Categoria: Environment

California Ends Some Water Limits After Storms Ease Drought


DUNNIGAN, Calif. — California Gov. Gavin Newsom ended some of the state’s water restrictions on Friday because a winter of relentless rain and snow has replenished the state’s reservoirs and eased fears of a shortage after three years of severe drought.

He also announced local agencies that supply water to 27 million people and many farmers would get much more from state supplies than originally planned. But Newsom did not declare an end to the drought, warning much of the state is still suffering from its lingering effects.

“Are we out of a drought? Mostly — but not completely,” Newsom said Friday from a farm northwest of Sacramento that has flooded its fields to help replenish groundwater.

Newsom said he would stop asking people to voluntarily cut their water use by 15%, a request he first made nearly two years ago while standing at the edge of a nearly dry Lopez Lake in the state’s Central Coast region — a lake that today is so full from recent storms it is almost spilling over. Californians never met Newsom’s call for that level of conservation — as of January the cumulative savings were just 6.2%.

The governor also said he would ease rules requiring local water agencies to impose restrictions on customers. That order will impact people in different ways depending on where they live. For most people, it means they won’t be limited to watering their lawns on only certain days of the week or at certain times of the day. Other restrictions remain in place, including a ban on watering decorative grass for businesses.

Newsom could ease restrictions in part because state officials said California’s reservoirs are so full they will more than double the amount of drinking water cities will get this year compared to a previous allocation announced last month. Water districts that serve 27 million people will get at least 75% of the water they requested from state supplies. Last year, they only got 5% as California endured three of the driest years ever since modern recordkeeping began in 1896.

Three years of little rain or snow have depleted reservoirs to the point the state couldn’t generate electricity from hydroelectric power plants. It dried up wells in rural areas and state officials had to truck in water supplies for some communities. And it reduced the flow of the state’s major rivers and streams, killing off endangered species of fish and other species.

But since December, no less than 12 powerful storms have hit California, packing so much rain and snow that meteorologists call them “atmospheric rivers.” These storms have flooded homes, closed ski resorts and trapped people in mountain communities for days with no electricity, prompting emergency declarations from President Joe Biden.

Amid all that carnage, water has steadily poured into the state’s reservoirs. Of California’s 17 major reservoirs, 12 of them are either at or above their historical averages for this time of year.

And more water is coming. Statewide, the amount of snow piled up in the mountains is already 223% above the April 1 average — the date when the snowpack is typically at its peak. Most of that snow will melt in the coming months, flowing into reservoirs and posing more flooding threats downstream.

“This is a good news moment. Those storms have brought record amounts of water into our state in the form of rain and snow, and that means we are in much better condition with our water supply than we were in the fall,” said Wade Crowfoot, secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency.

Newsom did not declare an end to the drought on Friday, even though the U.S. Drought Monitor reported this week that much of the state — including the major population centers along the coast and farmland in the Central Valley — are not in drought.

Water shortage concerns remain for some areas of the state, including a sizeable chunk of Southern California that relies on water from the Colorado River — a basin that remains in drought. In the north part of the state, portions of the Klamath River basin on the California-Oregon line are still listed as in “severe drought.”

“I know that’s disappointing for some because it would be nice to have a governor say the drought is over,” Newsom said.

California doesn’t have enough room in its reservoirs to store all of the water from these storms. In fact, some reservoirs are having to release water to make room for new storms coming next week and snowmelt in the spring. That’s why the Newsom administration has given farmers permission to take water out of the rivers and flood some of their fields, with the water seeping back under ground to refill groundwater basins.

Newsom made his drought announcement at one of those projects, a farm in the community of Dunnigan, off of Interstate 5 about 37 miles (60 kilometers) northwest of Sacramento. State officials hope projects like these will replenish some of the groundwater that was pumped out during the drought.

Ecuador Earthquake Kills At Least 4, Causes Wide Damage

QUITO, Ecuador — A strong earthquake shook southern Ecuador and northern Peru on Saturday, killing at least four people, trapping others under rubble, and sending rescue teams out into streets littered with debris and fallen power lines.

The U.S. Geological Survey reported an earthquake with a magnitude of about 6.8 that was centered just off the Pacific Coast, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Guayaquil, Ecuador’s second-largest city.

Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso tweeted a message asking residents to remain calm.

One victim was a passenger in a vehicle crushed by rubble from a house in the Andean community of Cuenca, according to the Risk Management Secretariat, the South American country’s emergency response agency.

In the coastal state of El Oro, three people died and several were trapped under rubble, the agency reported. In the community of Machala, a two-story home collapsed before people could evacuate, a pier gave way and a building’s walls cracked, trapping an unknown number of people.

The agency said firefighters worked to rescue people while the National Police assessed damage, their work made more difficult by downed lines that interrupted telephone and electricity service.

In Guayaquil, about 170 miles southwest of the capital, Quito, authorities reported cracks in buildings and homes, as well as some collapsed walls. Authorities ordered the closure of three vehicular tunnels in Guayaquil, which anchors a metro area of over 3 million people.

Videos shared on social media show people gathered on the streets of Guayaquil and nearby communities. People reported objects falling inside their homes.

One video posted online showed three anchors of a show dart from their studio desk as the set shook. They initially tried to shake it off as a minor quake but soon fled off camera. One anchor indicated the show would go on a commercial break, while another repeated, “My God, my God.”

A report from Ecuador’s Adverse Events Monitoring Directorate ruled out a tsunami threat.

The earthquake was also felt in Peru, from its northern border with Ecuador to the central Pacific coast. No deaths or injuries were immediately reported. In the northern region of Tumbes, the old walls of an Army barracks collapsed, authorities said.

Ecuador is particularly prone to earthquakes. In 2016, a quake centered farther north on the Pacific Coast in a more sparsely populated area of the country killed more than 600 people.

Toll Rises To 326 As Cyclone Batters Malawi, Mozambique

By Charles Pensulo, Nimi Princewill and Stephanie Busari | CNN

Tropical Cyclone Freddy has killed at least 326 people after it ripped through southern Malawi, the country’s Department of Disaster Management Affairs told CNN Thursday.

The resulting devastation has left survivors trapped and fighting for survival.

Chilobwe, one of the hardest-hit areas, is a township near the city of Blantyre. Located below a hill, the township saw water gushing down from above on Sunday night.

Authorities say over 30 people from the area have died and dozens remain missing as search and rescue efforts continue.

People could be seen on Monday using shovels, even bare hands, to search for the people in the rubble.

‘Everything is gone’ Dorothy Wachepa, 39, was sleeping when she woke up to a deafening noise “resembling the sound of an airplane.”

“It was around 12 and I heard the sound accompanied by shouting from people upland,” the mother of four told CNN.

What followed was a torrent of muddy water, accompanied by rocks and trees, sliding down the mountain. All her possessions were washed away.

“Everything is gone. I was doing a small-scale business selling vegetables because my husband died in 2014. I’ve been supporting the children from the little that I have,” she added.

Wachepa said she and her children were lucky to make it out of the house alive.

