<![CDATA[NBC Southern California - Running Dry]]>Copyright 2017https://www.nbclosangeles.com/feature/running-dryhttp://media.nbcnewyork.com/designimages/NBC4_40x125.pngNBC Southern California https://www.nbclosangeles.comen-usTue, 12 Dec 2017 14:11:44 -0800Tue, 12 Dec 2017 14:11:44 -0800NBC Owned Television Stations<![CDATA[Warm Calif. Temperatures Expected to Accelerate Snowmelt]]>Tue, 02 May 2017 04:03:00 -0800https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/196*120/AP_17008791635569.jpg

Melting of this year's massive Sierra Nevada snowpack will cause California rivers to surge and possibly overflow their banks well into the summer this year, officials said Monday.

Among the first to be affected will be the Merced River running through Yosemite National Park, which is expected to hit flood stage by mid-week with waters rising a foot above its banks, forecasters warned.

Large amounts of water are being released from reservoirs downstream from the Sierra Nevada to lower their levels in anticipation of the heavier-than-normal melt off of snowpack, which is nearly double its normal size.

Reservoirs on tributaries of the San Joaquin River have been lowered and authorities will continue lowering their levels through June to avoid the possibility of using spillways for emergency water releases, reservoir managers said.

People who flock to the Tuolumne River for recreation should be prepared for rapid and dangerous river water, said Calvin Curtis of the Turlock Irrigation District.

"The water is going to be fast. It's going to be colder than it has been," he said.

The snowmelt flows downhill during warm months into reservoirs and canals, which supply one-third of the water used by residents of the most populous U.S. state. It also irrigates crops in the nation's most productive farming state.

The heavy snowpack today blanketing the 400-mile (644-kilometer) long Sierra Nevada stands in contrast to two years ago when barely any measureable snow remained at this time of year amid California's drought, state water managers said.

The California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program on Monday measured that snowpack contains nearly twice the amount of water typically found in the snow at this time of year.

While the heavy snow and its high water content will help prevent water shortages that California residents endured over the last several years, the tough winter was cruel to mountain wildlife — killing off bighorn sheep and lengthening hibernation periods for bears.

During California's drought, the iconic Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep moved from lower elevations higher up into the mountains in search of food, said Jason Holley, a wildlife biologist for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

But the heavy snow may have killed 100 of the 600 or so bighorn, he said.

"They've triggered some avalanches," Holley said. "Others got caught in areas with no natural food."

The snowdrifts have also kept many bears hibernating in the remote wilderness inside their dens one month longer than normal because food is still scarce, Holley said.

Hikers heading to the mountains are sure to find damaged roads leading to prized campgrounds that may not be repaired until next year, said Stanislaus National Forest officials.

In Yosemite National Park, rangers warned that visitors will need to be careful when they are near swift-flowing rivers and waterfalls with much higher water flows than normal.

Inexperienced hikers heading into the mountains should be prepared for snow lasting longer than normal this spring and should hike with more experienced people or consider heading to coastal mountains not covered in snow, said Kathryn Phillips, director of the Sierra Club California

"Not only is it technically difficult, it is pretty uncomfortable," Phillips said. "If you've never done it before, go with somebody who has."

Photo Credit: AP file]]>
<![CDATA[California Households Still Conserving Water]]>Tue, 04 Apr 2017 14:49:12 -0800https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/drought-generic-april-13_2.jpg

California's latest water-use figures show the state's families are still doing a good job reducing water use.

Figures released Tuesday by the state Water Resources Control Board show residential water use in February was down 25.1 percent from the same month in 2013, the state's benchmark year for water use.

California remains officially under a drought emergency, although near-record rains this winter have ended the state's five-year drought in most of the state. Officials are expected to announce any changes to the drought-emergency declaration in the next few months.

Urban Californians are no longer under mandatory water-conservation orders, but drought-time bans on things like watering lawns immediately after a rain remain in effect.

This year's mild, wet winter is helping to drive down demand for water.

