Articles worth reading: June 10, 2024

By Felicity Barringer

The Sites reservoir is moving ahead after a California judge rejected environmental objections. The state’s largest new reservoir in 50 years is planned as an off-stream reservoir in Colusa County, northwest of Sacramento, to be filled with storm water overflows from the Sacramento River. The project has most of the  $4.5 billion in funding that it needs; now the Water Resources Control Board must approve its water rights. SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS 

An early-summer heat dome over the Southwest has already caused deaths among migrants and hospitalizations in urban areas and at outdoor gatherings, like political rallies. Beginning in the first week in June, the dome pushed temperatures in Phoenix and Las Vegas above 110 degrees. The National Weather Service scale that gauges heat’s impact on public health, warned that the Las Vegas metro area was at “extreme” risk from the heat, as were large metro areas in  Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and California. CNN 

Mexico City residents are dying from heat as drought imperils their water supplies. Water rationing began months ago and officials estimate that the central valley around the capital could run out of water — a situation known as “day zero” —  before the end of June.  AXIOS  

As its capital city faces a water crisis, Mexico is stiffing the U.S. on promised water deliveries.  Although an 80-year-old treaty obligates Mexico to make water deliveries from tributaries of the Frio Grande, a new agreement is needed to continue the exchange. But Mexico has balked at signing it. The impasse has left Texas farmers and communities in the Rio Grande Valley facing a hot summer with limited water supplies. Inside Climate News 

Scientists fear a catastrophic earthquake off the Pacific Northwest. Using newly-collected data off the Pacific Northwest’s coast, where two pieces of the earth’s crust meet, found the built-up stress could unleash a 9.0 magnitude earthquake. This could create a tsunami with waves 40 feet high. WASHINGTON POST 

A suburban city council scuttled a geoengineering experiment to slow climate change. Researchers led by the University of Washington sought to block some heat from reaching the earth’s surface by making clouds more reflective. Residents of Alameda, the small San Francisco Bay area suburb where the experiment had begun, grew worried after a research team started spraying tiny sea-salt particles into the air to brighten the clouds. Under pressure, the city council blocked the efforts. NEW YORK TIMES How cloud brightening works. WASHINGTON POST 

Fire agencies at an Alaska wildlife refuge have abandoned a laissez-faire approach to fires in remote boreal forests. Managers at the eight-million-acre Yukon Flats National Wildlife are trying out a fire plan designed to protect the sequestered carbon on the boreal forest floor and in the frozen soil beneath. ALASKA BEACON 

Ongoing efforts to chart and control radioactive materials. The Navajo Nation is working to control trucks carrying toxic uranium ore on its roads, even though it has no power to ban them. One strategy might be charging fees for use of the roads. NAVAJO-HOPI NEWS  New maps published by Nuclear Watch New Mexico show how plutonium residue migrated from the Los Alamos area – site of the research on the first atom bomb – to numerous sites and the waters and lands for miles around. SEARCHLIGHT NEW MEXICO   

Study finds cattle, not horses, do most damage to public lands. The advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Accountability studied the source of landscape degradation over millions of acres of public land. Livestock, not wild horses or burros, were responsible for much of the degradation, the group found, and blamed cattle for causing the damage that ensured about two-thirds of 57 million acres failed to meet environmental standards. MOUNTAIN WEST NEWS BUREAU/NPR  

Three Arizona tribes seek to intervene in a federal lawsuit that would shut them out of management roles in the Ancestral Footprints national monument near the Grand Canyon. Arizona’s state government filed suit challenging the laws that allowed President Biden to create the monument. When it was created, the tribal nations were designated as co-managers of the portions of their lands within the new Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni – Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument. NATIVE AMERICAN RIGHTS FUND 

Seed shortage plagues Nevada’s efforts at land restoration after wildfires. In the wake of wildfires that destroy native vegetation, the European import cheatgrass usually takes over burnt land in the Great Basin. An active effort to re-seed the land with native plants is needed, but the right seeds are hard to get. Nevada has no commercial native seed growers; seeds that are used for revegetation efforts in Nevada can come from areas like Montana and Washington and so are better suited for those climates. A network of local native seed growers is needed. NEVADA INDEPENDENT 

Articles worth reading: May 28, 2024

By Xavier Martinez

Heat’s worsening impact on Californians; pollution in Vancouver’s once-pristine waters; the invasive plant spreading like wildfire across Arizona; local governments rushing for climate funding; documenting biodiversity on both sides of the border wall, and other recent environmental news from around the West.

Extreme heat is taking an increasing toll on Californians’ health as climate change brings more severe and prolonged heat waves to the state. Studies estimate thousands of excess deaths and ER visits occurred during recent heat waves, disproportionately impacting Black residents, the elderly, unsheltered people, outdoor workers and those with pre-existing conditions. Low-income neighborhoods that lack green spaces face elevated risks. Though more resources are needed to address the threat, California is investing in urban greening, cooling centers, and worker protections. PUBLIC POLICY INSTITUTE OF CALIFORNIA

Once teeming with life, Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet has been devastated by pollution from industrialization and urbanization around Canada’s largest port. The Tsleil-Waututh Nation is working to revitalize the inlet by updating provincial wastewater permits that allow the daily release of contaminants like oil and grease. Despite new stringent water quality objectives, facilities regularly exceed limits with little consequence as the nation pushes to restore these waters for safe food harvesting. THE NARWHAL

Canada’s oil sands operations emit 20 to 64 times more air pollution than industry reports, according to a Canadian government and a Yale University study. Using aircraft-based sensors to capture real-time readings of a wider range of pollutants, researchers found total emissions equivalent to all other human-caused air pollution in Canada combined. The findings raise concerns about inaccurate emissions calculations potentially underestimating health and environmental impacts. MONGABAY

The Biden administration issued plans to halt new federal leases in the nation’s top coal-producing region. The Bureau of Land Management proposals for the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming reverse Trump-era policies and aim to align with climate priorities, though existing mines can continue operating for decades. The moves drew praise from environmentalists but criticism from the mining industry and Republicans, who accuse Biden of waging a war on domestic energy. The plans signal coal’s fading role in the administration’s energy mix. E&E NEWS

As population plummets, greater sage grouse may see new protections. The Biden administration is proposing new rules to address the loss of sagebrush habitat. The Bureau of Land Management’s draft plan would limit energy development, mining, and grazing across 67 million acres of remaining habitat managed by BLM. While conservation groups say restrictions don’t go far enough, the proposal aims to balance preservation with development. SIERRA CLUB

More and more homeowners are going uninsured as costs skyrocket and insurers drop policies in disaster-prone areas due to climate change impacts. A 2023 study found 12 percent had no coverage, up from 5 percent in 2019. In California’s high-fire-risk areas, some face quotes over $25,000 annually – forcing tough choices to go underinsured or potentially lose their homes. The trend exposes Americans’ growing exposure to natural disaster risk and lack of affordable protection options. WASHINGTON POST

Stinknet, an invasive South African plant, blankets the Sonoran Desert in canary-yellow blooms that later turn to wildfire fuel. The noxious weed out-competes native vegetation with startling efficiency while irritating lungs and causing rashes. Removal efforts cannot keep pace with stinknet’s dizzying proliferation through Arizona’s deserts and cities. The weed may soon smother the region’s iconic beauty despite programs deploying herbicides.  HIGH COUNTRY NEWS

The Imperial Irrigation District pushes for legislation allowing the destruction of endangered species. This exemption from environmental laws to allow the taking of desert pupfish and rare bird species is needed to finalize a deal to conserve 800,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water through 2026, which could prevent drainage channels – essential to their habitat – from drying up. While concerning on its face, environmentalists say actual harm is unlikely. Still, the counterintuitive lawmaking has upset some critics. DESERT SUN

To prevent water pumping from drying up California’s groundwater-dependent habitats, scientist Melissa Rohde analyzed data to develop strategies to protect these ecosystems. Her analysis of satellite imagery revealed vegetation die-offs and aquifer depletion. At areas like the Kern River Preserve, Rohde witnessed both devastating losses and resilient rebounding, underscoring the importance of proactive measures before irreversible damage occurs. Her research showed aggressive action could preserve the 91 percent of these ecosystems left vulnerable by current plans. LOS ANGELES TIMES

Colorado lawmakers passed several major water bills this year aimed at reducing demand and protecting supplies as the state faces a worsening water crisis. Key measures include protecting wetlands after federal rollbacks, restricting toxic “forever chemicals,” enabling graywater reuse systems, replacing nonfunctional turf at businesses and funding water projects. Advocates say more work lies ahead, like developing programs to pay water users for temporary reductions in use during shortages. DENVER POST

Reno, Nevada officials are scrambling to secure federal funding for climate change projects, fearing it could disappear if President Biden loses re-election. The Biden administration has provided billions to help communities adapt to rising heat, but the Republican front-runner Donald Trump opposes such efforts. Reno, dubbed America’s fastest-warming city, is tapping the funding for urban forestry, mapping heat islands, and assisting low-income residents with clean energy while it can. NEW YORK TIMES

Botanists and citizen scientists armed with a smartphone app are meticulously documenting plant and animal species along the U.S.-Mexico border. Their goal? Record biodiversity data that could lead to stronger protections for this overlooked ecosystem split by the imposing border wall. The efforts aim to capture the region’s natural richness – overshadowed by issues like drug trafficking and undocumented immigration – before plants go extinct.  LOS ANGELES TIMES

Articles worth reading: May 14, 2024

By Xavier Martinez

California’s water wars front and center; climate migration on a coastal Washington reservation; Arizona’s plan to combat extreme heat; an all-woman seal hunting crew, and other recent environmental news from around the West.

Despite a wet winter, California’s water wars rage on. Farmers, cities, and environmentalists all claim they’re shortchanged. Frustrated parties blame state policymakers for loosening protections and the Biden team for misapplying species safeguards. Officials counter that antiquated infrastructure can’t adapt quickly enough – making controversial projects seem more necessary. As negotiations over summer water releases loom, the only consensus is the system is fundamentally broken, whether it’s wet or dry. POLITICO

The Quinault Nation faces an existential climate crisis as rising seas and storm surges increasingly inundate their coastal Washington village. Their bold response? A historic relocation to higher ground. The nation has paved the roads and created the infrastructure for a new village site a half-mile uphill – a first step toward fortifying the community against future floods. Logistical and financial hurdles remain, casting a bright light on the massive scale of climate relocation that could soon confront communities worldwide. INDIAN COUNTRY TODAY

Sobering news on California’s forest recovery after recent wildfires and drought. Analyzing satellite data from 2015-2022, NASA researchers found dramatic declines in plant production statewide, with some areas losing upwards of 60 percent of vegetation. Regeneration lags far behind past decades as warmer, drier conditions hinder seedling survival. At Big Basin Redwoods, once-shaded canopies have been replaced with dense shrub growth. The study raises concerns that drought and fire may permanently alter California’s iconic forests. SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

A “death trap” for fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is limiting how much water can be exported from the critical estuary. Environmentalists argue the state draws too much while failing to safeguard threatened species like salmon and smelt. But officials say outdated infrastructure and regulations restrict vital deliveries to cities and farms. The tensions highlight California’s struggle to balance water supplies and environmental protections. LOS ANGELES TIMES

Companies see financial opportunity in purifying oilfield wastewater for discharge into Texas rivers. As some firms tout treatment methods to make the waste safe, scientists worry about toxic pollutants slipping through. As drought intensifies, regulators are greenlighting these “produced water” releases despite limited toxicity data and fears of fouling waterways. One company plans discharges near the Pecos River, which struggles with salinity – raising stakes for an ecosystem home to the threatened Pecos pupfish. INSIDE CLIMATE NEWS

Arizona is ramping up efforts to protect residents from extreme heat after more than 900 heat-related deaths shattered state records last summer. The state’s new heat officer is coordinating with local governments and groups to expand cooling center access and ensure functional home air conditioning units. New measures include mobile cooling units, extended hours at respite facilities, utility bill assistance, and the nation’s first statewide Extreme Heat Preparedness Plan. ASSOCIATED PRESS

Colorado lawmakers forged a bipartisan compromise to protect wetlands after the Supreme Court stripped federal safeguards. The deal melds two competing bills that tasked different agencies with permitting for dredging and filling wetlands. It aims to provide certainty for residents, industries, and the estimated one million acres of wetlands newly vulnerable under the court’s narrowed definition of protected waters. While environmentalists sought broader protections, the compromise secured wide support from water providers, agriculture, and local governments. COLORADO POLITICS

One of the largest remaining unprotected wilderness areas in the continental United States, Oregon’s Owyhee Canyonlands, faces mounting threats from invasive species, more frequent wildfires, and encroaching development. With legislation to protect over 1 million acres stalled in Congress, environmental groups are urging President Biden to designate the area as a new national monument. INSIDE CLIMATE NEWS

Highway 1 along California’s Central Coast faces an existential – and potentially unsolvable – climate challenge. Intense storms, wildfires, and rising seas are causing recurring landslides that bury or demolish sections of this iconic coastal road. Despite spending billions, the state struggles to fortify Highway 1 against more frequent deluges and rockslides. Some experts warn parts may eventually need to become dead-ends as maintaining a continuous route becomes futile. WASHINGTON POST

As California tries to meet its goal of phasing out gas-powered cars by 2035, a monumental challenge looms for utilities: Upgrading distribution grids to handle soaring electricity demand from millions of new electric vehicles. A UC Davis study reveals a multi-billion-dollar price tag across the state’s three major utilities. The massive buildout could ultimately reduce rates statewide as new revenue outpaces costs, but it’s unclear – an uncertainty reflected across many of California’s aging infrastructure projects. GRIST

A new threat looms for America’s honeybees – and the continent’s food supply: A lethal  bee parasite that has already devastated Asian colonies was detected in Ukraine. In response, a University of Colorado researcher is attempting to uncover Asian beekeepers’ secrets for controlling infestations before the mites reach North America. His research includes trips to Thailand and R&B serenades, just some of the desperate measures required to confront an issue that could impact crops worth billions of dollars. COLORADO SUN

A firsthand account of an all-woman indigenous seal hunting crew on Alaska’s Norton Sound, from the chase to a moment of solemn gratitude for ending the animal’s suffering humanely. While rooted in subsistence, the hunt also represented a passing of Indigenous knowledge and an honoring of the Arctic’s ecological cycle of sustenance. The narrative is a reminder  that, for Native Alaskans, the hunt is both ritualized practice and spiritual reconnection. HIGH COUNTRY NEWS

Articles worth reading: April 30, 2024

By Xavier Martinez

An alleged $25 million irrigation water theft; Canada’s government recognizes Indigenous land ownership; water shortages on the political front line in Arizona; a chronicle of subsistence whaling in Alaska, and other recent environmental news from around the West.

