California drought: Residents urged to reduce water use by 25 percent

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Brown soccer field in the Los Angeles suburb of Azusa, Calif. Photo courtesy: Savanna Cowles

Brown grass, dirt lawns, a sense of urgency statewide as water reservoirs dwindle, and government-regulated water use policies have been the tale of California for the last few years as the drought plaguing the entire state continues.

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Brown grass in Azusa, Calif. Photo courtesy: Savanna Cowles

On April 1, 2015 California Gov. Jerry Brown called for the first ever mandatory statewide reduction in potable water use as he stood on brown grass where five plus feet of snow normally sits.

The 25 percent reduction announcement came following the lowest snowpack ever recorded with no end in sight for the drought.

The 2014 water year was the third driest in almost 120 years, according to U.S.Geological Survey (USGS). The snowpack average for April 1 is 28 inches. April 1, 2015, measurements recorded only 1.4 inches, just five percent of the average.

“The problem is that California gets about a third of its water for cities and farms (during the summer) from snowmelt, so the drought will likely get worse (or at least appear that way) this summer,” said Justin Brandt, Geophysicist at USGS.

Snowpack in California is the primary source of water to reservoirs that serve drinking water, agriculture and hydroelectric needs. Less wintertime snowpack, like this past winter, means less reservoir levels and less water for consumptive use, according to the California Department of Water Resources.

In January of 2014, Gov. Brown declared a state of emergency for California due to the severe drought conditions. For many Californians, news of the drought is nothing new but many don’t know what the “25 percent reduction” looks like.

In 2010 the water use data found by USGS found that California as a whole’s total public supply self-supplied water withdrawals for the year was 6298.72 mgal/d. Public suppliers provide water for a variety of uses, such as domestic, commercial, industrial, thermoelectric-power, and public water use. That’s a lot of water.

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Dry conditions seen in Orange County off the 57-S freeway. Photo courtesy: Savanna Cowles

In a press release on the California Government website, Brown stated, “I’m issuing an executive order mandating substantial water reductions across our state. As Californians, we must pull together and save water in every way possible.”

The regulations directed by Brown must take into account the different levels of conservation that have already been achieved by communities based on their relative per capita water usage. New standards for water use will be imposed by the water suppliers that service to 3,000 or more customers.

“Urban water suppliers will be expected to begin implementing measures to meet their mandatory reduction targets by June 1, 2015 to ensure maximum conservation during the summer months,” said the California State Water Board in a press release on April 23, 2015..

Based on the Executive Order proposed by Brown on April 1, the 25 percent reduction standards that apply to everyone according to California State Water Board, includes the reduction of:

  1. Use of potable water to wash sidewalks
  2. Causing runoff when irrigating potable water
  3. Using hoses with no nozzle shutoffs to wash vehicles
  4. Using potable water in decorative lawn piece that do not recirculate the water
  5. Outdoor irrigation during and 48 hours after substantial rainfall
  6. Irrigating ornamental turf with potable water in street medians
  7. Irrigating outside of newly constructed homes without drop or micro-sprat delivery systems

The Executive Order mainly applies to outdoor water usage and if successful, will amount to saving 1.3 billion acre-feet of water over the course of nine months. According to USGS, irrigation purposes account for 50 percent of the water used by a single family residence, which is why the focus has been on regulating outdoor water use.

“We envision that the majority of their water savings will be achieved through a reduction in outdoor water use and improved efficiency,” said Brown.

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Emergency water use restriction sign in Azusa, Calif. Photo courtesy: Savanna Cowles

In order for the state water board to know if water suppliers are meeting the requirements, the data that is reported by each individual water supplier for June 2015 to February 2016 will be compared to data from 2013 of that same time period.

Water suppliers can be fined by State Water Board from:

  1. Failure to file reports
  2. Failure to implement prohibitions and restrictions
  3. Failure to meet assigned water use target

Failure to meet the guidelines could result in a fine to the water supplier of $500 for each day the violations occurs.

The drought may be a statewide problem, but some areas are using a lot more water than others. According to the USGS 2010 estimated use of water in the U.S. county-level data, Los Angeles County withdrew more public water per day than any other county in the country, about 1,372.58 mgal/day (million gallons per day). The area serviced to over 10 million people.

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Water withdrawal for Los Angeles County per day in 2010. Photo courtesy: USGS.gov

“While this data does not contain the current drought, it gives us a good idea of the relative water withdrawals for each county during that year,” said Brandt. “USGS publishes water use data every five years, so after 2015 we will be able to gauge if LA County still leads the country in water use.”

Individual cities and communities are facing mandatory reductions from four percent up to 36 percent, based on their water usage in 2013, according to LA County Water District. With the most water consumption of any county in the country, it’s important for LA County residents to take the drought seriously.