Photo Credit: Getty Images file]]>
<![CDATA[NASA Images Show Off SoCal's St. Patrick's Day Green]]>Fri, 17 Mar 2017 16:00:45 -0800https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/202*120/03-17-2017-aqua-green-nasa.jpg

It's not always easy being green in Southern California, where some wet seasons can fizzle wihtout much rainfall before the hot, punishing summer months.

But the region is wearing a little more green this St. Patrick's Day, courtesy of winter's steady stream of rainstorms. The before-and-after NASA images above show the region in 2016 -- during five straight dry years -- and 2017 near the end of one of California's wettest winters in years.

The 2017 images, provided by NASA's Aqua satellite, show more green and swaths of richer colors, especially in the Inland Empire. 

You can also see more snow in the Southern California mountains.

At this time last year, more than 93 percent of California was in some type of drought. Only 8 percent of the state is in drought this week, according to the Drought Monitor report issued Thursday. That figure includes part of northern Los Angeles County and Orange, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

The only part of the state in severe drought is extreme southeastern Imperial County. At this time last year, 74 percent of California was in severe drought.

Photo Credit: NASA
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<![CDATA[There's a Tiny Sliver of California Still in Severe Drought]]>Fri, 10 Mar 2017 15:51:19 -0800https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/207*120/03-09-2017-drought-ca.jpg

Conditions have improved in a small swath of Southern California that was one of the last areas of severe drought still standing during a wet winter for the record books.

Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Los Angeles counties are no longer under severe drought, according to this week's U.S. Drought Monitor report. Recent rainfall improved the outlook for groundwater in the region, accounting for the improvement, the Monitor report said.

Only 1 percent of California, a small portion in the extreme southeast corner of Imperial County, remains in severe drought this week.

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At this time last year, 83 percent of California was in severe drought during a punishing five-year dry spell. This season's record rainfall has knocked out drought in 92 percent of California. In early March 2016, 97 percent of the state was in some type of drought.

Moderate drought continues across all of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, the northern part of LA County, Orange County and portions of Imperial and eastern San Diego counties -- a dramatic turnaround over the last year. 

California is in the middle of one of its wettest winters in decades, but remains under a drought emergency. Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to review the drought declaration sometime after the rain ends.

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What's good for drought conditions has brought misery for some Californians. Rivers and creeks have overflowed their banks in Northern California, where San Jose residents faced some of the most severe flooding. Gov. Brown asked Tuesday for federal assistance with the infrastructure damage from late January storms that caused flooding, mudslides and power outages.

The request follows two other petitions for federal help that President Donald Trump's administration granted last month to assist with earlier storm damages and the emergency at Oroville Dam, where an eroding spillway raised flood concerns.

Brown's office said Tuesday the governor also declared a state of emergency for 53 of the state's 58 counties due to late January storms.

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Photo Credit: USGS
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<![CDATA[Quiz: California's Wild Winter Weather]]>Thu, 02 Mar 2017 13:11:46 -0800https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/180*120/02-22-2017-athmospheric-river-california-storm-pineapple_vir_2017051_lrg.jpg

California's wettest winter in years has brought flooding, record snowfall and an end to a punishing five-year drought in some parts of the state.

Put what you know about California's winter weather and its history to the test by taking the quiz below.

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Photo Credit: NASA
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<![CDATA[Super-Soaking Storms Cut Severe Drought to 4 Percent]]>Thu, 23 Feb 2017 08:27:47 -0800https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/222*120/02-23-2017-drought.jpg

More than 80 percent of California is no longer in drought after a series of winter storms, including last week's hourslong soaker in Southern California.

About 17 percent of the state remains in drought, according to this week's U.S. Drought Monitor report, the first since last Friday's powerful storm. That's a dramatic turnaround from one year ago when 94 percent of the state was in drought during an historic five-year dry spell.

This week's report even showed improvement for parts of Southern California that have been struggling to escape severe drought.

"Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties, which have been the epicenter of drought in California in recent weeks, received much-needed rainfall," according to the Drought Monitor report.

More than 8 inches of rain was reported at two stations near Santa Barbara, one of several Southern California communities that were hammered Friday by one of the state's strongest storms in years. This week's report shows only 4 percent of the state in severe drought, affecting areas in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, and extreme southeastern California.