A total of nine people, including Wachepa’s neighbor and a number of local children, died in the cyclone-induced rains, she told CNN.

Wachepa is one of dozens of people seeking shelter at a local church. She has been left with only a sheet to cover herself and her children from the windy and cold nights.

“We’ve received some blankets and plastic sheets today, so hopefully tonight we will manage to sleep,” Wachepa said.

‘I don’t know what to do now’ Sarah Chinangwa, 25, could not hide her tears as she recounted how six of her loved ones were killed on Sunday night.

“My brother and his two children were asleep when the water came. I live close to them, and I tried to shout for them to come out,” she said.

“They came out and stood at a rock which was at a higher place, but moments later they were all washed away,” she said, adding that her own house was destroyed. “I don’t know what to do now.”

The Malawi Ministry of Natural Resources and Climate Change said Tuesday that the cyclone was “weakening but will continue to cause torrential rains associated with windy conditions in most parts of Southern Malawi districts.”

“The threat of heavy flooding and damaging winds remains very high,” the report added.

Zero visibility Charles Kalemba, a commissioner for the Department of Disaster Management Affairs agency, told CNN Tuesday that the situation had worsened in southern Malawi.

“It’s worse today. A number of places are flooding and a number of roads and bridges are cut. Visibility is almost zero. Electricity is off and also network is a problem. It’s becoming more and more dire,” Kalemba said, adding that rescue operations have also been affected by poor weather.

“It’s tough. We need to use machinery (for rescue operations) but machines cannot go to places where they were supposed to excavate because of the rains,” Kalemba added.

Malawi’s Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services warned Monday that “the threat of damaging winds and heavy flooding remains very high.”

Kalemba added that an improvement in weather was expected from Wednesday. “Possibly by tomorrow, the cyclone may have passed. We are hoping to see improvement from tomorrow but today is worse. There are heavy rains and lots of water.”

In Mozambique, at least 10 people were killed and 13 injured in the Zambezia province, according to state broadcaster Radio Mozambique, citing the National Institute of Disaster Risk Management.

The deadly cyclone has broken records for the longest-lasting storm of its kind after making landfall in Mozambique for a second time, more than two weeks after the first.

More than 22,000 people have been displaced by the tropical storm, according to Radio Mozambique.

“It’s quite likely that number will go up,” Guy Taylor, chief of advocacy, communications and partnerships for UNICEF in Mozambique, told CNN Tuesday.

“The size or the strength of the storm was much higher than the last time … the impact in terms of damage and the impact on people’s lives has been more substantial,” he said.

A Massive Seaweed Blob Is Headed To Florida — Rotten Stench Included

A blob of sargassum seaweed thousands of miles long is headed to Florida, the Caribbean and eventually the Gulf of Mexico, scientists say.

Dubbed the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt by scientists, the swath of tendrilled, somewhat rubbery seaweed has become an annual, often stinky occurrence in the last few years, swamping beaches and resorts from South Florida, through the Caribbean and into the Gulf of Mexico with mats of the macroalgae, which then decomposes, releasing hydrogen sulfide. The gas has an odor reminiscent of rotten eggs, and can cause respiratory problems.

Early chunks of the grass mats may start arriving in South Florida in the coming weeks, but the belt is so long the mats are expected to pile up and waft their stench over local beaches through October.

Though common for centuries — Christopher Columbus spotted sargassum floating in the middle of the Atlantic on his way to the Americas in the 15th century — 2011 saw a surge in the algae’s surface area that has continued to grow, according to a 2019 paper by scientists at the University of South Florida.

A cleaning crew with a tractor attempting to clear out piles of sargassum that had accumulated on the beach in Fort Lauderdale. (CHARLES TRAINOR JR/Miami Herald/TNS) Brian Lapointe, of Florida Atlantic University, who worked on the paper, said 2018 produced the largest belt, a 5,500-mile-long swath of the stuff that stretched from the coast of West Africa to the Caribbean Sea. This year’s bloom is not quite as large.

The sargassum zone also has shifted from the Sargasso Sea, a massive area of the Atlantic off the U.S. southern seaboard, south to tropical waters, which may help explain the growth.

“What’s bizarre about this story is that we never historically had sargassum growing in that area until 2011. The Sargasso Sea is to the north of that, so we have a new center of distribution of sargassum. … Once it got there, it liked it — there were nutrients to support its growth.”

A satellite-based map developed by researchers in February 2023 at the University of South Florida shows the breadth of Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt. The warmer colors indicate the highest sargassum biomass. As the seaweed moves west into the Gulf of Mexico in the coming months, Gulf Stream currents will carry chunks of it north along Florida’s east coast. (University of South Florida) The belt starts growing in winter and builds up as it moves west on equatorial currents, and peaks in July, Lapointe said.

Though the seaweed mass forms in waters south of Florida, as it moves west into the Gulf of Mexico in the coming months, Gulf Stream currents will carry chunks of it north along Florida’s east coast.

Lapointe has studied nutrient sources that could fuel what is now the largest algae bloom on the planet, and said that as it travels west, it encounters the Amazon plume, essentially a nutrient bomb due to flooding and extreme runoff from the Amazon Basin exacerbated by deforestation and farming practices.

Starting in 2014, there was a large uptick in nitrogen and phosphate coming out of the Amazon, he said. Other nutrient sources include the Congo River and the Mississippi River.

His data suggests that the plant has 35% more nitrogen in its tissue than it did in the 1980s. “I was able to say, ‘ah-ha,’ this plant is seeing more nitrogen. … It’s going to be producing more biomass.”

2014 is when he began to see a significant uptick in sargassum coming ashore in the Florida Keys, where he has lived since the early 1980s.

Sargassum mats in the open ocean can benefit wildlife. Whole food chains, from microorganism, crabs and small fish, on up to mahi-mahi, tuna, wahoo, marlin and sharks, can gather under and around them to feed on one another.

But once the mats hit shore they can cause damage, both to human endeavors and shallow water environments.

The concentration of algae has been so heavy in some parts of the eastern Caribbean that the French island of Guadeloupe issued a health alert in late July of last year. It warned some communities about high levels of hydrogen sulfide emanating from huge rotting clumps of seaweed.

The Biden administration declared a federal emergency after the U.S. Virgin Islands warned last summer of “unusually high amounts” of sargassum affecting water production at a desalination plant near St. Croix that is struggling to meet demand amid a drought.

The problem is so odorous in Mexico that “resorts without sargassum” is a popular travel search term on google.

Stacked up mats of sargassum can also damage seagrasses and coral.

The mats can cover seagrass and prevent the photosynthesis the seagrass needs to survive, then, as the sargassum decomposes, it sucks up oxygen and turns the water brown, limiting light and reducing photosynthesis once again. The toxic hydrogen sulfide can also harm corals.

Information from The Associated Press was used to supplement this news article.

Biden Approves Alaska Oil Project Despite Activists’ Outrage

By Matthew Daly and Chris Megerian | Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration said Monday it is approving the huge Willow oil-drilling project on Alaska’s petroleum-rich North Slope, a major climate move by President Joe Biden that drew quick condemnation from environmentalists who said it flies in the face of the Democratic president’s pledges.

