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Executive Summary for November 11th

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. 11, 2015 Read time Approx. 4 minutes

Psychologists Ask: Which Drought Message Works Best?

A team of psychologists has helped the city of Encinitas deploy the best messages to encourage residents to conserve water.

Interns from Cal State San Marcos this summer canvassed neighborhoods to pass out door hangers with five different conservation messages at 11,000 households in the Olivenhain Municipal Water District. Psychologist researchers later tracked water use at these homes to see how residents responded.

Which worked best? A “collective action and commitment” door hanger netted the best results – a 6.5 percent drop in water use, according to the Encinitas Advocate newspaper. This hanger featured examples of residents reducing their water use, which worked because people tend to follow the behavior of the group, said Christine Jaeger, a CSUSM graduate student and project manager on the study. So it’s key to show instances reinforcing that conservation is a community norm.

The bottom of the door hanger asked residents to sign a pledge to conserve, and about a third did so. Interns then returned the next day to pick up signed commitments.

It’s common for water agencies to put up door hangers that simply list drought restrictions. But the study found this information-only approach reduced use by 2.5 percent – about the same as a control group that didn’t receive any materials.

“When we give people just information, it’s not really motivating,” Jaeger said. “They need a little kernel of motivation to follow through.”

SoCal Water Giant Moves to Buy Delta Islands

The board of directors of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California made it official on Tuesday: It will proceed with purchasing several islands in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta as a strategic move to secure future water supplies.

The delta is a hotly contested place: As part of the state’s water infrastructure, it is a crucial “switchyard” for most of the state’s freshwater deliveries; as the largest natural estuary on the West Coast, it is also home to numerous endangered fish species, including most of California’s wild-caught salmon.

By moving to buy as much as 20,000 acres in the estuary, Met could secure a place at the table in numerous contentious policy decisions that are right around the corner.

The most important of these is the California Water Fix, Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to build two giant water diversion tunnels. The tunnels would divert a portion of the Sacramento River’s flow underneath the estuary and directly to existing state and federal water diversion pumps near Tracy.

The project would pass under two of the islands in Met’s crosshairs, eliminating the need for a large share of the required eminent domain land acquisition proceedings. The other two islands could become important habitat mitigation lands, eliminating another potentially testy land acquisition problem.

“We really see the long-term value here as the potential ability to transform the lands into something that is more protective of our long-term interests with the environmental benefits and mitigation requirements,” Jeffrey Kightlinger, Met’s general manager, told the Los Angeles Times.

The move actually involves five islands, according to Capital Public Radio, not four as previously reported by various news media. These are: Chipps Island, Webb Tract, Holland Tract, Bouldin Island and Bacon Island.

The purchase price could reach $240 million, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Environmental groups compared the plan to another giant water grab engineered by Southern California, one that still angers locals.

“Can you say the words ‘Owens Valley’ and ‘Chinatown’? It certainly has that odor,” Ron Stork, policy director at Friends of the River, told the Bee. “One way to deal with the opposition of folks in the Delta is to buy the Delta.”

Storms Allow Ski Areas to Open Early

A lineup of early and cold storms has started the wet season off well in California, allowing numerous Sierra Nevada ski areas to open early.

It seems like a strange development while the state is still deeply immersed in the ongoing four-year drought. But that is the nature of the ski business in California.

Resorts open so far include Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe, Boreal Mountain Resort and Mammoth Mountain. Alpine Meadows opens Thursday and Heavenly, Northstar and Squaw Valley plan to open this weekend.

All this is down to two recent storms that were unusually cold for early November, thanks to a southward swing in the jet stream. Snowmaking systems at several of the resorts augmented decent snowfall amounts to create just enough snow for limited operations at the resorts.

Ski areas are undoubtedly thinking they need to act while they can. They’ve learned there are no guarantees in California winters anymore. Conditions could dry out at any time, like they have in the recent drought years, for example, when the wettest months of winter have turned out to set records as the driest ever recorded.

For now, the outlook is good. Although the rest of this week will be sunny and dry, another cold, wet storm is expected Sunday and Monday, according to the National Weather Service. Ski areas pray for the opportunity to open in time for Thanksgiving. So this series of storms – whether it makes a dent in the drought or not – is certainly welcome.

Top image: Gabrielle Botoseanu, a property manager at a 149-unit complex, stands in an area where grass was replaced with drought-tolerant plants on Thursday, July 2, 2015 in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. A study by psychologists at Cal State San Marcos found that conservation improved when people were persuaded to follow larger group behaviors. (Chris Carlson, Associated Press)

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