Last week, 7 percent of California was in severe drought. 

At this time last year, 82 percent of California was in severe drought. The Monitor features four drought categories -- moderate, severe, extreme and exceptional. No part of the state is in extreme drought for the first time since August 2013. 

"Generally a one-category improvement to drought conditions was made from central California to the Los Angeles basin," according to the Monitor report.

Santa Barbara County's Cachuma Lake serves as a bellwether for just how dramatic the turnaround has been over the last year. The reservoir rose 24 feet in just one day, bringing the lake to 42 percent of capacity.

Early this month, Cachuma Lake, which has not reached 50 percent capacity since 2014, was at 15 percent of capacity.

The storms, produced by atmospheric rivers that pull streams of moisture up from the tropics, have boosted the state's critical Sierra snowpack and reservoir levels. The Sierra Nevada snowpack is 186 of average, a good sign for spring when that snow melts and runs into the state's water reservoirs ahead of the dry summer months.

In a dramatic turnaround for California from last winter, when reservoir levels were significantly lower and the site of the Sierra snowpack survey was a dry patch of grass, the storms have produced flooding in Nothern California. Some residents returned home Wednesday in San Jose after being evacuated when a bloated creek carrying engine fuel and sewage water flooded thousands of homes.

With water levels from Coyote Creek receding late Wednesday, officials said some of the 14,000 evacuated residents would be allowed to return home, although an evacuation order remained for parts of the city. Authorities warned residents to be careful about hygiene and handling food that may have come into contact with flood water.

Flood warnings were in place until Saturday because waterways were overtaxed, and another storm was forecast Sunday.

Authorities also reopened two lanes of U.S. 101 south of San Francisco after it was closed because of flooding. The California Highway Patrol closed all lanes in both directions at 4:40 a.m. Wednesday when water spilled into a low point on the freeway.

There is no estimate when the key commuter artery will fully reopen.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Photo Credit: USGS
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<![CDATA[Storms Land Another Knockout Punch to California Drought]]>Thu, 16 Feb 2017 13:05:14 -0800https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/222*120/02-16-2017-drought-map.jpg

Snowpack and reservoir levels continued to increase in California, marking another week of improvement for drought conditions across the state.

Last week, 47 percent of the state was in drought, but that figure plummeted to 24 percent this week, according to the Drought Monitor report issued Thursday. At this time last year, 94 percent of California was in drought.

A small swath of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties continue to be the only part of California under extreme drought -- the monitor's second-most severe category of drought. Santa Barbara County's Cachuma Lake is nowhere close to being full after years of drought, but this winter's storms are slowly raising the water level

"Storms continued to drop heavy precipitation over parts of California, leading to widespread improvements of the multi-year drought in the state, although some pockets have missed out on the precipitation and water restrictions remain due to low reservoir levels," according to the Drought Monitor statement. 

The most significant improvements were made Central and Southern California, and Monterey and eastern Santa Clara counties. San Bernardino and southern Inyo counties also saw relief from five years of drought.

The Sierra Nevada mountain snowpack, which melts in spring and flows into the state's reservoirs to provide water for millions of Californians, remained well above 100 percent. Reservoirs across most areas have been recharged, including Lake Isabella at the base of Sequoia National Forest, where the water level jumped 20 percent.

The encouraging drought update comes ahead of what is expected to be the strongest storm of the season in Southern California.

About 2 to 6 inches of rain are likely from the Southern California coast to the valleys by Saturday night. Showers are expected to begin late Thursday before the full force of the storm is unleashed midday Friday and into Saturday.

Some communities could see a month's worth of rain in one day during what is expected to be the region's most powerful storm of the wet season -- October through April. The system is the product of an atmospheric river, tropical moisture that flows north to the West Coast, ushering in waves of precipitation that can go on for hours.

Last week, water regulators extended what are now largely symbolic conservation measures lingering from the drought. Regulators decided to retain the measures at least until spring as a precaution against the possible return of dry weather -- even as another major storm bears down on the state.