Smaller cities in LA County, like Azusa and Glendora, have already initiated their own outdoor water use regulations to meet their required 20 percent reduction. The Azusa Light & Water District has implemented programs within the city to encourage their residents use less water.

Azusa Light & Water put up banners and signs around the city reminding residents to only water their lawn twice a week based on service address. Other signs warn that California is in phase III of the drought and water consumption needs to be reduced by 20 percent.

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Drought signs displayed in Azusa, Calif. Photo courtesy: Savanna Cowles

“During a declared Phase II, III, or IV water shortage, the Water Utility will impose a drought charge, per CCF (hundred cubic feet), in excess of a certain threshold for each water shortage Phase,” stated the Water Utility Rule No. 21 document.

In order to help residents avoid extra water charges, Azusa Light & Water urged homeowners to change their water use habits in response to the drought.

“We have been asked to limit our water use, we have certain days/times we are allowed to water our grass or wash our cars” said Becky Baltazar, a lifelong Azusa resident. “We do get fined if we are seen watering our grass when it’s not one of the days we are allowed to.”

Even numbered houses are only allowed to water their lawn on Sundays and Thursdays 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Odd numbered houses are only allowed water their lawn on Wednesdays and Saturdays 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Azusa residents can water any time on designated days only if watering by hand with a shut off nozzle, drip irrigation system or a system that uses recycled water.

Failure to follow the Azusa Light & Water regulations could result in fines ranging from $50 to $200. Residents and commercial businesses are given four offenses before their water account will be closed if violations continue.

“I have not felt the effects of the drought personally, although I am more cautious on how I use water every day in order to avoid fines and save my family money,” Baltazar said. “We have already been fined $50 once for leaving our sprinkler on too long.”

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Azusa Light & Water residential rates. Photo Courtesy: http://www.ci.azusa.ca.us/index.aspx?nid=132

The city helps make the 20 percent reduction achievable by offering DRiP rebates of up to $1,400 for residents and up to $10,000 to school and commercial customers as an incentive purchase drought-friendly landscapes. This includes switching over to drought resistant trees, shrubs, ground covers, flowers, and living and artificial trees.

Azusa’s water rates have not increased yet as a result of the drought. Rates are based on the resident’s unit size.

Although not as extensive as Azusa’s, neighboring city, Glendora, offers a rebate through SoCalWaterSmart that pays residents $2 per square foot of turf removal. Resident’s fear a water rate increase, but as of now the depleting supply of water hasn’t impacted Glendora’s water rates yet either.

“Water rates have not increased in Glendora due to the drought,” said Steve Patton, Water Division Manager in Glendora. “However, we did send out a mailer insert with each resident’s water bill as a reminder to be water-conscious.”

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A lush green lawn in Rosedale in Azusa despite phase III drought conditions. Photo courtesy: Savanna Cowles

Glendora resident, Warner Trejo, has seen his water bill go up in last five months from watering his lawn more in order to keep his avocado trees alive in the dry conditions.

“I’m a little concerned about the drought but I don’t feel too impacted by it.” Trejo said. “California always goes through dry spells so this isn’t that unusual.”

Flying high: USC trio launches medical marijuana ordering app

Nugg website.

Nugg website.

On Monday April 20th at 4:20 pm patients in Los Angeles and Orange were able to begin ordering medical marijuana through a new app called Nugg. The app, which allow users to schedule deliveries and pickups, was designed by three USC students.

The trio raised $100,000 for their start-up but the money was collected in an unusual way. Money for Nugg was raised by referring riders to ride the Lyft service. Lyft pays a commission of $10 to $20 for each rider referral.

Alex Milligan, Collin Mann, and Kam Babazade, Nugg’s founders, created a network of referral hunters on college campuses, and split their earnings through signing up 30,000 riders. Once they had the money, they began putting it toward developing Nugg, which was launched on the worldwide day for marijuana enthusiasts.

Nugg App. Photo Courtesy: LA Times

Nugg does not employ drivers or process payments yet, but it allows users to search for nearby dispensaries to pick up an order or have it delivered by drivers who work for the dispensary.

In order to use Nugg’s services, users must take a photo of their driver’s license as well as a doctor’s note to sign up. Nugg then checks with the doctor to verify the document.

Still dependent on the Lyft money, Milligan said associates of venture capital firms have already signed on as advisers of Nugg. The next challenge for the Nugg team is to make the service attractive to all age groups of users, from college students to the elderly.

Original story here

L.A. School District Wants a Refund on Rotten Apples

Courtesy: LAUSD.net

The L.A. Unified School District is demanding millions of dollars in refunds from Apple and Pearson, over a faulty curriculum program. The Pearson-developed curriculum was provided with iPads, purchased by the school district to be given to every student, teacher, and administrator.