A water-theft scandal in California’s parched San Joaquin Valley. Federal prosecutors accused the longtime head of a local water district of leading a decades-long scheme to steal over $25 million worth of water from a federal canal. Dennis Falaschi allegedly instructed employees to siphon water through a secret pipeline, selling it to farmers while authorities remained oblivious. It highlights the environmental and political tension in the region: Falaschi’s supporters view him as a Robin Hood figure who ensured farmers received the water they needed. LOS ANGELES TIMES

Critics point out flaws in insurers’ risk assessment methods. As losses mount, insurance companies are relying on risk scores and catastrophe models to cherry-pick properties least vulnerable to natural disasters. But analyses reveal these tools rate the same homes wildly differently, calling their accuracy into question. Many insurers still use outdated models ill-equipped to address rapidly changing risks. Critics argue the imperfect methods unfairly drop customers as climate change overtakes historic modeling data. WALL STREET JOURNAL

Hydroelectric dams that generate much of the West’s clean electricity are running low on water. When hydro output drops, utilities have largely turned to natural gas plants to meet demand. Building more wind and solar hasn’t solved the problem, since those intermittent sources can’t ensure reliable power during lulls. To hit climate goals without emissions spikes, experts say the western grid doesn’t need more renewables but creative solutions like energy storage, demand management, and responsive dam operations–not just more renewables. GRIST

In a historic move, British Columbia recognized the Haida Nation’s ownership of all lands in the Haida Gwaii archipelago. It’s the first time a Canadian government affirmed Indigenous title across an entire territory through negotiation rather than court rulings. The groundbreaking agreement cedes control of 98 percent of the islands to the Haida, who have stewarded it for millennia. Experts say it charts a new path of reconciliation by having both legal systems recognize each other as equals in an adaptable, ongoing relationship—a turning point for Indigenous rights in Canada. HAKAI

Democrats see Arizona’s rural groundwater crisis as a chance to regain voters who have abandoned the party in recent years. In drought-stricken La Paz County, where farms have depleted aquifers, the state attorney general is campaigning for restrictions on large agricultural operations and for policies that preserve local water supplies. The strategy aims to reconnect with rural voters on a tangible quality-of-life concern, even if partisan divides persist on other matters. NEW YORK TIMES

As California aggressively deploys solar power, it encounters a paradox: too much production during periods of low demand. This oversupply forces utilities to curtail solar output, causing negative electricity prices and diminishing incentives for further solar investment. While solutions like energy storage and regional transmission exist, the challenges illustrate the complexity of integrating a surge of renewable capacity. California’s experience foreshadows potential issues other states may face if they ramp up solar deployments without first upgrading the grid. WASHINGTON POST

Rural communities of color are overrepresented in areas at highest risk for natural disasters, according to a new analysis looking at FEMA’s “disaster zones.” While rural areas make up less than 20 percent of the U.S. population, they account for over a third of the communities designated as most vulnerable. It’s an indicator of how climate change disproportionately threatens underprivileged communities that often lack resources to prepare for and bounce back from environmental catastrophes. DAILY YONDER

Phoenix, America’s hottest major city, is planting trees to confront extreme urban heat. An initiative targets low-income neighborhoods with scant shade coverage. As temperatures soar, creating urban heat islands, the city aims to increase tree canopy from 9 percent to 25 percent by 2030 to mitigate heat risks. While progress has been slow due to funding constraints and challenges in establishing trees in Phoenix’s arid climate, the effort illustrates how urban greening strategies can address environmental justice concerns, providing cooling benefits to vulnerable communities disproportionately impacted by extreme heat. MOTHER JONES

The removal of Washington State’s Elwha Dam initiated significant changes in coastal ecosystems. Initially, concerns arose about the impact of increased sediment on kelp density, but more than a decade after the removal, surveys show a rebound. Native plant dominance and thriving invertebrate populations now characterize the transformed shoreline, which indicates a healthier ecosystem. The results suggest that nearshore habitats may benefit from dam removal projects. HIGH COUNTRY NEWS

This coal town powers the West Coast, but can it survive the clean energy transition? Colstrip, Montana thrives off a coal plant that lights up homes in Oregon and Washington. While residents praise the jobs and amenities, environmentalists decry the pollution. As cities ditch coal for renewable energy, tensions mount over Colstrip’s fate. Can compromises define the future for Colstrip—and other towns like it—by tapping into the economic opportunities of wind, solar, and storage projects? LOS ANGELES TIMES

A Southern California community is battling the last remaining battery recycling plant in the West — and its toxic legacy. The plant, which has been found to violate lead-contamination limits for decades, faces harsher regulation than ever before. But activists want it shut down or relocated away from residential areas. As the plant’s permit renewal process drags on, tensions are mounting: the company is suing regulators and activists are exploring legal action. GRIST

For a remote Alaskan village, subsistence whaling is more than just a tradition – it’s vital for food security and preserving their cultural identity. The practice faced intense backlash in 2017 when environmentalists launched an online campaign against a teenager who harvested a bowhead whale. A PBS documentary, “One with the Whale,” chronicles these events and captures the cultural significance of subsistence whaling to Alaska Natives. CIVIL EATS

Articles worth reading: April 16, 2024

By Xavier Martinez

Salmon fishing banned again in California; a growing movement against conservation; the history of the Columbia River’s “salmon wars”; new costs and restrictions for oil and gas drilling on public lands, and other recent environmental news from around the West.

Salmon fishing canceled off the coast of California for the second year in a row. The move by federal fishery managers comes after another year of slow-moving and warm rivers prevented the Chinook salmon population from rebounding. Fewer salmon have returned to California’s rivers than expected in nine of the last 10 years, according to a CalMatters analysis of government data. CAL MATTERS San Francisco salmon fishermen protested the move, which is set to disrupt a billion-dollar industry. SF WEEKLY

The battle against a government plan to conserve 30 percent of America’s lands and waters by 2030. Property rights activists are characterizing the program as a “massive land grab.” The nonprofit American Stewards of Liberty is petitioning local officials to obstruct conservation efforts and campaigning to delist endangered species whose protections often limit land-use options. Despite ASL’s members positioning themselves as defenders of small ranchers and farmers, the group’s largest funders include fossil fuel interests. MOTHER JONES

Interest in carbon-free nuclear energy is driving a push for new uranium mines in the Southwest. The toxic legacy of earlier mining efforts has residents dubious about the new efforts. Since last April, the price of uranium has doubled to $90 a pound, accelerating the push to mine more. YALE E360

Lithium mining companies are taking a water rights fight to court in Nevada’s Great Basin. A rival mining company is accusing the operator of the country’s only active lithium mine of hoarding the area’s meager supply of water. With more than a dozen proposed mining projects in the area, all of which require water to operate, the government ponders technology-specific regulation. INSIDE CLIMATE NEWS

Alaska’s Yukon Delta is struggling to recover from a powerful storm that struck the region more than a year ago. Typhoon Merbok struck western Alaska in September 2022, uprooting native plants, destroying hunting gear and spoiling frozen reserves. A year and a half later, the community is still forced to rely on local stores, where a box of cereal can cost more than $15. “There’s almost next to nothing,” resident Victoria Hill said of the once-plentiful crowberries that usually line the tundra floor. HIGH COUNTRY NEWS

The federal government wants to kill half a million barred owls to save the endangered spotted owl. Barred owls, which are native to eastern North America, will be culled in Washington, Oregon and California during a 30-year span, according to a proposal by the Fish and Wildlife Service. Conservationists are divided: some support the plan for the spotted owl’s sake, while others oppose it on ethical grounds. THE GUARDIAN

Water rates and property taxes are set to increase in Southern California. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California voted unanimously to approve the hikes, which will impact more than 19 million people across six counties. The move comes after water sales declined during extreme drought and costs increased thanks to inflation. “It’s the cost of climate change,” Board of Directors Chair Adán Ortega Jr. said. LOS ANGELES TIMES

Oil and gas companies will pay more for drilling on public lands, according to a new Interior Department policy. Companies drilling on public lands must now pay a $150,000 lease bond, dwarfing the original requirement of $10,000. The department codified provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act, including increased fees and royalty rates for oil and gas leasing on federal lands. BLOOMBERG LAW At the same time, the Biden Administration will block oil and gas development across roughly half of Alaska’s North Slope, an area previously set aside as an emergency oil supply. BLOOMBERG LAW

More than 3,000 houses in the Navajo Nation received a potentially life-saving addition: an address. The nonprofit Rural Utah Project partnered with Google to assign each home a Plus Code, which functions as an address but is more akin to GPS coordinates. The addresses help emergency responders reach homes without having to stop to ask for directions – and they allow for quick voter registration. THE DAILY YONDER

A proposed solar farm in central Washington threatens sacred sites of the Wenatchi-P’squosa people. It’s the latest example of ongoing tension between governmental agencies, which want to build utility-scale renewable energy facilities to meet climate goals, and groups that say the land holds cultural or environmental value. For the Wenatchi-P’squosa, the proposed project site is home to traditional food and medicine. “Once our areas are destroyed, our ground is destroyed. We’ll never get that back,” Colville Tribal Business Councilmember Karen Condon said of the development. HIGH COUNTRY NEWS An investigation by High Country News and ProPublica found that the permitting process for solar facilities overlooks important cultural sites. HIGH COUNTRY NEWS

Rural New Mexico residents are marshaling opposition to a proposed solar farm nearby, saying that the accompanying battery energy storage system of lithium batteries – enough to fill 38 school buses – would cause a conflagration that would destroy their community. There is recent precedent for BESS systems catching fire. SEARCHLIGHT NEW MEXICO 

How did Columbia River salmon runs shrink – and who’s advocating for their recovery? Mid-19th-century treaties guaranteed Pacific Northwest tribes were guaranteed fishing rights on the Columbia River decades before the government built a series of large dams. A five-episode podcast series tells the history of the salmon through the perspective of a Yakama Nation family who have fought for fishing rights for generations. PROPUBLICA and OREGON PUBLIC BROADCASTING

Articles worth reading: April 1, 2024

By Felicity Barringer

Wildland firefighter ranks thinning; farm workers repeatedly exposed to toxic weedkiller; what the disappearance of coastal dunes means to shorelines; the persistence of the Indian horse relay and other environmental news from around the West.

The ranks of underpaid wildland firefighters are thinning fast. According to the Forest Service’s assessments, the ranks of permanent employees have declined 45 percent in the past three years. Whether low pay or high stress are the causes, or whether there are other reasons, ProPublica reports, “Many people inside and outside the fire service believe this represents one of the worst crises in its history.” PROPUBLICA A video offers an up-close look at how a firefighter with PTSD was treated with ketamine. NEW YORK TIMES

The destructive legacy of highway and railroad culverts in the West and around the globe. The article reports that “culverts, the unassuming concrete and metal pipes that convey streams beneath human-made infrastructure, are everywhere, undergirding our planet’s sprawling road networks and rail lines. Researchers estimate that more than 200,000 culverts lie beneath state highways in California alone….These obstacles are a major reason that three-quarters of the world’s migratory fish species are endangered.” HAKAI HIGH COUNTRY NEWS

Latino farmworkers are regularly exposed to a weedkiller linked to brain damage and the increased likelihood of developing Parkinson’s disease. Growers in California sprayed more than five million pounds of Paraquat, the weed killer, between 2017 and 2021, mostly in five Central Valley counties, according to a new analysis from the Environmental Working Group. INSIDE CLIMATE NEWS

Nearly half of Colorado River water is used to grow hay; almost three-quarters is used for agriculture, a new study finds. The researchers analyzed all diversions for agriculture, communities and industries from 2000 to 2019, calculating annual averages. Brian Richter, the researcher who led the study, said that during the last two decades, many cities have made progress in conserving water. Earlier research found that total water use by 28 urban utilities dropped by 18 percent between 2000 and 2020, though populations grew by 24 percent. LOS ANGELES TIMES

Despite nearby bans, work at a uranium mine south of the Grand Canyon is ramping up as prices rise and countries fighting climate change aim to expand nuclear energy. The reaction of nearby Native communities, which suffered land contamination and radioactive exposure in earlier generations, is wary, the Associated Press reported, saying that a coalition of Native Americans asked the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to pressure the U.S. government to overhaul outdated mining laws and prevent further exploitation of marginalized communities. ASSOCIATED PRESS

The importance of the coastal dunes being lost in Oregon, Washington and around the world. “There are a lot of places where dunes are eroding that weren’t eroding in the past,” said Sally Hacker, a coastal ecologist and professor at Oregon State University who researches the landforms and the impact of housing development close to the ocean’s edge. Building disrupts the complex system that maintains the dunes, which offer critical wildlife habitat and coastal storm protection. WASHINGTON POST

Climate change means seasonal changes are happening too fast for migratory birds. Western tanagers start their thousand-plus-mile northward migration from Central America to the mountain West in early March. But earlier and earlier greening along their route means the insects they need to eat are less available, according to a new study in the journal PNAS. It said that ”migrations of most species synchronize more closely with long-term averages of green-up timing than with current green-up conditions,” which could have dire consequences for migratory birds’ survival. This year, blooms appeared 14 days ahead of schedule. HIGH COUNTRY NEWS

Federal authorities may protect Alaska subsistence fishers’ rights by limiting salmon fishing on the Kuskokwim River in the Yukon Delta in the state’s southwest. Beginning in 2021, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game periodically opened the Kuskokwim for fishing by all state residents; a judge has now enjoined it from doing so. ALASKA PUBLIC MEDIA

Wildfire-suppression bias is another factor in promoting massive blazes, according to a new study. Researchers say that low- and moderate-intensity fires are easier to extinguish, and so get more attention. In a recent paper in Nature Communications, researchers reported, “this bias is inevitably toward higher-intensity burning occurring under extreme weather. Thus, the fires which ecosystems, species, and people experience are skewed towards the most severe and destructive.” BOISE PUBLIC RADIO

Some 125,000 acres of Oregon’s redwood forest land is returned to the Yurok tribe. A new agreement with Caltrout, Save the Redwoods Leage and the Yurok tribe anticipates co-management of the site that is the gateway to Redwoods National Park and an adjacent state park. CAL TROUT

Wyoming utility aims to use carbon capture to reduce emissions. Rocky Mountain Power announced an agreement with two climate technology firms that plan to work together to implement a unique carbon capture technology which would both capture the gas and reuse it in combustion processes. The agreement answers a legislative requirement to investigate carbon-capture possibilities for fossil-fuel plants headed for retirement. Opponents call the mandate heavy-handed and expensive; advocates say they will help the state’s bedrock industries survive. CASPER TRIBUNE

The Indian horse relay, perhaps America’s original extreme sport, pits bareback riders against each other. Contestants repeatedly mount and dismount at high speed, against one another in races at sites around the mountain West. The video shows their jaw-dropping talent and its hold on some of the younger generations in many tribes. CBS/60 MINUTES

Articles worth reading: March 19, 2024

By Rani Chor

A lawsuit blames farmers’ stream diversions for the desiccation of the Great Salt Lake; nearly all of Canada’s winter roads could be unusable by 2080; bills to ban lab-grown meat; another annual heat-associated death record in Arizona; and more environmental news from around the West.

Farmers accused of drying up the imperiled Great Salt Lake say they can help save it. A lawsuit filed last year argued that the lake could dry up in five years if no action is taken to allow water to flow into the lake unimpeded by agricultural diversions. Farmers, however, contend that they play a vital role in the conservation of the lake. They propose collaborative solutions such as reducing water usage through voluntary measures.NPR

Arizona’s most populous county confirmed 645 heat-related deaths last year. The deaths in the Phoenix area were more than 50 percent higher than in 2022, raising concerns about how best to better protect vulnerable groups. Effective heat mitigation strategies include providing access to cooling centers, distributing water to those in need, and increasing public awareness about the risks associated with extreme heat.AP NEWS

California rolls out first-of-a-kind permanent water restrictions for cities and towns. Amidst persistent drought conditions and concerns over water scarcity, policymakers propose stricter regulations to curb excessive water use: bans on watering lawns in during certain areas and certain times and restrictions on use of potable water for landscaping purposes. Critics, particularly those in agriculture, raise concerns about potential negative impacts on industries reliant on water. Proponents of the restrictions argue that rules will reduce strain on water infrastructure and ensure equitable access.SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

Nearly all of Canada’s winter roads could be unusable in less than six decades, restricting access to essential goods for tens of thousands of northern residents. Remote Indigenous communities in Manitoba—including Nishnawbe Aski Nation and Little Grand Rapids—face delays and uncertainties as warmer temperatures delay the construction of winter roads. Implementing long-term solutions requires significant infrastructure investments, made difficult by challenging landscapes like swamps and permafrost.THE NARWHAL

New bill seeks to reintroduce wolverines into California’s mountainous regions. The bill emphasizes the importance of wolverines as a keystone species in mountain ecosystems, framing the conservation effort as vital to restore ecological balance and biodiversity. Despite their historical presence in California, wolverines were extirpated from the state due to habitat loss and human activities. Less than three weeks after California’s bill was introduced in mid-February, Colorado lawmakers proposed legislation to reintroduce wolverines.LOS ANGELES TIMES

Across the nation, state lawmakers aim to ban lab-grown meat. State legislators in Alabama, Arizona, Florida and Tennessee, saying they are responding to a “war on our ranching,” argue that the agricultural industries involved need protection from efforts to reduce how much meat people eat. The most recent bills reflect a growing debate over how to regulate and label meat alternatives produced in laboratories. Supporters of the bans argue that lab-grown products could mislead consumers. Proponents of cellular agriculture argue that the new measures could hinder innovation and the development of sustainable, cruelty-free alternatives to meat production.INSIDE CLIMATE NEWS

The federal Department of Energy plans to lend up to $2.26 billion to develop Nevada’s Thacker Pass lithium project. This would become North America’s largest source of the electric-vehicle battery metal, the company Lithium Americas said on Thursday. The loan marks a pivotal moment in the development of domestic lithium production in the US, especially amid growing global demand for the lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles and renewable energy storage. The investment improves the United States’ position in the global lithium market by reducing reliance on imports.REUTERS

A new Biden administration plan aims to save imperiled sage grouse flocks in the West by limiting oil drilling. The greater sage-grouse, native to the western United States, is facing ongoing habitat loss and conservation challenges. The plan reverses Trump-era policies that weakened protections for the sage-grouse and its habitat.THE WASHINGTON POST

The involuntary sterilization of Indigenous women could mean 14-year jail terms in Canada if that country’s legislature passes pending legislation. Until 50 years ago or so, this practice was common among doctors working with Indigenous communities in Canada, the United States, and Greenland. A Canadian radio host discusses this issue and its history with four women — two of them survivors of involuntary sterilization — who oppose the practice, which they say has continued into 2021 and 2022. (Panelist introductions start at 6:00 minutes; the discussion starts at 9:15.)NATIVE AMERICA CALLING 

Wyoming’s Game and Fish Department now has its first formal plan to manage the state’s 21 winter elk feedgrounds. As a chronic wasting disease continues to threaten wildlife health, the risk of contagionpits hunters, ranchers, and conservationists against each other.  Some want to close or restrict feedgrounds to reduce disease transmission, others argue for continuing organized feeding to support elk populations and maintain hunting opportunities.WYOFILE

Articles worth reading: March 5, 2024

By Rani Chor

The loss of water in the Colorado River basin is challenging stakeholders to find their own; the largest wildfire in Texas history; data centers and their high water demand are spreading across the Southwest; a therapist for climate anxiety; and more environmental news from around the West.

