Executive Summary for October 7th

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key developments in the California drought, including falling conservation numbers and looming mega-droughts. We also look at a new lawsuit against the federal government over water allocations.

Published on Oct. 7, 2016 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Conservation Slips Again

Statewide urban conservation numbers have been inching downward since mandatory measures were lifted at the end of May. The State Water Resources Control Board has released figures for August, showing that in the month water saving fell to 17.7 percent (from a 2013 baseline), a slip from July’s 20 percent. They show a further fall from the same time year last year when mandatory restrictions were in place; savings for August 2015 were 27 percent.

The board reported that some areas are seeing a more significant drop in conservation than others. “Among the 31 water suppliers that reported water savings between one and 10 percent in August 2016, a dozen of them had dropped from more than 20 percent savings a year earlier,” it said. Included in this group are Casitas Municipal Water District, Folsom, La Habra, Los Angeles County Public Works Waterworks District 29 (Malibu), Mountain House Community Services District, South Tahoe Public Utilities District and Woodland.

Water Contractors Sue Federal Government

The fight over water deliveries during California’s drought will reach the courts, as 17 Central Valley agencies and one municipality have filed a lawsuit against the federal government over 2014 water deliveries.

All those involved are contractors in the Friant Division and receive water from the Bureau of Reclamation via the Central Valley Project (CVP). The lawsuit contends that water was available in a reservoir to meet the contractors’ allocations but was not delivered, causing economic losses and depleted groundwater.

“Throughout the CVP’s 70-plus years in operation, water in Millerton Lake has always been made available for the Friant Division – especially in years when stored water was available, like in 2014,” said Craig Parton, an attorney representing the group. It is suing for $350 million.

Researcher Warns of Mega-Droughts

The area now known as California has, in the past, undergone droughts sometimes lasting longer than a century. Researchers now say it could happen again and may already be starting.

According to information recently published by UCLA researcher Glen MacDonald, rising greenhouse gas emissions could drive climatic conditions similar to previous periods marked by high levels of warming. A return to more normal rainfall would not necessarily provide the antidote, either.

“Drought becomes, in a sense, the new climatology. It becomes the new normal,” MacDonald told CBC. “In a sense, the state is becoming drier because we are evaporating and losing that precipitation, that moisture from the soil and the plants at a higher rate. So based on temperature, we are entering a new, drier climate state.”

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