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Executive Summary for October 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 Oct. 14, 2015 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Fort Bragg Drops Paper-Plate Rule

The Fort Bragg City Council on Tuesday decided to withdraw a controversial requirement that restaurants serve patrons only with paper plates and plastic forks and cups to avoid the water lost to dishwashing.

The rule drew headlines around the world — and heavy criticism from restaurant owners in the coastal city. They complained that serving expensive steaks and gourmet wine in throwaway dishware was not going to fit the upmarket image they have long cultivated.

In a unanimous vote, the city council agreed to amend the law so that it merely “encourages” the use of compostable dishware during the drought.

The original rule was triggered when the nearby Noyo River — which provides about 40 percent of Fort Bragg’s water — reached historic lows.

In late September, high tides sent salt water from the ocean toward the pumps that draw from the river. Because the flows were so low and weak, the salt water was able to enter the inlets and contaminate the river-water supply, rendering it useless for several days, officials said.

To cope, the city declared a Stage 3 water emergency, which put the restaurant rule, along with others, into effect.

The city council heard from about a dozen restaurant owners, who worried that buying disposable dishware could cut into profits, and complained it was unfair to target a particular category of local businesses.

California Moves to Unify Its Drought Data

The state of California is creating a massive, integrated data network to collect and monitor information about the drought and its effect on wildlife and habitats.

So far, the state has collected 11 petabytes of drought-related data. What is a petabyte, you ask? A petabyte is a million gigabytes. When you consider that a typical hour-long television show is about a one-gigabyte download (in standard definition), 11 petabytes amounts to lifetimes of screen time.

The problem, until now, was that this data rested in different places on state computers that weren’t connected to each other.

In the next six months, the technology group at the state’s Natural Resources Agency will create an open-source, high-performance analytics system to let scientists and others access this data and conduct sophisticated analysis faster.

The new system should allow state agencies to collect and analyze data quickly, to more precisely manage public policy around the drought, said Tim Garza, director of IT for California’s Natural Resources Agency.

The system includes a private cloud of 5,000 virtualized servers, built on open-source tools. State employees working on the drought will be able to access data about trends and use shared computing power to do analysis.

“The key advantage is that data collected in different formats can be used in visual modeling more cohesively for decision-making,” Garza told the Wall Street Journal.

U.S. Forest Service Sued over Nestle Water Bottling Permit

Three environmental groups have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service, claiming the agency violated federal law by allowing Nestle to withdraw spring water from the San Bernardino National Forest even though its permit has been expired for decades.

Nestle has said its 1978 permit continues to be legally “in full force and effect” until the Forest Service acts on it.

But the environmental groups — Center for Biological Diversity, the Story of Stuff Project and the Courage Campaign Institute — want Nestle’s water withdrawals halted completely until the Forest Service can prepare a new permit.

“We want better management of public lands,” Rachel Doughty, a Berkeley-based environmental lawyer representing two of the groups, told The Desert Sun newspaper.

The Forest Service has previously said it is working on a new Nestle permit. The agency has told Nestle that until it decides on the company’s application, its current permit remains in effect.

Top image: The Noyo River at Fort Bragg. Freshwater outflow from the river fell so low this summer that seawater pushed upstream, compromising the city’s water intakes and forcing officials to adopt a “Stage 3” water emergency. (City of Fort Bragg)

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