new study by Stanford University scientists.

"Our research finds that extreme atmospheric high pressure in this region – which is strongly linked to unusually low precipitation in California – is much more likely to occur today than prior to the human emission of greenhouse gases that began during the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s," Noah Diffenbaugh, an associate professor of environmental Earth system science at Stanford and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, said in a statement.

Other scientists have warned that global warming will increase the risk of drought. But this study, published Monday, is one of the most comprehensive studies to connect the current drought, one of the worst in the state's history, to more general climate trends. Diffenbaugh led the team and used computer simulations and statistical techniques to come up with his theory.

Combined with unusually warm temperatures and stagnant air conditions, the lack of rain has triggered a dangerous increase in wildfires and incidents of air pollution across the state, the study noted.

Scientists agree that the immediate cause of the drought is a particularly stubborn "blocking ridge" over the northeastern Pacific – popularly known as the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge, or "Triple R" – that prevented winter storms from reaching California during the 2013 and 2014 rainy seasons.

Scientists compared it to a large boulder that has tumbled into a narrow stream. The "Triple R," they said, diverted the flow of high-speed air currents known as the jet stream far to the north, causing Pacific storms to bypass not only California but also Oregon and Washington. As a result, rain and snow that would normally fall on the West Coast was instead re-routed to Alaska and as far north as the Arctic Circle, the researchers found.

Blocking ridges are regions of high atmospheric pressure that disrupt typical wind patterns in the atmosphere. "Winds respond to the spatial distribution of atmospheric pressure," said Daniel Swain, a graduate student in Diffenbaugh's lab and lead author of the study. "We have seen this amazingly persistent region of high pressure over the northeastern Pacific for many months now, which has substantially altered atmospheric flow and kept California largely dry."

A recent report estimated that the water shortage would result in direct and indirect agricultural losses of at least $2.2 billion and lead to the loss of more than 17,000 seasonal and part-time jobs in 2014 alone.

The research was published as a supplement to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

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<![CDATA[Drought May Take Bite Out of SoCal Strawberries]]> Sat, 27 Sep 2014 13:05:56 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/strawberry8.JPG

Approaching the fall planting season in the grips of drought, growers of Ventura County's famed strawberries are considering whether to cut back acreage.

The county's Farm Bureau expects to see a reduction on the order of between 1,500 and 2,000 acres due to a number of factors, including the drought's impact on water for irrigation, said CEO John Krist.

Irrigating crops in Ventura County relies almost entirely on well water.

"Because of the drought, we've been pumping the daylights out of those aquifers," Krist said. "And that's caused water levels to fall."

For more than half a century, there has been a system for using surface water to replenish much of the region's groundwater as it is withdrawn. But the drought has dramatically reduced the amount of surface water available to do so.

"Groundwater is at its lowest level in 25 years," said Anthony Emmert, assistant general manager of the United Water Conservation District, which is the entity responsible for replenishing the groundwater in much of the county's agricultural zone.

Piru Creek was dammed in the 1950s to create Lake Piru specifically to store mountain runoff for the District's groundwater replenishment. But in this third year of drought, the lake's level has plummeted, and now contains less than 18,000 acre-feet, about 20 percent of capacity.

The District historically has released a large flow of water in September and October to riverbeds and spreading basins where the water can percolate through the soil into the groundwater aquifers below.

This fall, for an unprecedented second year in a row, there is not enough water for a recharge release, Emmert said.

The only water being released for Lake Piru is a small flow for habitat preservation in lower Piru Creek.

Another entity, the Fox Canyon Groundwater Management Agency, serves in effect as the watermaster for the region. Earlier this year, its board adopted emergency regulations requiring cutbacks in water pumping, and enabling surcharges to be imposed on pumpers who fail to do so.

The first year calls for consumption to be cut 10 percent. For agricultural users, this took effect in August.

October historically sees the biggest demand for irrigation crops, to help establish newly planted berries, Krist said.  Friday he met in the Bureau's Ventura office with  a committee of member growers  in an ongoing effort to develop courses of action for dealing with water issues that have been exacerbated by the drought.