The announcement came a day after the administration, in a move in the other direction toward conservation, said it would bar or limit drilling in some other areas of Alaska and the Arctic Ocean.

The Willow approval by the Bureau of Land Management would allow three drill sites, which would include up to 199 total wells. Two other drill sites proposed for the project would be denied. Project developer ConocoPhillips has said it considers the three-site option workable, “the right decision for Alaska and our nation” in the words of company chairman and CEO Ryan Lance.

Houston-based ConocoPhillips will relinquish rights to about 68,000 acres of existing leases in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

The order, one of the most significant of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s tenure, was not signed by her but rather by her deputy, Tommy Beaudreau, who grew up in Alaska and has a close relationship with state lawmakers. She was notably silent on the project, which she had opposed as a New Mexico congresswoman before becoming Interior secretary two years ago.

Climate activists were outraged that Biden greenlighted the project, which they say put his climate legacy at risk. Allowing the drilling plan to go forward also would break Biden’s campaign promise to stop new oil drilling on public lands, they say.

However, administration officials were concerned that ConocoPhillips’ decades-old leases limited the government’s legal ability to block the project and that courts might have ruled in the company’s favor.

Monday’s announcement is not likely to be the last word, with litigation expected from environmental groups.

The Willow project could produce up to 180,000 barrels of oil a day, create up to 2,500 jobs during construction and 300 long-term jobs, and generate billions of dollars in royalties and tax revenues for the federal, state and local governments, the company said.

The project, located in the federally designated National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, enjoys widespread political support in the state. Alaska Native state lawmakers recently met with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to urge support for Willow.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said Monday the decision was “very good news for the country.”

“Not only will this mean jobs and revenue for Alaska, it will be resources that are needed for the country and for our friends and allies,” Murkowski said. “The administration listened to Alaska voices. They listed to the delegation as we pressed the case for energy security and national security.”

Fellow Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan said conditions attached to the project should not reduce Willow’s ability to produce up to 180,000 barrels of crude a day. But he said it was “infuriating” that Biden also moved to prevent or limit oil drilling elsewhere in Alaska.

Environmental activists who have promoted a #StopWillow campaign on social media were fuming at the approval, which they called a betrayal.

“We are too late in the climate crisis to approve massive oil and gas projects that directly undermine the new clean economy that the Biden administration committed to advancing,” said Earthjustice President Abigail Dillen. “We know President Biden understands the existential threat of climate, but he is approving a project that derails his own climate goals.”

Christy Goldfuss, a former Obama White House official who now is a policy chief at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said she was “deeply disappointed” at Biden’s decision to approve Willow, which NRDC estimates would generate planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to more than 1 million homes.

“This decision is bad for the climate, bad for the environment and bad for the Native Alaska communities who oppose this and feel their voices were not heard,” Goldfuss said.

Anticipating that reaction among environmental groups, the White House announced on Sunday that Biden will prevent or limit oil drilling in 16 million acres in Alaska and the Arctic Ocean. The plan would bar drilling in nearly 3 million acres of the Beaufort Sea — closing it off from oil exploration — and limit drilling in more than 13 million acres in the National Petroleum Reserve.

The withdrawal of the offshore area ensures that important habitat for whales, seals, polar bears and other wildlife “will be protected in perpetuity from extractive development,” the White House said in a statement.

The conservation announcement did little to mollify activists.

“It’s a performative action to make the Willow project not look as bad,” said Elise Joshi, the acting executive director of Gen-Z for Change, an advocacy organization. Alaska’s bipartisan congressional delegation met with Biden and his advisers in early March to plead their case for the project, while environmental groups rallied opposition and urged project opponents to place pressure on the administration.

City of Nuiqsut Mayor Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, whose community of about 525 people is closest to the proposed development, has been outspoken in her opposition, worried about impacts to caribou and her residents’ subsistence lifestyles. The Naqsragmiut Tribal Council, in another North Slope community, also raised concerns with the project.

But there is “majority consensus” in the North Slope region supporting the project, said Nagruk Harcharek, president of the group Voice of the Arctic Iñupiat, whose members include leaders from across much of that region.

The conservation actions announced Sunday complete protections for the entire Beaufort Sea Planning Area, building upon President Barack Obama’s 2016 action on the Chukchi Sea Planning Area and the majority of the Beaufort Sea, the White House said.

Separately, the administration moved to protect more than 13 million acres within the petroleum reserve, a 23-million acre chunk of land on Alaska’s North Slope set aside a century ago for future oil production.

The Willow project is within the reserve, and ConocoPhillips has long held leases for the site. About half the reserve is off limits to oil and gas leasing under an Obama-era rule reinstated by the Biden administration last year.

Areas to be protected include the Teshekpuk Lake, Utukok Uplands, Colville River, Kasegaluk Lagoon and Peard Bay Special Areas, collectively known for their globally significant habitat for grizzly and polar bears, caribou and hundreds of thousands of migratory birds.

Associated Press writers Becky Bohrer in Juneau, Alaska and Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana contributed to this story.

La Niña, Which Worsens Atlantic Hurricanes And Western Drought, Is Gone


WASHINGTON — After three nasty years, the La Niña weather phenomenon that increases Atlantic hurricane activity and worsens western drought is gone, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday.

That’s usually good news for the United States and other parts of the world, including drought-stricken northeast Africa, scientists said.

The globe is now in what’s considered a “neutral” condition and probably trending to an El Niño in late summer or fall, said climate scientist Michelle L’Heureux, head of NOAA’s El Niño/La Niña forecast office.

“It’s over,” said research scientist Azhar Ehsan, who heads Columbia University’s El Niño/La Niña forecasting. “Mother Nature thought to get rid of this one because it’s enough.”

La Niña is a natural and temporary cooling of parts of the Pacific Ocean that changes weather worldwide. In the United States, because La Niña is connected to more Atlantic storms and deeper droughts and wildfires in the West, La Ninas often are more damaging and expensive than their more famous flip side, El Niño, experts said and studies show.

Generally, American agriculture is more damaged by La Niña than El Niño. If the globe jumps into El Niño it means more rain for the Midwestern corn belt and grains in general and could be beneficial, said Michael Ferrari, chief scientific officer of Climate Alpha, a firm that advises investors on financial decisions based on climate.

When there’s a La Niña, there are more storms in the Atlantic during hurricane season because it removes conditions that suppress storm formation. Neutral or El Niño conditions make it harder for storms to get going, but not impossible, scientists said.

Over the last three years, the U.S. has been hit by 14 hurricanes and tropical storms that caused a billion dollars or more in damage, totalling $252 billion in costs, according to NOAA economist and meteorologist Adam Smith said. La Niña and people building in harm’s way were factors, he said.

La Niña tends to make Western Africa wet, but Eastern Africa, around Somalia, dry. The opposite happens in El Niño with drought-struck Somalia likely to get steady “short rains,” Ehsan said. La Niña has wetter conditions for Indonesia, parts of Australia and the Amazon, but those areas are drier in El Niño, according to NOAA.

