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Executive Summary for August 21st

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. 21, 2015 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Where are the Feds as California Drought Partners?

The federal government’s efforts to help California survive its record drought seem “fractured” and “inert,” according to a new report from McClatchy newspapers. Here are some points of evidence:

• The Obama administration lacks confirmed leaders in four top water-related jobs in the Obama administration – at the Interior Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and the White House Council on Environmental Quality – which have remained vacant for months.

• Lawmakers remain mired in partisanship and power plays. The Republican-controlled House has passed three California water bills. Each was crafted by the GOP with minimal Democratic input, but these then stalled after inaction by the Democratic-controlled Senate.

• President Barack Obama has not used his bully pulpit to persistently drive a Western water agenda. He has visited California 28 times during his presidency, but his lone trip to the state’s San Joaquin Valley, ground zero for the drought, occurred 18 months ago.

“I don’t know whether they are afraid to come up with initiatives, or they just don’t know what to do,” said Dan Beard, former Bureau of Reclamation commissioner. “But whatever the reason, they just haven’t done anything.”

Meanwhile, three conservation groups are pressing federal agencies to use their inherent powers and act on their own, without waiting for Congress or presidential fiat. The groups have released a long list of recommendations that would help ease the drought, including:

  • The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation could update operating manuals for reservoirs to store more water.
  • The Bureau of Reclamation could cease funding the pumping of groundwater from stressed aquifers and could encourage more transfers of water between buyers and sellers.
  • The Internal Revenue Service could change its rules to allow the donation of water rights for instream flows as a tax deduction.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture could use conservation funds to reduce the demand for irrigation water, by purchasing easements and funding efficient irrigation.
  • All agencies could reexamine their application guidelines for drought funding, to open the programs to more participants.

The recommendationsare creative, and some are seemingly simple. Others, not so much. Like the proposal to update reservoir operating manuals. Definitely necessary, but very complicated in reality because it necessarily involves revising flood management standards, a touchy subject. A project to rewrite the manual for Folsom Dam in the Sacramento region – the most advanced project of its kind in California – has been years in the works and is far from finished.

Insect Outbreak May Be Drought-Related

An unusual outbreak in California’s high desert region, east of the Sierra Nevada, has residents battling swarms of small black and red seed bugs, technically known asMelacoryphus lateralis.

According to the Associated Press, the bugs are raining onto car windshields. They fly by the thousands toward even the smallest sources of light, and creep along windows and kitchen tables.

Ridgecrest Mayor Peggy Breeden said some people in town use umbrellas while getting gas because of the swarms overhead. A motel in Lone Pine posted a printout in its lobby warning customers to keep their doors and car windows closed at night to exclude the bugs. A Dollar General store in Inyokern limited its store hours after dark to avoid dealing with the bugs.

Scientists say this is the first outbreak of its kind in California. It might be related to the drying-up of native vegetation in the summer heat and the drought, said Nathan Reade, agricultural commissioner for Inyo and Mono counties.

“They’re in everything. There’s no way to get rid of them or eradicate them,” Blair Nicodemus, 33, of Lone Pine, told the AP. “I’m sure I’ve eaten at least two dozen, because they get into your food.”

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