Water scarcity in the Colorado River basin challenges stakeholders to find their own water. Annual Colorado River flows decreased by 20 percent in the last century, and the region is grappling with diminishing water supplies and overallocation. Various stakeholders emphasized the urgency of finding sustainable strategies to augment water resources, exploring unconventional methods such as cloud seeding, desalination, and wastewater recycling to increase water availability. COURTHOUSE NEWS SERVICE

The Navajo Nation nears an agreement establishing its water rights. The nation, which has one of the largest outstanding claims to water in the Colorado River basin, is nearing a settlement with a dozen parties. The settlement on the table, allowing for the distribution of water from the Colorado River, the Little Colorado River, and aquifers on tribal land, would ensure water rights for both the Navajo, the Hopi and the San Juan Southern Paiute tribes. ASSOCIATED PRESS

Largest wildfire in Texas history burns out of control across the Panhandle region. The Smokehouse Creek fire shows the increasing risk of wildfires in Texas as climate change continues. Consequences include rising insurance premiums for homeowners and, as in California, some insurers withdrawing from high-risk areas. THE NEW YORK TIMES

A wave of intense rainstorms has accelerated landslides and contributed to damaging erosion along California’s coast. Atmospheric rivers—narrow bands of moisture-laden air— bring intense precipitation to the state, especially during its rainiest month of February. Against the backdrop of California’s persistent drought conditions and recent wildfires, heavy rainfall, while alleviating the loss of water supplies, poses a dual threat: exacerbating the risk of landslides and flooding. NBC News

At least 10 states own lands within Indian reservations — and profit from them. State land trusts often benefit financially from resource extraction on tribal lands, while the tribes themselves receive minimal compensation or face economic challenges. Drawing attention to a specific case involving the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Oregon, the state continued to profit from timber sales on reservation lands, exacerbating longstanding grievances over land rights and sovereignty. GRIST

Court rulings in Idaho, Nevada and Montana endorse controls to protect groundwater. A series of decisions have strengthened states’ ability to restrict groundwater pumping and relieve pressure on state aquifers. Upmanu Lall, director of the Water Institute at Arizona State University, said, “There has been stuff like this off and on, but not in such a short period of time across the Western states.” NEW YORK TIMES

Los Angeles endured 592 landslides in a week, a reminder that excessive rains produce more than flooding. The combination of rising sea levels, eroding bluffs and aging infrastructure exacerbates the vulnerability of coastal communities in California to catastrophic mudslides. “Climate change is happening and all we can do is build things that resist it,” said Joe Demers, a civil engineer working for one of Southern California’s largest private landslide remediation firms. “I think we just have to plan on building things for two degrees hotter.” INSIDE CLIMATE NEWS A fact sheet on floods and flood risk in California. PUBLIC POLICY INSTITUTE OF CALIFORNIA

Data centers, most cooled by water, are fanning out across the water-starved Southwest to accommodate the computing power needed for artificial intelligence. Microsoft spent more than $10 billion on cloud-computing capacity in most recent quarters. It plans 10 buildings on a 279-acre parcel near Goodyear, Arizona; the cooling systems they will require could use as much as 50 million gallons of water annually. As the author writes, “The American Southwest has become the site of a collision between two civilization-defining trends. In the desert heat, the explosive growth of generative AI is pitched against a changing climate’s treacherous extremes.” THE ATLANTIC

California’s attorney general urged to investigate state and county pesticide regulators for severe civil rights violations that place disproportionate harm from agricultural chemicals on farmworkers and their families. According to a “people’s tribunal,” inadequate monitoring and enforcement efforts by state agencies, which have allowed pesticide drift and contamination to persist in agricultural areas, led to adverse health outcomes for residents, particularly children and farmworkers. INSIDE CLIMATE NEWS

Washington Fish and Wildlife approves 11 days of razor-clam digs on Pacific coast in the month of March. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s decision came in response to favorable clam population assessments and public demand for recreational clamming opportunities. In particular, Bryce Blumenthal, a WDFW coastal shellfish biologist, pointed to the significance of recreational clamming as a cherished tradition and economic driver for coastal communities, while also acknowledging the need for conservation measures to protect clam habitats. COLUMBIAN

Seattle therapist addresses climate anxiety. “We’re all kind of in it together,” says therapist Andrew Bryant, who works with others to confront the mental ramifications of a changing planet. Byrant started a website Climate & Mind to bring resources and studies related to the psychological impacts of climate change together in one place. CROSSCUT

What counts as cowboy poetry or a cowboy poetry festival? Elko, Nevada’s Cowboy Festival began in 1985 as a series of readings of musical performances to celebrate cattlemen. But one person who attended in the early days returned more than a decade ago and found the raucous spontaneity gone and the audience full of faux cattlemen “who didn’t know which end of the cow gets up first.” So in 2014, he started a rival show, Outside Circle. It features not just foot-stomping music, but discussions on mental health, the loneliness of cowboying and the lure of alcohol as a mood fixer. HIGH COUNTRY NEWS

Articles worth reading: February 21, 2024

By Rani Chor

Doubt grows on wolf restoration narrative; flooding causes surge in Valley Fever cases; a “climate bomb” avoided; restricted groundwater use in homes; a new national park in Colorado evokes Japanese internments; and more environmental news from around the West.

Returning predators like wolves to landscapes does not immediately revert the ecosystem to its earlier status. Researchers spent 20 years studying the effects of the return of large carnivores to Yellowstone, finding that long-term, possibly permanent changes to the ecosystem were evident nearly 30 years after the removal of wolves. The popular idea that the return of wolves single handedly reduced elk herds and restored Yellowstone’s natural systems was “wishful thinking” backed by little comprehensive science, their report said. DENVER POST

Debate continues surrounding the conversion of pinyon-juniper forests into biofuel. In parts of California and much of the Great Basin, landowners clear pinyon pines and juniper trees from rangelands to decrease the risk of wildfires and prevent the further spread of trees in sagebrush rangelands. Meanwhile, Nevada officials propose converting trees into green methanol, a renewable energy source. LOS ANGELES TIMES

Intensifying atmospheric rivers in California are leading to a surge in cases of Valley Fever, a potent fungal infection, in California. The flooding caused by intensifying winter rainstorms in California is helping to spread a deadly disease called coccidioidomycosis, or Valley Fever. Antje Lauer, an environmental microbiologist, worries that as developers build more infrastructure and expand into virgin areas of the state, and as climate change creates ever more favorable conditions, Valley Fever will pose an increased threat to public health. GRIST

Federal officials deny permits for pumped storage facilities on Navajo land. The projects planned to use water from groundwater aquifers in the desert and from the Colorado River, whose flows have been declining for decades. The order represents the first time the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is requiring that proposed projects on tribal land need tribal approval first; the Navajo, the commission said, had not consented to these hydroelectric projects. INSIDE CLIMATE NEWS

Biden plans to increase Alaska tribal representation on the Federal Subsistence Board that oversees regulation of subsistence hunting and fishing on federal public lands and waters.. The plan is to add three voting members to the eight-member board that, according to the Interior Department, would be “nominated or recommended by Tribes” and would have “personal knowledge of and direct experience with subsistence uses in rural Alaska….” E & E NEWS

Enefit, an Estonian company, backs out of plans to develop oil shale in eastern Utah, a venture that environmentalists call a “climate bomb.” Grand Canyon Trust staff attorney Michael Toll told The Salt Lake Tribune that Estonia’s plan to produce over 57,000 barrels of oil shale per day “would have been one of if not the most harmful single project in the history of industrial development on the Colorado plateau.” SALT LAKE TRIBUNE

The newest national park is a former Japanese internment camp. The Amache National Historic Site in southeastern Colorado was one of 10 sites nationally where Japanese Americans were interned during World War II. “Amache’s addition to the National Park system is a reminder that a complete account of the nation’s history must include our dark chapters of injustice,” the park service’s director said. DENVER POST

The Tijuana River is spewing wastewater into San Diego amid historic storms, a situation which could threaten public health. Doctors have reported surges of gastrointestinal illness when intense storms like this week’s atmospheric rivers overwhelm wastewater treatment plants and flood communities with raw sewage. INSIDE CLIMATE NEWS

A tiny rare snail in Nevada inches toward ESA listing. Following a three month review, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that an in-depth review of the status of the Kings River pyrg— a small springsnail found in northern Nevada — is needed to determine whether it should be listed under the Endangered Species Act. NEVADA CURRENT

Lawmakers could spend $750K to keep Uinta Basin Railway ‘going forward’. The $750,000 requested would help the project stay alive as its current funding from the Community Impact Board dwindles. The money would go toward “general engineering, planning, and operations of the organization and to address anticipated expenses” related to legal challenges from western Colorado and environmental groups. COLORADO NEWSLINE

The first fin whale to wash ashore on the Oregon coast in at least 10 years, was found dead last week. The whale carcass found on the Oregon coast near Astoria will remain on the shore to decompose and be washed back into the ocean. OREGON LIVE

Montana court restricts use of groundwater for new homes. The case began when Errol Galt, a developer and a member of a prominent political family in Montana, proposed to build a subdivision about an hour east of Helena. Using an environmental review that the court called “abjectly deficient,” state and county officials approved construction of 39 homes with groundwater wells, despite evidence suggesting that local groundwater was in decline. The judge’s expansive ruling went beyond the project at issue and found the state’s policy for approving such development violates state law. NEW YORK TIMES

Articles worth reading: February 6, 2024

By Rani Chor

Tracking crypto mining power use; a massacre site could be turned into a national monument; historical tree-ring date confirms the current drought is linked to climate change; a giant sunshade to block radiation, and more environmental news from around the West.

A hand-cranked drill revealed the West’s two-decade ‘Megadrought’ is linked to rising temperatures. In a new study part of an emerging field of tree-ring science, Karen King used a hand-cranked drill to bore into towering spruces high in the Rockies, Sierra Nevada and other mountains. She and her colleagues found the West’s two-decade drought is inextricably linked to climate change, adding to the evidence that human-caused emissions are reshaping the region in profound ways. WASHINGTON POST

California, once a major player in the U.S. oil industry, is officially divorcing itself from fossil fuels. Exxon Mobil and Chevron, the two largest U.S. oil producers, plan to officially announce that they are reducing the estimated value of their assets in the state by a total of $5 billion. Oil production in the state has been on a steady decline for almost four decades as California’s energy policies are “making it a difficult place to invest,” even for renewable fuels, a Chevron executive said this month. REUTERS

Great Basin tribes want Bahsahwahbee massacre site in Nevada named a national monument. The Ely Shoshone, Duckwater Shoshone, and the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation, together representing approximately 1,500 enrolled tribal members, are urging the federal government to officially recognize an area of nearly 40 square miles (100 square kilometers) as Bahsahwahbee National Monument. “The goal is to commemorate what happened there to protect the memory of that place,” said Warren Graham, the Duckwater Shoshone chairman. AP NEWS

The Nevada Supreme Court ruled last week that the state can restrict new groundwater pumping if it will impact other users or wildlife. This could create difficulties for a developer’s plan for a city in the Mojave Desert. The decision allows Nevada’s water regulators to manage statewide groundwater depletion and consider surface water and groundwater as a single source. The court decision freezes the Coyote Springs development and sets a precedent for water management in the face of drought. INSIDE CLIMATE NEWS

Wolf management in the Mountain West creates space for common ground as citizens with diverse perspectives navigate the challenges and benefits of coexisting with the resurging population of predators. Colorado’s recent ballot measure to reintroduce wolves to the Rockies faced backlash from conservative ranching interests, who fought against the ballot up until mid-December, when 10 wolves were released into the wilderness. Environmentalists believe that wolves not only deserve a place in the environment but also can help repair it, while livestock producers often feel they shoulder too many costs of living alongside an animal that city dwellers simply want to gawk at. But some on both sides are finding common ground. NEW YORK TIMES

An Alaska mercury mine contaminated a large region around it for decades; a federal lands agency is now taking charge of the cleanup, to accelerate the elimination of toxic mercury tilings from the land around the Kuskokwim River. ALASKA BEACON

US energy data agency plants to track crypto mining’s use of power. The U.S. Energy Information Administration will begin to more closely track electricity consumption by cryptocurrency mining companies operating in the United States, the agency said recently. The Rocky Mountain Institute, a Colorado-based non-profit group focused on the transition to clean energy, estimated last year that Bitcoin globally consumes a yearly 127 terawatt-hours (TWh), which is more than used by the entire country of Norway. REUTERS BLOOMBERG

The largest combined solar and energy-storage project in the U.S. is now online and operating in California’s Mojave Desert. The 875-megawatt Edwards & Sanborn project in the California desert has 2 million solar panels, 120,000 batteries, and 3,287 megawatt-hours of energy storage. CANARY MEDIA

Researchers may have captured the first image of a newborn great white. A newborn great white has never before been spotted in the wild. Wildlife filmmakers Carlos Gauna and Phillip Sternes spotted the great white shark pup unexpectedly in the waters near Santa Barbara on California’s central coast, documenting their findings in an article published this week in the Environmental Biology of Fishes journal. Experts in the field mostly hailed the find in comments to CNN, calling the observation “hugely significant.” GUARDIAN

Odyssey, a U.S. mining company, sued for billions after Mexico rejected its seabed phosphate mining project. Odyssey claims that Mexico violated the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and seeks compensation for the alleged destruction of its investment. Most community members don’t believe they will benefit from a mine they see as a threat to fishing and tourism. To this day, no phosphate mining project on the seabed has ever gone ahead, and the Baja California Sur case’s outcome could set a precedent. GUARDIAN

Scientists plan to create huge sunshade between Earth and the sun to help stabilize the climate. The idea is to send it to a distant point between the Earth and the sun to block a small but crucial amount of solar radiation. Scientists have calculated that if just shy of 2% of the sun’s radiation is blocked, that would be enough to cool the planet by 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 Fahrenheit, and keep Earth within manageable climate boundaries. Rozen said his team was ready to design a prototype shade of 100 square feet and is seeking between $10 million and $20 million to pay for the demonstration. THE NEW YORK TIMES

Articles worth reading: January 22, 2024

By Rani Chor

A close-up look at the city that tech billionaires want to create in California farmland; the first legal guardians of nature in the United States; limiting logging in old-growth forests; a dormant Yellowstone geyser erupts; Zuckerberg’s high-end beef ranch, and more environmental news from around the West.

Biden proposal to limit logging in old-growth forests seeks to balance habitat needs and wildfire prevention. Without an outright ban on logging in old-growth forests, Biden’s proposal states that anyone who cuts down trees must do so “with the primary objective of protecting them from wildfires, disease, and other threats.” The proposal “represents a significant shift in the way the US views the role of its forests.” VOX 

Tech billionaires, joined in a group called “California Forever,” seek to build a green city in Solano County, but they need many local, state and federal approvals before they can build on the 16,000 acres they quietly bought over recent years. Their limited liability corporation bought the land for roughly $800 million; they envision an affordable city powered by clean energy and filled with parks, open space and bike lanes. But years of secrecy surrounding the land purchases have left local residents and state officials wary of the project, which would transform a largely rural area that is now home to livestock, crops and wind farms. LOS ANGELES TIMES NEW YORK TIMES 

A huge new underground battery in Delta, Utah will store energy as hydrogen gas. Developers, including Chevron, plan to replace an aging coal facility with the new plant—using excess solar and wind power to produce hydrogen that can be stored in the storage caverns. The switch from a coal plant to the new hydrogen plant left members of Delta, a farming community, feeling unsettled. NEW YORK TIMES

Hawai’i Electric now uses a battery in place of an Oahu coal plant. Composed of 158 Tesla “megapacks,” its 185 megawatts of instantaneous discharge matches what its predecessor, an aging coal plant, could send into the grid. The battery is different from previous batteries: Plus Power executive chair Brandon Keefe told Canary Media that Kapolei is “the most advanced battery energy storage facility on the planet.” The construction process exemplified an urgent question brought about by a surge in clean energy: “How do you maintain a reliable grid while switching from familiar fossil plants to a portfolio of small and large renewables that run off the vagaries of the weather?” CANARY MEDIA

Colorado town appoints legal guardians to implement the rights of a creek and a watershed in what activists call the first time humans have been appointed as legal guardians of nature in the United States. In response to shortcomings of existing environmental laws, Colorado chose a “human-centered approach” that provides Boulder Creek and its watershed with “fundamental and inalienable rights.” The two individuals do not have the authority to sue on behalf of the watersheds. INSIDE CLIMATE NEWS

Navajo Tribal Utility Authority under fire for discharging untreated wastewater in Navajo communities. The EPA found that the NTUA violated its Clean Water Act permits by regularly discharging wastewater that had not been treated to the required permit standards, and by failing to operate and maintain the facilities’ sewer systems properly ensuring that sewage spills don’t happen. NAVAJO-HOPI OBSERVER

Wyoming wildlife officials will face immense political pressure from oil and natural gas interests if they proceed with a plan to designate the migration corridors for the Sublette Pronghorn Herd, which relies on these corridors for survival. The proposed route treads through much of the Green River Basin, from Interstate 80 at the southern end to Jackson Hole in the north. Influential parties in Wyoming, including oil and gas industry and county government, outright oppose or question the route. WYOFILE

Biden plan would expand solar energy projects to generate more energy on federal lands in the West. The administration announced a proposed revision of its 2012 solar development plan to generate more energy on federal lands in the West, including the recent completion of the White Wing Ranch solar installation in Yuma County. Within Arizona, the plan streamlines solar projects that could cover an area about twice the size of Grand Canyon National Park. ARIZONA REPUBLIC

Dormant Yellowstone geyser erupts for the first time in decades. Former president of the Geyser Observation and Study Association caught the eruption of Yellowstone’s Economic Geyser—last seen erupting in 1999—on camera. It is the first sign of life from the geyser in 25 years. IDAHO STATESMAN YouTube

Mark Zuckerberg derided for his ‘high quality beef’ ranch where cows are fed macadamia nuts and beer. Environmental critics call the Meta CEO’s cattle-raising project on a Hawaiʻi ranch land a “billionaire’s strange sideshow.” GUARDIAN

The Big Bend fish species known as the gambusia were down to just three fish before a remarkable recovery ensued. The fish previously consisted of just two locations, both within Big Bend National Park. Thanks to the conservation efforts of park stewards and other allies, the population of Big Bend gambusia is now in the thousands. NATIONAL PARKS CONSERVATION ASSOCIATION 

San Diego’s Frozen Zoo has lasted for fifty years, safeguarding living cells of critically endangered (and extinct) animals. Natalie Middleton writes that the Frozen Zoo “might be one of the last lines of defense in the face of mass extinction.” ORION

Articles worth reading: January 8, 2024

By Felicity Barringer

The Delta tunnel project gets a key approval; assisting the migration of the Northwest’s trees in the face of climate-change threats; an investigation of California farmworkers dying in the heat; a toad stands in the way of a Nevada geothermal project, and more environmental news from around the West.

