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Executive Summary for September 4th

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

Published on Sep. 4, 2015 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

State Fines Oil Drillers for Failing to Report Water Use

The California Department of Conservation has imposed fines on 30 oil and gas drilling companies for failing to provide data about their extraction and handling of groundwater.

It is the first time the state has demanded such data from oil producers, under the terms of a new law, SB 1281, passed in 2014. The goal of the reports is to assess how much groundwater is extracted by the oil industry, and how that water is then treated and disposed. It arose, in part, out of concerns that oil well fracking operations were contaminating groundwater.

More than 400 oil companies were required to file the data by June 1. Half failed to meet the deadline, and another one-fourth filed incomplete reports, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Thirty companies were informed on Thursday that they will be fined the maximum penalty of $4,500 for failing to report at all.

“Additional fines for other reporting-related infractions likely will come soon,” state oil and gas supervisor Steve Bohlen said in a statement. “We have made it clear that, given severe drought conditions in the state, knowledge of how water is used and treated is vital.”

The Department of Conservation itself received a slap on the wrist from the new state Senator Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), for postponing the reporting because of claimed complexities in the law. Pavley called this “another example of poor management and lax regulation of the oil and gas industry.”

Electric Providers Cashing In on Drought?

Demand for groundwater is soaring amid the drought, particularly on farms, and it’s expensive to pump that water up from the depths. That means electric utilities are making lots of money from the increased demand, reports Bloomberg.

Energy needed to pump groundwater has increased by as much as 90 megawatt-hours, enough to power about 90,000 homes, said R.O. Nichols, senior vice president of regulatory affairs for Southern California Edison Co.

“When there are a string of dry years, each successive year we will see an uptick in energy requirements,” said Nichols.

Recreation Adapts to Drought, Too

The drought has disrupted a lot of regular routines, from how often people water the lawn to how we brush our teeth. It’s also upending a lot of popular outdoor recreational activities.

An annual fall trout fishing derby at Lake McSwain in Merced County has been canceled because the water in the lake is too warm. It has been rescheduled for next spring.

The popular Gold Rush Days living-history event in Old Sacramento State Historic Park is changing how it stages events. The event begins today and runs through Monday.

Paved streets are normally covered in dirt to replicate historic conditions and provide traction for horses used in the event. After the event, the dirt is then washed away with as much as 100,000 gallons of water. Last year, Gold Rush Days was suddenly canceled when organizers could not find an alternative to meet that water need, prompting criticism from Sacramento’s mayor and others.

This year, Gold Rush Days planners instead will remove the dirt with vacuum trucks, then do a final cleanup with just 3,000 gallons of water. And that water will be recycled wastewater provided at no cost by the Sacramento County Regional Sanitation District.

“We had the luxury of a year to plan around that problem this time around,” Mike Testa of the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau told the Sacramento Bee.

Top image: In this Aug. 4, 2013 photo, oil pumps operate in Kern County near Lost Hills, Calif. State officials have fined 30 oil producers $4,500 each for failing to report their water extraction and treatment practices under the requirements of a new law. (Rich Pedroncelli, Associated Press)

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