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People's World posted a article in Global WarmingAs drought-stricken California struggles to meet the mandatory water use restrictions Gov. Jerry Brown announced earlier this month, the governor is urging a sharp increase in fines for the worst violators, and moving to help local water agencies conduct environmental reviews more quickly. On Apr. 28, Brown called for legislation to sharply increase fines up to a maximum $10,000 for the worst violations of the conservation orders. The current maximum fine is $500 per day. Also under Brown's proposal, wholesale and retail water agencies, as well as city and county governments, will be able to issue penalties. They could enforce both local water restrictions and restrictions ordered by the State Water Resources Control Board. Monetary penalties would go toward local conservation efforts. In a separate action, Brown directed state agencies to help local water agencies cut the amount of time needed to comply with state-required environmental reviews. The proposed new penalties come amid continuing debate about Brown's unprecedented April 1 executive order mandating that over 3,000 urban water districts in the state cut their water use by an overall 25 percent this year compared with 2013. The order also directs the state to provide financial help to homeowners shifting to drought-resistant landscaping, and rebates for new water-efficient appliances. The order focuses mainly on urban water uses like lawns, parks, public medians and golf courses, which take up less than a quarter of water use by people in the state. "I would hope that we don't see this in some punitive way, but that we see the challenge ... the climate is getting warmer, the weather is getting more extreme and unpredictable, and we have to become more resilient, more efficient and more innovative," the governor said then. A major bone of contention is the omission from the April 1 order of any mandatory or voluntary conservation targets for agriculture, which uses nearly 80 percent of water not designated for environmental conservation. Instead, irrigation districts were told to develop drought management plans and monitor groundwater levels, and the State Water Resources Control Board was told to go after illegal and wasteful water users. In exempting agriculture from cutbacks, Brown has sided with farmers who say they have already suffered four years of drought as well as sharp cutbacks by state and federal water providers, resulting in more land left fallow and lower income for the agriculture industry. Thousands of farm workers have also been put out of work. Many water and conservation experts say agriculture should be included in the cutbacks. An often-cited issue is increasing pumping of groundwater, which in some Central Valley areas has already caused the land to sink measurably. Until 2014, California was the only western state not regulating groundwater withdrawals, and the new regulations don't become fully effective until 2022. Another issue is planting of highly profitable but water-guzzling crops like almonds. Many farmers also continue to use flood irrigation rather than the much more efficient drip irrigation. Some environmentalists also call for limiting water use on land used to raise crops for animal feed. The debate takes place against the background of an antiquated allocation system that gives priority, and lower rates, to holders of "senior" water rights - those claimed before California established a permit process in 1914 - with holders of "junior" rights claimed after that time receiving less. Though California is the country's largest agricultural producer and employs over 400,000 people, the industry accounts for just 2 percent of the state's gross domestic product. Meanwhile, cities facing the sharpest cutbacks are pleading for exemptions because they have invested in recycled or desalinated water, or face great demands for water during extreme summer temperatures, or rely on local sources rather than state resources. Also sharply debated is the governor's failure to include the oil and gas industry in his mandatory restrictions. Environmentalists estimate that more than two million gallons of fresh water are used daily to stimulate oil wells through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and related processes. The oil industry contends that such drilling produces more water than oil, and much of that water is provided to farmers. But environmentalists also point out that earlier this year, California's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources required oil companies to shut down 12 wastewater wells in the Central Valley because they are located close enough to underground wells for drinking or agricultural water to threaten contamination. Another 176 wells are undergoing investigation, and over 2,500 more wells are in areas that were never approved for wastewater injection. Zack Malitz of the social action organization CREDO told Reuters earlier this year, "Gov. Brown is forcing ordinary Californians to shoulder the burden of the drought by cutting their personal water use while giving the oil industry a continuing license to break the law and poison our water. Fracking and toxic injection wells may not be the largest users of water in California, but they are undoubtedly some of the stupidest."
