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Executive Summary for November 16th

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. 16, 2015 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Gov. Brown Extends Water Conservation Rules, Plus More

Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday adopted a new executive order concerning the California drought that will extend the statewide mandatory 25 percent water conservation order for another year, until Oct. 31, 2016.

The order also takes a number of additional steps aimed at helping California battle the drought, including:

• It empowers the state water boards to waive certain water quality rules so that water agencies can capture stormwater runoff to recharge aquifers.

• It designates $5 million previously allocated to drought projects for projects that help small water systems (fewer than 15 connections) and communities depending on wells.

• It suspends the California Environmental Quality Act for purposes of carrying out all directives in the executive order.

• It directs the Energy Commission to help expedite repairs to power generating plants and facilities damaged by wildfires and suspends certain procedures of state administrative law for this purpose.

“We’re going to need to continue it past February because we will not know the state of the drought until later in the season,” Felicia Marcus, chair of the State Water Resources Control Board, told the New York Times. “The goal of this is not necessarily to deal with next year, but to recognize the fact that we may well be in our own millennial drought.”

The extension of the 25 percent water conservation requirement will only occur if it’s determined that the drought is still underway through the end of January 2016, which is typically California’s wettest month of the year. Such extension is likely, because weather experts have said one wet winter is unlikely to break a drought that has lasted four years.

The State Water Resources Control Board was also directed to modify existing conservation requirements, if necessary. It is already working on this, and on Dec. 7 will hold a public workshop on possible next steps.

One possibility is to make some of the water conservation rules permanent. A number of the current temporary requirements are simple conservation measures that common sense dictates should be standard practice, such as not cleaning off driveways with a running hose.

“Drought or no drought, water-wasting practices are never acceptable, especially in a place like California,” Sara Aminzadeh, executive director of the California Coastkeeper Alliance, told the San Jose Mercury News. “We should build on what we have done so far.”

Several hearings are also scheduled today in the state legislature on additional steps needed to cope with the current drought and a potential shift toward long-term water scarcity in California.

Water agency officials generally support the move to extend the conservation requirements. Some caution that it means rate increases are virtually a sure thing across the state next year, because water agencies will need to recover the revenue lost by declining water consumption.

“I would anticipate what ends up happening is people have to pay more and more to use less,” Shauna Lorance, general manager of San Juan Water District, told the Sacramento Bee. Her district serves a large swath of the Sacramento suburbs and is considering an annual rate increase of up to 19 percent. She said other local agencies are preparing similar hikes.

Drought Produces “Outstanding but Small” Wine Crop

According to Wine Spectator, California’s four-year drought has finally caught up with the Napa Valley.

The leading wine magazine reports that the crop is small. It also offers this contradictory message: Quality of grapes is “good to outstanding,” and also “variable.”

“The vines are really showing the effects of our fourth year of drought,” Corra winemaker Celia Welch tells the magazine. “They look tired. After three banner years in terms of both high yield and high quality, since April we knew we were looking at a much smaller crop.”

And it wasn’t just drought, but cold weather during fruit set, which produced small, uneven grape clusters.

Yields in some locations are 50 to 90 percent less than average. But vintners also report that the fruit that did ripen was “outstanding.”

“They also believe they have made some high-quality wines, though not at the level of their 2013s or even 2014s,” the magazine reports. “Early, small, but very good seems to be what vintners are hoping their tired vines produced.”

Top image: July 2, 2015 photo, Rich Kissee, Operations Manager for the Santa Margarita Water District, stands on the edge of a water runoff reservoir, in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown has ordered that statewide water conservation requirements be continued for another year if the drought persists into January 2016. (Chris Carlson, Associated Press)

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