El Niño means more heat waves for India and Pakistan and other parts of South Asia and weaker monsoons there, Ehsan said.

This particular La Niña, which started in September 2020 but is considered three years old because it affected three different winters, was unusual and one of the longest on record. It took a brief break in 2021 but came roaring back with record intensity.

“I’m sick of this La Niña,” Ehsan said. L’Heureux agreed, saying she’s ready to talk about something else.

The few other times that there’s been a triple-dip La Niña have come after strong El Niños and there’s clear physics on why that happens. But that’s not what happened with this La Niña, L’Heureux said. This one didn’t have a strong El Niño before it.

Even though this La Niña has confounded scientists in the past, they say the signs of it leaving are clear: Water in the key part of the central Pacific warmed to a bit more than the threshold for a La Niña in February, the atmosphere showed some changes and along the eastern Pacific near Peru, there’s already El Niño-like warming brewing on the coast, L’Heureux said.

Think of a La Niña or El Niño as something that pushes the weather system from the Pacific with ripple effects worldwide, L’Heureux said. When there are neutral conditions like now, there’s less push from the Pacific. That means other climatic factors, including the long-term warming trend, have more influence in day-to-day weather, she said.

Without an El Niño or La Niña, forecasters have a harder time predicting seasonal weather trends for summer or fall because the Pacific Ocean has such a big footprint in weeks-long forecasts.

El Niño forecasts made in the spring are generally less reliable than ones made other times of year, so scientists are less sure about what will happen next, L’Heureux said. But NOAA’s forecast said there’s a 60% chance that El Niño will take charge come fall.

There’s also a 5% chance that La Niña will return for an unprecedented fourth dip. L’Heureux said she really doesn’t want that but the scientist in her would find that interesting.

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‘Pineapple Express’ Storm This Week To Bring Heavy Rain, Raise Flood Concerns Across California

California snow video: Balcony jumping, bridge shoveling, turkey spotting

The winter of 2023 isn’t finished yet. Not by a long shot.

An atmospheric river storm is likely to hit Northern California late Thursday into Friday, meteorologists and climate scientists said Monday, bringing high chances of heavy rain in the Bay Area, 1 to 3 feet of new snow at higher elevations in the Sierra, and an increased risk of flooding as the warm rain hits the state’s massive snowpack.

Details about the storm, a classic “pineapple express” event barreling in more than 2,000 miles from Hawaii, are still not certain.

But this past weekend, computer models began to show its likelihood increasing from about 10% to now about 70%, said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty at this point regarding how intense it will be, how prolonged it will be, and the impacts it will likely have,” Swain said, “as well as whether it will be followed by additional warm storms or not. All of that is up in the air. However, confidence has grown that a warm rain event of some magnitude will occur later this week.”

This storm is most likely to be a 3 on a scale of 1 to 5, potentially a 4, said Marty Ralph, director of the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes at UC San Diego and one of the nation’s leading experts on atmospheric rivers.

“It will be felt as far south as San Diego and up to the Russian River,” Ralph said.

Storm clouds make their way through the Bay Area as seen from Grizzly Peak Boulevard in Oakland, Calif., on Monday, March 6, 2023. The Bay Area could have a potential atmospheric river this upcoming weekend. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) Ralph and Swain both said that the latest storm by itself won’t likely be enough to cause major melting of the immense Sierra snowpack — which on Monday was 192% of its historic average, the most snow in 30 years — because the deep snow can absorb a fair amount of rain.

But computer models are also showing that two or three more atmospheric river storms could be lining up over the next 10 days, Ralph said.

“It could be like January where we had back-to-back-to-back atmospheric rivers,” he said. “That’s what I’m looking out for. The chance for having another sequence of atmospheric river storms where this is the one to kick it off is where the greatest risk is.”

Many of the state’s largest reservoirs still have room to hold the incoming water. Their levels fell so low during three years of drought that the biggest ones still aren’t all the way full. On Monday, Shasta Lake near Redding, the largest reservoir in California, was 61% full. The second largest, Oroville, in Butte County, was 74% full.

That wasn’t the case in 2017 when Oroville got filled to the top and its spillway failed, forcing the evacuation of more than 180,000 nearby residents.

Hoping to reduce the chances of a similar event, dam operators in recent weeks have been increasing water releases from some reservoirs, such as Folsom, northeast of Sacramento, and Millerton, near Fresno, to create more space.

“We’ve got a lot of reservoirs in the state in a good position going into this storm,” Ralph said.

A visitor walks along a pathway under a cloudy sky at Marina Park on Monday, March 6, 2023, in San Leandro, Calif. Rain and cold temperatures are forecast across the Bay Area this week. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group) How much rain is expected? Thursday night through Sunday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is expecting 2 to 3 inches of rain in San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose, with 4 to 6 inches in the Santa Cruz Mountains and Big Sur — enough to cause flooding on roads and some small streams.

There will be 1 to 3 inches in the Central Valley and 3 to 6 inches in the Sierra foothills, said Katrina Hand, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sacramento. The snow level will be 5,000 to 6,000 feet, she said.

California’s massive snowpack is a bounty that will melt and continue to fill the state’s biggest reservoirs through the spring. But flood experts also have been eyeing it nervously.

They worry that a series of warm tropical storms could melt it faster than normal, triggering the kind of catastrophic flooding that was seen in 1997.

That year, several warm “Pineapple Express” storms drenched the Sierra around New Year’s Day. Yosemite Valley experienced its worst floods in a century. Entire campgrounds washed away. Half of Yosemite Lodge was destroyed. Across the Central Valley, big reservoirs filled to the top and released water uncontrollably. Levees broke, causing major flooding in Marysville, Yuba City and other communities. When it was over, 48 of California’s 58 counties were declared disaster areas, and damage totaled $1.8 billion.

Friday’s storm won’t do that by itself, Hand said.

“We are not looking at a repeat of 1997,” she said. “This storm is not nearly as strong or as warm.”

California’s severe 3-year drought has been largely broken in many northern and coastal areas, after nine atmospheric river storms between Christmas and mid-January raised reservoir levels and caused serious flooding that killed at least 21 people, caused more than 750 landslides, wrecked roads and prompted a visit from President Biden to survey the damage.

A woman makes her way along a rocky jetty at Emeryville Marina Park as storm clouds are seen over the San Francisco skyline in this view from Emeryville, Calif., on Monday, March 6, 2023. An atmospheric river storm is likely to hit Northern California late Thursday into Friday, meteorologists said Monday. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group) Much of February was dry. But over the past two weeks, several powerful new storms have dumped more rain on urban areas from the Bay Area to Los Angeles and smothered the Sierra Nevada in 16 feet of new snow, closing Yosemite National Park, Interstate 80, Highway 50 and even ski resorts for several days that couldn’t operate chairlifts during blizzard conditions.

Swain noted that Friday’s storm could cause “unusual problems” in some mountain communities, including the risk of roofs collapsing due to the weight of built-up snow, with rain making it heavier.

“It will most certainly cause some flooding, at least minor or moderate flooding,” in Sierra foothills communities and some urban areas, Swain said, adding “I think the Friday-Saturday event will produce less flooding than the events we saw in January.”

