Executive Summary for October 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 Oct. 7, 2015 Read time Approx. 4 minutes

Marijuana Rules Now Cover Largest Watersheds

Marijuana cultivation in the state’s most important watersheds will now be subject to a permit process for the first time.

The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board adopted rules similar to those already approved by the state’s North Coast regional water officials.

The rules are particularly significant because they apply not only to the Central Valley, but to the vast Sierra Nevada western front watershed lands that drain into the valley. This region provides the majority of California’s freshwater supply and is home to numerous sensitive habitats and wildlife species.

“Our goal is to protect water quality and the environment from the significant impacts that may occur from cannabis cultivation,” Pamela Creedon, Central Valley Water Board executive officer, said in a statement.

The order will regulate discharges from medicinal cannabis cultivation operations to ensure that fertilizers and silt don’t impact waters of the state, which include both surface and ground waters. It requires cultivators to implement best management practices, and requirements are based on a site’s threat to water quality, as determined by the specific physical characteristics of the site.

The regulations were supported by local government officials, who have grown increasingly frustrated with the effect of marijuana growing on the environment and law enforcement resources.

The consequences of growing marijuana are dangerous and real,” John Pedrozo, a member of the Merced County Board of Supervisors, wrote in a recent op-ed article.

The order includes standard conditions to address erosion control and drainage features; stream and wetland buffers; water storage and use; irrigation runoff, fertilizers and pesticides; petroleum products and other chemicals and wastes. Enrollees are not exempted from the need to comply with applicable local ordinances or state and federal laws.

California Reservoirs in Worse Shape than Last Year

The state’s major water-storage reservoirs currently hold less water than they did a year ago.

October 1 was the start of a new “water year,” as marked by state and federal water officials. The date is significant because it heralds a point in time after which California can begin to expect the annual rains to return.

But a survey of the state’s large reservoirs shows there’s a lot of ground to make up.

Six large reservoirs operated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation hold 2.9 million acre-feet of water, down from 3.1 million at the same time last year. To put that in perspective, that total of 2.9 million acre-feet could easily fit into the largest of those reservoirs, Lake Shasta, which has a capacity of 4.2 million acre-feet all by itself. Yet today it holds only 1.6 million acre-feet.

One acre-foot of water is enough to serve two average California households for a year.

Shasta is the only large reservoir that currently holds notably more water than last year, when it held 1.2 million acre-feet. This was an intentional regulatory move to preserve cold water for endangered salmon runs in the Sacramento, after officials failed to save enough last year and most of the Sacramento River’s winter-run Chinook salmon were killed by warm temperatures.

Oroville Reservoir, operated by the California Department of Water Resources, is in a similar predicament. Second only to Shasta in size, it currently holds 1 million acre-feet, less than a third of its capacity and slightly below last year’s status at this time.

Federal Officials Worry More About Political Influence

A troubling new survey by the Union of Concerned Scientists provides clear evidence that scientists working for the U.S. government are feeling increasing pressure from political and business interests to alter their findings on policy matters.

The results don’t bode well for critical matters affecting the California environment during the drought, such as deciding how much water should be reserved for salmon runs, or whether a new water storage project will be harmful to wildlife.

Surprisingly, concern about political meddling has increased since the group last performed the survey, in 2011.

“When thousands of scientists think political considerations are given too much weight, that’s a problem,” Gretchen Goldman, lead author of the report, said in a statement. “We need to make sure scientific integrity isn’t just a box to check off and forget about, but that it’s integrated into the culture of federal agencies.”

The poll surveyed 7,000 scientists at four federal agencies. The two with direct bearing on water-related issues are the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The latter oversees both the National Marine Fisheries Service and the National Weather Service.

An increasing percentage of employees also feel they are being prevented from speaking to the public and media about the work they do. This concern was echoed by journalists in an earlier survey, who reported increasing difficulty accessing technical experts in the government to discuss their work.

Top image: In this Wednesday, August 27, 2014 photo, agents of the Tule River Tribal Police Department inspect an illegal marijuana operation on the Tulare River Indian Reservation in Tulare County. The illegal crop tapped into a major water supply used by the reservation. (Patrick Foy, Calif. Dept. of Fish and Wildlife)

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