California water officials give green light to a $16 billion tunnel underneath the San Joaquin-Sacramento Delta, the latest version of controversial and long-debated plans to send some Sacramento River water southward to San Joaquin Valley farmland without the need for the existing pumping system. The environmental impact statement endorsing the so-called “Delta Conveyance” project promoted by Gov. Gavin Newsom is strongly opposed by both Delta farmers and environmental groups; lawsuits seem inevitable. SACRAMENTO BEE NOSSAMAN LLP

California farmworkers dying in the heat. An investigation by Inside Climate News found scores of farmworkers in California died between 2018 and 2022, despite the fact that the temperatures “exceeded the threshold that triggers California’s heat safety requirements.” The areas where the deaths occurred have had consistently high levels of air pollution. INSIDE CLIMATE NEWS Now the state is inaugurating rules to protect indoor workers from heat. KAISER HEALTH NEWS

Tribes, local government and scientists prepare for a century’s worth of Klamath River sediment to be released from the remaining three dams as they come down near the Oregon-California border. A spokesman for the Klamath River Renewal Corporation said, “Through the drawdown process, we expect five to seven million cubic yards of sediment to go downstream,” where the fine grains of sand and the quantities of dead algae they carry could disrupt local ecosystems. The silt may also prove a convenient home for salmon and lamprey. JEFFERSON PUBLIC RADIO

In Utah, turning to tribes to help save wilderness. Land in the red-rock country of southeastern Utah is being returned to tribes, whose ancestors may have built the cliff dwellings that can be found there. The proviso — maintain the land as wilderness. Some tribes would have balked at the idea of mitigated sovereignty – “you can own the land but you can’t use it” — but the five-tribe coation working with the Bears Ears National Monument agreed. LOS ANGELES TIMES

Tracing nutrients provided by salmon as they move throughout the ecosystems on the lands of the Northwest. “Researchers can trace the pathway of these nutrients using the “salmon signature,” an isotope of marine nitrogen associated with the migrating fish,” reports MongaBay. Researchers at Canada’s Simon Fraser University have found that nutrients with origins in salmon influence wildflower development and make riparian forests greener. MONGABAY

Helping the Northwest’s trees face climate change with “assisted migration.” Assisted population migration means moving a native tree’s seeds within its existing range or just outside it; “assisted species migration” involves moving the seeds of trees from another area entirely, like moving California redwoods to Washington. COLUMBIA INSIGHT/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Only two state schools are serious about repatriating Native remains in California. UCLA and Cal State Long Beach have followed federal law and returned a majority of their collections to Native tribes. In this, they are unique among schools in the University of California and Cal State systems. CAL MATTERS

Tulare Lake barons defy calls to control groundwater pumping. A few months before the water began rising in the ancient Tulare lakebed, the local agencies responsible for managing groundwater pumping denied the worrisome level of land subsidence and its impact on roads, pumps and other water controls. Now the stage is set for a confrontation between the powerful landowners and agribusinesses of the Tulare Lake Basin and the state regulators determined to enforce a 2014 law designed to control groundwater use. LOS ANGELES TIMES

Could a new Alaska coal plant be climate friendly? University of Alaska researchers are beginning a study to determine if the idea of a new coal plant injecting carbon emissions underground is really viable. NORTHERN JOURNAL/ALASKA BEACON

In Montana, wind-power generation is about to overtake coal-powered electricity. When two new Montana wind farms come online, the state will have more nameplate capacity — the technical term for maximum generating capability — in wind than in coal. ELECTREK

The toad getting in the way of Nevada’s geothermal plant. The tiny Dixies Valley toad, one of the smallest of its species, depends on waters warmed by hot springs that could be disrupted by the planned construction of a geothermal plant. If built, the plant, according to Mother Jones, could “offset an estimated 6.5 million tons of CO2.” It could also harm the toad. It exemplifies the dilemma dividing environmentalists: “Should we double down on regulations like the Endangered Species Act that paved the way for a clean environment 50 years ago? Or should we look at them as relics of the past, ill-equipped for a green energy transition?” MOTHER JONES

The benefits of flooding California farmland are demonstrated by a nonprofit’s stewardship of riverine land at the intersection of the Tuolumne and San Joaquin Rivers. A 2,100-acre tract was bought by a conservation nonprofit that eliminated the agricultural infrastructure and brought back the original vegetation. The changes help both the flood and drought issues exacerbated by climate change. GRIST

Articles worth reading: December 18, 2023

By Felicity Barringer

Biden administration court filing envisions the removal of four Snake River dams; California regulators are working to untangle water rights claims; the argument over whether Montana’s grizzly bears should keep their federal endangered species protections; the first trek to the world’s largest beaver dam; can rivers have legal rights?; and other recent environmental news from around the West.

The prospect of eliminating four Snake River dams in Washington grew more tangible as a new Biden administration court filing unveiled plans to spend $1 billion to restore the river’s salmon. It committed to examining how to make up for the loss of hydropower and transportation — the ability to barge grain to the Pacific Coast — if the dams were removed. The filing pauses the long legal fight over federal operation of the dams. An August report by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Sen. Patty Murray laid out the reasoning adopted by the new filing: breaching the dams “must be an option we strive to make viable.” ASSOCIATED PRESS  SIERRA CLUB 

Can the Gordian knot of California’s water rights claims be untangled, or will it be necessary to slice through it? As Raymond Zhong writers, “With so many people, plants and animals competing for this fickle bounty [of water], water fights have shaped California at every stage of development, all the way back to its infancy as a state, when its abundance seemed limitless and settlers took it as their duty to commandeer it. Now, Californians are being forced to confront the limitations of nature’s endowment in new and urgent ways…. In the Central Valley, home to some of the nation’s most productive cropland, officials are taking a hard new look at water rights that date back to the 19th century.” NEW YORK TIMES

Montana fight over grizzly bears’ protected status gains momentum. With grizzlies wandering into the suburbs of a city like Missoula and cattle ranchers’ worries about grizzlies preying on their livelihood, state officials are challenging the bears’ standing on the federal endangered species lists. Wildlife preservation groups are fighting back. ECONOMIST Enviros sue BNSF Railway, which operates one of North America’s largest freight networks, over grizzlies killed by trains. REUTERS

Removal of Klamath dams aims to undo ecological destruction that lasted decades. The dams decimated the river’s salmon population, which Indigenous people depended on for centuries for physical and spiritual sustenance. Built in the first half of the 20th century, they provided hydropower, water for farms, and they remade a crucial watershed between California and Oregon. What can be recovered when the dams are gone? WASHINGTON POST

In coastal states, wildfire and drought caused $11.2 billion loss to private timberland. A new study from Oregon State University estimates that wildfire and drought caused $11.2 billion in economic losses to privately owned timberland in Oregon, California, and Washington over two decades. The study, analyzing 17 years of private timberland sales, found that the direct impact of wildfires caused less of the loss than the perception that forests could burn. “…Climate change is already reducing the value of western forests,” said a lead researcher. OREGONIAN

An ongoing fight against wind development in Northern California’s Shasta County unites a wide coalition of conservatives, Indigenous peoples and environmentalists. There are worries that the turbines, some more than 600 feet tall, will disturb wildlife and prevent effective aerial firefighting efforts. The Pit River Indian tribe’s members don’t want to see ancestral lands developed. INDUSTRY INSIDER

New Mexico extends for two decades its ban on mining and drilling near Chaco Canyon. The state’s public lands commissioner, whose decision mirrors a recent federal move, made the announcement after hearing from tribal leaders about Chaco Canyon’s importance to the Native tribes of the Rio Grande Pueblos. ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL

Colorado regulators are planning to restrict the use of gas-powered lawn tools in 18 months’ time. The state Air Quality Control Commission gave preliminary approval to the plan for local governments and other public entities on the Front Range to switch over to electric equipment for cutting the grass and blowing leaves. COLORADO PUBLIC RADIO

Biggest beaver dam in the world found in the Canadian wild, covering half a mile between northern Alberta and the Northwest territories. But since its 2007 discovery by satellite, only one person has trekked there. YALE ENVIRONMENT 360

A Hawaiian non-profit works to restore an old system for growing taro: creating ponds to nurture the root that is an historic staple of the food system. Taro, or kalo, holds a central place in Native Hawaiian culture, and its revival is a contrast to the current situation, in which Hawaii imports almost 90 percent of its food. MODERN FARMER

A podcast reviews efforts to establish that rivers have legal rights, similar to the rights of people or corporations. The section on the debates over rights for the Colorado River begins 10 minutes in. HOW WE SURVIVE/MARKETPLACE

Articles worth reading: December 5, 2023

By Maya Green

The Biden Administration helps coal towns embrace clean energy; gray wolves move back into Southern California; two tribes prompt a pause in construction of an energy transmission line in Arizona; state authorities block efforts to move towards more sustainable water use; a burning tundra releases methane into the atmosphere; and other environmental news from around the American West

Former coal towns across the US have received federal funding to bring clean energy jobs to their communities. The funding, part of a $1 trillion infrastructure package, was approved by the Biden Administration in 2021 as part of the initiative to increase renewable energy manufacturing projects nationwide. In light of the rapidly growing renewables industry, some fossil-fuel workers are concerned about losing their jobs. NEW YORK TIMES

California wildfires cause extreme damage, but they can also clear the way for new life. After the Windy Fire of 2021 in Southern California, gray wolves moved in, marking their return to the region for the first time in 150 years. SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN

Objections temporarily halted the construction of a clean-energy transmission line in southwestern Arizona. The transmission line, federally funded as part of the Biden Administration’s advocacy of renewable energy, would transport wind-powered electricity 550 miles from New Mexico to California. However, the Arizona section passes over historic sites important to the Tohono O’odham Nation and the San Carlos Apache Tribe, who say that by building the line, the BLM is shirking its responsibility to Native American tribes. NAVAJO-HOPI OBSERVER

Aquifers in every western state are running low because of “overpumping and underregulation, made worse by climate change.” But to change water policy, the hyper-influential powers that be – the state engineer in Nevada, state representatives in Montana, and other powerful state leaders – must agree to rewrite it. Many of these leaders are reluctant to give up the status quo, showing both skepticism of regulations and worry about local economics, despite knowing that change in water use is desperately needed. NEW YORK TIMES

Recently-burned land in the tundra is more likely to contain methane, which is released when once-frozen, carbon-rich soil burns in a wildfire. New research adds that methane contributes to the climate-change-causing “greenhouse effect”, which in turn causes more wildfires–a vicious cycle that puts the tundra’s billions of tons of stored carbon at risk of release. HIGH COUNTRY NEWS

Huge swaths of Wyoming’s Red Desert are protected from new development by a new Bureau of Land Management policy. Republican lawmakers and industry leaders are contesting the decision, claiming it will hamper the progress of the state’s natural resources industry. THE WASHINGTON POST

The National Park Service is replanting seedling Sequoia trees in the wake of devastating wildfires in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Environmental groups have sued to block the move, saying that the fires will help dying tree populations recover on their own and that replanting efforts – which involve the use of dynamite and chainsaws – are not worth the environmental damage they could cause. LOS ANGELES TIMES

Grizzly bears have been absent from the North Cascades of Washington State for more than 20 years after they were hunted to near extinction in the 1800s and suffered from habitat loss over the following centuries. Now, Indigenous nations in the region are advocating for their return, backed by federal agencies, though ranchers and some outdoor recreationalists oppose the move. SEATTLE TIMES

The North American wolverine may gain federal protection if a new proposal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service succeeds in listing them as a threatened species. The species has been reduced to small bands in the Rocky Mountains as climate change steadily reduces their mountain habitats. ASSOCIATED PRESS

Mangrove forest protection and expansion on Mexico’s Baja California peninsula is the focus of David Borbón and Ana María Peralta’s conservation efforts. Mango trees grow on the edges of rivers and streams and help prevent coastal erosion. The couple work with their team to collect, propagate, and plant new mangroves. Over the past 12 years, they have planted over one million trees. HAKAI MAGAZINE

Psychedelic use is booming in the United States, and some users say their drug experiences have changed the way they view nature, inspiring newfound interest in climate change activism. BLOOMBERG

Articles worth reading: November 21, 2023

By Maya Green

A keystone species slowly disappears from the Yukon; Cuyama Valley, California farmers boycott Big Carrot; a pond turns pink in Maui; environmentalists oppose an Alaskan Arctic oil drilling project; direct-air carbon capture arrives in the Central Valley; pikas return to the Columbia Gorge; and other environmental news from around the American West.