But he said he is watching next week’s forecasts very closely.

“A prolonged storm train and successive waves of warm rain on top of the huge snowpack, that would be a significant problem,” Swain said.

More rainy and snowy weather is expected over California in the next 10 days, according to an NOAA forecast March 6, 2023. (NOAA)

Are Southern California Students And Teachers Breathing Clean Air?

Tina Andres hates the red light. And this time, it’s not even blinking. It’s just solid red, as in, change-the-filter-now red.

The air purifier in teacher Andres’ classroom at MacArthur Fundamental Intermediate School in Santa Ana was installed in 2021. But the first time the light went red no new filters could be found, a result of supply chain woes. Now, about two months after installing a replacement, the warning signal is back.

Andres, a sixth-grade math teacher who’s taught in the same class, Room 7, for 30 years, said the air problem isn’t just about COVID-19.

“We have mold issues,” she said. “There are issues like this all over the county. Some of these schools are old.

“Teachers just want to know that the air quality is good,” she added.

An air filter is seen in a first-grade class on Tuesday, March 13, 2018, at Resurrection School in Los Angeles. Indoor air quality has been an increasing focus for the past three decades, but took off during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

Teachers at MacArthur Intermediate in Santa Ana got new air purifiers during the pandemic. But when their red lights popped up indicating a need to change the filter, there were no replacements to be found. This air purifier in Room 7 at MacArthur saw its filter replaced during the winter holiday. It’s back to red. Photo taken on Friday, Dec. 3, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Tina Andres)

The issue isn’t trivial, or misunderstood. Studies have linked dirty air inside of schools — particularly in communities with dirty air outside of schools — to a variety of health conditions and learning delays. It’s also known that a proven, cost-effective way to clean up school air is to improve a school’s ventilation system.

California has been a leader in recognizing this. Even before COVID-19 prompted everybody to think about ventilation, California imposed rules aimed at making sure new school buildings offered clean air. And on Jan. 1, California became the first state to require every school, regardless of age, to assess and, if feasible, to upgrade their ventilation systems.

The mandate has come after billions of state and federal dollars, mostly related to the pandemic, were made available to schools to improve their air quality. Los Angeles Unified now spends about $20 million a year to inspect and maintain more than 115,000 air filtration systems.

Still, a new national study from the Environmental Law Institute suggests it isn’t enough. California, as with other states, has substantial room for improvement when it comes to making school air safe, the study found.

The study cites many of the issues also raised by Andres, as well as other teachers, parents and environmental advocates.

For starters, there’s no centralized agency to oversee school indoor air quality. State and local air quality districts focus on outdoor air, so questions about indoor air often bounce between various state departments and local agencies. School districts are left to inspect and police themselves.

Also, loopholes in the new state law allow many schools — particularly older campuses, which often serve the neediest students — to avoid meeting the new standards if they don’t have heating, ventilation and air conditioning, or HVAC systems, at all, or if their systems aren’t strong enough to push air through upgraded filters. A number of Southern California school districts reached for comment on this story, from Big Bear to Pomona to East Whitter, either didn’t respond or simply said they had no news to share about work to improve ventilation.

Meanwhile, international health groups are calling for indoor air rules even more strict than what’s called for in California’s new law. To get there, districts would need to boost ventilation and add tools, such as portable air purifiers, in all classrooms — something few have done.

Now, as funding and concern about COVID-19 fades, school plans to fix the problem are starting to fall by the wayside.

Some $50 million in federal funding that L.A. Unified School District budgeted for portable air purifiers a couple years ago has been reassigned, according to Rebecca Schenker, who has two kids in the district and helps lead a group called LAUSD Parents for Covid-Safe Schools. She hasn’t been able to find out how that money will now be spent.

Her fear is that, as the COVID-19 emergency declaration ends and people move on, the funding, equipment and knowledge gained over the past three years won’t translate into long-term efforts to clean up school air — despite ongoing problems with absenteeism and air pollution.

“The need to figure out how to move forward in this world, after the trauma of COVID and damage, is real,” Schenker said. “But I think we’re saying in our coalition that we can’t do that by forgetting the lessons we learned during the pandemic. And while we’re not in a pandemic mode, we know more about how to take care of our communities. And we know we have the tools.”

Long-standing need While California has set standards for outdoor air quality since the late 1950s, public policy didn’t expand to include indoor air quality in earnest until the early 1990s. That’s when the Environmental Law Institute started studying classroom ventilation, said Tobie Bernstein, a senior attorney with the group and director of its Indoor Environments Program.

“There was considerable evidence of potential adverse impacts of poor ventilation and indoor air quality,” Bernstein said.

Students and teachers in schools with poor ventilation are more likely to miss school and report health issues related to respiratory and viral infections, asthma symptoms and airborne diseases such as chickenpox and influenza, according to research by Harvard’s Healthy Buildings program. Meanwhile, studies by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and others show that better ventilation in schools also leads to better academic performance.

When Southern California Gas distributed portable air purifiers to all classrooms within five miles of a massive leak at the company’s Aliso Canyon storage in 2015, Michael Gilraine, an economics professor at New York University, saw an opportunity. He launched a study comparing student achievement in schools that didn’t get air filters and those that did, and he found substantial improvements in math and English scores for students breathing cleaner air.

“The results indicate that air filter installation is a highly cost-effective policy to raise student achievement,” Gilraine’s study says. “And, given that underprivileged students attend schools in highly polluted areas, one that can reduce the pervasive test score gaps that plague public education.”

Much of Southern California is plagued by poor outdoor air quality throughout the year, from Inland Empire schools near heavily trafficked freeways to Los Angeles County schools near the busy ports to all schools near airports. When outdoor air quality gets particularly bad, air quality officials recommend keeping kids inside. But Heejung Jung, a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Riverside who studies air quality, has seen firsthand how problematic that is in schools without active ventilation systems.

Jung recalled measuring air quality of a classroom in Riverside some years back. Even with doors and windows closed, but no ventilation system, Jung said the concentration of harmful particles was 70% as high inside the classroom as it was outside.

Lower income school districts are most likely to have faulty, failing or nonexistent ventilation systems. At the same time, people of color are more likely to suffer from underlying health conditions, such as asthma, that make them more vulnerable to pollutants in their classrooms, turning ventilation into a social justice issue.

Though fixing school ventilation isn’t cheap, advocates believe the investment of a few dollars per student more than pays for itself.

Schenker cites studies that more than 100,000 absences in LAUSD each year are attributed to asthma symptoms. Since schools get paid based on student attendance, that’s costing the district upwards of $4 million a year, which health research suggests could be improved by improving ventilation. Another California study estimated that poor ventilation was linked to at least 3% of absences, which cost the state $33 million each year.

In 2019, such research prompted California to become the first state to require HVAC filters for all new school construction at a level known as MERV 13, with dense enough filtration to catch at least 75% of particles in the air as small as 1 micron, or about a tenth the size of a droplet of mist.

