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Executive Summary for December 7th

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 Dec. 7, 2015 Read time Approx. 4 minutes

Drought ‘Exacerbated’ by Climate Change: Governor Brown

California’s drought took the spotlight at the United Nations climate summit in France, where Governor Jerry Brown addressed world leaders about the urgency of taking action to halt climate change.

The governor pointed at the ongoing severe drought as a vivid example of the real threats climate change poses.

“Drought is an example of bad things to come,” Brown said. “Droughts have been going on in California for thousands of years. But this one has been exacerbated by the warming climate … It’s just a very specific wake-up call to get going on climate change initiatives, which California’s doing.”

While scientists have said California’s drought has natural causes, some have remarked that the event has been made significantly worse by climate change – especially the unprecedented blob of warm water that has been holding off the U.S. West Coast for years.

Brown’s plea for action brings California, its 38 million people and its powerful economy into the same arena as coastal nations and island populations that are now experiencing the measurable impacts of a rapidly warming planet.

However, whereas smaller, poorer nations now facing the threat of rising sea levels and increasingly inclement weather are generally being affected by the activities of wealthier polluting nations, the climate problems affecting California may be much the result of the state’s own doing. In California, which is steadily running out of water, a cap-and-trade program that allows those causing atmospheric pollution to pay into funds to offset their impacts hasn’t significantly reduced emissions, environmentalists have said.

Brown talked a straight line in Paris. “The existential threat of climate change won’t get done by half measures,” he said.

Egg Injection: A New Tool for Preserving California’s Salmon

Warm, low water in the Central Valley’s rivers has proved devastating to wild Chinook salmon the last two years, when many of the juvenile fish born in the spawning grounds of the Sacramento River and its tributaries died.

So to combat what has become a drought-related trend – and hopefully help preserve the state’s valuable salmon fishery – scientists are testing a technique that involves fertilizing and keeping the eggs in a fish hatchery, where water is kept cool artificially during the summer and fall. Then, after river temperatures have fallen in the late autumn, the eggs are injected into the river’s gravel beds to develop and turn into fish.

Last Thursday, environmentalists and biologists with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife waded into the Feather River near Oroville to give a try to a technique that has seen some success in Oregon.

According to the Chico-Enterprise Record, about 20,000 eggs, fertilized a month prior in the Feather River Fish Hatchery, were injected through pipes into gravel beds under about 2ft (0.6m) of cold water – precisely where wild fish would have naturally laid and fertilized their eggs. Nets will be placed over the nests, called redds by biologists, to capture the young fish that emerge early in the year.

The idea is to see how effective the technique is. In Oregon, according to the Record, 30–40 percent of eggs in a similar experiment produced fish.

According to John McManus, executive director of the Golden Gate Salmon Association, this year’s project is merely a pilot run. If it proves successful, it may be scaled up next year – and assuming that high water temperatures continue to plague the fall-run Chinook, egg injection could become an important part of maintaining wild salmon runs in a state where most Chinook are born in hatcheries.

Will Californians Tire of Saving Water?

After more than a year of enforced water conservation, and faced with the good news that a wet winter is probably on its way, Californians could begin to falter in their water savings efforts.

“If it rains a lot, people will not feel as pressured to reduce their water bill,” Mark Lubell, co-director of the Center for Environmental Policy and Behavior at U.C. Davis told the Sacramento Bee.

Plus, water consumption normally dips in the winter anyway, meaning reduced household use will be harder to achieve.

But others think people affected by the drought are developing habits that won’t ever change. The unprecedented dry spell has rooted Californians firmly in a new way of thinking about and using water, whether they are watering their gardens and lawns, washing dishes or taking showers, says Fresno-based realtor Jason Farris.

He told the Bee that he has observed a number of striking trends related to water frugality. For one, people have become less interested in buying homes that are dependent on wells – which themselves are dependent on ailing groundwater reserves. He also said that lush gardens and lawns are no longer valuable selling points in the real estate market.

The drought “is changing how people live,” Farris said. “The landscape has changed for years to come.”

Top image: Reservoirs have been nearly emptied in the course of the four-year California drought. Governor Jerry Brown, speaking at the Paris climate talks, said global warming is making the drought worse. (The California Dept. of Water Resources)

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