Tag Archive for 'california drought'

Water Politics and Immigration Debate Collide

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“With California in the throes of a historic drought, those issues are converging here in the Coachella Valley, a place best known for its lush resorts and the Coachella Music Festival, but also home to a $600 million dollar agriculture industry.

Many of the farm workers here live off the grid in makeshift mobile home parks that are not connected to the water and sewer systems most Americans take for granted.

Water shortages across California have put a greater strain on groundwater resources in these communities — increasing the concentration of contaminants in the well water that they depend on. But the politics of piping clean water to these homes, at a cost of tens of millions of dollars, are complicated. Many of the families are of mixed status, some legal and some not, sparking debate over the amount of taxpayer funds that should be spent.

Congressman Raul Ruiz, who grew up in this valley as the son of farm workers and became a doctor, said there are serious health issues at stake within these communities, which he and other activists describe as a cornerstone of the U.S. economy.

In the midst of the drought, he said, many of the farm workers who live here must pull more water from the wells: “and these wells already have arsenic, chromium, selenium and other contaminants in the water. What you’re doing is you’re increasing the concentration of these contaminants in the well water that humans are consuming.”

“They live in a completely different reality of water issues than the rest of the state,” Ruiz said. In some areas, he said, “we have six times more than the limit of arsenic that is considered safe for human consumption.”

The congressman and non-profit groups have advocated for public and private dollars to be put toward cleaning up the water in the mobile home parks throughout the Valley. Last year, Ruiz secured more than $7 million worth of U.S. Department of Agriculture grants to help deal with the issue. But he argues it deserves far more attention — which is not a simple matter in the midst of roiling immigration debate.”

Read more: CNN

 

California Farmers Fight for Century-Old Claims to Water

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“The California State Water Resources Control Board in June told holders of claims staked more than a century ago to turn off the spigots or face daily fines of as much as $1,000 and $2,500 per acre-foot. The agency then was hit by at least five lawsuits.

The warnings came as a four-year, record-setting drought squeezed California’s $43 billion agricultural industry and led to mandatory, statewide water restrictions for the first time. Cattle rancher Mario Arnaudo lost the main supply he used to irrigate 700 acres (280 hectares) of alfalfa and pasture grass when his district, which held water rights more than a century old, cut him off after getting a notice.

“That’s all our income,” said Arnaudo, 21, whose family has owned his ranch east of San Francisco since the 1960s. “If this continues, we’ll have to sell off a lot of our herd and start laying off our employees.”

There are about 14,620 so-called senior water right claims, according to Timothy Moran, a water board spokesman. Some predate 1914, when permitting laws were established.

The state has sent notices to holders of about 300 of those claims for whom there’s no water to accommodate them. Fifty-five percent have agreed to comply, Moran said.

Stratified System

California’s hierarchical system for doling out water favors those who hold rights older than 1914. Those with claims after 1914 are typically the first and only group to face curbs in a shortage. They began getting notices in April.

“It does point to the severity of the drought and the fact that we need to get to the next level of water-rights users,” said Doug Parker, director of the California Institute for Water Resources at the University of California. “Some of it’s posturing and putting up a fight and saying, ‘Look, we’re not going to take this easily.”

For Jeff Shields, general manager of the South San Joaquin Irrigation District in Manteca, it seems wrong that the state has told farmers they can no longer take water to which they’ve had access since Millard Fillmore was president. The agency is suing the state.”

Read more: Bloomberg

 

LOS ANGELES MAYOR ERIC GARCETTI URGES CONSERVATION IN DROUGHT

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“Use less water and spend less for the water that is used. That’s the gist of a new directive from Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Standing outside the Department of Water and Power’s downtown headquarters, the mayor signed the executive directive Tuesday, calling for big changes in water use. He says he wants the city to lead by example.

“The ongoing drought has created a water crisis second to none,” Garcetti said. “We need bold action, and that is what I am delivering today.”

The mayor wants the city to cut its water use by 20 percent over five years, ordering city departments to cut lawn watering to two days a week.

He also wants more drought tolerant plants. The DWP will now pay $3.75 a square foot to remove your lawn. DWP’s headquarters in downtown L.A. is having new water friendly landscaping installed.

“You can replace turf, if you can install appliances, water saving devices in your home, please reach out and have that discussion with us,” Marcie Edwards of the LADWP said. “The more money we save, it frees up money for us to put into our infrastructure, which is another critical priority.”

The mayor also wants a 50 percent cut in the amount of imported water purchased by the DWP. With the drought, Los Angeles is importing about 80 percent of its water, much which comes from Northern California.

He says, if there is an earthquake, that supply could be cut off for years. He wants to build the city’s local water supply, including treating groundwater, capturing and storing storm water and using recycled water.”

