Southern California environment news and trends

California Drought News: North vs. South

Mars Curiosity

NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

What a swale looks like — on Mars.

In celebration of Thursday, I've penned a drought haiku — a "dryku" — for y'all:

Sliced a lime today
No juice inside, only dust
Thanks, Wizentimer

Today's drought news runs from north to south — except in one case, in which some want water to do the opposite.

North:

  • Merced County farmers got some good news this week. A new deal with state agencies will get growers an additional 8 billion gallons of water. They'll be taking it from Lake McClure:
Normally, the district is forced to stop diverting water when the lake reaches a level of 115,000 acre-feet, commonly referred to as the “minimum pool.” The new deal allows the district to reduce the lake level down to 85,000 acre-feet this year, MID officials said in a news release. (Modesto Bee)
  • Rain falls in the north, and the water flows down aqueducts to the south. Lauren Sommer writes about a proposal to reverse that in order to give relief to northern agricultural districts. (KQED)

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California Drought News: Salmon catch a break; avocados won't skyrocket; Oakland taps water reserves

US Fish and Wildlife Service

Chinook salmon on the Tuolumne River in the Central Valley. State officials say they're living in adverse conditions - but they are hopeful there's enough cold water in which the salmon can spawn,

We lead off today's installment of California Drought News with word that fish have won some ground in the "Fish v. Farms" tug-o-war underway in the state. (Farms have also gained ground recently.)

  • Steelhead trout and Chinook salmon in the American River will get a little love from water managers  Wednesday. Federal officials are going to increase flows temporarily from Northern California reservoirs to help the fish migrate downstream. (Sacramento Bee)
  • On the heels of lots of worried blogging over a spike in the price of limes comes word that the price of avocados could be shooting skyward because of the drought. But Inside Scoop SF says the fears are overblown.

Neither of the state’s two biggest avocado-growing regions–north of Los Angeles and San Diego County–are currently hurting for water the way the San JoaquinValley, for instance, is. (SF Gate)

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California Drought News: Melting snow, farming woes and a dynamic duo

MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

New drought word for the week: wizentimer.

Today's news focuses largely on farming under the grip of the wizentimer.

  • First, though, let's take a moment to remember what snow used to look like. The latest U.S. Drought Monitor report shows that the snowpack is melting super fast:
In California, already particularly hard hit by drought, the situation is worsening. Temperatures there were 9 to 12 degrees above normal, which caused breathtakingly rapid melt of the California snowpack. Some areas of the Sierra Nevada lost half of the water locked up in snow in just one week. Yet, there was little change in inflows into the state’s starved reservoirs. (Discover)

Farming:

  • What's it like for farming communities when large swaths of their fields are having to stay fallow? NPR's Arun Rath toured some of the regions and looked at the impact it's having on employment and school attendance. (NPR)
  • Mike Hornick runs down the grocery list of expected produce yields. It's a mixed bag, but things will be really bad if 2015 ends up another dry year too. (Shocker, huh?) (The Packer)
  • The new farm law has an insurance plan that is controversial among farmers but that may be critical for California growers. (Reuters)

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Exide lays off more than 120 employees at Vernon plant

Exide

Mae Ryan/KPCC

Community members including employees for Exide Technologies attend a meeting at the Huntington Park Community Center about air pollution from the Vernon, Calif. plant. (May 30th, 2013)

A lead battery recycler with a plant in Vernon has announced layoffs for its California employees as problems with environmental regulators grow. 

Georgia-based Exide Technologies says it’s issuing temporary layoff notices to more than 100 hourly workers and 20 salaried workers at its Vernon facility.

Right now the plant is closed, and last week Exide lost legal and regulatory appeals seeking more time to install equipment to reduce arsenic emissions.

RELATED: Exide FAQ: Everything you need to know about recycling lead batteries in LA

Last year, air regulators found that arsenic released during the recycling of old batteries had increased the cancer risks for more than 100,000 people living and working nearby. The company was given until last week to install the equipment.

Tests have also shown high levels of lead in the soil of homes around the plant.

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California Drought News: Thirsty crops, and thrifty lawns?

City Hall Lawn

Andres Aguila/KPCC

A bird relaxes on recently-planted grass in LA's City Hall Park. The lawn designed after the Occupy movement is expected to attract more birds and insects.

Monday's news spends a lot of time reporting on farming and agriculture around the state - kind of like the project I did on California in the 4th grade.

  • The New York Times looks at farmers fallowing land in California, taking note of a recent-years trend where agriculture has switched out less lucrative, less water intensive crops for tree nuts and berries.
“Apples need about a half acre-foot of water per acre, whereas strawberries take two or more acre-feet,” Mr. Lockwood said. “You can’t blame growers for seeking better-paying crops, but it has quadrupled water use per acre.” (NY Times)

The Times also reports that some estimates have it that California will fallow as much as 20 percent of its rice this year; rice is also a very water intensive crop.

  • Over the weekend, the Times also took a look at efforts to aid salmon migration to the sea - for a twist, the Gray Lady followed a boat, not a truck. (NY Times)
  • Fresh produce accounts for more than half the handouts at Bay Area food banks, but with farmers fallowing land that's expected to change. (San Francisco Chronicle)
  • The Oregonian looks at why food prices are rising fast, and offers ways to cut back costs. (The Oregonian)
  • "If you want to outwit a drought, ask an Israeli." The Sacramento Bee visits Shahar Caspi to learn how he saves as much as 30 percent of his potential water use on crops:

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