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Executive Summary for October 12th

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

Published on Oct. 12, 2015 Read time Approx. 4 minutes

Long LIst of New Water Bills Signed into Law

Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday signed more than 20 bills into law that make a number of changes to state regulations in order to ease the drought and improve water supplies.

Some of the noteworthy new laws include:

  • AB 1164: Prohibits cities and counties from enacting rules that ban installation of artificial turf or drought-tolerant landscaping at residential properties.
  • AB 606: Requires state agencies to modernize irrigation systems on their properties and to install native plants that consume less water.
  • SB 664: requires urban water agencies to assess their infrastructure for earthquake vulnerability.

“We are all working so hard to do our part to save water,” Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, author of AB 1164, told the Los Angeles Times. “This legislation prevents governments from interfering with their citizens’ efforts to conserve.”

Another new law, SB 637, settles a long-running controversy over suction-dredging by hobbyist gold miners. The modern mining method involves using gasoline-powered pumps, usually mounted on rafts, to churn up creekbeds in search of gold specks. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife banned the practice in 2009 because it was harming fishery habitats.

The new law requires suction dredgers to obtain permits under the Clean Water Act.

“We are very pleased that our tribal fisheries and sacred sites will receive additional protections from the ravages of gold-mining clubs who have been damaging our resources for decades,” Josh Saxon, council member of the Karuk Tribe, said in a statement.

Wildlife Centers Can’t Keep Up With Drought

The drought is having such a massive impact on wildlife in California that wildlife rescue centers are beginning to feel overwhelmed.

“I’ve gotten up to 50 calls a day, even more in baby bird season. I get them at 11 or 12 at night,” says Dan Turner, who operates Critter Creek with his partner, Louise Culver, in the dry Sierra Nevada foothills east of Fresno.

The basic problem is that wildlife can’t find enough food and water. This leaves them exhausted and unable to fend for themselves or, in some cases, even retreat to a safe place to rest.

Rescue groups report many stories about citizens finding animals that appear to be simply exhausted along roadsides. This includes animals that are normally wary of being anywhere near people, such as eagles and herons.

Turner’s center, for instance, is nursing back to health a golden eagle and a bald eagle, both recuperating in a large flight cage.

“They were both starving,” Turner told KQED News. “They were just down flat on the ground. Caring citizens found them lying there, so they called us. A lot of these people don’t even think they are going make it, but they do.”

Another was a great blue heron, found lying along a road. Turner took X-rays of the bird because he thought it had a leg fracture. But there were no broken bones — it was just too hungry to carry on.

“With the drought, the water levels are dropping,” he says. “Food is not available because fish are dying off, the frogs are dying off, so these guys are going to have more and more of a hard time surviving.”

60 Gallons Per Day, That’s All We Ask

The city of Hanford is making its water conservation message a bit clearer for residents who aren’t getting it: Cut back 60 gallons per day.

Hanford has missed its state water conservation mandate by a wide margin. It’s required to cut water use 28 percent, but achieved only 6 percent in August. Residents of the city consume as much as 160 gallons per person every day.

So the city is now launching a new conservation campaign that it is calling the “60 Gallon Challenge.” That’s how much the city wants each resident to save. What’s most interesting is that the city’s focus is now on indoor water use.

Hanford is a hot and dry city in the San Joaquin Valley. Its water usage could be so large because of the demands of maintaining lawns. But with the waning of the hottest months, city officials are beginning to realize the heavy water usage might lie elsewhere. They think the bulk of that 60 gallons could be saved simply if people take shorter showers.

“I personally believe the shower is half the battle,” city manager Darrel Pyle told the Hanford Sentinel newspaper.

The new campaign seems reasonable, given that residents of numerous California cities — Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Lompoc, King City and others — now manage to consume less than 60 gallons per day for all their basic needs.

Top image: In this photo taken July 21, 2014, groundskeeper Tab Ichiho, of the Department of General Services, replaces an old water sprinkler with a new low-flow sprinkler at the state Capitol in Sacramento, Calif. A new state law requires all state facilities to upgrade their plumbing over time in order to save water. (Rich Pedroncelli, Associated Press)

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