News from the Front Lines of the California Drought Struggle: June 2015

[Editor’s note:  California continues to struggle to maintain water supplies for all of its citizens in the face of an ongoing, severe drought over much of the state. Here are excerpts from three items on the California State government website and one from The Indy. Those of us who were fortunate to hear new ADWR Director Tom Buschatzke’s presentation at the April Phoenix Chapter meeting can appreciate the contrast between the state of affairs in California, and the state of affairs in Arizona.]

State Water Board Approves Voluntary Cutback Program for Delta Riparian Water Rights

May 22, 2015 | SACRAMENTO — Today the State Water Resources Control Board approved a proposal from riparian water right holders in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to voluntarily cut back water use in exchange for assurances they would not face further riparian curtailment during the June-September growing season.

“This proposal helps Delta growers manage the risk of potentially deeper curtailment, while ensuring significant water conservation efforts in this fourth year of drought,” said State Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus. “It allows participating growers to share in the sacrifice that people throughout the state are facing because of the severe drought, while protecting their economic well-being by giving them some certainty regarding exercise of the State Water Board’s enforcement discretion at the beginning of the planting season.”

Growers who participate in the program could opt to either reduce water diversions under their riparian rights by 25 percent, or fallow 25 percent of their land. In both cases, the reductions would be from 2013 levels. Riparian water right holders who choose not to participate in this voluntary program may face enforcement of riparian curtailments later this year, though risk of curtailment would not be any greater than it would have been if the program were not approved.

Water right holders throughout the state, including senior and riparian right holders, have been warned that curtailments are likely this year because of the continued unprecedented drought conditions. Junior water right holders in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river watersheds and others have already been curtailed for the second consecutive year. Last year, hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland were fallowed.

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State Water Board DROPS Program Awards $30 Million to Schools to Promote Stormwater Capture

May 29, 2015 | LOS ANGELES — Today the State Water Resources Control Board announced 30 school districts and institutions throughout California will receive more than $30 million in funds to educate students and create on-campus projects relating to stormwater capture and water conservation.

State Water Board Vice Chair Frances Spivy-Weber presented the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) with its grant award of $5 million Friday morning at Victory Boulevard Elementary School in North Hollywood.  In front of school and district administrators, as well as students and parents groups, Spivy-Weber praised the Drought Response Outreach Program for Schools’ (DROPS) focus and the 30 educational institutions who were awarded the grants.

“With a fourth year of record-setting drought, programs such as DROPS play an important role in educating our young folks about the different ways we can conserve water, especially with our current drought conditions,” Spivy-Weber said. “Students will get to see first-hand how stormwater capture systems work right on their campuses. They’ll also be taught the importance of conservation and how they can be good stewards of one of our most precious resources. Our goal with this effort is for students to take this information home and share it with their families, creating entire water-wise households. As we continue to deal with the current drought and the growing effects of climate change, educating our youth about conservation now is a high priority.”

“The district is extremely grateful for these grants and the opportunity to lead in the development of stormwater capture features for schools and to begin the implementation and development of an effective water resource sustainability curriculum,” LAUSD Director of Maintenance and Operations Roger Finstad said.

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Urban Water Conservation Improves in April Ahead of June 25 Percent Conservation Mandate

June 2, 2015 | SACRAMENTO — With a mandatory average conservation rate of 25 percent beginning this month for all state residents, the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) announced that Californians in cities and towns increased their water conservation to 13.5 percent in April. In addition, nearly 400 water suppliers responded to a first-ever enforcement report, indicating a high level of local activity to respond to reports of leaks and suspected water wasting.

“We hope the improved conservation rate for April shows that residents and businesses stepped up to begin to meet the call for greater conservation in the face of this historic and ongoing drought,” said State Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus. “While these results are a step in the right direction, there are still too many lush landscapes where irrigation must be reduced to meet the 25 percent statewide reduction mandate. We see conservation gains in all regions of the state, but we don’t know whether it was because of cooler weather or concerted action. In particular, the South Coast demonstrated significant improvement, but the real test will be what happens as we move into the hot and dry summer months, when we need to keep the sprinklers off as much as possible.“

In May, the State Water Board adopted an emergency regulation requiring an immediate 25 percent reduction in overall potable urban water use statewide beginning in June, in accordance with Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr.’s April 1 Executive Order. The Executive Order required, for the first time in the state’s history, mandatory conservation for all residents and directed several state agencies, including the State Water Board, to take immediate action to safeguard the state’s remaining potable urban water supplies in preparation for a possible fifth year of drought.

In the most recent survey of nearly 400 urban water suppliers, the amount of water saved by the state’s large urban water agency customers statewide increased from 3.9 percent in March to approximately 13.5 percent in April, in same month water use comparisons of 2015 to 2013.  The year 2013 serves as a baseline to determine water savings statewide since the 2014 emergency water conservation regulations have been in effect. The cumulative statewide percent reduction for June 2014–April 2015 (11 months) is 9 percent.

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Grand Jury Calls for More Recycled Water

Jennifer Erickson | The Indy — Even as Gov. Jerry Brown grapples with California’s drought by mandating that water districts curb their demands by 25 percent, the Orange County Grand Jury urges them to expand supply by stepping up production of recycled water.

Dwindling local water supplies could be conserved by tapping into the 147 million gallons of treated wastewater currently discharged into the ocean daily, says a grand jury report issued Friday, May 1.

The report recommends that almost all of the county’s wastewater processing districts, including South Orange County Wastewater Authority (SOCWA), which serves Laguna Beach, identify and implement the most cost-effective method of increasing production of recycled water, so as to reduce the county’s reliance on imported water.

The affected districts are required by law to respond to the report’s recommendations within 90 days.

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