Southern California environment news and trends

California Drought News: Groundwater, saltwater, and a golden lining to the drought cloud

CA drought map

Richard Tinker / U.S. Drought Monitor

Today's drought roundup looks at some of the secondary problems caused by our ongoing weather woes.

  • With less freshwater running down rivers and to the ocean, there's less pressure keeping salty seawater from moving further inland. That's why the Department of Water Resources is making plans to temporarily dam three channels off the San Francisco Bay. Plans are to get the $25 million dams in place as soon as May 1. (Contra Costa Times)
  • Dan Walters points out the issue of groundwater management:

California is one of a few states that don’t regulate groundwater. Instead, it has what the Legislative Analyst’s Office calls a “patchwork” of laws, local water agency rules and court decisions affecting groundwater use conflicts.

While state law encourages local agencies to oversee groundwater use and to recharge underground supplies, whether to turn on pumps is still largely a decision of individual farmers. (Sacramento Bee)


California's spending on water is lacking, says PPIC; get ready to pass the hat

courtesy Kerjon Lee/LA County DPW

The newly-restored Tujunga Wash includes a small stream which aids in flood control and percolates water into an aquifer.

A new study from the Public Policy Institute of California finds “critical” funding shortages of as much as 10 percent for key elements of the state’s water system. And guess who's going to pay for those? In an 81-page report, PPIC authors suggest federal money for water projects is likely to diminish – so if there’s a need to pass the hat for more funding, water consumers -- including residential, farm and business interests -- are likely to foot the bill.

According to the math from the PPIC team, erasing the shortfall could mean an average increase in water rates of between $150 and $230 a year per household. Water and sewer bills, the authors write, are where most of the money for these systems come from (along with some specialized taxes and fees). 

The report issues aspects of California’s water system pass-fail grades. Drinking water systems and wastewater treatment systems are deemed fairly functional


California Drought News: Food for thought next time you eat almonds, hydropower and more

Almond Farm Bees - 9

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Almond farmers rely on bees to pollinate trees in the spring.

Today's journey through the drought reveals the growing impacts on California's all-important agricultural sector. But renewable energy offers a bright spot. 

  • California's all-important almond crop is making news this morning: Mark Bittman writes the beauty of the spring almond blossoms in the San Joaquin Valley belies the stark reality of their demand on local water supplies. (New York Times)
  • Jim Jelter says water-craving almonds have become California's second most profitable crop (only behind grapes). What happens when the global economy and Mother Nature collide? (MarketWatch)
  • The global supply chain of food won't be enough to offset the effects of California's drought, writes Dana Hull. Higher prices are coming to a supermarket near you. (San Jose Mercury News)
  • More than two years of drought have taken their toll on California's hydroelectric sector, but as Josie Garthwaite reports, other renewables are picking up the slack. (National Geographic)
  • The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors have passed a motion to build more stormwater capture projects. During the storms a couple weeks ago, existing systems snared enough water to supply 15,000 homes for a year. (KABC)


Garcetti, DWP's Marcie Edwards vow billing transparency, rapid improvement for utility's customers

ladwp building

Photo by Omar Omar via Flickr Creative Commons

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power apologized to customers on Monday for the extraordinarily long wait times many have had to endure when calling.

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and the newly appointed general manager of the city’s Department of Water and Power sat down with the utility's top customers today to talk about ongoing problems with DWP's new billing system.

Six months after switching to a new customer billing system, DWP continues to field a flood of complaint calls from customers who’ve been billed incorrect amounts or not billed at all.  DWP’s website calculates the snafu cost the utility nearly $230 million in unpaid bills as of the last week of February.

Large businesss customers affected by the glitches, including hotels, a recycling facility, and Cedars-Sinai hospital, clustered around a conference table on either side of Mayor Garcetti. One man complained of a dense, multi-page bill with 90 line items and slid it down to the mayor.


California Drought News: Picking up hitchhiking salmon

Dry RIver

Lauren Sommer/KQED

Charles Hueth holds up a tagged Chinook salmon for a photo before releasing it into the San Joaquin River.

Tuesday's drought news points to bad times for salmon, but on the upside, we're less likely to be conquered by Mongols.

  • Low levels and high temperatures in the Sacramento River may make it inhospitable for migrating salmon. That's why officials have come up with a plan to truck salmon to the ocean. (Sacramento Bee)
  • Recent rains didn't do much to bring us out of the drought, but it has allowed some districts to hold off on irrigation for a few weeks. (Modesto Bee)
  • Deborah Brennan looks at homeowners associations and how they're approaching water conservation. Will they relax rules that require green lawns? (San Diego Union-Tribune)
  • NBC Los Angeles has compiled a brief timeline of events related to the drought. (NBC Los Angeles)
  • Tree-ring scientists have linked Gengis Khan's success to a warmer and wetter-than-average period in Mongolian history. Undoubtedly, future historians will look back at our current weather anomaly and credit it for the rise of desert invaders (or not):