Roundup: Epic Drought in California

California drought • Above-average premiums in Georgia • Rural gigabit program created but not funded • A bill to save rural post offices? • Culture clash in Russia

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While residents in and around Charleston, West Virginia, worry about the quality of their water after a January chemical spill, California residents are facing a different water problem – drought.

Newsweek reports from Lompico, California, one of 17 rural water districts that state officials say are two to four months from depleting their water supply.

“I’ve never seen a drought like this,” said Lois Henry, a Lompico resident and member of the local water board. Lompico gets water from three wells, which are starting to run low. California got less than a third of its average annual rainfall last year, and Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a drought emergency.

Lompico is looking at a water-district merger, “But with upwards of 90% of the state suffering the drought, a huge increase in rainfall is the only long term solution.”

Henry says whatever happens, she’s staying put. “What am I going to do? I’m retired, this is my home. My house is paid for free and clear. You just don’t walk away from something like that.”

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Speaking of drought, new forms of energy production are putting the nation’s water supplies under pressure, USA Today reports.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, has used 100 billion gallons of water in the U.S. since 2011, according to a report by Ceres, a green investment group.

More than half of the oil and gas wells that use fracking were in drought-stricken areas, “and nearly half were in regions under high or extremely high water stress, such as Texas, the report says.”

Other highlights from the report:

  • “Nationwide, more than 36% of the 39,000 wells drilled since 2011 were in areas already experiencing groundwater depletion.”
  • “Texas has the highest concentration of hydraulic fracturing activity in the U.S. More than half of its wells put in since 2011 were in high or extremely high water stress regions, Ceres says.”
  • “In Colorado and California, 97% and 96% respectively of the wells were drilled in regions under high or extremely high water stress.”

The oil and gas industry says that its overall use of water is small and that it’s doing more to recycle and reuse water.

Another report says natural gas fracking “saves water overall by making it easier for utilities to switch from coal to natural gas power.”

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“All the dynamics that drive up health costs have coalesced here in southwestern Georgia,” reports the Boston Globe in a story about parts of the U.S. that are paying above-average health-insurance premiums as the Affordable Care Act comes online.

Some rural areas are seeing dramatically higher premiums, the Globe reports. It’s a combination of the population’s health and market dynamics, the story says:

Expensive chronic conditions such as obesity and cancer are common among the quarter-million people in this region. One hospital system dominates the area, leaving little competition.

Only one insurer is offering policies in the online marketplace, and many physicians are not participating, limiting consumer choice.

Until these elements are brought under control, it will be challenging for the Affordable Care Act to fully live up to its name, not just here but in other parts of the country where premiums are high. Other expensive places include rural Nevada, parts of Wisconsin, most of Wyoming, southeastern Mississippi, southwestern Connecticut, and Alaska.

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The farm bill authorizes the Ag Department to help create a “Rural Gigabit Network Pilot Program,” but it doesn’t provide funding for the program.

The legislation would help Internet providers create ultra-high-speed access in rural communities. USDA would be authorized to give grants, loans or loan guarantees to IPs that agree to build out their one-gigabit systems within three years.

Funding for the program would have to come in a separate appropriation, though.

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The Postal Service would be prohibited from closing small, rural post offices for a period of five years in a new postal reform bill being considered by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs.

But the impact of the proposed moratorium is uncertain, reports Mark Jamison in Save the Post Office.

The moratorium on closing rural post offices may not mean much either.  At this point, the Postal Service has backed off on closing small post offices because of all the pushback it got when it started on this initiative a couple of years ago.  While post offices will continue to close, we’re not likely to see the mass closures that were threatened a couple of years ago.  POStPlan [a plan that reduces post office hours and replaces full-time postmasters with lower-paid workers] has accomplished much of what the mass closures would have achieved.  With over 10,000 postmasters replaced by part-time workers, most of the costs of operating small post offices have already been eliminated.  (That accomplishment was applauded during the markup by Senator [Tom] Carper [D-Deleware], who twice noted how well POStPlan had worked at exchanging good $50,000/year jobs for jobs that paid $12.00 an hour.)

Jamison also reports on the possibility of the end of Saturday delivery.

The bill allows the Postal Service to go to five-day delivery service if and when total mail volumes drop below 140 billion pieces in any four consecutive quarters.  Six-day package delivery is required to be maintained.  Based on current volume projections, it looks like the Postal Service might be able to switch to five-day as early as 2016.

Read more at Save the Post Office.

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With all the problems confronting U.S.-Russia relations, there’s now a new clash of cultures. Yogurt cultures, that is.

Russia has blocked the import of 5,000 containers of Greek-style yogurt headed to U.S. athletes at the Olympics. Russian officials say shippers haven’t completed the right paperwork. The U.S. says “the certification required by the Russians would be impossible to attain.”

As the 5,000 containers of Chobani yogurt chill, politicians and yogurt promoters are using the occasion to heat up attention for the yogurt industry in Upstate New York.  

 

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