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Executive Summary for October 19th

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. 19, 2015 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

The Downside of El Niño

One of the first big storms of the fall season has hit Southern California hard, causing mudslides and localized flooding. Welcome to the downside of El Niño.

We’ve been hearing for months about how the El Niño weather pattern could end the California drought (not likely). But we’ve heard very little about other things it might do.

Yes, El Niño can bring a lot of precipitation to California. But it tends to bring warm storms, and that may be especially true this winter. What that means is a greater risk of floods and mudslides, if only from the simple fact that when snow levels are higher, more terrain is exposed to pounding rain instead of snow.

Mudslides trapped 200 vehicles on Highway 58 in Mojave. Heavy rain also closed Interstate 5 over the Grapevine.

In one spot in the Antelope Valley, the storm dumped 1.81 inches of rain in 30 minutes on Thursday, in what the National Weather Service described as a 1,000-year rain event.

“It’s absolutely incredible,” said Robbie Munroe, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

Storms also caused mudslides in areas of the Sierra Nevada that saw severe wildfires this summer.

National Weather Service officials said the storm offers a preview of what’s to come this winter.

At 1 p.m. PST today in Los Angeles, emergency management officials plan to brief the media on their efforts to prepare for disasters this winter triggered by El Niño.

Drought Means Trouble for Food Banks

Charity operations that provide food to needy Californians are seeing shortages of fresh produce, and they’re blaming the drought.

Because farmers have less water, they’re planting less acreage with annual vegetable crops such as tomatoes, peppers and lettuce and putting all their water into permanent crops with higher market value such as almonds, pistachios and wine grapes.

“The quality is a little lower and sometimes we can’t get the full order in and then the fresher items usually come from distribution centers, local farmers and grocery stores and that’s been pretty much little to none lately,” Stockton Emergency Food Bank director Mario Supnet told Capital Public Radio.

The food bank serves 200–300 families every day, and is expecting a crowd of 2,500 families to show up seeking holiday food baskets prior to Thanksgiving this year.

Model Home Runs on Rain and Sun Alone

A multinational team has devised a model home in Texas that is designed to be completely self-supporting by collecting just the rain and sunshine that strikes the building itself.

The house was designed and built as part of a competition for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon competition. But water efficiency became a major focus of the project, largely because Texas recently endured a severe dry spell on a scale comparable to California’s ongoing drought. The population of Texas is projected to double over the next 50 years but available water supply is forecasted to decline by 10 percent, according to the Texas Water Development Board.

The house was a joint project between students at the University of Texas at Austin and Germany’s Technische Universitat Munchen. It was designed with water consumption of only 25 gallons per person per day in mind. That is thanks to super-efficient fixtures and appliances. It also recycles most of that water for garden irrigation and a hydroponic system that raises tilapia fish as a food source. Even the condensate water from the heating and cooling system is reused to grow vegetables.

The home will capture enough rainwater to supply all of its potable water needs, although it will be connected to the municipal water supply for backup during long dry spells. Rainwater will hit the 2,000-square-foot canopy between the home’s two modules and flow down a system of gutters into under-deck bladder tanks that can hold up to 5,000 gallons. It is then filtered before entering the home’s plumbing system.

A data panel in the home provides minute-by-minute updates on both water and energy consumption.

Top image: A truck sits trapped by mud off of Elizabeth Lake Road in Leona Valley, Calif., on Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, after a fast-moving rainstorm a day earlier caused flash floods. (Gus Ruelas, Associated Press)

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