Salmon are disappearing from Alaska’s Yukon River because of warming waters due to climate change. Native tribes in Alaska have relied on Yukon salmon since time immemorial, and many still do–especially those who live in remote areas and fish for subsistence, such as the Yup’ik and Athabasca tribes. As the salmon disappear, these tribes are losing not only an essential food source, but also an important aspect of their cultural identity. GRIST

Californina’s carrot giants Grimmway and Bolthouse Farms sued Cuyama Valley property owners over water rights, leading Valley residents to boycott of the two companies. Grimmway and Bolthouse dropped out of the suit after the boycott began, but tensions remain; small farms resent the carrot giants for trying to limit water use in the Valley when the companies themselves represented 65 percent of all measured water pumping over the last year. LOS ANGELES TIMES

Kealia Pond in Maui, Hawaii turned pink last week. Scientists blame an overgrowth of halobacteria, a single-celled organism that grows in salty bodies of water. The pink hue appeared because of Maui’s severe drought conditions, which caused the salinity of the pond to skyrocket. Water color changes like this one are not uncommon in more arid regions, but Kealia’s pinkness is particularly surprising because of Hawaii’s usually humid climate. NEW YORK TIMES

After a federal court ruling allowing the Willow oil-drilling project in Alaska’s Arctic region, environmental groups like Earthjustice are banding together to appeal the decision, arguing that the project would be detrimental to the environment, its ecology, and Arctic native groups. The decision comes after the federal court sided with ConocoPhilips and the Bureau of Land Management. CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY

Wolves will return in Colorado at the New Year; ranchers have a mixed reaction. Some on the state’s Western Slope welcome the biodiversity, others feel that urban Coloradans voted for the change that will hurt rural ranchers’ lives and livelihoods. MODERN FARMER

Gila River Indian Tribe is installing solar panels over a canal, working with the Army Corps of Engineers on the Pima-Maricopa irrigation project. When completed, ideally in 2025, the project will save up to 200 acre-feet of water a year by reducing evaporative loss and cutting back the amount of water needed to generate power. ARIZONA MIRROR

A new direct air capture facility in California’s Central Valley uses calcium oxide powder to absorb 1,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year. Many similar direct air capture projects have received funding from the Biden Administration, and the new climate tech is appearing around the country–but not without controversy. Alongside its hefty cost, critics claim that the technology could distract from efforts to reduce emissions. As such, companies such as Airbus, JPMorgan Chase, and Occidental Petroleum have already invested in direct air capture carbon credits. NEW YORK TIMES

Native pikas–small, rabbit-like mammals–are returning to the Columbia Gorge six years after their habitat was destroyed by the Eagle Creek Fire in 2017. Nearly 2,000 hours of citizen scientist surveys collected this year provided the evidence for these promising signs of recovery. OREGON PUBLIC BROADCASTING

Texas education board nixes science texts discussing policies to fight climate change. In 2021 new standards were adopted requiring Texas eighth graders to learn about climate change. Several new texts were rejected for discussing policy solutions or because the publishers followed equity and diversity guidelines. TEXAS TRIBUNE

Harmful algae blooms in Utah formed in dozens of bodies of water this year, caused by a toxic cocktail of agricultural runoff and wastewater, exacerbated by unusually warm temperatures. The blooms contain cyanobacteria, which produce toxins harmful to humans and animals and suck up dissolved oxygen in the water, causing fish die-offs. HIGH COUNTRY NEWS

Last winter’s staggering elk die-off in Wyoming’s Horse Creek Feedground has prompted management adjustments for this coming season. The main perpetrator of the die-off, hoof rot, occurs when bacteria gets into ungulates’ bloodstreams, usually through abrasions in the mouth or hooves. Last winter, the Feedground was 40 percent overpopulated, leading to the deaths of 155 elk calves, who are more susceptible to hoof rot than adults. In response, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department drafted their first elk feedground management plan, which calls for adjustments to feedground conditions, among other preventative policies. WYOFILE

Beer-makers in Oregon are feeling the heat of climate change. Extreme heat negatively impacts the growth of hops and barley, two of the crops commonly used to produce beer. As temperatures leap higher, some growers are looking to diversify their crops with new varieties that can withstand new climate extremes: warmer summers and winters, and increased pests and disease. ASSOCIATED PRESS

Articles worth reading: November 6, 2023

By Maya Green

Heatwaves put the Southwest’s Saguaro cactus at risk; a Bureau of Land Management conservation plan stirs conflict in Montana; Hurricane Otis went to category 5 in a day thanks to a warm ocean; new reporting exposes the extent of oil and gas wastewater spills in Texas; the zombie forests of the southern Sierra; and other environmental news from around the West.

Heatwaves in the American Southwest spell danger for the iconic Saguaro cactus, a slow-growing giant that can take ten years to reach a height of 2 inches. Arizona’s summer of 2023 set records for the longest string of days above 110 degrees, with nighttime temperatures remaining too high for the cacti to respire, a process necessary for plant life. In response, scientists around the state are taking action, creating seed banks of Saguaro seeds to preserve them for future generations. YALE CLIMATE CONNECTIONS

Montana lawmakers are bridling at the Bureau of Land Management’s new resource management plan for the state. Part of the plan provides protections for areas previously earmarked for oil and gas drilling. It also increases protections on lands owned by eight tribal nations in the area. The plan leaves millions of acres available for livestock grazing and keeps several million more open to fossil-fuel development. HIGH COUNTRY NEWS

Tropical Storm Otis took just a day to become the category five hurricane that hit Mexico’s Pacific coast. It was the strongest storm ever to hit this area, with wind speeds reaching 165 mph. Weather models failed to predict that the speed of the storm’s winds would escalate so rapidly. Climate analysts say that the storm’s intensification is a symptom of climate change; such events are likely to become more frequent as ocean temperatures rise. CNN NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Texas oil and gas companies spilled more than 148 million gallons of wastewater over the last decade, an investigation revealed. The wastewater – a toxic amalgam of salt, drilling fluids, and hazardous chemicals from below the earth’s surface – can have drastic effects on agriculture and livestock; farmers and ranchers have sued over spills around the state. INSIDE CLIMATE NEWS

Wildlife is suffering where Montana’s highway 2 cuts through several zones of pristine wilderness, including the Kootenay River and the Cabinet Mountains. These areas are important to wildlife restoration efforts. But in recent years the corridor has also become a hotspot for economic development, with land values along the highway increasing twofold over the last decade. SIERRA

Conifers in parts of California’s southern Sierra won’t be able to survive increasing temperatures and will stand naked as scrub growth piles up beneath them, scientists believe. About 20 percent of all conifer forests in the Sierra are mismatched with the warmer climate and have become “zombie forests,” scientists at Stanford University report. LOS ANGELES TIMES

Commercial ships’ noise is deafening underwater for whales and other marine mammals that use echolocation to communicate and navigate. This extraneous noise can be detrimental or even deadly. In light of increased shipping in the Arctic, the Inuit Circumpolar Council, representing nearly 200,000 Inuit people from around the globe, has urged the United Nations to incorporate marine mammal-friendly shipping guidelines. GRIST

Ecological surveys in Oregon reveal that Chinook salmon numbers in the South Umpqua River are staggeringly low, and several environmental organizations are petitioning the National Marine Fisheries Service to protect the fish under the Endangered Species Act. However, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has said that it is too soon to do so, noting that Chinook population size in the South Umpqua River has always been low. OREGON PUBLIC BROADCASTING

Wyoming could become the epicenter of the transformation of the country’s energy markets. With one-fifth of its energy now coming from wind turbines – and that percentage is growing – the state is likely to become a major source of wind energy around the West. UTILITY DIVE

A four-year-old nonprofit, seeks to bring redwood trees from California to the Pacific Northwest. PropagationNation is headed by Phillip Stielstra, a Seattle resident “tree ambassador.” The organization plants coast redwood trees in the cooler and less fire-prone Northwest. It has planted 10,000 trees, and aims to plant one million by 2027. NEW YORK TIMES

A new, salty lake has appeared in Death Valley, formed by heavy rains from Hurricane Hilary. It’s a couple of inches deep and extends for four miles along Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the continental United States. “It’s like the storm reawakened all these ancient geological hydrological processes,” said one observer. Said another “I’ve seen some bighorn sheep, and they’re just happy. They’re grazing on the wildflowers.” NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO

A photo essay from Civil Eats showcases Montana’s small meat-producers and ranchers. Their methods involve direct sales to retailers and restaurants, acting to counter the monopolies of United States meat conglomerates such as Tyson Foods and Cargill. CIVIL EATS

Articles worth reading: October 23, 2023

By Maya Green

Biden’s U-turn on the border wall infuriates Indigenous groups and climate activists; invasive fish make their way down the Colorado River; oil rigs get a second life as artificial reefs off the coast of California; a new Alaskan road to minerals needed for renewable energy could deliver harm; and other environmental news from around the West.

Climate advocacy organizations and indigenous communities are criticizing the Biden administration for fast-tracking border wall construction in the Rio Grande valley, saying he’s gone back on his climate-forward campaign promises. The proposed 20 miles of border wall will pass through land used by local indigenous communities that is also home to several endangered plant and animal species. To move forward with its construction, the administration had to waive 26 environmental and cultural protections, including the Endangered Species Act and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. THE GUARDIAN

Smallmouth bass threaten endangered fish populations in the Colorado River as they can now, thanks to the drying up of Lake Powell, breach the Glen Canyon dam and reach the Grand Canyon. Four federally-protected fish species could fall victim to the predatory invasive species, which has devastated native fish upstream. The spread of this invasive species adds another complication in the complex management strategy for the river. THE ATLANTIC

Offshore oil rigs are usually abandoned and removed after they lose economic viability, but some scientists now advocate keeping disused rigs in place. In California waters alone, marine researchers from around the state have discovered 27 oil rigs that have turned into “hotbeds of biological activity,” providing a large and stable habitat for marine organisms to colonize. Many environmental groups oppose the call to keep oil rigs in place, saying it lets fossil fuel companies off the hook for removing them. THE GUARDIAN

Closure of military fuel storage facility hailed as victory for Indigenous Hawaiians. In late November 2021, a petroleum gas leak from the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility in Oahu contaminated the Navy’s drinking water system, exposing 93,000 people around the area to water laced with jet fuel. In the wake of several community protests, the United States government has agreed to shut down the facility. Native Hawaiian leaders led the charge in protesting the environmental disaster, and recognize the shutdown as a victory for the people of Hawaii. GRIST

In its 1963 ruling on a Colorado River case, Arizona v. California, the Supreme Court ignored the claims of 30 Native tribes when it apportioned shares in the Colorado River. Although the Navajo Nation and the others’ rights to river water were real, the ruling ensured they were not defensible. That meant the federal government has no duty to ensure tribal access to the water. The posture was reinforced by this year’s 5-4 Supreme Court ruling in Arizona v. Navajo Nation. Back in the 1950s, Arizona led other states in successfully lobbying against recognition of defensible Native rights. The lobbying swayed Justice Department lawyers, who failed to heed warnings about the way this effort would throttle the tribe’s future. HIGH COUNTRY NEWS/PROPUBLICA

A new road project in Alaska presents a paradoxical dilemma. The proposed 211-mile road would cut through Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve on the way to a copper and zinc mine. These minerals are needed to power new sources of renewable energy. But the creation of the road could damage the environment and interfere with Indigenous communities along the proposed route. The Biden Administration must decide whether to move forward with a project, pitting his “clean energy agenda…against his pledge to protect untouched tundra and tribal lands.” NEW YORK TIMES

Point Reyes National Seashore has historically been important to California’s endangered tule elk, but recent droughts have led to a decline in their presence at the National Seashore. A contentious proposal from the National Park Service and a local Indigenous tribe seeks to amend the way elk conservation is managed in the area by removing the fence around the reserve where the elk live. Local farmers and ranchers, on the other hand, oppose the removal, claiming it will have a detrimental effect on their work. CIVIL EATS

Some farmers are adding pH-lowering basalt powder to their fields to counteract the acidifying effects of ammonia-based fertilizer. This strategy, called Enhanced Rock Weathering, is now championed by companies countrywide, who collect the basalt from mines or quarries to sell or, in some cases, give away, to farmers. Not only does basalt help raise the pH of soil, it also sequesters carbon. MODERN FARMER

Clean energy projects on tribal lands could get support from federal grants as the Native Community Development Financial Institution, a native-led nonprofit, works to obtain funds for tribes from a $60 billion EPA program. TRIBAL BUSINESS NEWS

The impact of wildfires on black bear populations in the Eastern Sierra is explored in a new book. In this excerpt from What the Bears Know, Steve Searles and Chris Erskine tell the story of how the Creek Fire pushed the Eastern Sierra black bear population into the town of Mammoth Lakes and the consciousness of the people living there. LITHUB/p>

In an essay on the nature of water, author Kate Schimel shares tender memories of summer swims alongside commentary on the legal definition of a waterway, reflecting on both through the lens of her local Santa Fe River. HIGH COUNTRY NEWS

Articles worth reading: October 9, 2023

By Maya Green

A Saudi firm loses its rights to Arizona’s groundwater. Controversial carbon capture technology planned in Texas; the establishment of the U.S.’s first Indigenous Marine Stewardship Area; a proposal to drain the Lake Powell Reservoir; new research on how wildfire smoke will affect the taste of California wine; and other environmental news from around the West.

Giving a dire picture of America’s rapidly dwindling groundwater stocks, this multimedia article showcases America’s groundwater problem with a focus on agricultural use and wells. The Times compiled pictures, short videos, interviews, and time- apse maps to weave a tale of unsustainable groundwater consumption across the United States. that experts expect the consequences will continue to worsen with climate change. NEW YORK TIMES

A Saudi firm was blocked from extracting Arizona groundwater when the governor’s office terminated Fondomonte Arizona’s lease, finding that the alfalfa farm and Saudi dairy subsidiary violated its groundwater terms and regulations for hazardous chemical storage. The gubernatorial investigation into Fondomonte’s water use began in light of worsening drought conditions in Arizona. The subsidiary says it will appeal the termination of its lease, which encompasses 3,500 acres in Butler Valley, a desert area west of Phoenix. ASSOCIATED PRESS

A conservation plan for Arctic grayling fish in Montana is abandoned after opposition by conservationists. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had planned to install a pipeline to deliver dissolved oxygen to grayling fish spending the winter in Upper Red Rock Lake, Montana. But a federal district judge blocked it after multiple conservation groups sued the government, arguing that the plan would cause more harm than good. The wildlife service ultimately decided to abandon the plan. MONTANA PUBLIC RADIO

A rapidly approaching deadline for negotiations between the federal government and Native tribes on the future installation of hydroelectric dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers inspired this presidential call for federal agencies to determine how best to restore the wild fish populations. President Biden recently recognized the impact of treaties, dams, and human activity in changing the ecosystem of the region. SEATTLE TIMES

The developers of a billion-dollar Texas project claim direct air capture can remove 500,000 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere per year, starting in 2025. Direct air capture uses massive fans to scrub the air of CO2, which is then pumped into rocks underground. The project has already received funding from the Biden administration, but remains controversial because its owner, Occidental Petroleum, is a major oil company. Prominent voices on climate issues claim that the project, called Stratos, is really an exercise in greenwashing that will allow big oil to justify their emissions. GRIST

Three California Tribal Nations collaborated to establish a new marine stewardship area. The Yurok-Tolowa-Dee-ni’ Indigenous Marine Stewardship Area, which will protect nearly 700 square miles of ancestral land and sea, stretching from the Oregon-California border to just south of Trinidad in Humboldt County. Yurok-Tolowa-Dee-ni’ is the first Indigenous Marine Stewardship Area in the United States and its area contributes to the national goal of protecting 30 percent of U.S. waters by 2030. NATIVE NEWS ONLINE

An argument to free the American West From barbed wire. Barbed wire has been a fixture for ranchers since the 1800s, but a recent invention, virtual fencing, is now on the rise and could eventually dominate the practice of animal enclosure. Virtual fences offer a more sustainable, fire-resilient, and flexible alternative to their predecessor, allowing migrating animals unencumbered passage, and giving ranchers leeway to move their herds if environmental conditions change. NEW YORK TIMES

A new technology that combines solar power, sheep farming, and land maintenance, Agrivoltaics—or on-farm solar arrays—are attracting the attention of farmers and energy companies alike. In California, policymakers recently began amassing funds for the groundbreaking technology, which could provide shady relief for sheep, farmers, and the land itself during heat waves. CIVIL EATS

Inside West Coast scientists’ mission to save America’s wine industry from climate change. As wildfires pose a threat to America’s wine industry, scientists from Oregon State University, Washington State University, and University of California, Davis are conducting collaborative research into how to mitigate the effects of smoke on the quality and taste of wine grapes. Their findings will be essential to the future of California wine in an age of more frequent and intense wildfires.  OREGON PUBLIC BROADCASTING

Making the case for redwood forest restoration, an up-and-coming movement bolstered by the U.S. National Parks Service’s “Redwoods Rising” program. The author John Reid argues in favor of “bringing back a redwood landscape, not just groves” throughout the United States to support forest climate resilience, capture immense amounts of carbon from the atmosphere, and invest in a greener future. YALE ENVIRONMENT 360

Articles worth reading: September 26, 2023

By Maya Green

A lawsuit in California to hold big oil accountable; Southern California and Arizona explore desalination in the face of drought; growing urchins to save the kelp forests; wildfires cause a decrease in air quality across the United States; and other environmental news from around the West.

