Executive Summary for June 10th

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key developments in the California drought including what fire season has in store for us. We also look at new permitting requirements for recycled water projects and the end of El Niño.

Published on June 10, 2016 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Easier Road for Recycled Water Projects

Sometimes it’s not technology but policy that stands in the way of innovation. Not this time. The State Water Resources Control Board has paved the way for the use of more recycled water in California.

On Wednesday, the water board approved an order to streamline the permit process for projects using recycled water by requiring just a single permit. The new rules however only apply to treated municipal wastewater for nonpotable uses, such as irrigation, dust control, cooling, decorative fountains and other similar uses. It doesn’t apply to recycled water used for drinking (direct potable reuse), which is undergoing a separate set of investigations into possible criteria.

“Expanding water recycling is a key component of the state’s efforts to increase regional self-reliance under the California Water Action Plan, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr.’s roadmap for sustainable water management,” the Water Board reported.

The state is aiming to increase the use of recycled water with a goal of hitting two million acre-feet (2467m cubic meters) a year by 2030. The most recent data available in California come from 2009, with the state using 669,157 acre-feet a year.

Goodbye El Niño

Meteorologists have confirmed we can officially say adios to El Niño. While it was ranked as one of the strongest three on record, it didn’t deliver the drought-buster that California hoped for.

However, NOAA Climate Prediction Center’s deputy director Mike Halpert told the Associated Press that El Niño’s impact was strongly felt in other parts of the world, affecting drought in Africa and India and hurricanes in the Pacific.

There is a 50 percent chance we’ll move to La Niña conditions by the end of summer. While that could mean drier than average weather for parts of California, meteorologist Jan Null has cautioned that it’s too early to tell what La Niña will deliver. “The gist of it is, anything can happen,” Null told Water Deeply. “There are no guarantees.”

El Niño did deliver needed precipitation to California, even if it wasn’t as much as hoped for. The percent of the state in at least a severely dry designation was about 99 percent at this time last year, but the number has fallen to 84 percent. The difference is more significant for areas considered in severe drought – that has dropped from 93.91 to 59 percent, according to the Ualthoughnited States Drought Monitor. The most severe drought area is concentrated in parts of Central and Southern California, including areas of the San Joaquin Valley, California’s main agricultural region.

Drought’s Impact on Fire

Another drought year is taking its toll on California’s forests, especially when it comes to fire. This year there have already been 28,000 acres (114 sq. km) burned – twice as many acres burned as this time last year.

Firefighters last week battled blazes in Southern California, along with a heatwave.

Drought and an infestation of bark beetles are having dire impacts. “Normally tree mortality in the southern and central Sierra Nevada is less than 5 percent,” the Los Angeles Times reported. “But tree death substantially increased last year, with some forests seeing up to 100 percent mortality.”

Conditions this summer will be prime for fires, as is usually the case. The seasonal outlook for fires shows the significant wildfire potential is above average in July for parts of Central and Southern California’s mountains. By August and September that area extends to include much of California’s coast and the Sierras.

The National Interagency Fire Center reports that high temperatures in April decreased mountain snowpack and precipitation at lower elevations fueled production of grasses that can act as fuel for fire.

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