Executive Summary for September 7th

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. 7, 2015 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Drought Exposing Native American Artifacts to Looters

If it wasn’t bad enough that California’s four-year drought has caused thousands of people to live without running water and put thousands more out of work, now there’s this: Low water levels and wildfires have exposed priceless Native American artifacts that have been hidden for hundreds of years. And looters are going after them.

The shrinking water level at Clear Lake, the largest natural lake entirely within California’s borders, has exposed obsidian flakes and bone tools on the newly emerged shoreline. Severe wildfires in the surrounding watershed have also revealed long-hidden American Indian treasures, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

In mid-August, a Lake County sheriff’s deputy apprehended a man attempting to sell a sack full of obsidian flakes, spear points and serrated hand tools. Suspect Brian Gene Smith was jailed on suspicion of crimes including possession of Native American artifacts and removing objects of archaeological or historical interest.

Human artifacts in the region date back more than 14,000 years, when humans settled around what is believed to be the oldest lake in North America. Anderson Marsh State Historic Park, comprising 1,700 acres south of Clear Lake, was created in 1985 to preserve archaeological interests.

Public officials in Lake County and elsewhere are urging people to report looting and to leave artifacts where they are.

Removing such artifacts left by Native Americans is “one more taking of their heritage,” said Beverly Ortiz, cultural services coordinator for the East Bay Regional Park District.

It’s just the latest in a series of drought-related problems to strike Clear Lake, including reduced boating access, algae blooms and dead fish.

Similar looting events occurred last year at Lake Oroville and Folsom Lake state parks, where shrinking water levels exposed Gold Rush historic sites. A volunteer steward program was created at some locations to help park rangers catch looters.

West Nile Virus Cases Set Record

The drought is believed to be one cause of a West Nile virus outbreak in California in 2014. There were 561 cases of the most serious version of the illness, 83 percent higher than the previous record year, which was 2005.

The drought reduces water available for birds and mosquitoes, which then crowd together among remaining water sources, spreading the virus.

Most of the cases – 70 percent – were reported in Los Angeles and Orange counties, which recorded 15 West Nile deaths last year. Statewide, 31 people died of West Nile disease in 2014.

Across California, 83 human cases of West Nile virus have been reported this year, according to the Department of Public Health. Two people, from San Bernardino and Nevada counties, have died from the disease.

In Orange County, which had California’s highest number of infections in 2014, environmental health officials next week will start a large-scale aerial spraying campaign to control mosquitoes. This will be the first aerial spraying campaign for the county, which in the past instead has “fogged” smaller areas with insecticide.

Surge in Flood Insurance Cancellations

The opposite of drought is flood. If you’ve lived in California long enough, you’ll know that the state experiences both. Yet people have short memories. Caught up in dealing with water shortages, they forget what can happen when nature delivers too much.

According to The Sacramento Bee, The number of federal flood insurance policies active in California has fallen by 30,000, or 12 percent, since the drought began in 2012, according to data from the National Flood Insurance Program.

The increasing cost of flood insurance may play a role. The federal goverment, which administers the National Flood Insurance Program, is under pressure from Congress to make the insurance program more self-supporting, so rates have been rising. But it’s still a bargain – just a few hundred dollars per year in most cases.

Ironically, the coming winter may cause some property owners to regret giving up their flood insurance. A strong El Niño weather pattern could bring significant storms and flooding to the state, although there is uncertainty about whether it will end the drought.

Top photo: A fire crew cleans up a hot spot near Lower Lake, Calif., Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015. Such fires, and shrinking water levels in Clear Lake, have exposed Native American artifacts to looters.

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