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Water and Power: What can stop El Niño?

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

Will El Niño save California from the drought this winter? Not if the Blob has anything to do with it.

NEWS AND POLICY

Fighting fires: Thanks to the drought, California can expect bigger and more expensive wildfires. The U.S. Forest Service now spends more than half its budget on suppressing fires, up from 16% of the budget in 1996. The state’s dry conditions have extended fire season an additional 78 days since 1970. Fire officials say the dangers are also growing because Californians are building closer to fire-prone environments.

Public information: The names of Los Angeles property owners who took advantage of the Metropolitan Water District’s turf rebate program will remain private for now. A judge set a November court date so attorneys for media outlets and the Department of Water and Power can argue whether private information should be released to see who benefited from $340 million in public funds.

Water priorities: Is landscaping truly the water-waster it’s painted to be? There are benefits to a healthy lawn, including oxygen production, dust control and wildlife habitats. “We’re not asking you to kill your lawn — maybe let it get a little golden. But a lot of people over-water their lawns. For those people, it’s a good idea to save water by cutting back,” said Felicia Marcus of the State Water Resources Control Board.

River runs dry: The Guadalupe River in downtown San Jose has gone dry, endangering wildlife and fish. Ten years ago, the city, Santa Clara Valley Water District and Army Corps of Engineers spent $350 million to complete a flood control project through downtown. “It is really sad. I've been watching the water go completely dry. We've had massive fish kills,” said Roger Castillo, an amateur naturalist who found the bones of a 20,000-year-old mammoth along the Guadalupe in 2005.

ON THE GROUND

No child left behind: Head Start programs in the Central Valley used to have a waiting list, but now that water and jobs have both dried up, some of the programs are in danger of closing. The program provided a free, safe place for children while their parents worked in fields picking tomatoes, garlic and onions. “The kids have left. Look at all the families that had to leave this area because there is no water,” said Diana Toscano, a staffer with the Head Start program.

Recreation activities: Low water levels can’t keep tourists away in Northern California. And thanks to unexpected storms, water diversions and general resourcefulness, there’s just enough water to keep three popular whitewater-rafting operations afloat. "I'm kind of 'the-lake's-half-full' kind of guy," said one man operating a houseboat at Lake Don Pedro.

Below the surface: In other parts of the state, those low water levels are revealing treasures that previously were hidden. There’s an old Mormon settlement. A B-29 bomber that crashed in 1948. And gear belonging to a federal agent, including a gun, badge and pager circa 1992.

BIG IDEAS

“California is burning. What the hell are you going to do about it?”

– Gov. Jerry Brown to Republican presidential candidates

“The need for flat, fertilized land to cultivate cannabis plants has forced some bad actors to eliminate native vegetation and destroy forested habitat, often bulldozing acres of land with no regard for its ecological effects, (state Sen. Bill) Monning said, adding that it can cost up to $15,000 per acre to clean up and restore each acre damaged.”

– New law targets California’s illegal marijuana growers

DROUGHT SNAPSHOT

The receding waters of Lake Isabella have left cracks in the mud. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

TIP OF THE DAY

Six tips on saving water outdoors, courtesy of Pacific Gas & Electric, including:

— Water early in the morning or late at night to reduce water loss through evaporation;

— Add mulch around shrubs and plants;

— Use a bucket if you plan to wash your car at home.

LOOKING AHEAD

The West Basin Water Management District will hold a Water 101 class in Carson on Thursday.

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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