Growers are expected to respond differently to the groundwater limits. Some may fallow fields. Some may rotate crops. "I think others just might make the decision to use the same amount of water they need and just pay the fine," said Krist.

Though water cost is a factor in a grower's overhead, it is typically much less than other costs, particular land and labor cost. Strawberries are picked by hand.

In years past, United has augmented the runoff available for replenishment with water imported from Northern California via the California Aqueduct. But this year there has been none available.

A major concern with falling groundwater in coastal regions is the increasing risk of contamination from intruding saltwater moving inland.

"As the (groundwater) pressure goes down, that seawater moves in," Emmert said.

Groundwater replenishment programs in some coastal regions, such as Orange County and the south Santa Monica Bay region of Los Angeles County, have built recycling plants.

Water obtained by filtering contaminants out of sewage cannot be distributed directly in municipal water systems, but can be injected to replenish groundwater.

The recycling adds cost, more easily borne in regions where groundwater is consumed primarily for residential and commercial users, who use far less water than agriculture, but typically pay a much higher price per unit.

Recycled water can cost on the order of $1,000 an acre foot. Growers are accustomed to paying under $30 an acre foot, though dropping well levels mean increased cost for the additional electricity to pump the water farther to the surface.

The city of Oxnard has built a recycling plant as part of a program it calls GREAT -- Groundwater Recovery Enhancement and Treatment. Lack of agreement over distribution and cost sharing has slowed its rollout.

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<![CDATA[Drought Spoils Apple-Picking Season]]> Fri, 26 Sep 2014 06:15:18 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Drought-Julian-Apple-Orchards.jpg

California’s ongoing drought is impacting one of San Diego’s most popular fall traditions: apple picking at the many orchards in Julian.

During a normal year, growers in the east San Diego community would be on the cusp of fall apple picking season, with orchards overflowing with the fruit – but not this year.

In fact, many of the popular orchards are closed for the season, forced to turn away visitors and families who enjoy the apple picking tradition fall after fall.

Conrad Young owns the Calico Ranch in Julian. He has 20 acres worth of apple trees but this year all 4,000 of his trees have something in common.

“There are just no apples to be had in this whole orchard. I’ve never seen it like this, ever,” Young told NBC 7.

For the first time in 30 years, Young’s well is drawn down to where it can no longer continuously produce water. Instead of tripping on apples, he's kicking up dust.

The few trees that do have fruit are really not yielding much and are hardly worth picking.

“Normally these are at least twice this size,” he explained, showing some small apples. “The trees are pretty smart. They kind of anticipate what the year is going to be like. I think they went into shutdown very early.”

Inside Young’s cooler, the boxes typically full of product are all empty, which is why he and many of his fellow Julian growers decided to close their gates early this season.

In fact, Calico Ranch closed before the season even started, much to the dismay of visitors.

“We’ve gotten so many calls, so many families that have been coming for years and they're very disappointed this year, about as disappointed as I am,” Young lamented.

Instead of welcoming families, Young is already getting ready for next year.

He's trying to keep his workers employed knowing they have families to feed, so they’re keeping very busy trimming branches.

Under drought conditions the trees have a harder time fighting off pests and disease. Their roots are stressed and their limbs are dying.

And, though in the middle of his property sits a sort of apple tree graveyard, Young is staying positive.

“If you’re in farming, you have to be an optimist,” he said.

He's already banking on 2015 as a banner year for apples – and apple picking.

There are still a few orchards open in Julian and a few others accepting apple picking groups by appointment only. That said, locals hope that one bad crop doesn’t ruin the whole fall season for the mountain community that relies so heavily on tourism.
 



Photo Credit: NBC 7 San Diego]]>
<![CDATA[Debate Sparked Over Drought-Global Warming]]> Wed, 24 Sep 2014 19:48:07 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/216*120/drought7.JPG

Scientists worked with the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach to put together a demonstration aimed at teaching the principles of how extreme weather around the globe finds its roots in California.

It's the same presentation shared with national weather centers around the country.