Read more: abc7

Amid crippling drought, California voters see no relief at the polls

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“LOS ANGELES — California residents face stiff fines if they use too much water. Wells in some communities are running dry. Farmers are drilling deeper and deeper in search of what has become liquid gold.

Yet in a state that is suffering a drought of historic proportions, water is not playing a paramount role in next month’s midterm elections.

It’s not that Californians are unconcerned about water shortages. In a recent Public Policy Institute of California survey, 72 percent of likely voters said the water supply in their part of the state is a problem. “Water and the drought are definitely on people’s minds,” said Dean Bonner, an associate survey director for the institute, a nonpartisan research group. “We found that 29 percent of likely voters named drought or water as a top issue for the state [second only to jobs and the economy]. Last September it was 2 percent.”

So why is it that drought rarely comes up in candidate forums or campaign ads?

“I don’t know if it’s because Californians are accustomed to the drought or because there’s no easy solution to it,” said Roger Salazar, Democratic political consultant. “It’s very much at the top on the mind of voters, but there isn’t anybody to take it out on.”

It may simply be tough to hold politicians accountable for a natural disaster. Whether or not the drought is a result of global warming, human intervention cannot reverse this year’s crippling drought. As a result, there is not one villain to boot out of office, and there is not one solution to the problem. “We’re all in this drought together,” Salazar said. “Now, if we could say, ‘Such and such has the solution,’ but no, we’re all in the same dry-docked boat together.”

Hard-hit farmers in the Central Valley and water conservationists statewide complain about the state’s history of disastrous water policies, but that does little to solve the problem now. Democrats have traditionally been more supportive of environmental measures, and any link between drought and climate change could bolster their positions. More Republicans are skeptical about global warming, but the number of doubters is shrinking, according to Gallup polls.”

Read more: Aljazeera

 

Climate Change Could Wreak Havoc on Drought-Plagued California

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“Michael Goulden, associate professor of earth system science at the  University of California Irvine, and Roger Bales, director of the  Sierra Nevada Research Institute at the University of California Merced, publish their alarming findings in the  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Their research looked not at the long-term projections for precipitation in the US south-west, but simply at the  effect of higher average temperatures on plant growth.

Mountains in many ways mimic hemispheres: just as trees become more stunted at higher latitudes, so they get smaller and less frequent at higher altitudes. Temperature ultimately controls plant growth.

But a projected warming of 4.1°C by 2100 would make a big difference to plant growth in the Arctic tundra and around the present alpine treeline everywhere in the world.

The scientists contemplated snow and rain conditions in the King’s River Basin in the Sierra Nevada range. They looked at how much flows downstream to local communities, and how much goes back into the atmosphere as water vapour. Then they did their sums.

They calculated that the 4.1°C temperature rise in the region would increase the density of vegetation at high elevations, with a 28% increase in evapotranspiration − the process that draws water up through the roots to the leaves, and then releases it as vapour through the pores. And what was true for one river basin, they thought, should be true for the whole area. River run-off could drop by 26%.”

Read more: AlterNet

 

 

California drought: San Jose declares water shortage, but won’t fine wasters

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“More than seven months into the California drought, San Jose has officially declared a citywide water shortage, asking the city’s 1 million residents to cut their water use by 20 percent — but there will be no new consequences for those who don’t.

The drought declaration, which the San Jose City Council unanimously approved Tuesday, makes it illegal for property owners to use potable water to irrigate their lawns or landscaping between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. through April 2015. It comes on top of several state and regional rules already in effect, such as bans on cleaning vehicles without a hose shut-off nozzle and filling non-recirculating decorative fountains with potable water.

In addition, the council moved to work with regional water officials to explore a new recycled water facility, create a new program to reward water savers and hire teens for a new campaign to aid property owners.

With California enduring its worst drought in four decades, state rules passed last month require water agencies to limit water use and allow them to punish offenders with fines up to $500.

But San Jose will not be enforcing its new rules independently. Instead, it will rely on the Santa Clara Valley Water District, which is already hiring 10 “water cops” to crack down on those who abuse drought restrictions starting next month.

San Jose is not ready to fine water wasters, unlike a small number of California cities, such as Sacramento, Pleasanton and Santa Cruz. Instead, San Jose is focusing on education, hoping residents voluntarily follow the new rules after a fresh round of outreach on what they can do to cut water use. “A lot of times the community is just unaware,” said Kerrie Romanow, the city’s environmental services director.

San Jose residents have reduced water use by about 14 percent this year. The state, the water district — and now, the city — are asking for a 20 percent reduction.”

Read more: San Jose Mercury News

Cali water cops: What you gonna do when they come for you?

Photo retrieved from: www.aljazeera.com

“LOS ANGELES — The trail of evidence streamed down a driveway and trickled down a street in the hilly Silver Lake neighborhood.

