Executive Summary for August 5th

For an overview of the latest news on the California drought, we’ve organized the most recent developments in a curated summary.

Published on Aug. 5, 2015 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Even Firefighters Are Saving Water

California currently has 21 major wildfires burning tinder-dry vegetation. Yet firefighters are doing their part to conserve water. They’re sending air tankers to deeper water sources, using more dirt and chemical retardants instead of water, and doing more controlled burns to reduce the need for water.

Property owners who once asked for reimbursement to let fire crews tap into their water supplies are now asking for the water to be replaced instead.

Officials have been surveying water sources for months and sending out observers as the drought changes the water landscape, Mark Ghilarducci, director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, told the Wall Street Journal.

“Many traditional water sources have dried up or are too shallow,” said Ghilarducci. “We try to fill the gaps with fire retardant.”

Judge Rules in Favor of State Water Rights Regulations

The State Water Resources Control Board has been cleared in a court decision to proceed with enforcement actions against water agencies that fail to reduce their water diversions.

On Tuesday, Sacramento Superior Court judge Shelleyanne Chang rejected a request by the West Side Irrigation District for a preliminary injunction that would have blocked water-rights curtailment orders and fines by the state board. The case had statewide implications and has been closely watched in the water world.

If the West Side district had won, it would have severely restricted the state’s ability to regulate water use during the ongoing drought. The state has so far issued curtailment notices to 4,600 irrigation districts and other water users this year, covering a combined nine million acre-feet of water. That’s enough to fill Folsom Lake in the Sacramento area nine times.

“This certainly is a win,” David Rose, the water board’s staff counsel, told The Sacramento Bee.

West Side was slapped with enforcement action by the board for allegedly diverting San Joaquin River water from a canal only days after being ordered to cease all diversions because of diminished flows caused by the drought. It faces potential penalties of $10,000 a day for each day of the alleged illegal diversion.

The state board’s legal challenges are far from over, however. On Tuesday, it was sued by a trio of environmental groups, which allege the board violated several state laws when it approved plans to regulate water flows in the Sacramento River and Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The groups claim the measures will harm endangered salmon and other species.

Drought May Be Killing Giant Sequoia Trees

Researchers have begun to notice the needles of giant sequoia trees in California’s Sierra Nevada turning brown for the first time. And they think the drought is to blame.

They are taking water and vegetation samples and conducting aerial surveys to assess the trees, which are the largest on earth. Not all the trees are showing stress, but it’s enough to cause concern.

“We have very little understanding of … how severe a drought it takes to kill a giant sequoia tree,” Anthony Ambrose, a tree biologist at University of California, Berkeley, told KVPR Radio.

Photo by the Associated Press

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