Executive Summary for December 18th

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. 18, 2015 Read time Approx. 4 minutes

Stormy Holiday Week Ahead

The weather gods are looking favorably on California. That’s good news for the drought, and bad news for holiday travel.

Forecasts for the week ahead show stormy weather starting today and continuing right through Christmas. A winter storm warning is in effect for the Sierra Nevada, and mountain areas could see more than 1ft (30cm) of new snow.

That’s just the first storm. Another is expected Sunday after just a brief break.

By Christmas Day, rainfall totals could reach as much as 3in (75mm) in Sacramento, 2in in San Francisco, 4in in Redding and much more in coastal and Sierra foothill locations.

By Christmas Eve, snow levels are expected to drop significantly, bringing a snowy holiday to many foothill areas.

High elevations of the Sierra could get as much as 3ft of snow by Christmas Day.

The news might not be so good on the North Coast, where flooding is possible on several rivers. Both the Smith and Van Duzen rivers are expected to exceed “monitor” stage on Tuesday, meaning emergency crews will be on alert for possible flooding.

“In effect, Del Norte county will receive an immense amount of rain in the coming days,” Jeff Tonkin, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Eureka, told the Del Norte Triplicate newspaper.

Much of the North Coast could see 8–15in (200–400mm) of rain by Christmas Day.

Coastal flooding could be aggravated by some of the highest tides of the year, which are expected around dawn on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

“We’re just basically on high alert. We know we’re gonna get it,” said Del Norte County emergency services manager Cindy Henderson. “People just need to stay home, have some hot chocolate, and stay comfortable.”

Forest Service Begins Work on New Nestle Bottling Permit

After bottling water harvested from California’s San Bernardino National Forest for near three decades on an expired permit, the Nestle corporation at last faces scrutiny with a new permit.

The U.S. Forest Service announced this week it is finally getting to work on renewing Nestle’s permit, which expired in 1988. Although the company requested a new permit as early as 1987, the Forest Service took no action until its delays were exposed by The Desert Sun newspaper in Palm Springs.

All that time, Nestle continued bottling as much as 27 million gallons (102 million liters) of natural spring water from the forest under a permit fee of only $524 annually. It paid nothing for the water itself.

“The forest has assigned an interdisciplinary team and is developing the proposed action,” said Forest Service spokesman John Heil, according to The Desert Sun. “When the proposed action is fully developed, the public will be invited to submit comments through the scoping process.”

The agency allowed water bottling to continue for 27 years because that is allowed as long as permit renewal is pending. Nestle officials said that is appropriate.

“The company took the proper steps to request the permit renewal before it became due,” said Nestle spokeswoman Jane Lazgin.

Environmental groups say the removal of water from the ecosystem is harming the habitat of threatened animals ranging from mountain yellow-legged frogs to birds such as willow flycatchers and California spotted owls. They have pointed out that Nestle wells are drilled as deep as 490ft (150m) into the mountain, and have argued the habitat would be healthier if that were allowed to flow naturally through the canyon.

The groups sued the Forest Service over the permit delays in October, and that case is still working its way through the courts. But they have obtained a number of critical documents in the process, including a 1988 letter from attorney Jack Gipsman of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the agency that oversees the Forest Service.

“In short, the legal situation is precarious,” Gipsman wrote, according to The Desert Sun. He said “it is embarrassing to continue to operate under an old permit that exhibits little, if any, consideration for protection of the environment.”

Napa County Nears Finish of Recycled Water Project

Recycled sewage in Napa County is about to find a new home as irrigation water.

The Napa Sanitation District this week began testing a new 5-mile (8-km), $14 million pipeline that will distribute treated wastewater from its treatment plant to customers throughout the county.

The first customer is the Napa Valley Country Club, which began accepting water delivered in the test at a new $900,000 pond and related infrastructure that will be used to irrigate the golf course.

Golf course general manager Todd Meginness called recycled water an “endless supply” and the “right supply,” according to the Napa Valley Register newspaper.

Some 50 other customers should start receiving the water next spring. Initially, the pipeline will be able to deliver 230 million gallons (870 million liters) of recycled water annually, replacing water previously drawn from groundwater aquifers.

The district is building another pipeline to deliver treated water in the opposite direction to serve other areas of the county.

Top image: This satellite image has been enhanced to show water vapor approaching California and the Northwest. Taken Friday morning, it shows one storm brushing California’s North Coast, with another approaching from Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

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