It’s 10:30 a.m. on a scorching July day, and Rick Silva is on the case. Wearing a fluorescent yellow vest, he charged up the hill — clipboard, notebook and pamphlets in hand — and knocked on the door. The culprit is quickly found: Sprinklers are dousing a steep slope in the back, sending a stream of precious water down the street.

The resident is a tenant who promises to alert his landlord.

Call Silva a drought buster, conservation expert or water cop (not a favored term). Whatever the title, his job is to educate Angelenos to save water and fine them if they don’t during a historic drought blanketing California.

“We go in the field to investigate complaints,” said Silva, who has become a rock star of sorts as media clamor for ride-alongs with the man who, at least until next week, was the only one to police water use by the 3.8 million people serviced by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP). Even late-night TV host Jimmy Kimmel wants to do a skit with him.

“Before, we’d get 50 complaints a week,” said Silva, of calls flooding a complaint hotline. “Since last Tuesday, we get 50 a day.”

Sprinkler busters in demand

The sudden burst of interest was sparked after the decision by the California Water Resources Control Board on July 15 to approve fines of up to $500 a day for people who waste water outdoors — running sprinklers daily and during the hottest daytime hours, washing cars without a shutoff nozzle and hosing down sidewalks and driveways.”

Read more: Aljazeera

 

Saving Water in California

 

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“California is in the third year of its worst drought in decades. But you wouldn’t know it by looking at how much water the state’s residents and businesses are using. According to a recent state survey, Californians cut the amount of water they used in the first five months of the year by just 5 percent, far short of the 20 percent reduction Gov. Jerry Brown called for in January. In some parts of the state, like the San Diego area, water use has actually increased from 2013.

Without much stronger conservation measures, the state, much of which is arid or semiarid, could face severe water shortages if the drought does not break next year. Los Angeles recently recorded its lowest rainfall for two consecutive years, and climate change will likely make drought a persistent condition, according to the National Climate Assessment report published in May.

Yet, even now, 70 percent of water districts have not imposed reasonable mandatory restrictions on watering lawns and keeping backyard pools filled. The State Water Resources Control Board is to consider placingrestrictions on some outdoor water uses like washing paved surfaces at a meeting on July 15.

California’s agriculture sector is the largest in the country, and it accounts for about 80 percent of the state’s water use. Even a small percentage reduction in the fields could have a sizable effect on total water consumption.”

Read more: The New York Times

 

 

In dry California, water fetching record prices

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“Throughout California’s desperately dry Central Valley, those with water to spare are cashing in.

As a third parched summer forces farmers to fallow fields and lay off workers, two water districts and a pair of landowners in the heart of the state’s farmland are making millions of dollars by auctioning off their private caches.

Nearly 40 others also are seeking to sell their surplus water this year, according to state and federal records.

Economists say it’s been decades since the water market has been this hot. In the last five years alone, the price has grown tenfold to as much as $2,200 an acre-foot – enough to cover a football field with a foot of water.

Unlike the previous drought in 2009, the state has been hands-off, letting the market set the price even though severe shortages prompted a statewide drought emergency declaration this year.”

Read more: AP News

 

Santa Cruz: Soquel Creek Water District water emergencies declared

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“The Soquel Creek Water District’s board of directors moved from voluntary water cutbacks to enacting a Stage 3 Water Shortage Emergency without significant discussion, other than about how long the status would continue. A groundwater emergency declaration was also approved, with no public comment.

The evening’s two votes were a marked contrast to the board’s June 3 meeting, where an estimated 400 people attended and 40 people spoke at the meeting.

Proposed modifications to the district’s existing Water Demands Offsets Program, however, did raise some protest from several developers. The existing program allows developers to offset the increased burden of water use arising with new developments with various water-conversation methods, often replacement of residential toilets with low-flow models.

The program remodel, still under discussion by the board late Tuesday, came after a June 3 proposal to institute a moratorium on new water hookups was set aside.

Speaker John Swift raised concerns that requiring new developments, particularly on the smaller side, to pay as much as a $55,000 per acre feet water usage offset fee to go toward water conservation efforts could cause a “chilling effect” on new developments that could not afford the additional cost.

“You ought to look at the economic impact before you make a decision,” Swift said.

District staff said it would speak with Swift to determine what that financial chilling point might be, while board members said an alternative might be going back to the moratorium idea.

Upcoming changes for water district customers include enacting residential water budgets by early 2015 and emergency rate increases of 16 percent, in effect July 1, to cover revenue losses from reduced water sales.

Water conservation concerns are heightened for the district because its currently obtains water from an underground basin, from which district customers are using more  annually than is naturally replaced through waterfall. If water use is not reduced, the district’s drinking wells are at risk of seawater contamination, according to officials. The district is also in the midst of researching alternative water supply sources, and has taken recent conservation steps as a stop-gap measure.”

Read more: Santa Cruz Sentinel