"It makes me understand a little bit more what they're talking about when they're talking about El Niño and the drought," said Bob Wade, of San Pedro.

Visitors to the aquarium Wednesday were the first to see and hear the report, projected onto the spinning globe in the ocean sciences center.

And the message appears to be getting across.

"It just makes sense to me," said Linda Conkey, of Torrance. "If the Earth is warming up, then the drought has something to do with that, or vice versa."

To connect the idea to global warming is another learning moment.

"I laughed at it years ago when they talked about it," Wade said. "It was something that, for me, was hard to comprehend. And now it's happening."

Glen MacDonald, a UCLA professor of geography who was part of the study, said the current drought is a preview of the 21st century.

"It's a preview of the future," he said.

California is a model of what the world will soon deal with, MacDonald said.

"They look to us in some ways as a poster child for environmental problems," he said.

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<![CDATA[Homeowners Opt to Remove Pools Amid Drought]]> Wed, 24 Sep 2014 12:34:22 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/0923-2014-Pool.jpg

California's severe drought has prompted several homeowners to remove their backyard pools.

Several Bay Area cities report seeing fewer pools built and more torn down in an effort to conserve water.

Terry Arrighi, who owns A-1 Pool Removal, has also seen an uptick in requests for his services.

"I have more work than I can do," he said.

The drought has many homeowners, like Cupertino's Steve Ding, re-thinking their backyard pools.

"I think it wastes a lot of water," he said.

But not everyone in the Bay Area is ripping their pools apart. While San Jose and Concord are some of the cities reporting a drop in new pool permits, San Ramon has seen a rise in permits to build pools.



Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Wildfires Create Opportunity for More Water in CA: Professor]]> Tue, 23 Sep 2014 07:49:01 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/AP241065283248.jpg

An environmental expert said the wildfires ravaging California are creating a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the state to increase its water supply.

Dr. Scott Stephens, a UC Berkeley professor of fire science, said he sees a silver lining in all the smoke from the many wildfires raging in the state.

"We need forest restoration on these lands," he said.

Stephens said, if done right, California might see the kind of results that restoration projects have already produced at Yosemite National Park.

"We've also seen about a 20 percent increase in water yield from these acres with the same amount of water input," he said. "So there's really a 20 percent increase of water going down the mountain."

Stephens said 100 years ago there were about 50 trees per acre on average in California forests. But programs designed to maximize timber production have led to about 400 trees per acre, which also takes up a lot of water.

"They're worried about aquatic ecosystems -- insect and fish," Stephens said. "Maybe these things would retain water longer by having more water in the channels versus going up into the forest canopy."

There are currently about 20,000 acres per year under restoration. Stephens said that number needs to increase 10-fold and very soon.

"If we don't do this today our kids and grand kids will one day be shaking their heads and wondering why we didn't act," he said.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Groundwater Levels Plummet in Crucial LA County Basins]]> Thu, 18 Sep 2014 07:00:37 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/colorado+river+basin+copy.jpg

New laws intended to safeguard California's dwindling groundwater largely exclude crucial basins in Los Angeles and Orange counties, on the grounds that local monitoring systems for them are already in place.

But that is not keeping their water levels from descending to historically low levels, NBC4 has learned.

"The system has worked until now," said Anthony Zampiello, executive director for the watermaster overseeing the main San Gabriel basin, historically replenished by runoff from the mountains.

What has changed things is this third year of drought.

"Now it's stressing all the safeguards put into place," Zampiello said.

The court order that established the San Gabriel watermaster four decades ago also specified an "operating range" for groundwater levels.

Water as measured at the key well in Baldwin Park fell below the operating range in February and has continued to drop to the point it is now 18 feet below. "It's never been this low," Zampiello said.

Groundwater levels are also plummeting in the central groundwater basin which underlies much of the southern end of Los Angeles County.

At one test well checked Wednesday in Pico Rivera, the water level had dropped to 102 feet, 17 feet lower than recorded just half a year ago. Similar drops have been recorded across the basin.

"One more foot, and it will be at the lowest level in 57 years," said Ted Johnson, chief hydrogeologist for the Water Replenishment District.

