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California drought: 10 communities at acute risk of running out of drinking water in 60 days

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California’s drought has put 10 communities at acute risk of running out of drinking water in 60 days, and worsened numerous other health and safety problems, public health officials in the most populous U.S. state said on Tuesday.

Rural communities where residents rely on wells are at particular risk, as contaminants in the groundwater become more concentrated with less water available to dilute them, top state health officials said at a legislative hearing on the drought.

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“The drought has exacerbated existing conditions,” said Mark Starr, deputy director of the California Department of Public Health.

The state has helped about 22 of 183 communities identified last year as reliant on contaminated groundwater to bring their supplies into conformance with environmental guidelines, but the rest are still building or preparing to build systems, he said.

The contamination warning comes days after President Barack Obama announced nearly $200 million in aid for the parched state, including $60 million for food banks to help people thrown out of work in agriculture-related industries as farmers leave fields unplanted and ranchers sell cattle early because the animals have no grass for grazing.

The California Farm Bureau estimates the overall impact of idled farmland will run to roughly $5 billion, from in direct costs of lost production and indirect effects through the region’s economy.

Last month, Democratic Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency, as reservoir levels dipped to all-time lows with little rain or snow in the forecast.

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On Tuesday, the state’s top public health officials said they were targeting 10 communities for immediate relief, trucking in water when necessary and helping to lay pipes connecting residents with nearby public water systems.

Worst hit is the small city of Willits in the northern part of the state, public health director Ron Chapman said. Also targeted for priority help included tiny water systems throughout the state, one so small it serves 55 people in a community listed simply as Whispering Pines Apartments.

“Small drinking water systems are especially vulnerable to drought conditions,” the public health department said on its website. “They have fewer customers, which can mean fewer options in terms of resources like funding and infrastructure.”

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STAGNANT POOLS, CONTAMINATED WELLS

Linda Rudolph, co-director for the Center for Climate Change and Health in Oakland and a former state health official, said millions of Californians rely on wells and other sources of groundwater where the concentration of contaminants is growing because of dry conditions.

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“Many groundwater basins in California are contaminated, for example with nitrates from over application of nitrogen fertilizer or concentrated animal feeding operations, with industrial chemicals, with chemicals from oil extraction or due to natural contaminants with chemicals such as arsenic,” Rudolph said.

In addition, as dry conditions turn ponds and creeks into stagnant pools, mosquitoes breed, and risk increases for the diseases they carry, she said at the hearing. Residents with asthma and other lung conditions are also at risk as dry conditions create dust.

The state’s firefighters put out 400 blazes during the first three weeks of January, normally the state’s wettest season and its slowest for wildfires, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

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“We are experiencing conditions right now that we would usually see in August,” its website quoted Chief Ken Pimlott as saying.

(Editing by Richard Borsuk)


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No one can figure out why John Kennedy compared government documents to ‘dropping acid’

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Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) compared reading government documents to "dropping acid" while in the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday and the internet can't figure out how he would know.

"I haven't read the entire report," Kennedy said of the inspector general report on the start of the Russia investigation. "I'm about 70 percent through but I'm going to get through. It's tedious and I don't mean that in a pejorative way, it's supposed to be tedious. About 15 percent of the way through it made me want to heave. After about 25 percent of the way through, I thought I'd dropped acid. It's so real."

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Ukrainians may flip on Trump and stop repeating his talking points: report

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Officials in Ukraine are growing increasingly frustrated with President Donald Trump continuing to prioritize Russia over the American ally, The Daily Beast reported Wednesday.

"People working closely with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky have been in contact with Trump administration officials over the past several weeks discussing the relationship between the two presidents, according to four people with knowledge of the talks. Based on those conversations, Ukrainian officials came to expect that Trump would make a statement of support before Zelensky met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in France for peace talks," The Beast explained. "But as Saturday and Sunday ticked by, there was only silence from the White House. Even as Ukrainian officials have publicly been loath to criticize Trump’s pressure campaign on their country, frustrations with Washington have quietly percolated. And last weekend, they were especially acute."

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Kamala Harris uses IG hearing to connect the dots between Bill Barr and Giuliani’s corrupt schemes

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Sen. Kamala Harris connected the dots between Rudy Giuliani and attempts to prevent the Department of Justice from prosecuting a Ukrainian billionaire.

Harris, who was San Francisco District Attorney and California Attorney General prior to joining the U.S. Senate, put her experience as a career prosecutor to use while questioning DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"So it was recently reported that the president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, asked Ukrainians to help search for dirt [on] the political rivals of the president. In exchange for the help, Giuliani offered to help fix criminal cases against them at DOJ," Harris noted.

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