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Executive Summary for February 3rd

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key water developments in California including the latest snow survey information and the impact of tree deaths. We also look at claims of criminal behavior by a water user and a district.

Published on Feb. 3, 2017 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Snowpack Figures Climb

January was a huge month for drought busting in California, as the latest manual snow survey by the Department of Water Resources at Phillips Station in the northern Sierra Nevada has proved.

The statewide snowpack is now 173 percent of the average for this time of year and more than 100 percent of average for April 1, which is usually the peak figure for the season.

The Phillips Station reading showed the snow water equivalent – the amount of water contained in the snowpack – at 28.1in (71cm), which is above the 18.4in average for this time of year and well above the mere 6in recorded a month ago. The statewide average for 101 stations in the Sierra Nevada is even higher, with 30.6in (78cm) reported for the snow water equivalent. The northern part of the Sierra Nevada is near average for April 1 and both the central and southern regions are above that. All areas are well above average for this time of year.

Slight changes were reported by the U.S. Drought Monitor. The area hardest hit, designated now as extreme drought, fell from just over 2 percent of the state to just under 2 percent and is still concentrated in the south coast area around Santa Barbara. About 50 percent of the state is still experiencing at least moderate drought conditions, according to the monitor.

Water Theft Charges

An agricultural business has been charged with stealing water during the drought, while an irrigation district has been accused of questionable business practices.

In Madera County north of Fresno, Agriland Farming Company, which claims to be one of the United States’ biggest nut growers, is facing criminal charges for illegally pumping irrigation water.

“We believe the pump ran for approximately 90 hours, and in that 90 hours it took $80,000 worth of water,” David Linn, Madera County district attorney, told ABC30. Linn “believes he has enough evidence to prove criminal trespass among other crimes and he hopes to show that every company, big or small, is equal under the law,” it reported.

Just west of Madera, the Panoche Water District in Firebaugh has been taken to task by the State Controller’s Office. The agency “gave its employees free housing, interest-free loans and credit cards that the workers used to buy tickets for concerts and professional sports games,” the Sacramento Bee reported.

Tree Mortality Impacts

One of the most visible impacts of California’s drought has been the estimated 100 million trees that have been killed in the Sierra Nevada by water shortage and bark beetles – a problem that won’t simply disappear as drought conditions ease.

“The beetle epidemic is transforming the 4,500ft to 6,000ft [1,370–1,830m] elevation band of the central and southern range for decades to come, if not permanently,” reported the Los Angeles Times. “It will take centuries to replace the legions of majestic old pines that have succumbed – if that is even possible in a warmer future that promises to alter the forest in ways ecologists can only guess.”

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