Southern California environment news and trends

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


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)


  • 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)


Exide lays off more than 120 employees at Vernon plant


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.


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:


LA, Great Basin continue dust-up over Owens lakebed pollution

Los Angeles Aqueduct Anniversary Sierras Landscape Water

Mae Ryan/KPCC

When the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power took water from Owens Lake in 1913, it left a dry lake bed and swirling dust. Today, nearby towns worry about the effects of airborne pollution that sweeps off the lake.

The latest round in the fight between Los Angeles and the Owens Valley takes place in Sacramento Friday. Regional air officials and the Department of Water and Power will square off over L.A.’s responsibilities to control particulate pollution swept off of the dry Owens lakebed.

In 2012, the Great Basin Air Pollution Control District determined that LA was required to tamp down about three-quarters of a square mile of the lake bed’s dust in addition to the 45 or so square miles it already covers.  

LA mostly uses giant sprinklers and gravel to keep the dust down.

DWP director of water operations Marty Adams says the utility is appealing the decision to the state’s top air officials. 

“We believe very strongly that we’re being asked to do things the city has no responsibility for. And in effect mitigate Mother Nature,” he said. “And it’s cost our ratepayers a tremendous amount of money, right now one out of every 7 dollars we collect from our water ratepayers is spent on Owens Lake.”


California Drought News: Wildfire, groundwater, and the return of the Chipotle burrito

avocado guacamole mexican food chipotle

Photo by timlewisnm via Flickr Creative Commons

You know what's not getting any cheaper? Meat, cheese or avocados. Check your receipt at Chipotle, people.

Friday's news really doesn't understand how the city of Portland can just flush 38 million gallons of water. That's a lot of water to let go down the drain, especially with fire season around the corner.

  • A potentially devastating wildfire season is, "deepening and locking into place across much of the far West, Southwest and Southern Plains," writes Andrew Freeman. (Mashable)
  • Cal Fire has hired nearly 100 seasonal firefighters for the north and middle part of the state. (Think Progress)

I haven't been reading enough personal profiles of water use around the state. I liked this one:

  • In Hanford, one organic farmer already saves water and is looking to save more. By using wood chip mulch, she says she's using a third less water. She's still worried about sustainability, groundwater, and the money earmarked for high-speed rail. (Hanford Sentinel)