The state legislature created the WRD in the 1950s after the post World War II population boom led to rapid drawdown of groundwater, both in the Central Basin and to the west in the coast basin beneath the South Bay. With both the San Gabriel Watermaster and the Replenishment District, the goal was to apportion allocations in order to stablize the basins so they could meet ongoing demand.

Dealing with prolonged drought was not part of the original vision for either entity.

The original source of replenishment for both the San Gabriel and Central basins was runoff from the mountains, captured in giant spreading basins so the water could percolate through the soil and into the basins. Later, after the completion of the California Aqueduct in the 1970s, the entitites purchased water sent south by the California Water Project.

Both those sources have been severely curtailed by the drought. During the drought, recycled and treated waste water has proven to be the most reliable replenishment source for the WRD, and it is moving to expand its recycling capability with the goal of achieving independence from imported water. But a major increase in recycling capacity may not go online before 2018.

How much accessible groundwater remains in the Central Basin is not known with cetainty, Johnson said.  What the historical record shows is that prior to WRD replenishment, the basin had dropped hit a low 30 feet below where it is today.  At current drawdown rates,  it would be a year at soonest before the aquifer would hit that level, said Johnson.

The Orange County Water District has been a longtime proponent of water recycling. Its groundwater basin has dropped to the lower one-third of its operating range, according to the district. Groundwater rights in some other basins have also been "adjudicated," but much of the state has lacked grounwater monitoring, and the absence of statewide regulation had made California unique among the western states.

The package of groundwater bills signed Tuesday by Gov. Jerry Brown creates a framework for reporting groundwater pumping and replenishment, and ultimately calls for development of local sustainability plans. Apart from reporting requirements, the existing overseers of basins such as San Gabriel, Central, and Orange County are specifically exempted from the other provisions of the bills. The overseers have not attempted to order cuts in pumping from wells.

"We can't dictate," said WRD Board Director Sergio Calderon.

Whether the watermaster could do so is yet to be explored. For now, the watermaster hopes to the drawdown can be slowed by its member water districts taking more from the Colorado River, which has been less affected by the drought.

When Gov. Brown proclaimed a drought emergency in January, he called on Californians to reduce water consumption by 20 percent.  In fact, most areas have fallen far short of that goal.  As recently as May, Los Angeles and other cities were using more water than the previous year.

Perhaps as soon as a month, Calderon said the WRD board will consider proclaiming a Drought Emergency for the Central Basin.  Like the Watermaster for the San Gabriel Basin, Calderon does not  see the need for mandatory curtailment of deliveries in the months ahead, but that could change if another dry winter propels California into a fourth year of drought.



Photo Credit: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation]]>
<![CDATA[New Tool Predicts Wildfires]]> Wed, 17 Sep 2014 21:26:53 -0800 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/216*120/firewebpic.JPG

The hot, dry Santa Ana winds have the potential to turn small brush fires into raging infernos, and that keeps firefighters on their toes during heat waves.

On Wednesday, however, a new online tool that could potentially help fire agencies gauge the likelihood of a catastrophic fire was unveiled.

It's called the Santa Ana Wildfire Threat Index, a classification system that analyzes the fire threat potential of the powerful Santa Ana winds.

The index shows whether a fire may grow rapidly to uncontrollably as a result of weather conditions like gusty winds, and can alert first responders and the public in time to take appropriate action.

Roger Pierce, the director of the National Weather Service in San Diego, said he believes this new tool help the public be better prepared for wildfires.

The classification system is based on Southern California weather data. It has four levels, ranging from "Marginal" to "Extreme."

"I asked my team to come up with something similar to the categories to rate hurricanes," says Dave Geier, vice president of electric transmission and system engineering at San Diego Gas & Electric.

The development of the index was a collaboration among San Diego Gas & Electric, UCLA, and the U.S. Forest Service, which was already working on a categorization system for fires and the Santa Ana winds.

The threat index includes four levels -- marginal suggests fires may grow rapidly. An "Extreme" rating means fires could burn very intensely.

For more information, visit: 

santaanawildfirethreat.com

.

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