But in January 2020, researchers published a study in the journal Building and Environment that found that there were problems with even newly installed HVAC equipment in more than half of the classrooms they looked at. Theresa Pistochini, a co-author of the study who helps lead UC Davis’ Energy Efficiency Institute and Western Cooling Efficiency Center, said that while those numbers were very concerning to her team, it was initially tough to get traction because teachers and students weren’t recognizing the effects.

“When you’re in a building that’s underventilated, you can’t really tell,” she said.

Then came spring 2020.

The COVID-19 factor As COVID-19 raged, and protection measures such as mask wearing and vaccinations became divisive, improving ventilation jumped out as relatively simple, non-intrusive way to significantly reduce the risk of transmission. Suddenly, the maintenance problems and other recommendations that Pistochini and her team had raised were getting attention.

Seventh-grade students at Pacific Pathways Prep Middle School in Sacramento, Calif. work on CR-Box filters that will go to low-income patients at the COPD clinic at UC Davis in collaboration with Dr. Brooks Kuhn. The outreach on Friday, March 3, 2023 was part of an ongoing effort to teach air quality principles and build awareness about ventilation. (Photos by Paul Fortunato of UC Davis)

Seventh-grade students at Pacific Pathways Prep Middle School in Sacramento, Calif. work on CR-Box filters that will go to low-income patients at the COPD clinic at UC Davis in collaboration with Dr. Brooks Kuhn. The outreach on Friday, March 3, 2023 was part of an ongoing effort to teach air quality principles and build awareness about ventilation. (Photos by Paul Fortunato of UC Davis)

Seventh-grade students at Pacific Pathways Prep Middle School in Sacramento, Calif. work on CR-Box filters that will go to low-income patients at the COPD clinic at UC Davis in collaboration with Dr. Brooks Kuhn. The outreach on Friday, March 3, 2023 was part of an ongoing effort to teach air quality principles and build awareness about ventilation. (Photos by Paul Fortunato of UC Davis)

The simplest way to improve air quality in classrooms, of course, is to open doors and windows. But there are classes across Southern California where that’s not possible. Also, everything from temperature to noise to public safety make the open-door-and-window policy less than ideal.

The second fix is to install stand-alone air cleaners, like the one in Andres’ class, in all classrooms and gathering spaces. Such devices can work, Pistochini said, because they can filter the smallest particles. But for portable air cleaners to be effective, they need to be sized right for the space, filters need to be regularly changed and they need to be turned on each day. That leaves a lot of room for user error.

That’s why the third fix is the one Pistochini focuses on — installing solid HVAC systems that bring in outdoor air, condition and filter it, and expel poor air out of the classroom.

There are schools in districts across Southern California, including in Torrance Unified and Westminster, that don’t have full HVAC systems in place. Westminster recently tapped a $76 million bond measure to start to tackle that issue. Manuel Cardoso, assistant superintendent for business services, said five of the district’s 16 schools now have new air HVAC systems, while nine others are nearly done or scheduled for similar upgrades in the summer. Two others, he said, have temporary HVAC systems.

For districts with existing HVAC systems, most had been running MERV 6 or 8 filters, which don’t work well against COVID-19 transmission. That’s why Assemblymember Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, last year introduced Assembly Bill 2232. The bill, which took effect Jan. 1, requires all California schools to evaluate their ventilation systems and upgrade to MERV 13 filtration if “feasible.” Otherwise, they have to install the highest MERV level filtration their systems can take.

While that law does give districts wiggle room to decide whether their systems can handle MERV 13 filtration, Pistochini said most HVAC systems can pivot to MERV 13.

But Jesse Chavarria, assistant superintendent of administrative services for Anaheim Elementary School District, said not only were MERV 13 hard to find at one point during the pandemic, he said they also didn’t work in older HVAC units in the district.

“In those situations, the law says we have to find ways to find the same air quality,” Chavarria said. “So we used three-ply filters and sprayed them with an antimicrobial agent used by hospitals.”

Orange Unified also is treating all its HVAC units, which have MERV 8 filters, with an antimicrobial solution — in addition to buying portable air purifiers with HEPA filters, said district spokeswoman Hanna Brake.

Paying for progress While some districts already were working to upgrade their HVAC systems and filtration, both AB 2232 and the recent flood of state and federal funding for improvements kicked those efforts into high gear.

“Covid was a bad thing but getting the Covid funds did help out in terms of improving the ventilation systems,” said Chavarria, from the Anaheim Elementary district.

Most California schools now have access to a pool of money specifically designated for HVAC work. Through a program called CalSHAPE, created in 2020 by Assembly Bill 814, schools can apply for a share of $584 million in grants. To date, about $382 million has been doled out for ventilation projects, with applications for the latest round of funding open through March 31.

That’s on top of $190.5 billion in federal funds approved by Congress to help schools cope with the pandemic. The California Department of Education said that as of Feb. 15, school districts in the state were planning to use $1.6 billion of that money for 951 approved HVAC projects.

L.A. Unified installed MERV 13 filters across 80 million square feet of buildings and classrooms. At the onset of COVID-19, the district also programmed HVAC systems to run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, even when heating or cooling is not required. And they used $2.4 million to buy 2,750 portable HEPA air-cleaning devices, which can be deployed during COVID-19 surges or if an HVAC system goes down.

Riverside Unified School District used ESSER funds to do HVAC replacement at two high schools, four middle schools and nine elementary schools, according to district spokesperson Diana Meza. The district also added MERV 13 filters in all classrooms and now changes them quarterly.

In Capistrano Unified, Orange County’s largest school district, spokesman Ryan Burris said ESSER funds were used to upgrade all HVAC systems to MERV 13 rated filters. In cases where ventilation still was not meeting minimum standards, he said the district purchased stand-alone units to supplement ventilation rates. The district also received CalSHAPE funds to assess HVAC systems at all sites and plans to apply for additional grant money through that program to replace systems that were found deficient.

San Bernardino City Unified School District used a combination of ESSER and district general funds to purchase HEPA filter units, assess HVAC systems and upgrade the HVAC filters, spokesperson Corina Borsuk said. As a result of those efforts, she said many of the district’s classrooms now exceed the international ventilation exchange rate guidelines.

“It’s not enough to just purchase equipment and leave it at that,” Borsuk said. “We want to make sure we are making a measurable difference for our students’ health and make sure that the investment of public funds is getting results.” So she said the district also contracted with an industrial hygienist to perform pre- and post-tests on air samples for all classrooms.

More work needed Air sampling and circulation testing is key, according to Michael Bailey with the national parent group Indoor Air Care Advocates. When asked what they’re doing to improve air quality in schools, he said many districts focus on upgrades they’ve made to HVAC filtration or how many air purifiers they’ve added.

But, Bailey said, knowing that doesn’t indicate “how much clean air they’re providing.”

One way California is working on that is by requiring schools that receive money through CalSHAPE to install carbon dioxide monitors in all classrooms, which will alert staff and students if CO2 levels go above 1,100 parts per million. And if that happens more than once a week, the school will have to adjust ventilation rates. (The 2022 law, AB 2232, also requires new and altered school buildings to install CO2 monitors.)

Pistochini praised those efforts, since it gives teachers and students and parents hard data. Otherwise, districts are left to police themselves.

