<![CDATA[NBC Southern California - Running Dry]]> Copyright 2015 http://www.nbclosangeles.com/feature/running-dry http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/NBC4_40x125.png NBC Southern California http://www.nbclosangeles.com en-us Wed, 29 Jul 2015 23:15:16 -0700 Wed, 29 Jul 2015 23:15:16 -0700 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Shower Curtain Lets Bathers Know It's Time to Get Out]]> Wed, 29 Jul 2015 13:40:42 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/h20-curtain-2.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: NBC 7]]>
<![CDATA[El Niño FAQ]]> Tue, 21 Jul 2015 17:57:01 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/2015_What-Is-El-Nino.png

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: KNBC-TV
This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.]]>
<![CDATA['Take A Turn' Saving California's Precious Water]]> Wed, 01 Jul 2015 20:00:49 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/water-faucet2.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ted Chen contributed to this report.

Photo Credit: NBC 5 News]]>
<![CDATA[World’s Largest Water Purification Plant Expanded]]> Tue, 30 Jun 2015 22:16:34 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/185*120/472600974.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even there the drought is having an impact.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Customers who exceed that will not face surcharges.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

<![CDATA[Drought Monitor: Rain Does Little for Long-Term Drought]]> Mon, 25 May 2015 08:14:10 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/180*120/472591062.jpg

A storm dumped an inch of rain on drought-parched Southern California last week -- an unusual amount for May -- but it did little to end the state's extreme drought.

Nearly half the state of California remains in an exceptional drought, the driest possible condition, marking no change from the week before, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The drought is into its fourth year.

"The late-season rain and snow showers have improved the appearance of the landscape but have left the underlying, long-term drought virtually untouched," said Brad Rippey, of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in the Thursday drought summary for the American West.

For the second week in a row, 47 percent of California is categorized as having an exceptional drought, and two-thirds of the state is having an extreme drought, the next-worse category.

There were some benefits from the rain showers, including reducing the need for crop irrigation and helping pastures. But the storm didn't deposit much snow in mountains above California lakes, essentially leaving reservoirs at 64 percent of their average, according to the Drought Monitor.

"The reservoir recharge season has ended early," the Drought Monitor's summary said.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[How to Recycle Water at Home]]> Tue, 12 May 2015 05:21:09 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/150511-5pm-home-graywater_1_1200x675_443674691511.jpg Excess water that might be too dirty to drink or water your food crops could be good enough to water your trees and shrubs. Lolita Lopez reports for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Monday, May 11, 2015.]]> <![CDATA[ "We Just Don't Have Any Water": California Homeowners Ditch Pools]]> Mon, 11 May 2015 08:51:42 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/California-Pools-480p_1200x675_443198019512.jpg The California drought is pushing some homeowners to get rid of their backyard pools, filling them in to save yard space, money and water.]]> <![CDATA[California Water Cuts Ignore Past Changes by Some Cities]]> Sun, 10 May 2015 12:09:00 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/190*120/471011092_master.jpg

In California's second-largest city, memories are still fresh of a devastating drought 25 years ago that saw the area's water supplies slashed by about a third.

Billions of dollars were invested to prepare for the next drought, an effort that included building the Western hemisphere's largest desalination plant, which opens this fall.

Yet the moves count for nothing under sweeping statewide cuts to urban water use approved this week that require hundreds of cities, counties and local agencies to reduce consumption between 8 percent and 36 percent from 2013 levels, starting June 1. The largest per-capita users must make the biggest percentage cuts, no matter how and where they get their water.

San Diego isn't the only place complaining. The Orange County Water District, which serves 2.4 million people near Los Angeles, wanted credit for sending wastewater through ground basins for drinking. It started recycling water in 2008 and is boosting production to 100 million gallons a day from 70 million.

San Diego, which imports nearly all of its water, launched its quest for water independence in 1991, after the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California said it was cutting deliveries in half. Metropolitan, a giant wholesaler based in Los Angeles, supplied 95 percent of San Diego's water at the time.

Surprise rains reduced the cut to 31 percent, which lasted 13 months. Still, businesses led by the city's biotech industry demanded change.