People's World posted a article in Global WarmingAs California continues to endure historic drought conditions, this and strong Santa Ana winds are two factors contributing to vicious and more frequent wildfires. Dry conditions are expected to continue this week, and in the southern part of the state, the National Weather Service has predicted conditions that will cause fires to quickly grow out of control. One such brushfire occurred on Apr. 18, forcing mandatory evacuations near LA and having scorched 1,020 acres by Apr. 20, when it was 55 percent contained. And the worst, experts say, could be yet to come. The Apr. 18 incident was the result of an unattended cooking fire, and was, of course, exacerbated by the arid conditions, growing from 30 to 175 acres in just three hours. Even as evacuation orders have been lifted and the wildfire is now 60 percent contained, heavy, low-lying smoke is still expected to cling to surrounding areas throughout the early part of this week, causing potential visibility and breathing issues on roadways, according to CalFire. Fires like this are a problem, said meteorologist Brett Rathbun, who remarked, "The excessive drought across California can cause fires to spark even easier because the ground is so dry and lacks moisture." "We don't know when the drought will end," said Felicia Marcus, chair of the California State Water Resources Control Board. "Californians need to step up. We don't even know if it will rain much in the next year." After four years of steadily worsening drought, as climate change continues to rear its ugly head, it's time for Californians to "make real lifestyle changes," which means, above all, adhering to water restrictions. But even such measures won't stop the problem of wildfires, especially if conditions continue to become drier. And according to Benjamin Cook, a climatologist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, that's exactly what's going to happen. He said, "Climate change is going to lead to overall much drier conditions toward the end of the 21st century than anything we've seen in probably the last 1,000 years." And rain won't save us, added Noah Diffenbaugh, a climatologist at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. That's because the hotter weather means whatever water falls to the ground is going to evaporate that much more quickly. "We're on the cusp in California of having every year be a warm year, which means that when low precipitation does occur, there's going to be a much higher risk that that low precipitation produces drought." "There are a lot of opportunities to deal with these potentially significant droughts in the future," said Cook. "But we just need to be a little bit proactive about it and we need to plan ahead." In particular, said Diffenbaugh, issues like California water policy, water management, and infrastructure need to be changed to accommodate the climate that exists today. Those systems "were built in an old climate," he noted. "And the reality is, we're in a new climate." Howard Kunreuther, professor of operations and information management at Wharton University in Pennsylvania, said this megadrought could serve as a harsh wake-up call to Californians, including Angelinos, who might become more aware of the importance of water conservation. "People forget how water is used in many different ways," he said. "The minute you bring up a point like that, people pay attention, and recognize that the things they do today could be beneficial for things that happen in the future that they hadn't really thought about." Part of the problem, he noted, is that, while another enormous wildfire "is not necessarily going to happen tomorrow, it could happen a few months from now. But it isn't on people's agenda to think about it, and they normally don't think about the water tied into the forest fires." You can "start constructing scenarios as to what could happen," but "how do you get those people to take those scenarios seriously?" "This isn't something that's going to be solved overnight," he concluded. "But taking steps along the lines of conserving [water] will be a way to deal with [the drought]. The more people do that, the more they will benefit."
People's World posted a article in Business & PoliticsDuring what is now California's worst drought in at least 1,200 years, agencies are ambivalent over how to convince Angelenos to cut water usage. Potential options include everything from educating residents to rationing, fines, and threats. While a recent executive order was issued by Gov. Jerry Brown requiring a 25 percent cut in water use from 2013 levels, communites are left to struggle with how exactly to achieve that goal. Part of the solution may be getting the wealthy to cooperate with working class people. Retired resident Dorothy, 65, has lived in LA's Palms neighborhood for 11 years. She told the People's World, "For people who have a decent salary, life is quite comfortable. But we do have a big problem with the water. Unless we cut consumption by a quarter or even a third, we could end up with a real disaster. And so far, many people are not doing their part to save water, despite what they say. They're just going about business as usual. And bottled water and those types of solutions are sometimes out of reach for the poor." The woman, who emigrated from Germany, said she never ceases to be amazed by how people come along to make a quick buck off of every crisis. She referred to the recent trend of lawn-painting companies - organizations that dye the dried lawns of the upper class a healthy shade of green to keep up appearances. One such company is LawnLift, started by 45 year-old mortgage broker Jim Power, who said, "Most homeowners have no clue how to water their lawns" anyway. According to the LA Times, Escondido resident Sean McDaniel, holding his two pet poodles and gesturing at his emerald lawn, said, "I painted the lawn two days ago." One can buy a 32 oz. bottle of this lawn paint from LawnLift's website for the not-so-low price of $45.95. "It's all well and good that the wealthy are having their lawns painted green," Dorothy remarked, "but that's not a solution." Newsha Ajami, director of Urban Water Policy at Stanford University's Water in the West program, said communities need to employ a wide range of conservation measures, rather than just expecting residents to act on their own. She said that levying fines for wasting water is likely a fast way to change behavior. "You need to quickly get to the point," she said. Jonathan Parfrey, a former LA Department of Water and Power commissioner and executive director of Climate Resolve, added, "We need to soak the rich for soaking their lawns. You gotta price water accordingly so it gets their attention." One extreme, said Beverly Hills resident Daniel Fink, could be curbing lawn-watering entirely for a while. "California is in the fourth year of the worst drought, and has about a year's worth of stored water left," he said. "But one wouldn't know it looking at all the still-green lawns. We have to stop watering our lawns. The water just isn't there anymore. I know that would be unpopular, but is it better to wait until the taps run dry?" This drought, Dorothy lamented, "is one example of how we're all going to suffer from climate change."