“What’s at stake here is exposure to respiratory infectious disease, exposure to indoor chemical sources, and exposure to outdoor pollution. And children are our most sensitive population. So if there’s ever a place we’re gonna get this right, let’s do it in a school and through a third-party inspection system.”

Other states already do that. West Virginia, for example, hires HVAC technicians to conduct inspections, per the Environmental Law Institute report. And if we can have regular inspections for every restaurant in the state, Pistochini said surely we can do the same for schools.

At Santa Ana Unified, teacher Andres said she and her colleagues want to see more information from the district.

“I want to see regular testing and reports of air quality given to teachers about their rooms, and we want some assurances that these air purifiers are working and that they’re going to be regularly maintained,” said Andres, a member of the school’s safety committee.

Otherwise, she said, “There’s this big huge thing in your room that’s worthless.”

Drought Is Now Over In More Than Half Of California

Soaked by heavy rains in recent weeks, the biggest Sierra snowpack in 30 years and flooding from a parade of atmospheric river storms in January, the majority of California is no longer in a drought, federal officials reported Thursday.

Overall, 49.1% of California can be classified as in a drought, a dramatic drop from 84.6% last week, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, a weekly report issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University of Nebraska.

That’s the lowest percentage in more than three years when 48.2% of the state was in a drought in July 2020, according to the report, which is based on rainfall totals, reservoir levels, snowpack, soil moisture and other measures.

“The Pacific weather systems of this week and last week added to copious precipitation that has been received from atmospheric rivers since December 2022, especially over California,” wrote Richard Heim, a meteorologist with NOAA.

RELATED: After Southern California’s spate of rare storms, is California’s drought over?

Tents at Curry Village are covered with snow in Yosemite National Park, Calif., Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023. The park, closed since Saturday because of heavy, blinding snow, postponed its planned Thursday, March 2, 2023, reopening indefinitely. (National Park Service via AP)

Accumulated snow is seen around this sign in Pollock Pines at an El Dorado County Fire Station in El Dorado County March 2, 2023. (Andrew Innerarity / California Department of Water Resources)

State Route 138 winds through snow-covered trees near Hesperia, Calif., Wednesday, March 1, 2023. Tremendous rains and snowfall since late last year have freed half of California from drought, but low groundwater levels remain a persistent problem, U.S. Drought Monitor data showed Thursday, March 2. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

In this photo provided by the National Park Service, a structure at Yosemite Falls in Yosemite National Park, Calif., is covered in snow Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023. Yosemite National Park, closed since Saturday because of heavy, blinding snow, postponed its planned Thursday, March 2, 2023, reopening indefinitely. (National Park Service via AP)

Accumulated snow is seen on a vehicle in this Pollock Pines parking lot in El Dorado County. This image is shown in advance of the Department of Water Resources’ Snow Survey scheduled for Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada Mountains on March 3, 2023 . (Photo Taken March 1, 2023) Andrew Innerarity / California Department of Water Resources FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY

Folks take to the streets of Nevada City during the recent winter snow storm in the Sierra Nevada, Feb. 24, 2023. (Elias Funez/The Union via AP)

A portion of the South Fork of the American River is seen running alongside. this section of US Highway 50 in El Dorado County. This image is shown in advance of the Department of Water Resources’ Snow Survey scheduled for Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada Mountains on March 3, 2023 . (Photo Taken March 1, 2023) Andrew Innerarity / California Department of Water Resources FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY

Angie Gourirand walks down the snow-covered steps of her home with groceries on a sled in Running Springs, Calif., Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023. Beleaguered Californians got hit again Tuesday as a new winter storm moved into the already drenched and snow-plastered state, with blizzard warnings blanketing the Sierra Nevada and forecasters warning residents that any travel was dangerous. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The driveway entrance to the Sand Flat Campground is covered by snow, located between a bank of the South Fork of the American River and US Highway 50 in El Dorado County, the site was not accessable by car. This image is shown in advance of the Department of Water Resources’ Snow Survey scheduled for Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada Mountains on March 3, 2023 . (Photo Taken March 1, 2023) Andrew Innerarity / California Department of Water Resources FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY

This photo provided by Palisades Tahoe shows snow covered Palisades Tahoe ski resort in Olympic Valley, Calif., on Wednesday, March 1, 2023. (Blake Kessler/Palisades Tahoe via AP)

The last time that no part of California was in at least a moderate-level drought was February 2020, the report noted.

While the Bay Area’s fortunes changed due to heavy rainfall, high stream flows, soil moisture and reservoir levels, a big part of the reason for the statewide shift has been massive snow accumulating in the Sierra.

“This is an epic snowpack, particularly in the central and southern Sierra,” said Jeffrey Mount, a professor emeritus at UC Davis and senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California’s water center. “In some places it’s off the charts. People will be skiing until summer.”

On Wednesday, the statewide Sierra snowpack was 192% of its historical average, according to a series of 107 automated snow sensors operated by the state Department of Water Resources.

That’s the highest March 1 reading since 1993 when it was 205%. In fact, there have only been four years back to 1950, when consistent statewide records began, where the Sierra snowpack was larger on March 1 than it is now. Those are 1969 (263% of average), 1952 (228%), 1983 (211%) and 1993.

The latest round of snow storms closed Yosemite National Park last weekend. The park was expected to reopen Thursday, but spokesman Scott Gediman said it remains closed indefinitely.

The storms also closed Highway 50 and Interstate 80 on Monday and Tuesday and shut down schools across the Lake Tahoe area. On Tuesday, there was so much snow that many of the major ski resorts, including Palisades, Heavenly and Kirkwood, closed due to avalanche danger, blocked roads and snow so deep it was impeding chairlifts.

“We have snow covering all of our second-floor windows. I’m going to have to shovel the roof soon,” said Andrew Schwartz, lead scientist at the UC Central Sierra Snow Lab at Donner Summit.

There was a brief respite Thursday and Friday but more snow and rain are expected across Northern California this weekend.

Schwartz reported that the snow lab received 35 inches of snow from Tuesday to Wednesday, 7 feet over the previous three days and 12 feet over the past 7 days.

In the coming months, that snow will melt, continuing to fill reservoirs across the state. It also will help replenish groundwater — although not restore areas that have been overpumped for generations such as the San Joaquin Valley. And all the snow will reduce the risk of wildfires because forests will be buried in snow longer into the summer than normal.

Yet, despite the heavy rain and snow, legally all 58 of California’s counties remain in a drought emergency that was declared by Gov. Gavin Newsom in October 2021. That status included a state order for local water agencies to impose conservation restrictions on homes and businesses.

As the current wet winter has unfolded, Newsom has directed officials at the state Department of Water Resources to report back to him in April after the winter rain and snow season is over, with recommendations on which parts of the state should be removed from the emergency declaration.

Lake Tahoe, California. I’ll never complain about snow again.

— We call it pop (@babapaul2_paul) March 1, 2023

California had endured three record-dry years in a row, marked by severe heat waves, massive wildfires, water restrictions for millions of people and water shortages at farms.

