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Executive Summary for August 14th

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. 14, 2015 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

State OKs First Regulations on Marijuana Cultivation

In a major development to protect water quality and habitats, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board on Thursday adopted new rules governing marijuana cultivation.

The rules cover California’s primary marijuana growing region, which stretches from Marin County north to the Oregon border. This includes the famed “Emerald Triangle” region that produces most of California’s marijuana, the state’s most lucrative agricultural crop. Until now, the industry has gone almost totally unregulated because marijuana is still considered a controlled substance under federal law. As a result, unregulated water diversion and habitat destruction have often been a regular practice in marijuana growing.

Under the new program, marijuana growers must comply with a number of operating standards to protect sensitive watersheds, including erosion control, stream and wetland buffers, irrigation runoff, waste discharge and chemical contamination.

The new rules were supported by environmental activists and marijuana growers alike.

“This is a first step toward a civil approach to regulating these impacts, which is exactly what we need,” Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the Emerald Growers Association, told the Press-Democrat newspaper.

The regulation is a pilot program expected to serve as a model for other regions, beginning with the neighboring Central Valley, whose board takes up the matter next month.

Growers will be required to register their operations and certify compliance with environmentally responsible farming methods.

Everyone growing cannabis on at least 2,000 square feet within the North Coast region must enroll in the program by February 15. Participants must register annually and pay still-undetermined annual fees. The State Water Resources Board has recommended annual fees ranging from $500 to $10,000, depending on the size of the cultivation area.

Biggest Lawn Rebates Go to Wealthy City

A battle over releasing public records about who got rebates for turf removal in the city of Los Angeles has gotten a lot of attention lately. Although L.A.’s records have been temporarily withheld by a court order, others are trickling out.

The Los Angeles Times reports today that the five largest lawn rebates provided by the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) of Southern California went to homeowners in Rancho Santa Fe, one of America’s wealthiest cities and also one of California’s heaviest water users.

Those top five grants in Rancho Santa Fe ranged from $48,000 to $70,000. That’s per property owner. The grants were paid out during a time when MWD did not have a cap on the total grant award. This swiftly depleted the program’s $340 million budget and there is now a $6,000 cap on turf rebates.

But that’s not to say those huge rebates didn’t do some good. On the contrary, they led to the speedy removal of large turf areas that consumed a lot of water and cost ratepayers big on their water bills. For example:

  • A homeowner in Camarillo (Ventura Co.) received a rebate of $44,318 to remove more than 22,000 square feet of lawn. Her monthly water bill dropped from $450 a month to about $60.
  • A homeowner in Moreno Valley (Riverside Co.) received $35,000 to remove about 17,000 square feet of lawn. His water bill plunged from $600 a month to about $39.

Those numbers are a great reminder of just how thirsty lawns can be.

Managing El Niño Hype

The National Weather Service on Thursday said a major El Niño weather condition has formed. It is likely to be “among the strongest El Niños in the historical record.”

This announcement merely affirms forecasts that have been reported for months about El Niño, the cyclical phenomenon in which the equatorial Pacific Ocean warms up, altering weather patterns around the globe. As we’ve reported before, El Niño has occasionally caused wet winters in California, but it is no guarantee, and the ability to make solid predictions is limited.

At least this time, government officials are carefully managing expectations. The weather service’s own pronouncements were carefully guarded. As a result, thankfully, most media reports included a significant degree of uncertainty. And within hours, the California Department of Water Resources released a statement by state climatologist Michael Anderson to make sure we get the message this time:

“California cannot count on potential El Niño conditions to halt or reverse drought conditions,” Anderson said. “Historical weather data shows us that at best, there is a 50/50 chance of having a wetter winter. Unfortunately, due to shifting climate patterns, we cannot even be that sure.”

Are we listening now?

Top Image: In this February 1, 2011 file photo, medical marijuana clone plants are shown at a medical marijuana dispensary in Oakland, California. Photo by Jeff Chiu / Associated Press.

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