California sues oil companies over years of deception about their industry’s role in climate change. California joins Hoboken, New Jersey and Puerto Rico in suing several prominent oil companies such as Shell and Exxon Mobil for their contributions to climate change. California Attorney General Rob Bonta brought the suit to court, saying that he seeks to use the funds to pay for climate resilience and recovery efforts within the state. NEW YORK TIMES

The Estonian company Enefit is giving up its federal oil shale leases in eastern Utah, one more blow to hopes that Utah shale might become a commercial energy source. Enefit in August notified the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Vernal office that it intends to relinquish its leases, and it proposed a reclamation plan to mitigate the impacts of its work there. Environmentalists challenged the project on multiple fronts, including through a state regulatory review of Enefit’s plans to use 3.5 billion gallons of water from the Green River, a Colorado River tributary. SALT LAKE TRIBUNE

Trout’s disappearance unsettles Montana, a fly-fishing mecca. Warming waters and other factors along the state’s rivers like the Big Hole appear to be contributing to alarmingly low numbers of the state’s renowned rainbow and brown trout. NEW YORK TIMES

Planning for a new, undersea source of desalinated water for a high-end Los Angeles suburb. The Las Virgenes Municipal Water District, which serves Calabasas and Hidden Hills, among other areas, is looking into the feasibility of ocean water desalination to counter intensifying drought conditions. LOS ANGELES TIMES

What Arizona can learn from Israel about desalination? There’s a reason to work with Israel: the state is looking at desalination as a possible way to supplement existing sources of water. A projected four percent decrease in groundwater in the Phoenix area over the next 100 years, as well as dwindling resources from the Colorado River, has inspired the Arizona Water Infrastructure Finance Authority to look into importing desalinated water from Mexico. The project was conceptualized by an Israeli company called IDE; it calls for building a plant in Mexico and piping the water about 200 miles and uphill more than 2,000 feet. The Conversation

Could urchin aquaculture be the solution to California’s rapid loss of its kelp forests? Uncontrolled populations of purple sea urchins have ravaged California kelp forests in recent years, and a Netherlands-based company called Urchinomics has proposed a solution: sea urchin farming. The company has already implemented urchin ranches around the globe, supplied by overabundant urchins that they harvest, grow, and sell to restaurants as a luxury seafood item. SIERRA

In the wake of devastating fires, Maui’s native Hawaiians face water rights challenges. The fires that ravaged Maui last month have caused tensions between commercial water users and native groups in light of a suspension by the government of a water rights law that mandates a certain level of water be kept in a local stream for use by native Hawaiians. NATIVE NEWS ONLINE

Wildfire smoke rolls back decades of air quality improvement, according to a new study in Nature. It found that air quality across the United States has decreased for the first time since the Clean Air Act of 1970. Because of wildfire smoke, air quality in several western states, such as Colorado, New Mexico, Washington, and Wyoming, has declined by 50 percent or more, and with worsening drought conditions and a warming climate, scientists suspect that the situation will continue to regress. WASHINGTON POST

Investors in Colorado seek to elect water board members to make water-for-profit deals easier. Private investors in Renewable Water Resources, a Denver-based company, want to sell groundwater from parts of Colorado to Denver. In order to do so, they have begun an effort to elect favorable candidates to the Douglas County water board, which has jurisdiction over the sought-after groundwater supply. CIVIL EATS

Increased efforts to promote tribal participation in national park management decisions. In 80 national parks, from Point Reyes on the northern California coast to Canyon de Chelly in Arizona to Glacier Bay in Alaska, tribal members have an increased say in park affairs. Said one member of the Coastal Miwok tribe, ““There is a shift. We are treated as stakeholders.”  SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS 

New Mexico’s dwindling mighty river; a photo essay devoted to the Rio Grande, documenting the impact of climate change on nearly 500 miles of the river. SEARCHLIGHT NEW MEXICO

Articles worth reading: September 12, 2023

By Felicity Barringer and Maya Green

A halt on oil drilling on 10 million acres in Alaska; surprise support for draining Lake Powell, the second-biggest reservoir on the Colorado River; a new startup wants to siphon lithium from the Great Salt Lake; a baby beaver caught on camera in Palo Alto, where the species had disappeared decades ago; and more recent environmental news from the West.

The Biden Administration blocks much, but not all, Alaska oil drilling. About 10 million acres would be protected by a ban and leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge issued under President Donald Trump would be canceled. It would not block ConocoPhillips’ Willow project, which Biden approved there earlier this year and is poised to produce 576 million barrels of oil over the next three decades. WASHINGTON POST Conservationists say the move is a boon to wildlife in one of the fastest-warming regions on Earth. YALE E360

As Colorado River dwindles, California farmers push to drain Lake Powell. A cause long pushed by environmental groups is receiving support from influential farms in California’s Imperial Valley, who have some of the strongest water rights to the river’s flow. In a letter to the federal Bureau of Reclamation, two major growers promoted the idea of eliminating the river’s second-largest reservoir and sending its water on to Lake Mead. “Past proposals by environmental groups to decommission Glen Canyon Dam or to operate the reservoir without power production as a primary goal can no longer be ignored and must be seriously considered,” they wrote. LOS ANGELES TIMES

Wyoming’s Flaming Gorge Reservoir can’t serve as a safety valve for Lake Powell and Lake Mead much longer. It only has enough Colorado River water left for two releases to help fill the reservoirs downstream. WATER EDUCATION COLORADO

How do Solano County, California residents feel about a huge new development proposed by billionaires? SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

The Great Salt Lake of Utah has been shrinking for years and environmental groups are now suing the state for letting it happen. A dry Salt Lake would expose a lakebed full of noxious chemicals like arsenic and lead, potentially leading to “‘one of the worst environmental disasters in history,” according to Ben Abbott, a Brigham Young University ecologist. THE GUARDIAN

A startup wants to siphon lithium from 225,000 acre-feet of water from the Great Salt Lake, but unlike other mineral extractors, it claims it will put all the water back afterwards and harvest the coveted element without waste or emissions. THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE

Exploring the Yurok tribe’s stewardship of the Klamath River as four dams begin to come down. As the Tribe’s associate general counsel says, “the Tribe is looking forward to centering the economy around restoration and habitat protection. It’s a good way to get Tribal workforces involved. The Tribe is looking at how to conserve and enhance cultural resources and restore forests.” PPIC

The Southern Ute tribe’s bison herd in Colorado has grown nearly fourfold in less than a decade, but because of the way that drought has desiccated the herd’s 350 acres of land means it can’t get any bigger, for now. ROCKY MOUNTAIN PBS

Prospects for Pacific Coast offshore wind boosted by an agreement between California’s legislature and its governor. The deal envisions a central buyer for power procurement and accelerating permitting for transmission projects and strengthening the state’s strategic reliability reserve for insurance against times when the grid is strained by heat waves. UTILITY DIVE

A baby beaver’s appearance in a Palo Alto creek may signal a return of beavers to northern California. It’s the first sighting of a beaver in that area in 160 years. ABC 7 NEWS

Road noise challenges the basic purpose of parks and recreation areas; it makes recreation difficult and creates havoc for wildlife habitats. “Consider Devils Tower National Monument, the surreal Wyoming butte considered sacred by Plains tribes,” the article reports. “Made famous by the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind, it annually hosts a group of travelers even more disruptive than aliens: bikers from the nearby Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. The roaring fleet of Harleys and Yamahas, Buxton has found, pushes prairie dogs back into their burrows, drives off deer, and deters bats from feeding near the monument for weeks.” HIGH COUNTRY NEWS

Articles worth reading: August 28, 2023

By Felicity Barringer

What happened in Maui and why?

Firefighters reportedly abandoned a “controlled” blaze that then reignited. NEW YORK TIMES

Hawaii Electric delayed actions that would prevent wildfires sparked from their lines. Michael Wara, a Stanford wildfire expert, explained, “What I see the utilities doing is they are asking for a repayment from regulators” to hedge an existential company risk “instead of taking action… The risk of utility-caused wildfires has been increasing rapidly.” BLOOMBERG

The company explores bankruptcy options. UTILITY DIVE

Two centuries of extractive agriculture set the stage for the Maui fires, particularly sugar and pineapple cultivations. CIVIL EATS

Unexpected sources of methane emissions in California: a feedlot and a proposed dam

California’s top methane emitter is a feedlot that is not subject to regulation either by federal or state environmental officials. The 643-acre feedlot in Imperial County houses 139,000 cattle and releases more methane — an estimated 9,000 metric tons annually — than any individual oil or gas well, refinery or landfill. INSIDE CLIMATE NEWS

A potential future emitter of methane is the proposed Sites reservoir northeast of Sacramento, according to a report put out by groups opposing construction of the dam. The report predicts the reservoir would create annually as much climate-warming emissions as 80,000 gas-powered cars. As the vegetation inundated by the reservoir’s waters decays, it produces large amounts of methane. LOS ANGELES TIMES

Oregon rejects available federal funds to find and replace lead pipes. Oregon, like Alaska, and Washington, declined most of the funds — grants and loans — available in the first five years of the Biden administration $15 billion program that is part of the Infrastructure Act. The reluctance may stem from a desire to avoid finding lead pipes in the first place. ASSOCIATED PRESS/JEFFERSON PUBLIC RADIO

New solar projects anger rural residents in the Four Corners region, who focus on the loss of views and wildlife habitat. Rural electric co-ops in Colorado are expanding their solar farms and “It’s impacting the habitat,” said one state senator. “It’s really no different than paving it over as a parking lot or putting up a building. It’s still habitat loss.” KSUT

Montana’s unique constitution was the basis of the young people’s victory on climate suit.

It’s one of six states with constitutionally based environmental protections, and the only one in the West. HIGH COUNTRY NEWS

Going forward, how the Montana climate decision will reverberate, inside the state and its legislatures, and in states across the country. MONTANA FREE PRESS/FLATHEAD BEACON

New Texas law will make electric vehicle owners pay $200 a year to make up for the gas taxes they no longer pay. “It’s being imposed because lawmakers said EV drivers weren’t paying their fair share into a fund that helps cover road construction and repairs across Texas.The cost will be especially high for new owners, required to pay $400, or two years of registration immediately. TEXAS TRIBUNE

Alaska has given over a remote island to feral cattle. Chirikof Island in the Gulf of Alaska is where Russians brought cattle in the 18th century. The cattle stayed when Alaska was sold to the United States. Stayed, and multiplied. A cattle-free Chirikof, with its generally flat topography and lack of predators, would offer more quality habitat for burrow-nesting tufted puffins, storm petrels, and other seabirds. But building nests and raising young is hard when bovine hooves interfere. But Alaskans and their representatives in Washington have ensured that a few hundred feral cattle can stay in a nature preserve. HAKAI

Why were California’s oldest redwoods so valuable to 19th-century loggers? A new book, The Ghost Forest: Racists, Radicals, and Real Estate in the California Redwoods, looks at the trees’ role in California’s economic development and at the duplicity of the Save the Redwoods League. The group claimed to be the trees’ defender but made deals keeping loggers in business, which meant the destruction of old-growth forests to make railroad tracks or pipes carrying petroleum and water. “Before the widespread use of steel, redwood lumber was not just any old wood. It was the very bones of industrial capitalism, at the precise moment in the 19th century when the Golden State was undergoing a growth spurt,” writes the author, Greg King. THE ATLANTIC

An economist tracks the economic impact of the late 19th century bison slaughter on bison-dependent tribes like the Blackfeet Nation in the mountain West. On an NPR podcast, she says that, despite the lack of traditional economic data available, she found a clear indicator of the economic cost of the destruction: tribal members’ average height. This was a clear indicator of economic prosperity. It declined rapidly after the bison were gone. PLANET MONEY/NPR

A Naval ship is christened the USNS Navajo, honoring tribal members who fought in the United States’ military services. A Native cartoonist’s view: NAVAJO TIMES

Articles worth reading: August 15, 2023

Drought, invasive grasses and hurricane winds led to Maui’s deadly wildfires; Montana judge rules for young people in climate-change lawsuit; the Joshua trees destroyed by the York fire won’t come back for decades; a new national monument protects Native lands near the Grand Canyon; Alaskans turn to seaweed cultivation; a defense of alfalfa; and other environmental news from around the West.

By Felicity Barringer

What caused Hawaii’s deadly wildfires? Invasive grasses, baked to a crisp by a severe drought, covered thousands of acres, and were lit — unclear how — just as winds from Hurricane Dora arrived to spread the blaze. About 80 percent of the town of Lahaina is gone; at least 96 people died; hundreds more are missing. BLOOMBERG SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN The role of climate change in the Maui fires. NPR 

A Montana state court rules for young people who argue the state must consider the climate impacts of new energy projects. The case involves 16 Montanans ranging in age from 5 to 22. After 14 other youth-sponsored climate suits were dismissed before trial elsewhere in the country, this and the victory stand out. The court decided part of the state’s Environmental Policy Act is unconstitutional and has harmed both the environment and the young plaintiffs by forbidding consideration of climate impacts. “People around the world are watching this case,” said the founder of Columbia’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law.  WASHINGTON POST 

Burning up: tens of thousands of irreplaceable Joshua trees in California’s high desert ignited like torches over a 82,000-acre area as the York fire spread. In the past, most fires in the ecosystem of these unique plants — unknown elsewhere in the world — were confined, thanks to the scattering of the trees. Now invasive grasses, which thrive on fire, have filled in the empty spaces; they spread this blaze. “These trees are not likely to recover in our lifetime,” one expert said. LAS VEGAS REVIEW JOURNAL LOS ANGELES TIMES

A new national monument near the Grand Canyon was established on lands covered with Native American cultural sites. Using the Antiquities Act, President Biden designated the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni national monument— its name drawn from the Hualapai for “where Indigenous peoples roam” and the Hopi for “our ancestral footprints.” The monument designation protects tribal lands and blocks uranium mining on hundreds of thousands of acres; Republicans in the state legislature oppose it. REUTERS THE WILDERNESS SOCIETY 
Native American reactions: LAKOTA TIMES 

The Columbia RIver’s future hinges on treaty negotiations between Canada and the United States. A year before the deadline to renew the 60-year-old Columbia River Treaty, negotiators are discussing how to establish a framework for deciding how the river flows from Canada to the U.S. and how to assign hydropower and flood-control management responsibilities. SEATTLE TIMES

An appeals court refused to ratify a San Joaquin Valley agency’s “sweetheart deal,” which gives the agricultural region of the Westlands Water District twice as much water as Los Angeles residents use annually. The 2020 contract between the Bureau of Reclamation — an Interior Department agency — and Westlands was established when the Interior Secretary was a former lobbyist for Westlands. Two courts refused to bless the deal.  LOS ANGELES TIMES 

Seaweed in Alaska is the cause of the newest gold rush — or greenrush. Farming in the sea, or mariculture, is a practice spreading across the globe, but the ability of Indigenous peoples to raise seaweed off the Alaska coast is a matter of some urgency, since climate change’s impact on communities here is happening faster than elsewhere, as is the loss of people’s livelihoods and their food. Cultivating sea plants provides a welcome contribution to local economies. WASHINGTON POST

Big waves becoming more common on California’s Pacific coast. A new study examined a century’s worth of data to determine the cause of the massive waves that are loved by surfers but feared by owners of homes on the bluffs above the Pacific. The latter have crumbled when pummeled by the taller, stronger waves. The researchers found a correlation between the increase in global temperatures and the increase in the height of waves. KQED

New Texas law eliminates mandated water breaks for construction workers in Dallas and Austin, no matter how hot it gets. The law, which takes effect Sept. 1, preempts the city governments from mandating 10-minute breaks every four hours. While construction workers make up six percent of the U.S. workforce, they account for 36 percent of the heat-related deaths. Health experts say water breaks can prevent hospitalizations and save the lives of outdoor workers. E&E DAILY

How to grow alfalfa hay in the Colorado River basin using less water. This staple of the dairy and cattle industries produces more protein per acre than other crops, but accounts for one-third of the agricultural water usage. Some farmers are shifting to growing the grasses hydroponically in indoor systems, saving more than 90 percent of the water needed. MODERN FARMER

In defense of alfalfa. A farming journal points out that alfalfa hay is an economic staple of areas like California’s Imperial Valley and uses water very efficiently: the aboveground part of the plant regrows and is harvested many times a year. Its roots soak up groundwater, making the plant hardier in dry spells. AG ALERT  

After wolves are brought back to Colorado, could wolverines be next? The “mountain devils” may be headed for endangered species status, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service agrees in the next few months. Following that determination will come a decision whether to reintroduce them to the snowfields of the Rocky Mountains. DENVER POST

Articles worth reading: July 31, 2023

Forests may soon be unable to sequester carbon and are destined to become emitters, a new study predicts; hospitals in Phoenix use ice-filled body bags to save victims of heat stroke; the 3.8 million acre-feet of water sent to California’s aquifers this year is both impressive and inadequate; environmental activists split over extraction rules; and more environmental news from around the West.