In November, 40.9% of the state was in extreme drought, the third worst of four categories the Drought Monitor uses, and 16.5% was in exceptional drought, the worst. After a series of nine atmospheric river storms from late December to mid-January, which triggered flooding, downed trees and killed at least 20 people, the Drought Monitor removed all of the state from those two most severe categories.

On Thursday, 24.9% of California remained in “severe drought,” the second-worst category, down from 91.8% in November. The Sacramento Valley, from Yolo County to the Oregon border, made up most of the area with the most serious drought conditions still remaining.

None of California’s 15 coastal counties, where many reservoirs are 100% full, are still in any kind of drought status. The Sierra Nevada also is completely out of drought from Fresno County’s higher elevations to Sierra County north of Lake Tahoe.

Although the nine-county Bay Area, and Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties are no longer in a drought, the areas are still classified “abnormally dry,” a level below drought.

State water officials have noted that while many reservoirs are full or above their historic averages, some, such as the state’s largest, Shasta, or the third largest, Trinity, both near Redding, fell so low during the drought they haven’t filled yet. Shasta on Thursday was 60% full, for example.

And while reservoirs are brimming in coastal counties such as Marin, Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara that took the brunt of January storms, Southern California has a water crisis with low levels on one of its key sources, the Colorado River, which hasn’t benefited much from the big storms.

“Some areas will likely come out of drought conditions because of the very wet conditions we’ve had,” said Jeanine Jones, a top official at the Department of Water Resources, last month. “But it really depends on a water supplier’s individual sources of supply.”

Lake Oroville, California’s second-largest reservoir, shown here on Feb. 14, 2023, was 70% full on Thursday March 2, 2023. Heavy winter storms have caused it to steadily rise from a low point of just 22% full in September, 2021, and melting snow from the Sierra Nevada will cause its level to continue to rise into the summer. (Photo: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images)

Port Of LA Oil Terminal Project Will Get Full Environmental Review. This Is Why

The Port of Los Angeles will conduct a full environmental study on a proposal to upgrade the nearly 14-acre Phillips 66 Marine Oil Terminal and Wharf, which has come under criticism by community members and several environmental groups.

The massive project is intended to bring the terminal up to all present-day oil terminal health and safety standards. Construction would take about three years, said Juliana Moreno, public affairs senior advisor for Phillips 66.

Temporary improvements at Berths 148-149 for alternative use during construction also is provided for in the project.

But construction is still a ways off, with the process of creating the environmental study, which port officials announced during this week’s LA harbor commission meeting, taking up to a year.

While the port did not provide additional details during the meeting, a spokesperson said in a subsequent email that the coming study, called an Environmental Impact Review, stemmed from public response to the mitigated negative declaration, which essentially listed all the ways officials planned to reduce the project’s potential environmental impacts.

“After evaluating the public responses to the MND,” POLA spokesperson Rachel Campbell said, “the port has released (the new notice) to address potential environmental impacts” associated with the project.”

The port will seek public feedback on its initial plan for creating a draft EIR — called a Notice of Preparation/Initial Study, which came out earlier this month — during a Zoom meeting scheduled for 5 p.m. March 14.

Environmental groups, meanwhile, lauded the decision to have an EIR.

“This is a very positive development,” David Pettit, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a phone interview, “that the port is going to do a full EIR, which we and a whole bunch of community groups asked them to do.”

The port, Pettit said, has also agreed in the preparation document to look at the issue of greenhouse gas impacts, something critics also had asked the port to do.

Berths 148-151 Phillips 66 Marine Oil Terminal and Wharf Improvement Project (Courtesy Port of Los Angeles) The proposed project would provide up to a 40-year lease agreement for Phillips 66 to continue operating at Berths 148-151, at the foot of “A” Street in Wilmington.

The site is basically a cargo terminal, except it’s only for imported oil, which then gets sent to refineries. There are 26 storage tanks of various sizes that have a combined capactiy of 850,000 barrels, according to the project’s planning documents. From there, the oil gets transported, via pipeline, to the Phillips 66 refinery plants in Carson and Wilmington, collectively known as the Los Angeles Refinery; the oil gets sent to other facilities as well.

The entire 13.8-acre site presently includes backlands and a non-operational wharf at Berths 150-151, along with an adjacent wharf at Berths 148-149, where the terminal’s marine tanker vessel operations are conducted. The parcel features a deteriorating, 575 foot-long, non-operational timber wharf at Berths 150-151.

The site has been a marine oil terminal since 1919, when Union Oil began operations using a wharf that has since been replaced, according to the preparation notice.

The proposal calls for demolishing and reconstructing the existing Phillips 66 wharf structures at Berths 150-151. Vessel berthing improvements would be made at Berths 148-149.

A concrete wharf, with associated mooring and berthing capacity, would be constructed at Berths 150-151, along with an oil commodity transfer and pollution control facilities.

“The primary objective of the proposed project,” a Phillips 66 spokesperson said in an email, “is to ensure that our marine oil terminal at Berths 148-151 complies with Marine Oil Terminal Engineering and Maintenance Standards (MOTEMS) to protect public health, safety, and the environment.”

The plan has been in the works for years.

In 2021, the port filed a mitigated negative declaration, a document explaining why the proposed project would not have a significant effect on the environment and, as a result, does not require a full EIR; state environmental law mandates EIRs for projects that could have significant impacts.

But the project drew criticism from three neighborhood councils, as well as the California Coastal Commission and a group of environmental advocacy organizations, including the Natural Resources Defense Council. That ultimately led to the port’s decision to conduct a full EIR.

In a Feb. 18, 2022, the NRDC — along with Communities for a Better Environment, Earthjustice, the Sierra Club and others — argued a full EIR was needed. The project, the letter said, was being disguised as an improvement effort but that it would nearly double crude oil throughput at the terminal.

And that, Pettit said in a Thursday, Feb. 23, interview would have greenhouse gas impacts down the line, as petroleum products are used for gasoline and “would get burned somewhere.”

“There is a way to make it safe, in my opinion,” he said of the project, “but it’s whether the port and Phillips 66 will agree.”

Another issue, he said, is whether the project will increase capacity at local refineries.

But the Phillips 66 spokesperson defended the project, saying it “does not expand the capacity of either the terminal or the refinery.”

The spokesperson also stressed Phillips 66’s efforts to operate cleanly.

“Our commitment to a lower-carbon future,” the spokesperson said, includes our investment in technology to improve our assets, products, and processes for increased efficiency and the ability to capitalize on emerging possibilities as the energy market transforms.”

The port, which announced its plans to create an EIR on Thursday, will accept written comments until April 10.

To comment, email or send your thoughts to “Christopher Cannon, Director of Environmental Management, Los Angeles Harbor Department, 425 South Palos Verdes St., San Pedro, CA 90731”

For emails, the subject line should say, “Berths 148-151 (Phillips 66) Marine Oil Terminal and Wharf Improvement Project,” and the body of the email should include the commenter’s mailing address.

The harbor commission will have to eventually approve the final EIR and the project itself before construction can begin. There’s no timeline yet on when work would begin.

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