"That really was a wakeup call," said Dana Friehauf, water resources manager for the San Diego County Water Authority, which supplies 3.1 million people in the city of San Diego and its suburbs. "We heard loud and clear from residents and businesses in San Diego County that we needed to take action to avoid that from happening again."

Metropolitan now supplies less than half of San Diego's water and will deliver less than a third in 2020. But the diversification has been costly.

In 2003, San Diego began buying water from California's Imperial Valley in the nation's largest farm-to-city water transfer, a move that San Diego leaders said would offer protection during drought because Imperial Valley's senior rights to Colorado River water put them at the front of the line.

In 2012, San Diego sought more protection by agreeing to buy water from a $1 billion desalination plant in suburban Carlsbad. The hemisphere's largest such plant will produce 50 million gallons a day by 2020, enough to satisfy 7 percent of regional demand. It will raise the region's average residential water bill by $5 to $7 a month.

San Diego's march to independence earned little sympathy from the State Water Resources Control Board, which approved the cuts to achieve Gov. Jerry Brown's target of reducing urban water use 25 percent. Board officials say those who prepared for drought will be better off in the long run.

"This is not about being fair, giving kudos for past performance," said board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus. "This is about dealing with what is an emergency out in front of us that may not be right here, but we can see coming at us."

In November, the city of San Diego moved ahead on a $2.5 billion plan to recycle 83 million gallons of wastewater a day for drinking by 2035, about one-third of the city's supply. It warns, however, that public support may wane if cities don't get credit for such investments.

"The frustrating thing is it feels we have done the right things, invested in the right things and tried to be very responsible," said Mark Cafferty, chief executive of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp., a business coalition.

"I absolutely agree with the narrative" to diversify supplies, said Mayor Steve Vaus of Poway, a San Diego suburb that must cut use 32 percent. "The problem is that, to date, it has fallen on deaf ears."

Steve Erie, a political science professor at University of California, San Diego, said the cuts "absolutely blindsided" the region, which erred by locking in long-term contracts for desalinated water and with the Imperial Valley deal.

"They were overeager investors," he said. "It's a failure of planning."

Many San Diego government officials and business leaders insist it is a temporary setback. They say any unused water can be stored in a newly retrofitted dam and tapped if drought persists.
Gary Arant, general manager of Valley Center Municipal Water District, said state regulators had to act quickly. His agency, which serves homes with fruit trees on large lots north of San Diego, must cut use 36 percent.

"In the short term, the investment hasn't worked out as we hoped," he said. "We think, in the long term, the San Diego region will be better off."

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[10 Crazy (Brilliant) Ideas to End the CA Drought ]]> Sun, 10 May 2015 11:58:56 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/180*120/csKUBERonWeYnkIDeYBH-2-1245515199000.jpg These are the most out-of-left-field ideas and recommendations out of the nearly 200 that individuals sent to California's Drought Task Force. The collection was provided to NBC4 by the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services on May 8, 2015.

Photo Credit: File (Barbara Pfeffer)]]>
<![CDATA[Fishy, "Earthy" Water Taste to Last Through Drought]]> Fri, 08 May 2015 09:45:00 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/water-faucet-drip722.jpg

If you’re one of the 1.3 million customers in the San Francisco East Bay who thinks the water lately has been tasting, well, kinda awful, you’re not crazy.

And starting Sunday, it’s going to taste and smell that way indefinitely – for as long as California’s drought lasts.

“Our water this year may taste and smell different than what we are used to,” East Bay Municipal District General Manager Alexander R. Coate said. “It’s not ideal. But the alternatives are much worse.”

He said if customers keep drinking from the cool, delicious Mokelumne River in the Sierra Nevada, then the entire ecosystem and the spawning salmon will be at risk later in the year.

That’s why, in March, EMBUD managers decided to start drawing water from a higher valve in Pardee Resevoir, between Amador and Calaveras counties, which is warmer and tastes different because of its chemical makeup.

EBMUD thought the switch would be temporary. But the drought conditions keep worsening and the Mokelumne River supplies are critically low.

So, EMBUD decided to go back to pumping from higher up in the Pardee Reservoir, where water nearer the surface is warmer, more sunlit and often has more algae than water deeper in the reservoir. The water is safe, officials have repeated, but can taste off for those with sensitive palettes.