Rolled out in fall 2013 under then-Supt. John Deasy, the $1.3 billion dollar program had issues almost immediately. Deasy said the program was a civil rights effort to provide lower income students with the same technologies their wealthier peers had.

Deasy resigned in October from pressure due to the iPad fiasco.

Under the contract, Pearson was suppose to provide English and Math curriculum. Pearson only provided partial curriculum during the first year, which made embracing the programs hard for teachers.

Availability of the Pearson programs is the biggest headache. LAUSD want a recoup from Apple because the curriculum often doesn’t work or is interrupted, making utilization of it in the classroom almost impossible.

Only two of 69 schools in the initiative are regularly using the programs. The other schools with more than 35,000 students, have completely given up on it, making the whole curriculum a big waste of money.

Students using their iPads in the LAUSD. Photo Courtesy: KTLA.com

Board of Education members along with teachers and administration believe Apple and Pearson have not yet delivered what they promise.

“I believe that it is time for Pearson to either deliver on its promises immediately or provide us with a refund so that we can purchase curriculum that actually works for our students,” said Board member Monica Ratliff.

No legal action has been taken yet, but the Board of Education met with its attorneys Tuesday to discuss possible litigation against Apple and Pearson.

Original story here

110 toll lanes: Dividing more than just the roads?

After two years, the Metro Transportation Authority project to convert the 110 freeway carpool lanes to toll lanes may become the victim of it’s own success.

So many drivers are using the northbound toll lanes to avoid morning traffic that the paid lanes now have heavy traffic and have slower speeds. Traffic in paid lanes have increased 20 percent, even as the fee per-mile has reached its maximum cost.

Courtesy of: scpr.org

The tolls range from 25 cents to $1.40 per mile or a maximum price of $15.40 for an 11 mile stretch.

High prices in tolls were supposed to free up paid lanes and make them faster but it is quickly becoming clear that isn’t happening.

“The fact that the speeds are getting low suggests prices aren’t high enough,” said Clifford Winston, a Brookings Institute economist who focuses on transportation policy.

Many paying commuters believe the only solution to this problem is to raise the price even more to discourage other drivers from utilizing those lanes. That way, those who have the highest value on their time will pay the most.

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Southbound traffic on the 110 freeway. Courtesy: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times

Raising the toll price even more concerns some Metro board members because the toll lanes have already been given the nickname “Lexus Lanes” due to the amount of higher-income commuters using the lanes.

There is fear that this will divide commuters even more, leaving lower-income drivers stuck in traffic, clearly identifying who can afford the toll lanes and who can’t.

The board is set to discuss further price increases this fall as Metro tweaks it’s traffic algorithm.

Original story here.

The United States: Open for Business

Photo Courtesy: SelectUSA

President Barack Obama held the 2014 SelectUSA Business Summit in Maryland, March 23-24. The event hosted thousands of business investors and U.S. companies interested in making a deal.

Six cabinet secretaries and dozens of U.S. Ambassadors were in attendance for the summit, which had doubled in size since last year’s event.

SelectUSA is a government-wide program to promote business investment in the U.S. in order to create jobs, encourage economic growth, and increase competitiveness according to SelectUSA.com.

After a brief introduction by Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, Obama took the stage to give his speech. He started with the economic gains the country has has since he took office in 2009.

“We are in the longest streak of private sector job growth on record, 60 straight months,” Obama said.

The private job sector has created about 12 million new jobs in the U.S. That’s about 200,000 new jobs each month for 12 straight months.

“Our unemployment rate has fallen from a peak of 10 percent in 2009 to 5.5 percent today,” said the president.

The nation’s unemployment rate has slowly been decreasing with the recovery of the recession. It is still not as low as before the recession but it almost half of what it was during it.

Photo Courtesy: Time.com

In our growing economy comes more students finishing school. The high school graduation rate in the country is currently at a record high, 81 percent.

College graduation rates for those who finish in five years or less is at 52.6 percent, which is high but not the highest the country has ever experienced.

It is not only education and employment that have improved since 2009.

“On the fiscal front, our deficits have shrunk by two-thirds,” said Obama.

A deficit is the difference between what money the government makes in revenue and how much they spend. The country’s deficit was $1.4 trillion in 2009 and it has dropped to $384 billion.

Obama listed off dozens of facts and figures to convince his audience of America’s potential and why it’s the right choice to invest in. He promised to build lifelong partnerships with investors and the outstanding quality of workers and businesses America has to offer.

“There are a lot of deals to be done right here under this roof. And I hope that everybody is going to take full advantage of it,” Obama said.