Executive Summary for November 12th

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. 12, 2015 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

California’s New Top Water Hog

The media went crazy a couple weeks ago with the news that a single homeowner in Bel-Air, a wealthy Los Angeles neighborhood, was using more than 11 million gallons of water per year.

Now there’s a new top water hog.

The San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper found a homeowner in Rancho Santa Fe using 13.8 million gallons of water per year, enough to supply 110 average homes.

As bad as that sounds, it’s not as awful as it used to be. The newspaper reports that this same customer consumed much more water in the previous year. In the 12 months that ended on June 30, 2014, the customer consumed an astonishing 31.7 million gallons of water.

A loophole in California water law allows water utilities to keep the names and addresses of their customers secret. So we may never know who this customer is.

But it’s hardly surprising that Rancho Santa Fe would achieve this dubious honor: The wealthy San Diego suburb was called out more than a year ago for its profligate water consumption.

As they did back then, the Santa Fe Irrigation District again explained away this extreme water use by saying that there’s a simple reason homeowners in the wealthy community use so much water.

“People have large properties here that require more water,” spokeswoman Jessica Parks said, “so just because we’re high users per capita doesn’t mean we’re wasteful.”

In its defense, in September Rancho Santa Fe cut its total water consumption nearly 40 percent, exceeding the state requirement of 36 percent. But its per capita consumption is still a massive 357 gallons per day, more than triple the state average of 97 gallons.

New El Niño Forecast: Still Strong

An updated El Niño forecast released today by the National Weather Service indicates the weather phenomenon continues to strengthen and now ranks equal to the strongest ever recorded, which came in 1997.

What does this mean? That is the real question. As we’ve reported before, it is likely to mean a wet winter in Southern California, but not necessarily in the north, where it’s needed most to build a Sierra Nevada snowpack that can rebuild the state’s water supplies.

El Niño is fickle when it comes to Northern California. So there’s no telling what will happen until it happens. But a strong El Niño does increase the odds that storms will pass through California. That’s a big improvement over the storm track over the past four years. And it will likely at least bring some drought relief to parts of Southern California.

For the immediate future, the outlook is good. There’s a strong chance for wet weather over the next 10 days, with a storm in the forecast for Saturday night through Monday morning in Northern California.

Coachella Water District Appealing State Fine

Earlier this month, the State Water Resources Control Board imposed fines of $61,000 each on five Southern California water agencies for failing to meet their state-mandated water conservation targets. Now one of those, the Coachella Valley Water District, has decided to appeal that fine.

The district serves a portion of the Palm Springs region, where numerous water agencies have been unable to meet their conservation goals. In the region, only the Coachella district and the city of Indio were slapped with fines. Indio has not yet decided whether to appeal.

Coachella Valley Water District – which covers parts of Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, Indian Wells, La Quinta and some unincorporated areas – used 27.7 percent less water in October compared with the same month in 2013. That brought the district’s five-month average cutback to about 27 percent.

It’ll be hard for the district to reach the state goal of 36 percent. Overall water use is lower in the cooler months of the year, which means there are fewer opportunities to cut back.

“I believe we need to go to the state of California and say that they need to take another look at that 36 percent number,” Coachella water board president John Powell Jr. said, in explaining the decision to appeal.

At the same meeting, in a move to improve conservation, the district board voted to increase penalties on its own customers who miss water conservation requirements. Roughly one-fourth of its customers could be subject to such fines.

The board also voted to spend another $2 million on conservation programs and ban outdoor watering on Mondays and Thursday from Dec. 1 through the end of March.

Top image: The community of Rancho Santa Fe, shown here, is home to large homes with lush lawns and small hobby orchards. It’s also now known to be home to the biggest water hog in California, a resident who consumes 13.8 million gallons per year, enough to serve 110 average homes. (Associated Press)

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