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Executive Summary for October 16th

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. 16, 2015 Read time Approx. 4 minutes

Well Failures Growing in Tulare County

Tulare County is, without a doubt, the community hardest-hit by drought in California. It has the most well failure of any region, and it is racking up more.

The Tulare County Office of Emergency Services reported there have been 1,896 well failures between January 2014 and Tuesday, an increase of 18 from last week. Only 89 well failures have been resolved, leaving 1,389 still-active well failures.

The reported well failures are concentrated in East Porterville, the area hardest-hit for well failures. Another large cluster of well failures is reported in north Tulare County, around Cutler and Orosi. There are also well failures in and around Visalia and Tulare.

To help residents cope, emergency water deliveries have at last been approved for renters in Tulare County. The service — which involves installing a large tank at a home that is refilled with water by truck deliveries — had previously been available only to homeowners. Which hasn’t been so helpful, since many of the well failures are at rental homes.

The new policy was approved by the Tulare County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday after the state Office of Emergency Services posted written guidelines stating it would reimburse counties for 75 percent of the cost of water purchases for rental properties.

But the new service won’t be automatic — or easy. That’s because the landlord must obtain a county permit and cover the costs of installing the tank, which is plumbed to the home to supply running water.

“This should be the responsibility of the landlord,” Supervisor Allen Ishida told the Fresno Bee. “People have to stand up, and really this is their responsibility to supply water for their own homes and rental homes. It’s not something the government can fix.”

So far, the county has helped 441 homeowners get tanks, which typically are in the front yard.

The county is buying about 3 million gallons of potable water per month from cities, public utility districts and private utilities, while United Way of Tulare County is covering the costs of hauling the water to the tanks, for which it is reimbursed by the state.

Odds Improve for a Wet Winter

The National Weather Service on Thursday released a new long-term forecast for the coming winter. At a quick glance, it looks like good news for the California drought. But it’s important to look closer.

First, the forecast indicates that all of California is likely to be wetter than normal, thanks to a strong El Niño weather condition that is setting in. It may be especially wet in Southern California.

But El Niño tends to produce warm winters in California, which means most of that winter wetness will come as rain rather than snow – Californians can’t expect to lay in a significant snowpack in the northern Sierra Nevada and Cascades mountain ranges. These regions are crucial to statewide water supplies, because gradual snowmelt keeps the state’s largest reservoirs full all summer.

So as a result, the weather service is predicting that drought will continue or worsen through February in Northern California. Even in Southern California, officials are cautioning not to expect “drought removal,” only some easing of drought.

“While it is good news that drought improvement is predicted for California, one season of above-average rain and snow is unlikely to remove four years of drought,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director of the weather service’s Climate Prediction Center. “California would need close to twice its normal rainfall to get out of drought and that’s unlikely.”

This El Niño may be more difficult to predict because it is one of the strongest ever recorded. So officials cautioned that the effects of individual or occasional severe storms could vary the outcome. They also noted that snow forecasts are dependent upon the strength and track of winter storms, which are generally not predictable more than a week in advance.

Many coastal areas of the state have already begun bracing for winter — preparing for floods, mudslides and rogue waves — particularly in Southern California. The last strong El Niño, in the winter of 1997–98, resulted in 17 deaths and a half-billion dollars in damages, according to the Santa Maria Sun newspaper. Roofing companies in the Los Angeles region are struggling to keep up with demand from homeowners rushing to prepare.

“No matter how much planning you put in in advance, there’s no way of stopping certain events,” said Roy Dugger, an emergency services specialist with the city of Santa Maria.

Top image: Aida Beltran, 41, checks the water level of the county tank of water in her front yard in East Porterville. The family is now enduring the drought after their well went dry last November. The Beltrans own their home. Tulare County supervisors this week approved a plan to provide the tanks to renters who need them. (Sylvia Flores, The Fresno Bee)

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