Southern California environment news and trends

California Drought: To dam or not to dam, a dry spring, Old West water policy and more

Shasta Lake

Craig Miller/KQED

Shasta Lake is the largest reservoir in California.

State and federal lawmakers tussle over weather to create more open-air reservoirs to combat future droughts.

  • The California legislature is sorting through seven different proposals for a multi-billion dollar water bond on the November ballot. It's not clear what will emerge, but it's unlikely to ease the current drought. (San Jose Mercury News)
  • While state lawmakers consider a variety of options, Congress seems to favor building new dams, setting up what former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called a "holy war." (ABC News)
  • Meanwhile, NOAA predicts a bone-dry spring. John Metcalfe writes any rain we might get would be like "sprinkling water on a heated cast-iron skillet." (Atlantic Cities)
  • Bettina Boxall surveys 130 years of water policy in California and spotlights water districts that have senior water rights. They'll likely get most of their water allocations regardless of the drought. She writes:


Exide proposes testing more houses, deeper soil in second round of testing for lead

Exide Community Meeting - 10

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Deborah Raphael, director of the department of toxic substances control, speaks during a town hall meeting at the Resurrection School on Tuesday, Oct. 8 about Exide Technologies, a lead-recycling plant in Vernon.

The battery recycler Exide Technologies has given California toxics regulators its proposal for a new round of lead testing for soil in the properties around its Vernon plant.

The first round of soil tests ordered by the Department of Toxic Substances Control, released last week, found elevated levels of lead requiring additional investigation at homes and schools north and south of the facility. Regulators gave Exide until March 21 to submit a plan for the second round of testing.

RELATED: Free blood tests for Exide neighbors are still more than 2 weeks off

In a second round of environmental work, Exide proposes to take samples three times deeper down into the soil, gauging lead in the ground up to 18 inches deep. The company also proposes adding testing for 59 additional homes north of the Vernon plant, and 38 properties on the south side. During sampling, bilingual communicators would speak to property owners to find out who lives in the homes.  


When it comes to 'gray water,' Australia and Arizona set the bar

Steev Hise/Flickr

New homes in Tucson must have gray water plumbing from the get-go, and owners of older homes have a strong incentive in the form of a fat rebate to put water recycling systems in.

My dad is a very law-abiding man, but since yesterday’s gray water story, I discovered that in the mid 1970s, he ran “a hose or tubing or something” out the bathroom drain into a tank in the back yard of our Menlo Park home, so he could water plants. He was breaking the law.

“I don’t know whose idea it was,” he said. “Everybody was rigging things up. If someone had told me it was illegal, I would have told them I thought it was illegal to waste water.”

At the time, it was illegal to reuse water that flowed through bathroom sinks, showers and washing machines because of health concerns. That prohibition has since been lifted (though it's still illegal to use gray water from a kitchen sink).

The point of this story is: it’s really hard to know how much water we've been saving through methods like gray water, because what people do in their yards, they don't always discuss with others. It’s also really hard to know who’s doing well at saving gray water, as long as what people do is so different from what the code provides. 


California Drought News: No March miracles in scientists' spring predictions

Tanimura & Antle/PRweb

You're looking at Little Gem lettuce in the only nook of California not presently in a drought: the Bard Valley, near the Colorado River and Arizona border.

Friday's drought news wants to start tracking the number of Chinatown references in water stories, because apparently we didn't all get this out of our systems during the LADWP Aqueduct-versary. And today, we start with some predictions:

  • Harvard may have gotten a March miracle, but we won't. NOAA's spring roundup heralds an air ball at the buzzer for California: federal scientists are predicting that drought will persist or worsen in the coming months:
“They have passed their key months for being able to recover,” said Deke Arndt, chief of the Climate Monitoring Branch at the National Climatic Data Center. (Washington Post and Climate Central)
  • And the National Interagency Fire Center knows what that means. Their tastefully understated prediction is that California will have an "above normal" fire season. (National Interagency Fire Center)
  • Flood irrigation continues in the .02 percent of California that is NOT currently in severe drought. (Did you know there was that much territory in that category?) The Wire investigates who's not in a drought yet and goes to the Bard Valley, right on the Colorado River...and finds they're going to join the rest of us, probably, sooner rather than later. (The Wire)
  • Alfalfa farmers are rallying against Delta water restrictions, and they've focused their ire like a laser on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and its delta-smelt decision last week. (Fox News)
  • Gloria Goodale talks to Doug Parker, at the UC's Institute for Water Resources, to make the point that farmers and cities have both grown more efficient in recent decades, and neither one recognizes the other's progress on conservation. (Christian Science Monitor)
  • Earthquake-drought crossover news continues in Morgan Hill, where local water officials face a strange choice: drain a local reservoir, or risk future seismic problems. (Paul Rogers/San Jose Mercury)


Exide, AQMD make plan to reduce arsenic risk around Vernon battery plant


Mae Ryan/KPCC

State officials suspended operations at the Exide Technologies in Vernon, Calif. in April due to emissions of arsenic that could pose a health risk to 110,000 people in nearby communities. The plant is now reopened.

Air regulators and a lead battery recycler have agreed on a plan to reduce the health risks from arsenic pollution around the Exide Technologies plant in Vernon. 

A study last year found sharply elevated cancer risks for people working and living around the plant, in some places as much as 12 times higher than the level air officials deemed concerning. As a result, Exide is obligated to take steps to cut health risks.

Over the last seven months, the company has been submitting proposals for what's called a "risk reduction plan" to the South Coast Air Quality Management District.  What air regulators have now approved is the company’s third version of a plan.

Exide says it will spend $5 million this year on various emission-reduction upgrades at the plant.

Despite approving the plan, the air district separately is still trying to stop lead smelting at the plant temporarily until new pollution controls are installed.