By Felicity Barringer

Forests are losing their ability to sequester and hold carbon, and may soon become carbon emitters instead of carbon sinks, a new study says. It predicts that after 2025, forests’ ability to serve as carbon sinks will rapidly degrade starting in two years. By 1970, forests could emit millions of metric tons of carbon from decaying trees. SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN

Canada’s fires don’t just send smoke southward, they ignite rich organic soils, which keep burning. The “zombie fires” smolder, producing thick smoke but hiding in the peaty soil, burning underground during the winter and reigniting surface fires when temperatures warm. In Alberta this summer, carbon-rich peatlands nurtured fires dozens of feet below the surface. ALASKA BEACON

In Phoenix, ice-filled body bags save patients near death from the heat. Maricopa County lost 439 people to heat-related causes last year, up 25 percent from 2021 and more than double the 2019 figure. Heat stroke, when core body temperatures reach 103 degrees Fahrenheit, is the worst heat effect; it prompts a multi-organ system failure. Ice bags are key. Thermal images show Phoenix using technology to cool things. BLOOMBERG WASHINGTON POST

Utah’s citizen scientists are helping map the hottest spots in Salt Lake City, part of a national project to help city officials know better where heat is concentrated, the better to prepare for it. Preparation could mean more trees along parking lots or new cooling centers. SALT LAKE TRIBUNE

An estimated 3.8 million acre-feet of water went into California’s aquifersafter this year’s epic rains — enough to supply 11 million households — but Paul Gosselin, deputy director of the state groundwater management office, noted, “This one year is going to improve conditions but it’s also not the end of the story, and it may only scratch the surface.” Recharge is one way to support aquifers, Another is not pumping. This year California has awarded $40 million —$17 million in the last week— to local agencies to pay Central Valley farmers to forgo pumping. SACRAMENTO BEE SJV WATER

An order by a federal judge in Seattle to shut down Alaska’s king salmon fishery — now on hold pending an appeal — could help the salmon and the Puget Sound orcas that feed on them, but devastate the fishing industry, rural communities and Natives for whom the salmon are basic to their cultural and spiritual lives. If the order holds, it is still a partial solution for maintaining the fish, whose numbers have been thinned by dams and pollution and are now jeopardized by climate change, perhaps the most worrisome threat to the king salmon’s survival. In western Alaska’s indigenous towns, the loss of salmon hits home. NEW YORK TIMES INSIDE CLIMATE NEWS

How eagles help dairy farmers in western Washington. A recent survey of 20 dairy farmers showed that, among the benefits of the raptors — who are more evident on farms as there is less salmon to catch — “Eagles scare off pest birds and help clean up carcasses and placenta, the surveyed farmers reported. Farmers in turn provide eagles some supplemental snacks if the salmon are running low and, at a more fundamental level, they provide fields instead of pavement.” CIVIL EATS

The environmental movement is being fractured by arguments over loosening permitting rules for energy projects. When the debt-ceiling compromise included concessions on curbing environmental controls to speed green energy development, the rift broke into the open, writes “& the West’s” onetime intern, Josh Lappen, an energy historian and Ph.D. candidate at Oxford. “To even name the debate is to invoke a factional diagnosis: the view that environmental laws are hobbling decarbonization by preventing clean energy infrastructure from getting built quickly enough — or even at all.” HEATMAP

Proposed federal rules would remake the oil-drilling industry in the West. They would make operators pay more while tightening existing leasing regulations. HIGH COUNTRY NEWS WYOFILE

The movie “Oppenheimer” ignored the impact of uranium wastes on Navajo land, the Navajo Nation’s president says. The film opened “days after the 44th anniversary of the Church Rock uranium mill spill, when 94 million gallons of radioactive waste poured into the Puerco River … and across the Navajo Nation. Children played in the contaminated water, while livestock drank from radioactive aquifers,” writes Buu V. Nygren. “What came next — cancers … and mysterious illnesses — is a direct consequence of America’s race for nuclear hegemony.” And elsewhere in New Mexico, people downwind of the blast suffered as well with serious and longterm health consequences they say that history and the new film have ignored. TIME WASHINGTON POST

Articles worth reading: July 17, 2023

How people are burned, scalded and even dying in the West’s relentless heat; Colorado River water is denied to Native claimants in Arizona; an Oregon town buys surrounding timberland to get a jump on wildfire prevention; grizzlies in the Northern Rockies aren’t staying put; and more environmental stories from around the West.

By Felicity Barringer

How hot is the summer of 2023? In Phoenix, pavement burns people; garden hoses scald them. In Texas, people used to heat are beginning to die from it. Understanding the threat of current heat waves, why future years will get hotter, and what is the cause of it all. A meditation on what it will take to live in the Arizona deserts in the years ahead — if they will be livable at all. NEW YORK TIMES WASHINGTON POST EOS THE ATLANTIC

A project to use national parks to underline climate change’s impacts takes a congressional delegation to Alaska’s Denali National Park, where a slow landslide accelerated by warming soils has made a major park road unusable. In Denali, the major focus was the impact of melting permafrost and its release of greenhouse gasses. The group has looked at climate-driven change at other national parks, including Yellowstone and Yosemite. ALASKA BEACON

Looking at future sea-level rise, an endless list and expensive list of fixes will be needed to protect the San Francisco Bay area, a new study shows. The three regional agencies that produced the study say that $150 billion will be needed to build dozens of miles of higher levees, raise some roads along the area’s 400 miles of waterfront and expand thousands of acres of wetlands. SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS

A proposed hydrogen pipeline set to arc across Navajo land has been touted at local meetings in tribal communities, but the suspicions of a new fossil-fuel project are rife, given the way earlier fossil fuel projects have scarred Navajo life. INSIDE CLIMATE NEWS

Access to its Colorado River water has been denied to the Chemehuevi Indian tribe, whose land along the Arizona’s border with California include 30 miles of riverfront. About 97 percent of the tribe’s water, seemingly guaranteed as theirs by a 115-year-old Supreme Court decision, flows past them and is used by Southern California cities. How this has happened. PRO PUBLICA/HIGH COUNTRY NEWS

Does one company’s power throttle the ability of small Dungeness crab fishermen to make a living in the Pacific Northwest? Pacific Seafood is the dominant crab processor, and in a recent lawsuit, small fishermen charge the company illegally works to keep crab prices low and persuade regulators to delay the season and deny them holiday-season sales. CIVIL EATS

Hoping to remake its economy and discourage wildfires, Butte Falls, a small Oregon town, bought surrounding timberland to promote old-growth trees. Instead of cutting down the trees for a quick profit, the onetime lumbermen running the town seek to keep the forest’s old trees and encourage biodiversity, discourage fires and attract tourists. INSIDE CLIMATE NEWS

In the Northern Rockies, grizzlies are moving outside the boundaries once set for them and have headed east and south from the Yellowstone and Northern Continental Divide ecosystems. As the federally protected bears — some are fearsome 800-pounders that can and do kill humans — venture into territory abandoned for more than 100 years, they are crossing not just political boundaries but boundaries of tolerance. Grizzlies and black bears are also hibernating less, as winter comes later and spring comes earlier. HIGH COUNTRY NEWS LITHUB

Hawai’i is set to become the first state to install federally-funded EV chargers, making plans for 32 chargers — perhaps the vanguard for half a million chargers nationally, supported with $5 billion in funds authorized by the 2021 Infrastructure Act. UTILITY DIVE

Can a new way of cannabis farming be a roadmap for solving the West’s thorniest environmental issues, particularly those affecting rural areas? The author writes: “Where is cannabis production located, and why? What are cannabis farming’s impacts on a landscape? …How does wildlife respond to active cannabis farms? … Though these issues feel unique to cannabis, they run parallel to rural land use issues that predate its legalization. ….Addressing the concerns regarding rural cannabis production will provide a roadmap for resolving many entrenched issues relevant across the Western U.S.” ZOCALO PUBLIC SQUARE

Articles worth reading: July 5, 2023

The Supreme Court rejects Navajo claim for help quantifying tribal water rights; a possibility of tracking wildfire smoke; the tribe that wants to newly revived Tulare Lake to remain a lake; new protection for Joshua Trees; and the fraught competing histories of the lands of Glacier Nation Park, and other environmental stories from around the West.

By Felicity Barringer

On a water rights issue, the Supreme Court rejects a Navajo claim for assistance in determining how much water the Navajo Nation was granted in an 1868 treaty. Justice Bret Kavanaugh wrote the opinion of the five-member majority saying the treaty didn’t guarantee that help; Justice Neil Gorsuch, writing for the minority, said that the tribe’s wishes were much more modest than the conservative majority was assuming. NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO

New possibilities in tracking the origins of wildfire smoke emerge from an upcoming Stanford University study. A wildfire’s fuel is directly related to the pollution in its smoke. Finding a fire’s origins may help firefighters prioritize their efforts as they will be able to predict which fires will do the greatest damage to the greatest number of people. THE NEW YORK TIMES

A local tribe works to keep Tulare Lake a lake. The old water body had disappeared after dams and diversions were created to allow more agricultural fields, but it has always had a role in the culture of the Tachi Yokut Tribe. Now that it has reemerged over the agricultural fields that covered it, tribal members don’t want to see history repeated and the lake removed again. “This is the people’s lake!” said one tribal member. “This belongs to all of us.” The tribe may be in luck: the flooding that brought the lake back may continue. LOS ANGELES TIMES ABC News

Removal of the first of four Klamath dams is underway and should be completed this summer. The head of the Klamath River Renewal Corporation said that small holes for explosives will be drilled in the cement walls of the Copco 2 dam in Oregon. “The goal is to break up the large concrete structures into smaller chunks that are more manageable,” he said. KDRV Medford Oregon

A new California state law offers protection for Joshua trees. The Western Joshua Tree Conservation Act passed the legislature and includes $5 million for environmental organizations to help conserve the gangly, high-desert plant. A 2019 study indicated that in 50 years, almost all the range of the plant will have disappeared. DESERT SUN THE GUARDIAN

Ground is broken in Wyoming for TransWest Express, the $5 billion transmission line that will bring wind energy to the Southwest and California. Developers estimate the wind farms will provide renewable electricity to one million homes and avoid the production of from 7 to 11 million tons of carbon dioxide, a leading greenhouse gas. But in Wyoming, skepticism of wind power is growing. WASHINGTON POST

Regional transmission organizations, collectives of state electricity regulators, are active around the country, but not in the West. Michael Wara, a Stanford law professor focused on climate policy, discusses whether, why and how utilities in the western states should join together in a regional transmission organization which can plan future transmission for the region, increase system efficiency and reliability and reduce costs. VOLTS Newsletter

Solar energy bails out the Texas electrical grid. A surge in solar power generation is helping the state’s primary grid operator navigate an ongoing and stifling heat wave. About 15 percent of the Texas utility ERCOT’s power generation came from solar alone during most afternoon hours, often making solar the second-largest source of electricity production after natural gas.

California regulators designate $4.3 billion to underwrite energy efficiency over the next three years, allocating 14 percent of the total for working with underserved and rural communities. UTILITY DIVE

When it comes to prickly pears of the Southwest, there’s a divergence in the European and Native understanding of how, whether and why to harvest them. ORION

An exploration of Glacier National Park’s history from the Blackfeet perspective. A podcast that reports from along Montana’s 50-mile Road to the Sun, going outside the places that three million tourists go annually. “In order to understand the park, you have to go outside it,” and onto the Blackfeet reservation the narrator says.This podcast examines the fraught relationship between the 10,000 Blackfeet and the National Park Service over what stories tourists are told, and by whom. FIELD NOTES/WASHINGTON POST

An argument for eliminating, not retrofitting, Glen Canyon Dam, which holds back the Colorado River on the Utah-Arizona border. Recalling the fierce opposition to the dam’s construction in the mid-20th century, Douglas Peacock, an heir to Edward Abbey, one of the leading mid-century opponents, writes “The Bureau of Reclamation’s proposal is to reengineer the Glen Canyon Dam… [at an] estimated cost is as high as $3 billion.” He added, “Why the bureau doesn’t look beyond engineering fixes is puzzling.” ALTA

Articles worth reading: June 20, 2023

U.S. Supreme Court upholds 1978 law giving Native parents priority in adopting Native children; a Montana court hears the first case in which children argue that state actions are denying them access to a healthy climate; a movement to recycle water within individual buildings is flourishing in San Francisco; could grizzlies be reintroduced in California; and other environmental news from around the West.

By Felicity Barringer

Tribal couples have priority In Native adoptions, a 7-2 majority of the Supreme Court ruled. The decision upholds the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act. Justice Amy Coney Barrett wrote the majority opinion. In an eloquent concurrence, Justice Neil Gorsuch reviewed the abusive and culture-killing rise of Indian boarding schools, writing: “By the late 1870’s [the federal government’s] goals turned to destroying tribal identity… thus began Indian boarding schools.” He added “The dissolution of the Indian family has had a devastating effect on children and parents alike.” WASHINGTON POST EDUCATION WEEK 

Do young people have a legal right to a safe and healthy climate? That question is on trial In Montana; a young athlete said that wildfire smoke prevents him from competing in track. BLOOMBERG  NEW YORK TIMES ASSOCIATED PRESS

How Arizona stands between tribes and the water they need and have rights to, and the impact of the stalemate. The Navajo nation’s years-long, sharp negotiations with the state of Arizona over its water rights are ongoing. So everything is on hold, from a new medical center opening delayed by inadequate water access, to pipelines, wells and water tanks for communities, farms and businesses — some permanently.   HIGH COUNTRY NEWS PROPUBLICA 

San Francisco is in the forefront of the new practice of water recycling within buildings. “There is no reason to use water only once,” said an expert from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. “We now have technologies to process and use water over and over, at the scale of a city, a campus, or even an individual home.” YALE ENVIRONMENT 360

Owners of private lands blocking access to surrounding public lands have no right to lock people out, a Wyoming opinion piece argues. A variety of court decisions over the decades, along with a 48-year-old legal opinion citing the 1885 “Unlawful Inclosures Act,” are supposed to ensure that the public has access. But state and county attorneys tend to enforce conflicting trespass laws, to the advantage of wealthy landowners seeking to maintain exclusive hunting and fishing preserves. WYOFILE

An Oregon jury’s $73 million punitive damage award against PacifiCorp for causing the 2020 wildfires could open the door to billions of dollars in more payments. The utility is accused of ignoring warnings to shut off power to 600,000 people. Its apparatus set off wildfires that killed nine people, destroyed 5,000 structures and burned 1,875 acres. ASSOCIATED PRESS T&D WORLD

Apache opponents of a proposed Arizona copper mine say their religious liberty is at stake. The mining company Rio Tinto has applied for construction of a facility east of Phoenix, on lands that the tribe argues are sacred to them. It makes the arguments over land known as Oak Flat central to two questions: the proper role of religion in society and how to manage the hunt for metals crucial to tomorrow’s technology and the fight against climate change. LOS ANGELES TIMES 

If rare earth metals could be obtained from a once-defunct mine in southeastern California, the move could increase the domestic supply of minerals essential to EVs and digital devices. GRIST 

Some argue it’s possible to reintroduce grizzlies to California. But will people go for it? The state’s last grizzly bear was killed in 1916. But a group of scientists calling themselves the California Grizzly Research Network has found suitable reintroduction sites and food systems, suggesting a return is possible. “Grizzly bears are the Swiss Army knives of bears,” said one. “Drop them off in most environments and they’ll survive.”  ALTA

Avocado fever in western Mexico is decimating forests of pine and oak and replacing them with “green gold” at a rapid pace. The changes are most dramatic in the southern state of Jalisco, where, in 2010, there wer little more than 20,000 acres of avocado orchards; 11 years later, there were more than 68,000 acres. The avocados soak up much of the region’s water and the loss of forests has led to fatal landslides and mudslides. MONGABAY

Climate change and melting ice are making coastal Alaskan cities into cruise destinations. With more and more shipping lanes in the far North opening up to large cruise vessels, more tourists are visiting places like Nome — a once rough-and-ready northwest Alaska destination known better for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race and its 1898 gold rush. ASSOCIATED PRESS

Articles worth reading: June 6, 2023

New Phoenix developments may be stymied by need to guarantee water access; California homeowners’ insurance harder to find and to afforfd; no new oil and gas leases on federal lands within 10 miles of the Native ruins at New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon; utility customers’ bills in California could be determined by their income, not their power use; and more environmental news from around the West.

By Sarah Raza

The Phoenix area can’t meet groundwater demand over the next century, according to a report from the Arizona Department of Water Resources. The finding could threaten the home-building boom in outer suburbs that are among the fastest growing parts of the United States. Any new development in the region that hasn’t had its water guaranteed will have to rely on another source of water, such as the Colorado River and other local rivers, or on yet-to-be developed sources. THE WASHINGTON POST INSIDE CLIMATE NEWS NPR

SunZia Southwest Transmission Project receives final approval from the Bureau of Land Management. Fifteen years in the making, the transmission line will traverse 520 miles to deliver energy, primarily renewable, from New Mexico to Arizona and California. The project now needs its final right-of-way grant from the federal government, which is expected to come in the next month or so. INSIDE CLIMATE NEWS

Homeowners’ insurance is quickly getting harder to find and afford in California. State Farm has stopped issuing and renewing policies in the state, citing the growing risk from catastrophes like wildfires and the rising cost to rebuild. State Farm is the leading homeowners’ insurance provider in California, and the new decision applies to both personal and business properties. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there — not. E&E NEWS GRIST NPR

Arizona copper mine approval is on hold as the Biden administration waits to meet with opposing tribes and the Forest Service ahead of issuing an environmental impact statement. Such a statement is a crucial step to approve a land swap in Arizona that could eventually result in the destruction of an Apache holy site if the project is approved. E&E NEWS

The Biden Administration blocks drilling around Native American cultural site for the next 20 years. Chaco Canyon in New Mexico is one of the nation’s oldest and most culturally significant Native American sites, and Biden pledged to protect the area from drilling back in 2021. Now, his Interior Department will withdraw public lands in a 10-mile radius from access to new oil and gas leasing. The decision will not affect any existing oil or gas leases on the land. THE NEW YORK TIMES

In California, your power bill could soon depend on your income if a new state law is approved. The law would require the state’s three investor-owned utilities to charge customer fees based not only on how much they use, but how much they make. Low-income residents could save $300 per year on their bills, while those making $180,000 or more annually could pay an average of $500 more. The controversial law asks: who should pay for the damage climate change is doing to the electric grid? THE WASHINGTON POST

The oil industry won’t make enough money to clean up California’s oil sites, a new study finds. For well over a century, the oil and gas industry has drilled holes across California in search of black gold; there are nearly a quarter-million wells scattered from downtown Los Angeles to western Kern County and across the state, but the bill for clean-up could reach $21.5 billion. The industry has set aside only one percent of the needed funds, and taxpayers will likely have to cover much of the difference. PROPUBLICA

A fight ensues over a leaky Nevada irrigation canal that burst and flooded homes back in 2008. This year the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation began work on a plan to line parts of the antiquated 31-mile canal with concrete. Farmers and ranchers in and around the high desert town of Fenley said the repairs would cut access to water that they have used for a century to help fill their wells east of Reno, but the government says they have no rights to the water owned by taxpayers. AP NEWS

California will provide $95 million in storm relief to undocumented residents ineligible for federal aid. The decision comes after months of pressure from advocates and flood victims who were impacted by the winter’s severe storms. The funding is available through May 31 of next year or until all funds are claimed. SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

One woman takes on big coal to protect Navajo water. After getting her linguistics degree, Nicole Horseherder planned to return home to Black Mesa and teach. But when she found the waters of her region under threat and with the encouragement of her community’s leaders, she found a different mission. She rallied against the coal companies – and won. GRIST

A once-drowned ecosystem emerges as the nation’s second-largest reservoir recedes. Lake Powell’s water levels have dipped to the lowest since 1968. As the water recedes, a breathtaking landscape of deep red-rock canyons that cradle lush ecosystems and otherworldly arches, caverns and waterfalls is emerging. GRIST

In the bogs of Hecate Island, British Columbia, a novice naturalist joins researchers for a glimpse of a multiyear biodiversity mission—and gets acquainted with some odd organisms. The research is taking place at the Hakai Lúxvbálís Conservancy, a 123,000-hectare protected area on and around Calvert Island that some describe as “untouched wilderness.” HAKAI MAGAZINE

Articles worth reading: May 23, 2023

Key states agree on apportioning Colorado River; Burning Man festival fights proposed clean energy plant; some far-right groups exploit climate chaos; Colorado to set rules to track air pollution in minority communities; California coastal homeowners sue to stay; The Tohono O’odham tribe will get its ancestral homelands back; and more environmental news from around the West.

