Executive Summary for April 15th

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key developments in the California drought including a new poll that shows how state residents’ thoughts about the drought have changed over the last two years. We also look at why several Delta counties are suing Southern California’s biggest water agency.

Published on April 15, 2016 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

How Worried Are Californians About Drought?

Just weeks after the state’s monthly snow surveys tallied the bulk of the year’s precipitation, we now have a measurement of how California residents are feeling about the state’s water security.

The Mercury News reported that a poll by the Field Research Corporation questioned 800 registered California voters about the drought. But it’s not a one-off poll. This is the fifth time the voters have been polled on the issue in two years. It gives a helpful look at changing attitudes about the drought.

So what did they find?

“Concern peaked in October 2015, when the Field Poll found 76 percent of residents calling the water shortage extremely serious,” the Mercury News reported. “That number has now eased to 62 percent, the latest poll found, but still remains high.”

One of the most interesting findings in the poll are the regional differences.

When asked this month about how important it was for homeowners to permanently swap out lawns for more drought-tolerant plants, 52 percent of Northern Californians said it was very important, compared to 44 percent of those in Southern California and just 37 percent in the Central Valley.

Similarly, of those who viewed the water shortage as extremely serious, the most, 68 percent, were in Northern California, with 60 percent in Southern California and 58 percent in the Central Valley.

So, where the drought is most severe is actually where people are the least concerned. And those in the Central Valley reported that they were the most affected by the drought, with 64 percent, compared to 57 percent in Northern California and 51 percent in Southern California.

One promising takeaway though, is that 86 percent of those polled said they plan to continue to reduce water use even after the drought ends.

Life After El Niño

Don’t count El Niño out just yet, although we’ve probably seen the worst of it. El Niño/Southern Oscillation, or ENSO as it’s officially called, is waning, but will likely remain in a weakened form for another few months.

As we now know, it didn’t deliver the needed punch of precipitation that Californians were hoping for this winter and spring. And worse may be that La Niña could be just around the corner. La Niñas sometimes, but not always, follow strong El Niños.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center has issued a La Niña watch, reporting that there is an “increasing chance of La Niña during the second half of the year.” This could be bad news for California as it may mean a flip flop in weather: Where El Niño brings wet weather, La Niña usually brings dry weather, although it’s not always that simple.

“The main feature of La Niña is cooler-than-average surface waters in the tropical central and eastern Pacific: the opposite of El Niño,” wrote Emily Becker for NOAA. “Almost all of the computer models we use for predicting climate are anticipating a transition to La Niña during the second half of this year.”

While “conditions are favorable for the development of La Niña within the next six months,” she wrote, it is far from a given yet. This could be a good reality check though for all the water agencies already looking to curb their water conservation efforts.

Legal Wrangling Over Islands Purchase

The much talked about deal where Southern California’s biggest water provider, Metropolitan Water District, purchases five islands from a Swiss company in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, is moving forward.

Metropolitan says the islands will be used to stage equipment to help build Gov. Jerry Brown’s twin tunnels project, otherwise known as California Water Fix. However, the tunnels project faces opposition and is far from a sure thing.

Delta interests are crying foul, claiming the Southern California water district’s interest in the Delta is a straight-up water grab. And opponents are taking legal action to stop the sale.

“Contra Costa and San Joaquin counties filed the suit in San Joaquin County Superior Court along with four other organizations, saying the Los-Angeles based water district erred in claiming that its $175 million purchase is exempt from a state law requiring an analysis of the acquisition’s potential effect on the environment,” the Mercury News reported. “Litigants want the court to prevent the water district from buying the property until it completes the review that the California Environmental Quality Act requires.”

Top image: In this July 2, 2015 file photo, cars drive by a sign encouraging residents to save water in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. A new Field Poll found that the majority of Californians still think the drought is extremely serious. (Chris Carlson, Associated Press)

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