Photo Credit: US Drought Monitor]]>
<![CDATA[Drought Is Ending, But Not SoCal's Chronic Water Squeeze]]>Fri, 10 Feb 2017 23:12:26 -0800https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/209*120/01-26-2017-drought-california-oroville-1.jpg

In another round of mixed messages during an exceptionally wet winter, California's water board is extending emergency drought regulations until May, the anniversary of its action taking teeth out of conservation enforcement.

With the state's permission, during the past year most urban and surburban water districts, including those in the cities of Los Angeles and Long Beach, have avoided having to meet mandated conservaton goals by "self-certifying" that they have sufficient reserves to last three years.

The remaining emergency drought regulations impose little more than requiring water agencies to continue monthly reporting of water usage and reserves, and consumers to avoid such blatant water wasting as hosing down driveways or turning on sprinklers during or right after rain.

On their own, many water agencies continue to urge customers to limit their yard watering. Long Beach permits watering two days a week, Los Angeles three -- not a problem since December with the frequent rain.

Water usage in Los Angeles now is 20 percent below the level three years ago, according to its Department of Water and Power.  Long Beach is down 15 percent, said Chris Garner, general manager of the city's water department.

But at the same time, in areas which depend heavily on water pumped from wells, groundwater levels remain far below pre-drought levels.

"We are beyond happy that water conditions continue to improve this year, but the rainy season isn't over yet and some areas of the state continue to suffer significant drought impacts," stated Felicia Marcus, chair of the State Water Resources Control Board.

Even as the board for California's Department of Water Resources was meeting Wednesday, the department released a new NASA report, relying on satellite measurements, that land continues to sink in areas of the San Joaquin Valley, a process called "subsidence" that is blamed on the large volumes of water that for decades have been pumped to the surface for farm irrigation.

With less surface water available during the drought, pumping increased. 

"The rates of San Joaquin Valley subsidence documented since 2014 by NASA are troubling and unsustainable," DWR Director William Coyle is quoted as saying in a department statement.

In some areas, ground level has dropped more than 30 feet since the World War Two era, and threatens to damage aqueducts and flood control structures, according to DWR.

"Groundwater pumping now puts at risk the very system that brings water to the San Joaquin Valley," Coyle stated.

Much of Southern California also relies on groundwater for municipal water supplies. Aquifer levels plunged markedly during the drought, both because the shortage of water from snowmelt forced greater reliance on groundwater, and also because the drought meant less surface water runoff percolating through soil to replenish groundwater depletion.

For southeastern Los Angeles County, groundwater levels in a benchmark "key" well in Pico Rivera stood at 120 feet above sea level in 2011 prior to the drought, according to Pete Brown of the Water Replenishment District (WRD). By late 2015, it had dropped to a low of 52 feet, but began rising again as the drought eased and precipitation increased.

It reached 60 feet last December, and then with the onslaught of rain this season, now stands at 97 feet, Brown said. The WRD is investing in water recycling as part of a plan to end purchasing imported water to pour onto settling basins to recharge groundwater supplies.

But Southern California is far from being able to get by without imported water.

Even in wet winters, with its enormous population growth in recent decades, SoCal remains dependant on the Colorado River and northern Sierra Nevada snowmelt, both distributed by the Metropolitan Water District (MWD). The city of Los Angeles also takes water from the eastern Sierra via the LA Aqueduct.

For those Southern California areas remain out of reach of the MWD's distribution system,  the drought remains high profile.

The city of Ventura does not receive any MWD water, relying solely on wells and surface water. During the drought, the water level in its main storage reservoir, Lake Casitas, had dipped low enough to reveal historical structures not seen since the lake began filling in 1958. The water level has risen this winter, but stands at only 37.5 percent of capacity, according to the Casitas Municipal Water District.

What's more, one of the aquifers from which Ventura buys groundwater, Fox Canyon, remains in "critical overdraft," said Shana Epstein, Ventura Water General Manager.

The city is continuing to ask customers to keep their water usage 20 percent below pre-2013 levels. One tool the city uses to meet that goal, Epstein said, is "water shortage rates," which use pricing tiers to encourage conservation by raising the unit price of water at higher levels of consumption.