Spokeswoman Abby Figueroa said the algae is filtered, but leaves behind chemical compounds with a noticeable taste. When she drank it for the first time two months ago, she described it – diplomatically – as “earthy.” Her husband said, “What’s up with the water?” And one 12-year-old customer screeched when she first drank it, complaining that it tasted like blood.

Others, however, with less sensitive tastebuds, didn’t notice a change at all.

In addition, last month, EBMUD began filling two local reservoirs, San Pablo and Upper San Leandro, with a two-month supply of Sacramento River water bought through a federal contract. That water will be pumped into local reservoirs for several months

While these changes aren’t optimal, Coate acknowledged, they are better than the alternatives, like banning outdoor water use.

And those alternatives, he said, would be much “tougher to swallow.”

Photo Credit: Tim Graham]]>
<![CDATA[Some CA Crops Drink Billions of Gallons of Water]]> Fri, 08 May 2015 10:14:23 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/180*120/050715+Crop+Project+%282%29.jpg

California continues to wrestle with water savings as the state enters its fourth year in drought-mode, and one statistic that often pops up is how much water agriculture consumes.

While alert systems and fines for water wasters are set up to shrink residential water use, agriculture makes up 80 percent of human water use in the state. And some California crops use guzzle more water -- much more -- each year than others do, according to a 2015 California Agricultural Water Use summary from the Pacific Institute.

While almonds have been dragged through the mud in recent news reports, they're not the biggest culprit in California. That dubious honor falls on alfalfa, according to the Pacific Institute.

The livestock fodder and occasional salad topping -- it's a cousin of peas -- used the most water, the study's 2010 data say, drinking an estimated 1.7 trillion gallons that year.

Click through the slideshow at the top of this story to see how much water other major crops grown in the Golden State used. 

Complete drought coverage: Running Dry.

Photo Credit: File Photo (John Moore/Getty Images)]]>
<![CDATA[Water Regulators OK Drought Restrictions]]> Wed, 06 May 2015 08:55:21 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/179*120/470555096_master.jpg

California water regulators adopted sweeping, unprecedented restrictions Tuesday on how people, governments and businesses can use water amid the state's ongoing drought, hoping to push reluctant residents to deeper conservation.

The State Water Resources Control Board approved rules that force cities to limit watering on public property, encourage homeowners to let their lawns die, and impose mandatory water-savings targets for the hundreds of local agencies and cities that supply water to California customers.

Gov. Jerry Brown sought the more stringent regulations, arguing that voluntary conservation efforts have so far not yielded the water savings needed amid a four-year drought. He ordered water agencies to cut urban water use by 25 percent from levels in 2013, the year before he declared a drought emergency.

"It is better to prepare now than face much more painful cuts should it not rain in the fall," board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus said Tuesday as the panel voted 5-0 to approve the new rules.

Although the rules are called mandatory, it's still unclear what punishment the state water board and local agencies can or will impose for those that don't meet the targets. Board officials said they expect dramatic water savings as soon as June and are willing to add restrictions and penalties for agencies that lag.

But the board lacks staff to oversee each of the hundreds of water agencies, which range dramatically in size and scope. Some local agencies that are tasked with achieving savings do not have the resources to issue tickets to those who waste water, and many others have chosen not to do so.

Despite the dire warnings, it's also still not clear that Californians have grasped the seriousness of the drought or the need for conservation. Data released by the board Tuesday showed that Californians conserved little water in March, and local officials were not aggressive in cracking down on waste.

A survey of local water departments showed water use fell less than 4 percent in March compared with the same month in 2013. Overall savings have been only about 9 percent since last summer.

Under the new rules, each city is ordered to cut water use by as much as 36 percent compared with 2013. Some local water departments have called the proposal unrealistic and unfair, arguing that achieving steep cuts could cause higher water bills and declining property values, and dissuade projects to develop drought-proof water technology such as desalination and sewage recycling.

Representatives of San Diego-area water agencies have been especially critical of the water targets, noting that the region has slashed consumption and agencies have spent $3.5 billion on drought-proof water supplies after facing severe cuts in earlier droughts.

"San Diego has lived the horror of what the state is going through right now," Mark Weston, chairman of the San Diego County Water Authority, told the board Tuesday.

