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Executive Summary for July 8th

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key developments in the California drought, including the state’s new conservation numbers. We also look at how redwood trees fight climate change and Santa Barbara’s new desalination plant.

Published on July 8, 2016 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Conservation Continues

With a year of practice, Californians have gotten very good at conservation. The State Water Resources Control Board released the numbers for May, and they were over the state’s 25 percent goal.

The Water Board reported that urban water districts cut use by 28 percent compared with the same month in 2013. This brings the year-long total of water savings to 1.6 million acre-feet (2bn cubic meters) since Gov. Jerry Brown issued a mandatory reduction statewide.

“The phenomenal ongoing water conservation by state residents as we enter the hottest summer months clearly shows Californians understand we remain in stubborn drought conditions statewide and that saving water is just the smart thing to do,” said state water board chair Felicia Marcus.

Figures for June and July may be the most telling, however, as the state has now made the switch from mandated conservation to goals set by individual water suppliers. As the San Francisco Chronicle reported last week, nine of the 10 biggest water suppliers in the state have no conservation as part of their water supply plans.

The Value of Redwoods

A new study revealed that redwood forests are better at storing carbon than any other kind of forest. They are potent tool for fighting climate change but may also be at risk from a changing climate, too.

Researchers from Humboldt State, the University of Washington, U.C. Berkeley and Save the Redwoods League have spent seven years calculating how much carbon dioxide redwood trees can pull from the atmosphere.

“Redwoods are best at storing carbon, the researchers said, because they live longer than most other trees,” the Mercury News reported. “Their wood is virtually fireproof. They can survive winds that break their tops off. And roughly two-thirds of all the carbon is stored in their heartwood, which lasts hundreds of years even after the trees die.”

As critical as redwoods may be as a tool to help fight climate change, it’s also possible that a changing climate could affect the amount of fog they get, which supplies 30 percent of the water for coast redwoods. And increasing temperatures would also increase evaporation, creating another water pressure. Research from U.C. Berkeley found that fog along California’s coast has fallen 35 percent in the last century.

Santa Barbara’s Long Journey to Desal

Santa Barbara spent millions on a desalination plant in 1992, only to shutter it months after opening. But now the city is turning back to desal in the face of drought and fast tracking a new plant.

Erica Gies wrote for TakePart that new technology in the desal world means that Santa Barbara isn’t just dusting off its old plant, but instead building a new one (which will connect to its old intake pipe) for $55 million. If it stays on schedule, it will begin supplying 30 percent of the city’s water by October.

But, as Gies wrote, questions still linger as to whether or not the city has made a wise decision.

“With current rainfall at 70 percent of normal this year, could the charming Central Coast city be on the brink of another expensive, energy-hogging boondoggle, with water needs better met by alternatives such as reuse, conservation and rainfall catchments?” she wrote. “Or is Santa Barbara protecting its future in a world in which years-long droughts will be the new normal as climate change accelerates?”

As with many of the places in the world who have built or are considering desal, there are tradeoffs. Gies chronicles how other places, such as Australia, have dealt with the pros and cons of desal and the balance of trying to drought-proof a water supply while still keeping it economical.

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