Similar pricing is used by other districts, and is encouraged by Gov. Jerry Brown, though the approach walks a legal tightope in complying with Proposition 218, which essentially forbids government agencies from inflating prices for provided services.

In 2015, California's Supreme Court ruled that the tier pricing as established in San Juan Capistrano violates Prop 218, but stopped short of deeming illegal all tier pricing.

Be that as it may, the issue seems less crucial when California's major reservoirs are near capacity, and some are spilling water to make room for more runoff.

For his part, Gov. Brown has yet to rescind the drought emergency proclamation he issued three years ago in January, 2014.

"One year of good rain does not erase six years of drought," said David H. Wright, general manager of the Los Angeles DWP.

But that begs the question so many Californians are asking.

Is the drought over yet?

Based on the well-above average pricipitation in virtually every corner of California this season--and for a second year in a row in the state's northern half--the answer most certainly would have to be a resounding "Yes!"

But that answer doesn't solve the continuing local shortages in some areas, longterm depletion of San Joaquin Valley groundwater, and chronic tension over water distribution that will once again go critical during the inevitable next drought.

Judging from historical patterns, it's only a handful of years away.

Perhaps there's a more relevant question to ask:  will California continue preparing to be better able to deal with it?

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[California's History of Dry Spells in Photos]]>Fri, 07 Apr 2017 11:29:22 -0800https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/195*120/04-07-2017-drought-stanislaus-55.jpgDry spells come and go in California, where the difference between a wet and dry year often depends on how much precipitation the state gets from just a few storms during winter.

Photo Credit: California Department of Water Resources]]>
<![CDATA[California's Drought Restrictions Continue Despite Rainfall]]>Tue, 07 Feb 2017 07:58:36 -0800https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/222*120/02-02-2017-drought-february-2016-2017.jpg

At least one water district in Orange County is on record Monday saying the state's drought emergency declaration should end.

Water district officials point to the rain, snowpack at 170 percent and basins overflowing as evidence. But, other water districts say ending the conservation measures that are in place wouldn't be prudent.

Officials with the Municipal Water District of Orange County told NBC4 it's an issue of credibility. On Monday they voted unanimously to declare the drought emergency is over and are asking California to do the same.

"We always need to continue to be water use efficient but when every reservoir in the state is spilling water, when more water is going out to the ocean then we could be using in SoCal in a year, there's some problems there," said Brett Barbre of the Municipal Water District of Orange County.

The district supplies water to 2.2 million people in Orange County. Authorities say because of recent rainfall there should no longer be extreme restrictions.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared the drought emergency in 2014, asking Californians to use 25 percent less water.

The Barela's, who live in Laguna Niguel, remain water conservation should remain as is.

"I think there has been permanent change, but I would like to keep in place anything we to make sure we have permanent change," George Barela said.

Officials at the Moulton Niguel Water District would prefer the state wait until the end of the rainy season before making any changes … which includes monthly reports on conservation, enforcing penalties for water runoff and ensuring districts have a three year supply of water on hand.

Laguna Niguel resident Angela Rusu made a choice to replace her lawn with California native plants. She believes others should do the same.

"The grass is nice and some people they like the grass, but if you're going to overdo it I think it's too much for everybody. So a little bit of saving will be good for everybody," she said.

The state Water Resources Board is slated to vote Wednesday in Sacramento. Officials say they could extend Brown's emergency declaration for up to nine months.

Photo Credit: USGS]]>
<![CDATA['State of Extremes': What to Make of California's Weather]]>Fri, 03 Feb 2017 17:52:47 -0800https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/160*120/7011.jpg

A dry El Niño year followed by a wet start to what is expected to be a dry year in Southern California has raised questions about California's climate.

California is a state of extremes when it comes to precipitation, which has alternated between drought and excessive rain throughout recorded history.

Los Angeles, for example, has an average of 15 inches of rain a year, even though the city rarely nears that amount. In the past 30 years, Los Angeles has gone from extremely dry years to well above average years of rain, which results in the 15-inch average overall.