After a 10-hour hearing that included more than 5 hours of public testimony, regulators again on Tuesday rejected calls to create easier targets for communities in drier areas or for cities that have been conserving since before the drought.

An economic analysis of the water board's proposal commissioned by the board estimated that private water utilities and local water departments would lose a total of about $1 billion in revenue through lost water sales if they meet the board's targets, meaning they are likely to raise prices to make up the difference.

Residents and businesses use less than a fifth of the water withdrawn from the state's surface and groundwater supplies. Farms in the state's agricultural heartland have had deliveries from government reservoir systems slashed and some have been ordered to stop diverting water that is normally available to them from streams and rivers.

Brown said last week he would push for legislation authorizing fines of up to $10,000 for extreme wasters of water, but he needs legislative approval to do so, and no bill has been introduced. Another tool -- tiered pricing, in which the price rises as water use goes up -- is in question after a court struck down water rates designed to encourage conservation in San Juan Capistrano in Orange County.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[California Falls Short of Water-Saving Goal]]> Tue, 05 May 2015 11:07:47 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/184*120/470890230_master.jpg

Californians conserved little water in March and local officials were not aggressive in cracking down on waste, according to state water regulators.

The update was presented Tuesday to the State Water Resources Control Board as it considers sweeping restrictions to protect water supplies in the drought. A survey of local water departments shows water use fell less than 4 percent in March compared to the same month in 2013.

Overall savings have been only about 9 percent since last summer, even though Gov. Jerry Brown set a voluntary 20 percent target.

Brown is now ordering mandatory conservation. Regulators are considering rules to set water reduction targets of as much as 36 percent for some communities.

The board is also tracking enforcement of water rules. Most communities reported sending fewer than 20 warnings in March.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Gov Proposes $10,000 Fine for Worst Water Wasters]]> Tue, 28 Apr 2015 15:13:47 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/drought-generic-april-13_3.jpg

Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday called for $10,000 fines for residents and businesses that waste the most water as California cities try to meet mandatory conservation targets during the drought.

The recommendation was part of a legislative proposal Brown said he would make to expand enforcement of water restrictions.

His announcement came as his administration faces skepticism about his sweeping plan to save water and just hours before regulators were scheduled to release an updated plan assigning each community a water use reduction target.

"We've done a lot. We have a long way to go," Brown said after meeting with the mayors of 14 cities, including San Diego and Oakland. "So maybe you want to think of this as just another installment on a long enterprise to live with a changing climate and with a drought of uncertain duration."

The governor also said he is directing state agencies to speed up environmental review of projects that increase local water supplies. Mayors have complained that such projects have been delayed by red tape.

A legislative panel on Monday rejected a bill supported by Republicans to speed construction of new water storage projects.

Last summer, state regulators authorized $500 fines for outdoor water waste, but few cities have levied such high amounts. Many agencies have said they would rather educate customers than penalize them.

The mayors who gathered Tuesday with Brown did not indicate they were seeking higher fines.

Brown said steep fines should still be a last resort and "only the worst offenders" that continually violated water rules would be subject to $10,000 penalties. It was unclear what kind of violations those would be.

His proposal would also provide enforcement power to water departments that currently can't fine customers.

California is in its fourth year of drought, and state officials fear it may last as long as a decade.

Brown previously ordered a mandatory 25 percent reduction in statewide water use in cities and towns after voluntary conservation wasn't enough to meet his goals.

The state's most recent proposal, released last week, calls for water use to plummet by as much as 36 percent in some communities. Some cities say the targets are unrealistic and possibly illegal. And some Northern California communities say their longstanding legal rights to water protect them from having to make cuts to help other parched towns.

The current conservation plan is based on per-capita residential water use last summer. Some agencies have offered alternatives that reflect greater demand for water in more arid parts of the state and give credit for conservation efforts before the drought began.

"There are entities like San Diego that are doing a remarkable job on conservation," city Mayor Kevin Faulconer said in an interview after the meeting with Brown. "We're investing significant dollars in desalination and wanting to invest significant dollars into water recycling."

Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin said she was pleased that the governor intended to streamline regulations involving such things as her city's planned surface water treatment plant and a water recycling facility.

