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Executive Summary for August 18th

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. 18, 2015 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Conservation Mandate Likely to Be Extended

Two state officials, on a visit to Salinas on Monday, said Gov. Jerry Brown’s 25 percent urban water conservation mandate is likely to be extended next year – and for even longer.

Anna Caballero, secretary of the California Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency, called the drought restrictions part of a “new normal” in the state. She was joined by natural resources secretary John Laird in a meeting with local water officials.

“The challenge is people tend to think when it starts raining that everything is OK, but that’s not a solution,” said Caballero. “We need new ways of using water for the long term.”

Future Droughts: What Does Climate Change Mean?

Besides “How long will the drought last,” here’s the other big question on many California tongues: “Is drought the new normal?”

One new study suggests that El Niño events will become twice as common under future climate change scenarios. If you believe all the recent hype about El Niño, you may think this is a good thing. But El Niño doesn’t guarantee wet winters in California. In fact, as we’ve reported before, it’s a toss-up, plain and simple.

What more El Niño occurrences does mean for California is more extreme climate events – both floods and droughts.

“Each kind of extreme event will occur more often,” said Wenju Cai, the study’s lead author and a climate scientist at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.

The problem is that California’s water storage system wasn’t built for that. Efforts are under way to manage reservoirs differently to accommodate climate change, but it’s a slow process, mired in bureaucracy and old patterns of management.

William deBuys, author of “A Great Aridness,” offers another view in the L.A. Times. He cites a recent study and deduces this:

“Climate change will bring to the continent a ‘new normal’ more brutally dry than even the multiple-decades-long droughts that caused the Native American societies of Chaco Canyon, in New Mexico, and Mesa Verde, in Colorado, to collapse.” The authors of the study in question say this “will happen even if greenhouse gas emissions are significantly lowered soon.”

Yet another view concludes that, by 2080, California on average will be 7 degrees warmer with as much as a 16 percent decline in annual rainfall.

We’ve addressed this idea of a “new normal” before. Fact is, nobody has the right crystal ball to deduce what the climate will do to water supplies.

What we do know is that greenhouse gas emissions will not be lowered soon. We also know population growth will continue to increase pressure on water supplies, both for household use and to grow food. As a result, it’s probably sensible to forget about weather prognosticating and assume water scarcity is already the “new normal.”

Caltrans Aims to Cut Water Use in Half

Caltrans, the state highway agency, has set a goal to reduce water use by 50 percent on the 30,000 acres of roadway landscaping it maintains throughout California.

The agency is doing this by installing “smart meters” at its irrigation sites, cutting back on vehicle washing and using recycled water where possible.

About 75 percent of Caltrans’ total water use goes on landscape irrigation. It normally uses 7 billion gallons of water annually, and cut this back to 5 billion gallons last year.

Photo courtesy by Associated Press / Rich Pedroncelli

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