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Executive Summary for August 10th

For an overview of the latest news on the California drought, we’ve organized the most recent developments in a curated summary.

Published on Aug. 10, 2015 Read time Approx. 4 minutes

River Running Through San Jose Goes Dry

The river in America’s 10th-largest city, the Guadalupe River, has dried up completely as a result of the ongoing California drought. It’s a major setback for a river that was the focus of a $350 million restoration effort that began in 2005 and was just starting to see the return of wildlife including salmon, trout and beaver.

“I’m heartbroken,” Leslee Hamilton, executive director of the Guadalupe River Park Conservancy, told the San Jose Mercury News. Her nonprofit runs educational and community programs along the river. “We’ve been seeing a great increase in the number of birds and wildlife in the area. The timing of this is just devastating.”

The Guadalupe isn’t the only river to go dry during the drought. But shockingly, Paul Rogers of the Mercury News reports that nobody really knows how many have gone dry, which ones or what the cost is to the environment. The state has a network of stream monitoring gauges, but they are mainly designed to track floods, not low water, and they cover only a fraction of the state’s streams.

In another sign of strain, the State Water Resources Control Board will allow water quality to deteriorate in the Stanislaus River. The decision is a tradeoff: It means water releases from New Melones Reservoir will be reduced now, which could harm fish currently in the river; but the water is being saved for release in the fall, when it will help migrating salmon.

Data from some 200 streamflow gauges in California can be viewed at this USGS site. It indicates that, as of today, 37 percent of the monitored streams are in the driest category, meaning their flow is less than 10 percent of the 30-year average. The site does not tell us how many are completely dry.

Nearly $57 Million Spent on Turf Removal

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California has spent $56.7 million on rebates to help homeowners and businesses remove thirsty turf grass. The payments were made between January 2014 and June of this year. It’s an extraordinary amount of money that marks a “widespread transformation of the region’s landscape,” the Los Angeles Daily News reports.

This represents just the initial payments from a $350-million turf rebate program.

The money spent so far has gone to 15,000 water customers in the region, and led to the removal of 30 million square feet of lawn. That’s equivalent to about 688 football fields.

The numbers come from a release of data from the water district, which serves six counties in the greater Los Angeles-San Diego metro region. Due to a court battle, however, the agency did not release names of grant recipients. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is battling the San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper to prevent names of individual turf rebate recipients from being made public.

The Los Angeles water agency maintains that names should not be made public because grant recipients were not told when they applied for money that their names might be publicized. The newspaper argues the names are basic public information that is important in order to assess the performance of a government program.

A judge late last week allowed the names to be withheld until the parties can argue the merits of the case in November. Although California has a relatively strong public records law, it includes an odd provision that allows the names and usage data of individual water utility customers to be withheld.

Latest on El Niño: Don’t Overlook ‘The Blob’

Much has been made of the super-size El Niño weather pattern brewing in the Pacific Ocean, and how some people think it could produce a wet winter that breaks California’s drought. Well, meet a potential spoiler: “The Blob.”

The blob is an unusual mass of warm water in the North Pacific, which some experts think could counteract the effects of El Niño. There are several blobs, actually, that have formed in the North Pacific. And no one is sure what affect they will have on California’s weather. Apparently it is virtually unprecedented to have blobs of this sort coincide with a strong El Niño.

“They could accentuate each other or subtract from each other,” Kelly Redmond, deputy director of the Western Regional Climate Center, told the Reno Gazette-Journal newspaper. “They could multiply each other or they might cancel each other. The jury is out.”

To soak yourself even deeper in the subject, KQED Radiooffers a bit more detailon this looming “Battle of the Blobs.”

Top image: Dead carp float in a stagnant pool of water, one of the last bits of water in the dried up Guadalupe River near Santa Clara Street in San Jose, Calif., on Friday, July 17, 2015. Photo by Jim Gensheimer, Associated Press

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