Earlier this month, an appeals court struck down tiered water rates designed to encourage conservation in the Orange County city of San Juan Capistrano, saying rates must be linked to the cost of service.

Brown, however, said the ruling does not eliminate using tiered water rates but added "it's not as easy as it was before the decision."

Brown did not release any specific language related to his proposed legislation, and it was unclear whether the Democratic governor had asked any lawmakers to carry it.

Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, was not aware of Brown's proposal and did not have an immediate comment, her spokesman John Casey said. Claire Conlon, a spokeswoman for Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, also declined immediate comment.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[QUIZ: Who Can Save Us From the Drought Now?]]> Tue, 28 Apr 2015 07:23:57 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/drought-quiz-5-save-california-water-shatner.jpg

You've stopped taking long showers. You're only watering your lawn twice a week. Your car is covered in grime because you think car washes are for water-wasting chumps.

But do you really know it all about California's extreme drought? Test your knowledge here, and let's hope it's deeper than the state's water supply...

Previous Quizzes:
QUIZ: What Do You Know About Drought Cutbacks?

Do You Really Understand California's New Mandatory Water Restrictions?
Your Neighbors Probably Think You Should Be Saving More Water
How Water Smart Are You?
So You Think You Know About California's Drought?

CLICK HERE: Complete coverage of California's drought

Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSFC, Illustration by Heather Navarro
This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.]]>
<![CDATA[Project Scientist Explains SMAP Mission]]> Fri, 24 Apr 2015 14:22:42 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/web_smap_healy_interview_1200x675_434011715814.jpg Eni G. Njoku, PhD, has served as Project Scientist for the SMAP Mission and is supervisor of the Water and Carbon Cycles Group at NASA JPL. Wednesday, he briefed NBC4’s Patrick Healy on the progress of the mission and what its satellite data can tell us about soil moisture levels around the globe.]]> <![CDATA[Water Surplus ]]> Thu, 23 Apr 2015 12:52:24 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/NC_watersurplus.jpg One drought-stricken California town will soon have a water surplus, which could cause problems of its own.]]> <![CDATA["Exceptional" Drought Expands in Sierras]]> Fri, 24 Apr 2015 12:48:41 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/220*120/04-23-2015-drought-monitor-map.jpg

The most severe category of drought expanded during the past week in California's northern Sierra Nevada Mountain range after a winter of little snowfall and record warm temperatures in the region.

Nearly 47 percent of California is under the exceptional drought category, according to this week's U.S. Drought Monitor report. That's a nearly 3-percentage point increase over last week.

The Monitor depicts drought conditions in four categories -- moderate, severe, extreme and exceptional. Nearly 94 percent of California falls under the severe category.

Conditions in the northern Sierras reflect California's significantly lower precipitation and the warmest winter in the state's recorded history. In normal precipitation years, the Sierra snowpack melts and runs off into the state's major reservoirs to provide about 30 percent of the state's water needs.

This week's report also shows water levels at Mono Lake near Yosemite National Park reached their lowest levels since 1996. California's lakes and reservoirs have reached historic lows during a fourth consecutive dry year.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency for California in January 2014 and called on residents to reduce water use by 20 percent. On March 17, the state's water control board announced new restrictions that include limits on outdoor watering and prohibiting restaurants from offering water unless requested by customers.

Faced with worsening conditions, Brown has called for a mandatory 25 percent cut in urban water use compared with 2013 levels.

Photo Credit: US Drought Monitor]]>
<![CDATA[Respect the Blob - It May be a Drought Killer]]> Thu, 23 Apr 2015 08:13:47 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/150422-the-blob-drought-pacific.jpg

The Blob is back – and this one is no joke.

Notwithstanding its silly name, this meteorological phenomenon could herald the impending end of California's devestating drought, according to JPL's Bill Patzert and other respected climate scientists.

The Blob refers to an amorphous mass of water warmer than what surrounds it off the coast of North America. Unusually cold or warm water masses have been linked to climate patterns onshore, notably the wet phenomenon dubbed El Nino, and its dry counterpart, La Nina.

Patzert sees the Blob as a precursor.

