California Drought News: Fewer cows, more fires, and desalination math

Published on May 6th, 2014

Molly Peterson
89.3 KPCC Southern California Public Radio

Feliz Cinco de Mayo! If Monday’s drought news were a meal, the main course would be a wildfire dish.

  • Weekend All Things Considered’s Arun Rath looked at the severity of California’s wildfire risk and the intensity of preparations for fire season around Mt. Baldy by visiting the Mount Baldy Lodge to see what they’re doing to get ready: (Weekend All Things Considered/NPR)

And because of the increased risk of fires this year, Ellingson says they decided to buy fire-blocking gel. She goes behind the bar and comes back with a plastic gallon jug of pink liquid. “You basically hook it up to a system that propels it,” she says, like an air compressor, which can then spray the fire retardant on the sides of a building and maybe keep it from igniting. Ellingson bought three cases of the stuff for $1,100. “It’s cheaper than losing your place,” she says. “You know, this is our life, this is our restaurant, where we live. You know, this is everything we have.”

  • In an article about readiness among firefighters and the national air guard, the National Interagency Fire Center reports that fire starts are down so far this year around the U.S. Well, mostly: (Military Times)

California remains the exception. The entire state is experiencing drought, and firefighters there have already responded to 1,100 fires, twice the usual number for this time of year. Raging wildfires can destroy suburban neighborhoods, weaken hillsides and pollute drinking water. They also send lung-choking smoke far across the country and block visitors from accessing national parks and forests.

  • San Luis Obispo is dreading fire season, especially since some spots that boast 22 inches of rain in normal years got at most half that this winter. (SLO Tribune)

The side dishes rounding out your news meal are stories about business impacts, water technology and incentives.

  • A Reuters investigation found that more than 100,000 cattle have been shipped out of state in the last four months – maybe not the whole number, but a significant proxy, say many in the cattle industry: (Digital Journal)

Cattle ranchers, intent on saving their livelihood and their herds are loading their heifers and steers onto trucks for the long drive to Nevada, Texas, Nebraska and other states with feedlots to take them. “If there’s no water and no feed, you move the cows,” said Gaylord Wright, 65, owner of California Fats and Feeders Inc. “You move them or they die.”

  • Small businesses in Marin County discussed worries stemming from potential water shortages Friday at Dominican University. (Marin I-J)
  • CNN re-discovers “toilet-to-tap,” and the work of the Orange County Water District, as part of a program on water and health. (CNN)
  • Santa Barbara could restart a mothballed $34 million desalination plant…but it would cost $20 million to upgrade its technology…and they’re not going to vote on the question till next year. (AP)
  • A new program will pay users of Colorado River water NOT to use their allocation of that water, in places like Arizona, Nevada, and in the Metropolitan Water District. Millions of dollars allocated to this project would effectively keep water in the Colorado River, starting as early as this fall: (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

The money won’t just be used to pay farmers along the river to fallow their fields, Entsminger said, but agriculture will play a major part in the effort because at least 75 percent of all the water diverted from the Colorado irrigates crops. Farms can cut water use by lining irrigation canals to eliminate leakage and using lasers to level their fields to reduce runoff. Power plants can retrofit their equipment to dramatically reduce the amount of cooling water they need.

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