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Executive Summary for September 30th

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key developments in the California drought, including what an almond boom means for the environment. We also look at the increased development in wildfire-prone areas and a bill to remedy failing water systems.

Published on Sep. 30, 2016 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Almond Boom’s Environmental Effects

We already knew almonds were booming in California despite the drought but now we know more about the scale of the boom and its environmental effects, thanks to a new study from Eastern Kentucky University.

The study found that between 2007 to 2014 there was a 14 percent increase in the acreage planted in almonds, which lifted irrigation demands by 27 percent. But according to Science Daily, the research also found that farmers were not just switching other fields to almonds, they were converting new land – 23,000 acres (9,300 hectares) of “natural landscapes,” said one of the researchers, Kelly Watson, assistant professor of geosciences at the university. And of those acres, 16,000 were previously classified as wetlands.

“We were really shocked when we started looking at the data,” Watson told Forbes. “I was surprised this is happening in California with all the attention on the drought.”

The researchers began their study with an original interest in honeybees and will return to that area of focus. “The next thing we want to tackle is what the increase in almonds will mean for the demand on pollinators,” Watson told Science Daily. “Seventy percent of our managed honeybees in the U.S. go to pollinate almonds in California.”

Living in the Wildland-Urban Interface

According to the latest report, 300 homes are at risk from a wildfire in the Santa Cruz Mountains in what is beginning to look like a very familiar scenario.

Wildfires are not new in California but development in risky areas is growing.

The Wall Street Journal reported this week that development is increasing in areas most at risk from wildfire in the western U.S. “The number of homes located in or near wilderness areas has grown by nearly 25 percent since 1990, to more than 14.3 million, according to an analysis by researchers at the U.S. Forest Service and the University of Wisconsin,” the Journal said. “The overall number of housing units in those 13 states expanded by 37 percent over the same period, though in fast-growing states such as Colorado, the housing expansion in wilderness-adjacent areas outpaced growth in the rest of the state.”

From an economic perspective, that means $237 billion worth of homes are at high or very high risk of wildfire. And this doesn’t account for the cost to the Forest Service and other agencies of trying to suppress wildfires – or the danger to the lives of wildland firefighter crews.

Law Signed for Disadvantaged Communities

This week Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 552, which is designed to help disadvantaged communities meet clean and safe drinking-water requirements. It is one of a handful of bills the governor signed that impact California water issues.

The bill, written by the Davis Democrat Senator Lois Wolk, would let the state use third-party administrators to help communities with failing water systems.

“Over 500 public water systems in this state have consistently failed to meet basic water quality standards, leaving the communities served by these systems without access to drinkable water,” Wolk said. “SB 552 works to rectify this public health injustice by enabling the state to hire an outside administrator whose expertise and efficiency can help guarantee safe and clean water, and step in when all else has failed.”

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