The last time it appeared – in 1997 – it was followed within months by one of California's wettest El Nino winters ever. Indeed, satellite data reveal an unusually large mass of warm water in the equatorial Pacific, the trademark of El Nino, is now moving toward the Americas.

If the El Nino continues developing as expected, so-called "pineapple express" storms would be expected to begin arriving next winter.

Till then, California would still need to get through another dry summer. In recent weeks, after the past winter ended with a whimper, Gov. Jerry Brown set a statewide water conservation goal of 25 percent, and California's Water Resources Control Board has set specific reducation targets for individual water districts.

Patzert urged Californians not to abandon conservation measures in expectation of relief nearly a year away.

Even more significantly, other indicators dating back 16 months signal a shift in a longterm pattern that alternates between two phases, one conducive to El Ninos, the other to La Ninas. It's called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), and its last shift to warmer and wetter weather in the Southwest coincided with the end of the major drought during the 1970s. There followed a series of wet El Nino winters during the next two decades.

In the late 90s – after the El Nino Winter of '98 – the PDO shifted back to a cool, dry phase for the Southwest, coinciding with an extended period of below average precipitation in this region, culminating in the current drought now in its fourth year.

The PDO shift will be a "drought buster," Patzert predicted.

"Whether it's this year or next, it's coming. This will not be a mega drought," Patzert said, quashing the notion that the type of decades-long drought that geological records indicate can occur every few centuries.

However, climate patterns cannot be expected to replicate exactly what occurred during previous PDO phases, and could be affected by the even longer term pattern of global climate change.

The looming El Nino has implications for the northeast as well, which just endured one of its coldest and snowiest winters on record. El Nino conditions typically result in milder winters in the U.S. northern tier.

Meantime, testing phase is nearly complete for another NASA-JPL project to gather climate-relevant data from space – specifically variations in soil moisture. Because the satellite uses two both active and passive data-gathering technologies, the project has been dubbed SMAP, for Soil Moisture Active Passive. Its instruments measure soil radiation, and from that moisture levels can be calculated.

With instruments calibrated, the project can move into the science phase next month, said Dr. Eni Njoku, a SMAP scientist who focuses on carbon and water cycles.

The data are expected to have far reaching applications, including assisting agricultural planning, flood prediction, and drought monitoring.

Photo Credit: KNBC]]>
<![CDATA[Soil Moisture Observatory Sends Back First Images]]> Fri, 24 Apr 2015 12:27:42 -0700 http://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/216*120/04-22-2015-smap-PIA18058-1280x1024.jpg

A NASA satellite designed to measure Earth's soil moisture sent back its first global map images this month as part of a mission that could help scientists better predict natural hazards like floods and drought.

The array of bright colors displayed in the images released this week show low soil moisture or lack of vegetation with blue colors. Red colors indicate dense vegetation and higher soil moisture levels, such as those seen in the Amazon and Congo rain forests.

The Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory also acquires data over ocean and sea ice, but uses a different color scale to depict temperature variations and the effects of wind.

The images are part of a test of SMAP's instruments before full operations begin in May. The imagery  comes nearly three months after launch from Vandenberg Air Base northwest of Santa Barbara.

SMAP works by bouncing microwave pulses off Earth, then measuring the strength of those signals. Water in soil responds differently to the microwaves than dry soil, allowing scientists to provide the data visualizations with vibrant colors.

The mission, based at Southern California's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, will help scientists understand links between Earth's energy and carbon cycles and reduce uncertainties when it comes to weather and climate forecasting, according to a statement from JPL. The data also will help researchers monitor and predict floods and droughts.

Currently, drought maps and flash flood guidance issued by the federal government are based on computer modeling. SMAP will take real-time measurements that can be incorporated into forecasts.

California is in a fourth year of drought with water reservoirs at critically low levels. The governor has proposed state-mandated water-use cutbacks to combat the dry spell.

The mission is designed to take about three years. Scientists are looking forward to the data provided by SMAP and expressed relief that it's working properly. The complex system that deploys instruments includes an arm the unfurls like a lasso.

"It's fabulous, just the fact that everything has deployed and turned on and worked as we thought it would," said project scientist Dr. Eni  G. Njoku. "Now we're seeing the first data, and it looks very good. I think it's unprecedented that an instrument works this well and is so well calibrated."

Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSFC]]>