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    The Compost: 🌧️ Is another wet winter ahead?
    • October 18, 2023

    Welcome to The Compost, a weekly newsletter on key environmental news impacting Southern California. Subscribe now to get it in your inbox! In today’s edition…

    I hadn’t started writing this newsletter yet this time last year. But if I had, I probably would have sent out an edition around this time looking back at how abysmal the rainfall totals were for the “water year” that ends Sept. 30 each year. And I would have included predictions from weather experts for conditions to only get worse in the water year ahead, with another dry winter in the forecast then.

    We all know how that turned out.


    For an article that ran across our news group’s front pages Monday, I looked back at the surprise “miracle” water year that refilled reservoirs, lakes and rivers across the state. Groundwater basins haven’t bounced back quite as quickly, though most in Southern California are still in solid shape thanks to decades of good management practices. Projects to capture more stormwater and hold onto it longer also are stabilizing our supplies.


    So what will the coming winter bring? This time around, with El Niño looming, most forecasters are predicting a solid chance of a decently wet winter. Other experts are more skeptical.


    “Unfortunately, there’s been a lot of hype out there,” Jeanine Jones, interstate resources manager for the Department of Water Resources, told me.


    Looking back at historical records, Jones said some El Niño years are wet while others are dry. And that’s particularly true in Southern California, she said.


    “We just can’t predict what the next water year will bring,” Jones said. “We could revert right back to dry conditions again.”


    That’s why legislators and regulators are pushing new rules and laws aimed at making conservation a way of life for California. The good news is that even though past statistics show consumer water use generally does bounce back up each time droughts end, it doesn’t go back up as high as it was before the latest dry period began. That means over time, our water use is trending down.


    So far, the first few weeks of this water year have been dry. And looking at AccuWeather’s long-term forecast for Los Angeles, the first prediction for a significant chance of rain doesn’t show up until Nov. 17.


    — By Brooke Staggs, environment reporter



    Bold moves on climate: Of the two dozen major climate and environment bills I was tracking in the California legislature this session, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed 75% into law by Saturday’s deadline. Here’s my roundup of what he approved, what got vetoed and what it all means for the future of California and beyond. …READ MORE…


    Let there be shade: Speaking of new laws… Gov. Gavin Newsom approved a bill from state Sen. Henry Stern that cuts red tape and regulations that our Clara Harter reports led to six-figure costs to install simple shade structures for kids at California schools. …READ MORE…


    As goes Southern California…: The local air quality district approved two rules two years ago that require large warehouses to offset pollution from the truck traffic they attract. Now our Kristy Hutchings reports that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is considering making that rule federally enforceable. …READ MORE…


    On notice: California Attorney General Rob Bonta hosted a press conference on Tuesday in Los Angeles to warn companies of their responsibility to disclose the presence of dangerous “forever chemicals” known as PFAS. A law that restricts the presence of PFAS in food packaging and imposes labeling disclosure requirements for cookware kicked in at the start of this year. …READ MORE…



    Project sparks concerns: Los Angeles County is working on a plan to remove large quantities of sediment that’s built up over the years at Pacoima Reservoir, near the edge of the Angeles National Forest. But Marianna Love reports residents are voicing concerns about truck traffic, noise, stirring up pollutants in the sediments and the safety of wildlife. …READ MORE…


    Clues from roadkill: “In the case of deer, anywhere between 5% and 20% of the population of deer in California are being killed by vehicles every year.” But experts say less roadkill isn’t necessarily good news for wildlife, in this interesting story from Manola Secaira with CapRadio on what roadkill can tell us about our deer and mountain lion populations. …READ MORE…


    Slow burn: This was a good year for prescribed burns in the Golden State in many ways, given the mild weather conditions. So why didn’t California do more of them to help lessen the odds of future wildfires turning catastrophic? Dana Cronin dug in for KQEDnews. …READ MORE…

    — tldr: Blame it on the rain.


    Banking DNA: Can frozen DNA help species survive extinction? Love this story from our Emily Alvarenga about San Diego’s Frozen Zoo, which cloned a horse once extinct in the wild and is the first center recognized for gene banking to help rare and endangered species survive. …READ MORE…

    — By the numbers: “The Frozen Zoo contains nearly 11,000 living cell cultures representing about 1,280 different species and subspecies of rare and endangered animals.”

    Get a roundup of the best climate and environment news delivered to your inbox each week by signing up for The Compost.



    When no news isn’t good news: During the worst months of air pollution in recent years, half of the air quality monitors at the Port of Los Angeles were not functioning, reports Ethan Ward with Crosstown. That’s enraged local community and environmental organizations, who are suffering health impacts from the pollution and have repeatedly raised concerns about failing equipment. …READ MORE…



    Cooking up a cover up: We now know that cooking with gas stoves releases levels of polllutants that can contribute to the development of asthma and cancer plus aggravate other respiratory conditions. But reporting by NPR’s Jeff Brady shows that gas utilities borrowed pages from the tobacco playbook to hide that information and hold off regulations. …READ MORE…



    Conservation at a cost: A new set of rules aimed at making water conservation in California a “way of life” even outside times of drought could cost water agencies $13 billion, Rachel Becker with CalMatters reports. But they could also save about 413,000 acre-feet a year by 2030, or enough to serve about 1.2 million households per year. …READ MORE…

    Autumn is on display in pockets of Big Bear and other mountain communities in Southern California. (Photo by Brooke Staggs, Orange County Register/SCNG)



    Go leaf peeping: Yes, Inland Empire temperatures are poised to hit near triple digits on Thursday. And yes, most of our Southern California forests are filled largely with evergreen trees. But there are local places where splashes of fall color can still be found, starting with my hometown of Big Bear. I popped up to visit my family this weekend and we took a drive around the lake and into the mountains in search of some leaves to peep. We found some lovely golden poplars and oak trees and ferns, and even some bursts of red in maples and vines around the valley. Autumn also is putting on a decent show in Idyllwild, Julian and Wrightwood. But with temperatures expected to drop dramatically into next week, many of those leaves won’t likely last long. So peep away while the peeping is good!



    Share green Halloween ideas: For this week’s tip on how Southern Californians can help the environment… Has your family adopted any traditions for making Halloween more sustainable? Whether they deal with tricks or treats, I want to hear them! Email your ideas for a green Halloween to me at [email protected] so I can help share them with the world.

    Thanks for reading, Composters! And don’t forget to sign up to get The Compost delivered to your inbox.

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    ​ Orange County Register