Archives for posts with tag: California

Even with an El Nino and the wettest March on record, the prognosis of California’s drought is mixed. In Southern California, El Nino has been a disappointment, but parts of the state have been thoroughly drenched.

The Sierra Nevada snowpack, which provides almost 30% of water used in California, is at about 87% of it’s long-term average. An encouraging sign, but with climate affecting how the snowpack accumulates and melts, the Sierra Nevada snowpack is an unreliable source of water long-term.

 

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Shasta Lake

 
Reservoirs in Northern California are filling up, but smaller reservoirs in the southern part of the state remain at low levels. Lake Shasta, the state’s biggest reservoir and a key water supplier for the Central Valley, is just below historical average, and with recent storms, was filling up so fast that the Federal Bureau of Reclamation had to ramp up releases from 5,000 cubic feet per second to 20,000 cubic feet per second, the first time that the bureau has released water into the Sacramento River at such a rate since 2011.

Folsom Lake, another northern California Reservoir, is currently at 115% of it’s average, and as such, the San Juan water district has switched to a 10% voluntary conservation target, abandoning the state’s targets. Other water-rich districts have asked the state to ease conservation demands. This public perception of water abundance, at least in parts of the state, is not entirely accurate, and California’s drought and water usage is a statewide, not regional, issue. The US drought monitor shows much of central and southern California to be in an “exceptional drought.”

In fact, according to most experts, it will take years for California to rebound from this historic drought. The state’s groundwater aquifers have been heavily used during the drought, mostly by farmers drilling wells in the Central Valley. Water tables dropped by 50 feet in some areas, causing the land surface to sink which in turn leads to other problems, such as buckling roads. What’s more, Central Valley farmers pump water out of the ground faster than the aquifers can be replenished even in wet years. Although the state’s reservoirs are, on the whole, rebounding, many are still at levels far below their long-term averages. Moreover, drought is not only a meteorological condition, but is also when demand for water exceeds supply. California uses too much water, and conservation efforts are extremely important for the future, regardless of any El Nino.

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The California Energy Commission (CEC) updates the Building Energy Efficiency Standards every three years, and 2016 is such a year, with all changes going into effect January 1, 2017. These standards are designed to achieve energy efficiency and improve indoor and outdoor air quality. The Building Energy Efficiency Standards cover new construction and construction on existing commercial and residential buildings in the state except for hospitals, nursing homes, and correctional facilities.

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These code updates are required by law and driven by new green building technologies and materials that continue to raise the bar for energy efficiency. The CEC updates and implements the building codes, which are then enforced by local city and county agencies. These standards must be cost-effective for homeowners in the long-term, and not just provide short-term energy savings. California is a huge, geographically diverse state, and the CEC recognizes that what is cost-effective in San Diego may not be in the Central Valley. The CEC divides California into sixteen climate zones, and the standards vary from zone to zone.

The updated standards will make it roughly $2,700 more expensive to build a new home, but these upfront costs are projected to generate an average of $7,400 in energy and maintenance costs over a thirty-year period. Compared to those built to the 2013 standards, single-family homes built to the 2016 standards will use 28% less energy.

The updated standards will not get California to it’s ultimate zero net energy goals, but it will bring the state significantly closer. In 2007, the CEC and Public Utilities Commission (PUC) publicly committed to the goal that all new residential construction will be zero net energy by 2020, and all new commercial construction will be zero net energy by 2030. The 2019 building standards, then, should be the final step in achieving zero net energy for residential construction in California.

The CEC’s Building Standards date back to 1977, and since then, have saved Californians over $74 billion in energy costs and are at least partially responsible for the state’s per capita electricity use staying flat over the last forty years, in stark contrast to much of the rest of the country.