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Executive Summary for November 10th

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. 10, 2015 Read time Approx. 4 minutes

City Hits Water Wasters with ‘Secret Weapon’

The city of Arcadia in Los Angeles County has resorted to a rarely used tool to control intransigent water wasters: The flow restrictor.

Two homeowners in Arcadia have had flow restrictors installed on their water lines after failing to heed three water-waste warnings from the city. A flow restrictor is a 2-inch brass pipe that does just what it says: It restricts the volume of water flowing into the home. The residents can still meet all their water needs, it just doesn’t happen as fast.

The device is installed by the city just after the water meter in the water line feeding the property. The homeowner also is usually required to pay a small fee to cover installation costs.

“It reduces the volume of water they get so it’s sort of a nuisance,” Sami Taylor, Arcadia’s water conservation specialist, told the Pasadena Star News. “We really don’t want to penalize anyone, but in some cases, we just need a behavior change.”

Most water agencies have the devices at their disposal, but they are rarely used. For example, the San Jose Mercury News reported in June that although every water agency in the Bay Area has flow restrictors in its toolkit, none had deployed them. As a result, the newspaper dubbed the devices a “secret weapon” against water waste.

One reason Arcadia deployed flow restrictors is that it’s struggling to meet the state’s conservation mandate. The city must cut its water consumption by 36 percent compared to 2013. It has yet to reach that goal, although it is creeping closer. It achieved 33 percent in September and 30 percent in October.

Salmon vs. Lawns in Russian River Watershed

Residents of the Russian River Watershed are not responding to special conservation orders handed down by the state in June. It’s a microcosm for the challenges state regulators face in attempting to get a diverse and widely dispersed population to comply with conservation rules.

The rules handed down by the State Water Resources Control Board affect some 13,000 property owners along four tributaries of the Russian River: Mark West Creek, Green Valley Creek, Dutch Bill Creek and Mill Creek. Some must cease watering their lawns to conserve water, and others must merely submit reports on their water usage. The goal is preserve enough water for coastal coho salmon, an endangered species.

Only half of the property owners have filed the mandatory water-use reports, despite a threat of fines.

The state water board is hampered by a small staff, which prevents it conducting sufficient field inspections to catch violators. So it has resorted to aerial photography to search for particularly green lawns.

Despite the large number of scofflaws, the state has opened only 23 inspection cases and issued just 14 warnings so far, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat newspaper reports.

At a meeting Monday, some residents expressed bitterness about the regulations, saying they are being unfairly burdened and that more should be done to force conservation upon the wine grape industry. Others blamed excessive development in recent decades and population growth for exceeding the carrying capacity of the local water supply.

Officials acknowledged the regulations aren’t perfect and said they were driven to respond in order to protect the Coho, which was already at risk of extinction prior to the drought because of habitat loss, pollution and other factors.

Sonoma County supervisor James Gore, who supports the state regulations, said “imperfect action was better than perfect inaction.”

“We were dealing with ground zero for the future of the coho … in this watershed, and imperfect action was the way to go,” he said.

The state water board has fewer than 30 field inspectors for the entire state, and is burdened by a cumbersome regulatory process. Another new case bears this out.

On Monday, the board announced it is fining two property owners a total of $322,500 for alleged illegal water diversions from the Tuolumne River. The violations were first documented on June 8, 2014. That was 17 months ago. The evidence gathered by the state indicates the illegal water diversions have continued all this time, allowing the property owners to produce a corn crop using stolen water while the enforcement wheels crept slowly along.

Today: SoCal Water Giant Votes on Delta Land Purchase

The board of directors of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California will vote today whether to purchase four large islands in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The meeting begins at noon.

We’ve written about this controversy before. In buying the islands — which lie hundreds of miles away from its customers — Met could circumvent a significant amount of struggle in building the massive water diversion tunnels Gov. Jerry Brown is pushing as a solution to the state’s water challenges.

By owning the islands, two of which lie in the path of the tunnels, Met would eliminate at least a portion of land acquisition needs facing the project. Met would simply hand over the land, saving the state a costly and protracted eminent domain proceeding.

The other two islands could be restored as habitat to serve as environmental mitigation for the project.

The current owners of the islands for years have pushed a proposal to turn them into water storage reservoirs by flooding them. The L.A. Times reports today that Met has no interest in this project.

“We’ve always been skeptical of pure storage,” said Jeffrey Kightlinger, the agency’s general manager. “We’re very intrigued with the potential environmental benefits.”

The Times also reports that Met is intrigued, apparently, that it’s prepared to undertake the purchase without Westlands Water District as a partner, if necessary.

Top image: Biologists tend a rotary screw trap on the Russian River. The device provides a way to count salmon in the river without handling or harming them. Thousands of property owners in the river’s upper watershed have not heeded state water conservation requirements intended to help salmon. (Sonoma County Water Agency)

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