Executive Summary for November 2nd

For an overview of the latest news on the California drought, we’ve organized the most recent developments in a curated summary, including the most important stories, analysis and data. Our goal is to keep you informed of the day’s most significant events in the field.

Published on Nov. 2, 2015 Read time Approx. 4 minutes

Four Cities Hit With Fines for Failing to Meet Conservation Targets

State officials have followed up on their threat to fine water distributors that fail to achieve required water conservation goals, slapping Beverly Hills and three other Southern California urban water providers with $61,000 penalties each.

The fines amount to $500 a day since June 1, the maximum allowed under state statutes, for each district. If conservation efforts don’t improve, the state could issue cease-and-desist orders and ramp up penalties to $10,000 a day if those orders are violated.

The other three water agencies are Indio, Redlands and the Coachella Valley Water District.

“It sends a message to the rest of the state, all of the cities and urban water agencies, that the state is serious about this,” Mark Gold, associate vice chancellor for the environment and sustainability, told The Sacramento Bee newspaper.

None of the four water districts have fined any of their residents for using too much water, he said. Collectively, they’ve “wasted” about 2.3 billion gallons of water since June by not hitting their conservation numbers, including about 1.4 billion gallons at Coachella Valley.

“They weren’t making a strong enough effort, and the customers in their districts were not responding to the effort that they were making,” Cris Carrigan, enforcement director at the State Water Resources Control Board, said during a conference call with reporters.

California’s urban water customers collectively reduced their water use by 26 percent in September. That’s on a par with the statewide requirement of 25 percent, although down from savings achieved during summer. It will get tougher to maintain the 25 percent cuts through winter, when sprinkler systems typically are shut off. Instead, Californians will have to find new ways to reduce indoor water use, a more difficult task.

A State of Emergency Over Trees

In an unusual move, California Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday declared a state of emergency over the condition of the state’s forests, which are in poor shape because of the ongoing drought.

A study by the Carnegie Institute for Science, using new aerial survey methods, recently estimated as many as 20 percent of California’s forest trees are dead or dying because of the drought.

The governor’s proclamation helps identify high hazard zones for wildfire and falling trees. It also calls for state agencies to take several actions to enable removal of hazard trees. In addition, the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and CAL FIRE are convening a Task Force on Tree Mortality comprised of state and federal agencies, local governments and utilities that will coordinate emergency protective actions and monitor ongoing conditions.

Brown also wrote separately to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack requesting urgent federal action, including additional technical assistance for private landowners, matching federal funding and expedited approval for emergency actions on federal lands.

As dramatic as all this sounds, it raises a host of troubling issues. The governor’s proclamation, for instance, directs the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to to develop “emergency guidelines” to remove dead trees. It’s unclear how this will affect wildlife and habitats. It also orders the creation of “storage locations” for dead trees that are cut down.

Brian Nowicki of the Center for Biological Diversity said maintaining forests for wildlife habitat is crucial in dealing with the effects of climate change.

“This oversimplifies a process and a look at the forest that could confound meaningful ways to manage our forests,” Nowicki told KCRA News.

Are People Really Interested in Water Issues?

There’s no question the drought has gotten the public’s attention. People are thinking about water and doing their part to conserve. But are they interested in changing the future of water?

Apparently not, if the attendance at water agency meetings is any measure.

“People can name more Kardashians than they can members of their local water boards,” said Jack Pitney, professor of American politics at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, tells the San Bernardino Sun newspaper.

Elections for board-of-director openings at many water agencies often pass quietly. As often as not, no new candidates step forward to run, so the incumbent simply gets reappointed.

Part of the problem is that water is a complicated subject, requiring a steep learning curve for new leaders. Another is that many water agencies often meet at inconvenient times, as though they are private clubs rather than government agencies.

When the East Valley Water District changed its meeting time from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., attendance increased from just a handful of citizens to at least 20 at every meeting.

This also prompted more interest in serving on the district’s board. In the last election, five people ran for election to two open seats.

Top image: This April 3, 2015, aerial photo shows the Porcupine Creek Golf Club bordering the desert in Rancho Mirage, Calif, a community served by Coachella Valley Water District, one of four water agencies slapped with $61,000 fines for failing to meet state conservation requirements prompted by the ongoing California drought. (Chris Carlson, Associated Press)

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