Executive Summary for April 22nd

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key developments in the California drought including a growing resistance to conservation measures. We also look at new findings about how trees survive drought.

Published on April 22, 2016 Read time Approx. 4 minutes

Pushback Against Conservation Measures

The homeowners association of a gated community in East Bay has decided drought restrictions should end, and so have some water agencies that are pushing for conservation measures to be eased or eliminated.

Despite the fact that California is still in a drought emergency, and now in its fifth year of drought, looking at brown lawns is no longer acceptable for residents of Blackhawk, near Danville, who received a notice that their homeowner’s association would start “aggressive enforcement” of landscape policies if residents have let their lawns go brown.

The East Bay Express reports, “Ron Banducci, president of the Blackhawk Homeowners Association, said his group isn’t insisting on new lawns, but gives homeowners a choice to install low-water use landscaping in brown or bare areas.”

But local water officials point out that Blackhawk’s order is in conflict with state law, which protects residents from the retributions of homeowners’ associations during drought emergencies if landscaping dies due to water cutbacks.

Blackhawk is not a total outlier, though. There is mounting pressure by water agencies for conservation mandates to be scaled back there. And the State Water Resources Control Board heard from some of them on Wednesday, who said they wanted restrictions eased or tossed altogether.

“The Sacramento region clearly is not in any emergency situation now, and continuing to message that is counterproductive, frankly,” said Rob Roscoe of the Sacramento Suburban Water District.

Others said they felt water agencies should determine whether there was a drought emergency in their own region and not the state.

The Association of California Water Agencies said it, and some of its members, “are advocating that the State Water Board lift or make adjustments to the statewide conservation standards based on local water supply investments, local conditions and water supply security.”

The State Water Board is expected to issue a proposal on potential changes on May 18.

How to Tell Which Trees Can Survive Drought

In this Thursday, July 30, 2015, photo, residents Jean Lopes and his wife, Caroline, stand outside their home next to an old tree in Los Angeles. As Californians and the communities they live in cut back water usage and let lawns go golden, arborists and state officials are worrying about a potentially dangerous ripple effect. Nearby trees are going neglected and becoming diseased or dying. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

In this Thursday, July 30, 2015, photo, residents Jean Lopes and his wife, Caroline, stand outside their home next to an old tree in Los Angeles. As Californians and the communities they live in cut back water usage and let lawns go golden, arborists and state officials are worrying about a potentially dangerous ripple effect. Nearby trees are going neglected and becoming diseased or dying. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

As million of trees die across the West from drought, scientists have struggled with predicting how and when, reports Science Daily. But a new study from Princeton University revealed an important clue.

It turns out the biggest indicator of whether a tree can survive drought or not has nothing to do with how deep its roots are or whether it has cones or flowers. It has to do with the system inside the tree that transports water from the roots to the top of the tree – the xylem.

If the xylem can withstand stress, then the researchers discovered that trees can better survive drought. And stress for a tree looks like this: When there is not enough water, the tree can pull tiny air bubbles into the xylem (think of a straw) that causes a blockage, much like a blood clot in an artery causes a heart attack, or in the case of a tree, “hydraulic failure.”

“Better understanding the susceptibility of trees to drought could help forestry experts create early-warning systems and take precautionary steps, such as planting more resilient species or thinning overcrowded forests to reduce a forest’s vulnerability to drought, the researchers report,” wrote Science Daily.

More Water for (Some) Farmers

California’s Department of Water Resources (DWR) yesterday announced a bump in water allocations. Most recipients of the State Water Project will now receive 60 percent of their requested allocation.

The year began with contractors set to get 10 percent, but by March, the number had climbed to 45 percent. DWR reports that the most recent increase is due to March storms that hit Northern California. But the agency says the drought is not over, and reservoirs in the Central Valley and Southern California still remain low.

Several water agencies took the news as an opportunity to stump for California WaterFix, Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to build two Delta tunnels.

“Recent storms have boosted supplies, however, this winter represented missed opportunities for water agencies across California working to recover from impacts of the multiyear drought,” said Charley Wilson, executive director of the Southern California Water Committee. “Had California WaterFix been in place, agencies could have gained nearly half a million acre-feet of water from January to March alone.”

And the Kern County Water Agency released a statement saying, “California needs a comprehensive solution to the water crisis – one that relies on good science and balances the water needs of people and the environment. The Agency is part of a diverse coalition of California water agencies that are developing California WaterFix.”

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