Newsletter

Water and Power: Fight for your right

Your guide to the California drought from the Los Angeles Times.

Some winemakers in Napa Valley are rejoicing over the dry conditions. When there’s less rainfall, vines are forced to find their own water. That ultimately creates a more flavorful wine, which means 2015 could become a sought-after vintage.

NEWS AND POLICY

Water lawsuits: California water officials may be trying to cut how much water flows to senior water-rights holders, but legal experts say they don’t think much will change. Still, four irrigation districts have filed lawsuits to protect their rights to water. “The state … is coming in trying to regulate people who cannot be regulated for the benefit of people who don't want to be regulated," said Steve Herum, an attorney who filed suit on behalf of the Banta-Carbona Irrigation District.

No. 1 customers: This is not the time to be in the 1%. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power sent letters to its top 1% of residential water users, asking them to double-down on conservation. The utility must cut its water use 16% by February or face fines of $10,000 a day. The letters went to customers in the city’s wealthiest communities, including Brentwood, Bel-Air and Pacific Palisades.

Ecosystem in danger: Water levels at Mono Lake are dropping so dramatically that it threatens the entire ecosystem at the base of the eastern Sierra Nevada. As the waters drops, it exposes a land bridge that will connect coyotes with the second-largest California gull colony in the state. “I'll be terrified if the lake level drops another few feet,” said one biologist who has studied the gull colony for 11 years.

Not enough water: Poor water management may be as much to blame for the drought as a lack of rainfall. When six Western states divided up the Colorado River in 1922, they expected the river to provide more water than it does. Those states now believed they’re owed 1.4 trillion gallons a year more than the Colorado River can provide.

Cost of sinking: California is sinking as water agencies tap underground water resources. To see what that may mean for the state, one needs only to look at San Luis Obispo, which started pumping underground water in 1989. At the Bear Valley Center, the floors became uneven, jamming windows and doors. Next door, at a Honda dealership, window panes would spontaneously shatter and grass started growing through the carpet. Ultimately, a court found the city responsible for damages because it failed to conserve water.

 

ON THE GROUND

Fewer flowers: Climate change is taking a toll on California’s wildflowers. Drier, sunnier winters have reduced the diversity of Northern California’s flowers by 15%. The species that are disappearing the fastest are the ones with broad leaves, and that means future seasons may look very different in the state. “Instead of seeing a beautiful display of wildflowers, we’d see all grass and no flowers, or just a few flowers,” said one plant ecologist at UC Davis.

Lawn rebates: Oakland’s water district is refusing to give rebates to property owners who replace thirsty grass with artificial turf. Critics of fake turf say it’s bad for wildlife, raises ground temperatures and is an overall waste. Another lawn alternative is gravel, which Turf Terminators will install at no charge because it collects rebates from the Metropolitan Water District. But some customers say the work is shoddy and grass often returns within weeks. “It makes it look like inner-city Phoenix,” according to one woman who runs a drought-tolerant nursery.

Out of water: In East Porterville, an area that has long relied on wells, half of the residents no longer have running water. People are getting desperate for water, with one man going so far as to collect water from a duck pond. Some families are reluctant to ask for help, even at a church offering showers, because they are in the country illegally.

Recycled pool water: You can call this company a “drought entrepreneur.” In San Diego, one firm is showing pool owners how they can clean the water in their pool without dumping out as much as 20,000 gallons -- about the same amount that an average resident uses in a year. (audio)

 

BIG IDEAS

“Land is not uniform. Different amounts of water need to be applied to different parts of the field. By watering fields uniformly you’re wasting water and poisoning the soil because the chemicals follow the water.”

-- Isaac Bentwich, chief executive of a firm that is pushing “precision agriculture” techniques to save water.

 

“Want to get rich? Move to California, become a lawyer. Most important, specialize in water, because as the state's drought drags on, every drop of coastal rain, every flake of Sierra snowpack, and every inch of reservoir water becomes both more valuable and more contested.”

-- Mother Jones magazine on one beneficiary of the drought

 

OFF BEAT

Brewery’s water: Anheuser-Busch will soon have less water in its beer … or at least in its beer-making process. The company is investing $20 million in its Van Nuys brewery to make it more water efficient. Upgrades will include meters to measure water use and equipment to reduce the amount of water used in the packaging process.

 

DROUGHT SNAPSHOT

People walk on the exposed lake bed at Mono Lake; in the foreground is a gauge used to measure water depth, now yards away from the shoreline. (Don Kelsen / Los Angeles Times)

 

DAILY TIP

Save Our Water offers these tips for saving water in the kitchen:

-- Wash fruits and vegetables in a pan rather than in running water

-- Compost discarded vegetables and fruits rather than tossing them into the garbage disposal

-- Keep a pitcher of drinking water in the fridge rather than running the tap

-- Drop an ice cube? Place it in a household plant rather than in the sink

 

LOOKING AHEAD …

-- The Los Angeles Board of Water and Power Commissioners is expected to meet on July 8 to talk about possible rate increases.

  

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints and ideas to Alice Walton or Shelby Grad.

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