Last winter, Southern California braced for the potential of heavy rain due to significantly strong El Niño climate patterns, but the downpours did not come.

This year, Southern California is in a La Niña or neutral weather pattern, both of which slant dry for California and especially for Southern California. There is a 70 percent chance California will experience a dry year, leaving a 30 percent chance the state will be above average in rain levels.

In Southern California, there is not a weak La Niña pattern that is well above average.

So, why has California experienced such a wet start to 2017?

Instead of seeing dry conditions, Southern California is seeing its wettest winter since 2010. 

The storms in the past two months have recouped 37 percent of the state's 5-year snow and water deficits. Precipitation is more than 200 percent of average and the Sierra Nevada snowpack, a vital part of the state's water supply, is looking great. 

For the first time since January 2014, no place in California is in exceptional drought.

There are several factors in play that can help explain why this is happening.

Last year, the water in the Pacific Ocean was so warm that it affected the jet stream and moved the heavy rain to the Pacific Northwest and Northern California.

This winter, numerous atmospheric rivers or a Pineapple Express have brought a series of downpours to Southern California. This type of pattern can occur at any time regardless of an El Niño, La Niña or neutral pattern.

These rivers of atmospheric moisture played a large role in the flooding this year on Jan. 22, but have also caused much of the devastating flooding in California's history.

The mega flood of 1862 was caused by an intense atmospheric river, and has a return period of 100 to 200 years, meaning it will happen again.

Will climate change affect weather in California?

The latest research shows that in a warming planet, droughts will become more severe and heavy rain events will occur more often.

Southern California experienced the driest 5-year stretch ever recorded before it started getting pummeled by storms in December. According to tree ring data, it may have been the driest stretch in 1,000 years.

California will need the help of atmospheric rivers for two more years to get out of a drought cycle, especially in Southern California.

But if you look at the history of flooding in California, intense flooding events occurred before the industrial age and atmospheric rivers are responsible for most of the events.

Attributing climate change to future flooding events may be difficult. Upcoming research will need to address how a warming world affects atmospheric rivers.

NBC4's Jessica Rice contributed to this report.

<![CDATA[Sierra Snowpack Update: February 2017]]>Thu, 02 Feb 2017 14:03:24 -0800https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Drought_Sierra_Snowpack_David_Biggar_1200x675_868794435622.jpgThe Feb. 2, 2017 Sierra snowpack survey pointed to some promising signs for drought recovering in California. ]]><![CDATA[Central California Water District's Misspending 'Shocking' ]]>Tue, 31 Jan 2017 17:55:37 -0800https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/180*120/drought6.jpg

An irrigation district in Central California's prime farming region gave its employees free housing, interest-free loans and credit cards that the workers used to buy tickets for concerts and professional sports games, possibly breaking the law, state officials said Tuesday.

Employees at Panoche Water District based in Firebaugh used the credit cards to buy season tickets to Raiders and Oakland A's games and attend a Katy Perry concert, officials said.

The state Attorney General's office will next decide whether to file criminal charges, and auditors will also consider sending the case to state and federal tax authorities, said a spokeswoman for California State Controller Betty Yee.

The district gave $86,000 in interest-free loans to its employees over two years _ one planning to settle his $30,000 debt with $50 payments on a schedule that would take more than 23 years to fulfill, officials said.

Accounting practices were so lax that it is likely the district paid for some personal purchases that employees also made to Ralph Lauren, Nike and Sunglass Hut, according to Yee.

"The district's egregious lack of spending oversight is shocking," Yee said in a statement. "It is especially troubling in a region where effective water governance is so vital for the agricultural community."

The Panoche Water District delivers irrigation water to 62 farms on 38,000 acres in Merced and Fresno counties along Interstate 5 in one of the nation's most productive regions.

Auditors also found that since 1992 the district's general manager has lived in a home paid for by the district, which wasn't reported in his payroll taxes.

The district made a fleet of 50 vehicles available to employees and administrators to drive home each day, state officials said.

Yee says the district lacked written policies, ignored administrative procedures and potentially broke state law. She is considering next what action to take to hold officials at Panoche and other small water districts like accountable.

Officials at Panoche have documented corrective actions they are taking or plan to take in response to the review, state officials said.

Officials launched the routine audit because Panoche has received nearly $6 million in loans from the state, Yee spokeswoman Taryn Kinney said.

Panoche officials didn't immediately respond to a request for comment by The Associated Press.

Photo Credit: Getty Images file]]>
<![CDATA[Parade of Storms Pulls Northern California Out of Drought]]>Thu, 12 Jan 2017 07:12:23 -0800https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/214*120/01-12-2017-drought-map-6.jpg

A conveyor belt of strong Pacific storms brought enough rain and snow to California early this winter to knock out drought conditions in the northern part of the state, according to this week's U.S. Drought Monitor report.

More than 40 percent of California is out of the drought after several rounds of storms during the wet season, which began Oct. 1, according to the weekly report. The streams of moisture have caused some flooding, but eliminated drought conditions in the northern half of California.

"We're making progress," said NBC4 Southern California forecaster Crystal Egger. "We still have a ways to go. It's not going to happen in just one season."

This time last year, 97 percent of the state was in drought.

Parts of California remain in a fifth consecutive year of drought conditions, but the report cited major improvements for the state's water reservoirs and the critical snowpack in the Sierra Nevada range. That snowpack melts in the spring, then flows into the state's water reservoirs, most of which were above the normal Jan. 10 historic level and rising, and provides Californians with much of their year-round water supply.

The snowpack level also is well above normal for Jan. 10, according to the Drought Monitor.

The most severe drought conditions -- identified as exceptional drought -- persist in a small part of southwestern California. That leaves about 2 percent of the state under the most severe drought category, marking a significant improvement from this time last year when 42 percent was under exceptional drought.

California will remain in a drought emergency until Gov. Jerry Brown approves changes to the order he issued in January 2014 to combat consecutive dry years. Brown issued that announcement on a patch of bare grass in the Sierras, which are now buried under snow.

The governor is likely to wait until the end of winter to make a decision. 

The Monitor's latest report, compiled by water experts who use soil moisture, stream levels and snowpack to make their estimates, includes data through Tuesday Jan. 10. More rain and snow arrived Wednesday and Thursday.

The storms are expected to move out ahead of the weekend, provided a much-needed break for Northern California residents who have faced flooding and the threat of landslides.

Photo Credit: USGS
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<![CDATA[Sierra Snow Expected to Help California Battle Drought]]>Tue, 03 Jan 2017 00:18:20 -0800https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/0102-2016-Drought.jpg

The several feet of snow expected in the Sierra this week is expected to considerably change the look of California's drought map.

At this time last year, 45 percent of the state was in an exceptional drought, which is the worst possible rating. Officials said only 18 percent of California currently remains dry.

"Our biggest reservoir is all the snow that falls during the winter because when it melts it can fill all the big reservoirs throughout the state," said Marty Grimes, spokesperson for the Santa Clara Valley Water District.

Half of the water used in Santa Clara County, among others, comes from outside sources and is incredibly dependent on the Sierra snow pack.

Lexington Reservoir was just one water source that was greatly impacted by last year's reduced snow pack, when water levels sank to new lows.

On Monday, reservoir runners were giddy in the rain.

"I think it's fantastic," Campbell-resident Lydia Van Muckey said of the wet weather. "Makes me really sad when I'm going on drives and see the reservoir low, so this is good."

And while this week's moisture will make a dent in the drought, experts warn conservation continues.

"We should always save," Grimes said. "We should never go back to a day when wasting water is acceptable."

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[California's Declining Water Conservation Leveling Off]]>Tue, 01 Nov 2016 14:32:20 -0800https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/sprinklers-generic.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[California Drought Update: April 2016]]>Thu, 21 Apr 2016 12:13:15 -0800https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/April_21_California_Drought_Update_1200x675_671017027964.jpgThere are signs of significant improvement for parts of California. Crystal Egger has a drought update for Thursday April 21, 2016.]]>