By Sarah Raza

A historic Colorado River water conservation agreement was reached as California, Arizona and Nevada pledged to forgo using three million acre-feet of water over the next three years. In return for the states’ willingness to lose 13 percent of the water they had been using, the federal government will pay $1 billion or more to compensate the states, paying farmers and other users who are losing water. The agreement ends months of sometimes acrimonious negotiations between the three states and a threatened federal takeover of the distribution of Colorado River supplies.  WASHINGTON POST

Burning Man festival fights proposed clean energy plant in the Nevada desert, highlighting the struggle to combat climate change and the cost of clean power. Alongside the unincorporated town of Gerlach where the festival is held, a local Native American tribe and concerned conservationists, Burning Man is fighting Ormat Technology, the largest geothermal power company in the U.S. As the two sides argue over the best way forward to a sustainable future, compromises must be made between the combat against climate change and the costs of the clean energy necessary. NEW YORK TIMES

Some far-right groups exploit the climate chaos in the wake of natural disasters. After Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, the anti-government militia called the Oath Keepers stepped in to provide relief to communities when FEMA was too overwhelmed to respond. Disasters provide the Oath Keepers with opportunities to fundraise and gain the trust of people who might not otherwise be sympathetic to their anti-government cause. Every time a new person sees the militia as the helpers who respond when the government does not, it helps build the group’s fledgling brand. GRIST

Colorado to set rules to track air pollution in minority communities in a push for environmental justice. The proposed rules would implement monitoring for specific pollutants, and air polluters could be required to pay fees to fund the monitoring. Some who are affected by the pollutants think the proposed rules are too lax towards polluters. Colorado would be the second state in the nation to enact such a law. DENVER POST

Coastal homeowners sue to stay as California attempts a “managed retreat.” Half Moon Bay’s shoreline has been eroding by a few inches each year. The state’s Coastal Commission agency shot down a plan for a seawall and recommended that families along the shoreline relocate. In response, the homeowners’ association sued the commission to protect their road and to keep their homes. It’s the latest in legal battles over “managed retreat” attempts to relocate homes along the coast instead of protecting them where they are. GRIST

The Tohono O’odham tribe will get its ancestral homelands back following approval from the Tucson City Council. The decision was a culmination of a decades-long debate over the land, and city council members believe the return of land will ensure its continued preservation and reverence. ARIZONA MIRROR

Methane mitigation in Texas could create thousands of jobs in the oil and gas sector. Though state officials claim that methane regulation would kill jobs, a new report has found that it could generate between 19,000 and 35,000 jobs for the Lone Star State. Reducing methane emissions is one of the most effective short-term measures to slow the pace of climate change, and the EPA’s upcoming methane regulations would reduce methane emissions 87 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. INSIDE CLIMATE NEWS

Montana is emerging as a must-watch climate battleground. With the country’s largest recoverable coal reserves, which are critical for its economy, Montana is facing resistance as neighboring states try to reduce imports of carbon-intensive power from this state. Though the environment has long been a priority, recent legislation has brought climate issues to a head. WASHINGTON POST

California’s grid operator has signed off on $7.3 billion of power lines for dozens of new transmission projects over the next decade. The projects will support the development of more than 40 gigawatts of new generation resources and make it easier for new power plants in high-priority areas to connect to the grid. REUTERS

Construction begins on removal of Klamath dams, an estimated $450 million project that some consider one of the most significant dam removal projects in U.S. history. The regulatory and legal process to remove the dams has lasted nearly twenty years, and advocates for removal hope that this will enable key fish species to regain access to their habitats, which have been closed off for over a century. CIVIL ENGINEERING

Scientists take flight to map California’s vast snowpack and measure flooding threats. Airborne Snow Observatories are collecting data to estimate when and how fast the snow will melt, helping California officials prepare for the runoff, manage water releases from dams and assess which areas are most at risk of flooding. Though some snow has begun to thaw, much of it remains in the mountains, threatening to inundate low-lying communities with enormous flows when it melts. LOS ANGELES TIMES

A weed is swallowing the Sonoran desert after the heaps of rainfall this winter. Vast fields of stinknet are edging out native plants in the fragile Sonoran biome and complicating management efforts. Experts fear the invasive species will only become fuel for the wildfires next season once they dry out. HIGH COUNTRY NEWS

Articles worth reading: May 9, 2023

Navajo Nation objects to uranium mining plans on federal land; a new crop of “water brokers” has sprung up across the West; will Texas colonias ever have running water; environmentalists sue California over reduced solar incentives; Arizona is bidding for $1 billion in federal funding for hydrogen production; and more environmental news from around the West.

By Sarah Raza

Navajo Nation objects to uranium mining plans on federal land within the nation’s eastern boundary. The Navajo Nation has had a moratorium against uranium mining for two decades after a dam breach contaminated their water supply with uranium waste and radioactive water. The communities said they were not informed about the mining in advance and worry about the risk of another spill. NEW MEXICO POLITICAL REPORT

A new crop of “water brokers” has sprung up across the West, buying up water rights and selling them to developers and suburbs. In Nevada, one company spent decades buying water and is now reaping profits as water shortages cause cities to pump the brakes on new developments. As these water brokers buy water from rural areas and sell them to rapidly developing urban areas, some worry that those water banks will turn out to be unreliable or run dry. GRIST

Will Texas colonias ever have running water? Colonia communities, developed on less desirable tracts of land in the 1960s, are situated along the Texan border and often lack basic human services like water infrastructure, electricity and plumbing. As the state gears up to spend billions of dollars to fix its water systems, advocates worry that the money will never reach colonias because they don’t fall into the categories of communities prioritized by the legislation. TEXAS TRIBUNE

Environmentalists sue California over reduced incentives to install solar arrays after the state slashed compensations for power generated by solar panels. More than 1.5 million homes have installed solar panels, in large part because of the net metering incentive program. If the lawsuit succeeds, solar panel installations are expected to continue increasing, decreasing reliance on monopoly utility companies. If it fails, rooftop solar installers expect a significant decline in business. L.A. TIMES INSIDE CLIMATE NEWS

An Arizona collective is bidding for $1 billion in federal funding for hydrogen fuel production. The Southwest clean Hydrogen Innovation Network ‘s proposals to the U.S. Department of Energy, which outline plans to produce hydrogen-based energy, have made it past the first selection round; the Energy Department select six to ten winning projects and distribute $8 billion to jumpstart the country’s clean hydrogen economy. Arizona Republic

Who gets a say in tribal country hunting? Off-reservation hunting rights are a thorny issue for tribal citizens in Wyoming, largely due to the state’s desire to have a say in the activities of Indigenous hunters. Tribal nations have historically been guaranteed hunting and fishing rights through treaties with the U.S. government, but recent legislation has given rise to conflict. HIGH COUNTRY NEWS

Seattle proposes fish passage on its dams following years of advocacy from tribal groups. The Upper Skagit Tribe pushed for a way for salmon to cross three hydroelectric dams on the Skagit River in an effort to restore the ecosystem to its natural state. The project is estimated to cost tens of millions of dollars and over 15 years after license approval. HIGH COUNTRY NEWS INSIDE CLIMATE NEWS

Biden’s green energy goals blow up against a painful Northwest legacy. In Southern Idaho, the land where a developer wants to erect hundreds of windmills was also the site of a Japanese internment camp during World War II. The Pacific Northwest has long been a hub for hydroelectric power and provides cheap and reliable energy to Americans, but wind developers are facing a new wave of not-in-my-backyard opposition. THE SEATTLE TIMES

Arizona developers with ambitions for greatly expanding housing are paying large sums to buy land over the Harquahala basin. The land gives them rights to pump water from one of three groundwater basins whose water can be exported. Critics fear that the state’s groundwater laws are enabling an unsustainable addiction to growth that will lead to a painful reckoning if water supplies fall short of the need now being created. INSIDE CLIMATE NEWS

This California air quality tracker shows air quality levels down to the neighborhood. Updated every ten minutes, the map shows ratings for the Bay Area and the state at large. SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

Tulare Lake grows, and that won’t stop for a while. NASA’s Earth Observatory offers detailed before-and-after images of what has happened to the southern San Joaquin Valley since the lake’s return in late March. The bad news is the loss of farm fields that grew tomatoes and other vegetables. The good news is how the excess water along the Kern River is being used to recharge depleted groundwater basins. “All the dark blue water you see is being managed in recharge ponds,” said the Kern River’s watermaster, Mark Mulkay. NASA EARTH OBSERVATORY

Articles worth reading: April 24, 2023

Republicans introduced bills to punish renewables in Texas; the Interior Department  gave final approval for a massive transmission line from Wyoming to Utah; the Biden Administration proposed evenly cutting water allotments to save the Colorado River; what happens when a Black enclave in Texas is built by Big Oil; why the West got buried in snow this winter; and more environmental news from around the West.

By Sarah Raza

Interior Department gave final approval to a massive transmission line that will carry renewable energy from Wyoming to Utah. The 732-mile TransWest Express Transmission project will carry energy from the nation’s largest onshore wind farm to help move clean energy into California. After 15 years of permitting work, the transmission operator is ready to move ahead with construction, with plans for the first stage to be completed by 2027. E&E NEWS HIGH COUNTRY NEWS

Texas Republicans introduced new bills to punish renewables in a state with one of largest clean energy industries. Texas produces the most energy, by far, from renewable sources like wind and solar, and manufactures a significant portion of the country’s electric vehicles. But a package of new bills would increase the amount of gas-fired energy and limit the development of renewable energy based on the generation of natural gas. Although previous environmentally-unfriendly bills have failed to pass, the renewed push from legislators could make it difficult for state officials to tap into the Inflation Reduction Act for climate-related projects. INSIDE CLIMATE NEWS

The Biden administration proposes cutting water allotments from the Colorado River in order to save it. Overuse and a 23-year-long drought have shrunk the Colorado River, which supplies drinking water to 40 million Americans and two states in Mexico. Months of negotiations between key stakeholder states led to no agreement on cuts;  the Biden administration has now proposed to protect what’s left of the river by overriding laws assigning water rights and evenly cutting allotments reducing the water supply to California, Arizona and Nevada by as much as one-quarter. It could have serious ramifications for farmers in the Southwest, both those who grow winter vegetables and those — the majority — that grow alfalfa and other food for cattle. THE NEW YORK TIMES   VOX

What happens when a Black enclave is built by Big Oil? Beaumont, Texas is a Black stronghold, first attracting Black residents in the early 20th century and ushering an era of economic stability. But a massive oil refinery and chemical plant owned by ExxonMobil has left residents battling a climate, housing and health crisis. CAPITAL B NEWS

Why the West got buried in snow this winter, while the East got so little. Opposing weather conditions on the two coasts is not uncommon; the jet stream, which is a band of winds flowing from west to east across the planet, has wave-like patterns resulting in cooler conditions when it dips southward and warmer conditions when it dips northward. The timing of precipitation and freezing temperatures also influenced this winter season. THE NEW YORK TIMES

In Washington state, a new initiative to boost urban tree cover aims to bring greenery to underserved areas. The Washington Tree Equity Collaborative will leverage funds from Biden’s climate-spending bill as well as federal grants to expand the tree canopy, which will provide cleaner air and offer better protection from heat. GRIST

What parts of the Central Valley are likely to flood when the massive snowmelt begins? It’s complicated. What’s certain is that runoff from melting snow could surge to dangerous levels in areas with higher than expected temperatures, especially in southern California. Northern California rivers are forecast for a typical wet year because the region simply has more water infrastructure, but the south’s Tulare Lake and San Joaquin River basins are an area of concern. Specific predictions remain elusive. But satellite photos show that the melt has begun. SACRAMENTO BEE  LOS ANGELES TIMES 

Indigenous tribes and the Interior Department celebrate the dedication of Nevada sacred site Avi Kwa Ame, which translates to “Spirit Mountain” in the Mojave language. President Biden declared the site a National Monument, and at 500,000 acres, it’s the largest national monument he has designated to date and the second monument ever to protect land important to Indigenous culture. NATIVE NEWS ONLINE THE NEW YORK TIMES LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL

Inside California’s Klamath dam removal project, the largest in U.S. history. Native American tribes have relied on the Klamath river for generations for water, transportation and food. But after private companies built dams in the early 1900s for hydroelectric power and irrigation, it became clear that the dams significantly altered the river’s flow, temperature, sediment and fish populations. River advocates and tribal groups have been fighting for more than r 20 years for the removal of four dams along the river. That process is now beginning.  SFGATE

To protect orcas, boats in Washington’s Puget Sound must stay 1,000 yards away afte Governor Inslee signs new legislation. The bill will expand the buffer zone from 400 yards to 1,000 yards to protect the endangered southern resident killer whales. The community currently has 73 whales, with 25 females capable of reproducing. The buffer zone will help reduce cacophonic noise in the Salish Sea by keeping noisy boats farther away from the orcas, who depend on sonar to hunt and communicate. CROSSCUT

Here’s a look at the probabilities for a major quake in California. Each year, an earthquake with a magnitude of 8 or higher is expected to strike somewhere across Earth, and the Bay Area, underlaid by multiple fault lines, is target-rich. The overall probability of a quake with magnitude of 6.7 or higher somewhere in the Bay Area in the next two decades is 72%. This map shows expected probabilities and damage. THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

Articles worth reading: April 10, 2023

Los Angeles County sewage threatens to contaminate a lake that just reappeared in the Central Valley; a months-long sanctioned bison hunt in Yellowstone has killed 1,500 bison; California’s reservoirs are full again; fisheries are canceling salmon fishing season; a disappearing New Mexican dialect ; and more environmental news from around the West.

By Sarah Raza and Felicity Barringer

Los Angeles County sewage threatens to contaminate Tulare Lake if the reborn lake floods. The largest body of freshwater west of the Mississippi, dewatered 100 years ago and replaced by agricultural fields, Tulare Lake was recently refilled after a series of winter storms. Government officials worry that toxic chemicals from the waste could seep into the groundwater and contaminate streams and rivers throughout the region, as well as impact chicken and dairy ranches nearby. The Tulare Lake Compost facility has enough infrastructure to withstand a limited amount of flooding, but warm spring and a sudden snowpack melt could pose a serious threat to the levees protecting the facility. LOS ANGELES TIMES

A months-long bison hunt outside the borders of Yellowstone National Park has killed 1,500 bison. Officials said they had no choice but to approve the hunt in order to cull the 6,000 member herd of bison, 60 percent of which have a disease called brucellosis that could hurt nearby cattle populations. The hunt, conducted primarily by eight indigenous tribes, has drawn more criticism than previous hunts. THE NEW YORK TIMES

California’s reservoirs are almost all nearly full after a series of powerful storms replenished the water in areas once suffering from drought. Twelve of California’s 17 major reservoirs, pictured here, are filled above their average historical averages for the beginning of spring. Hydrologically, California is no longer in a drought except in certain areas of the state, according to government officials. The Associated Press

Fisheries on California’s coast are canceling this year’s salmon fishing season to help the population recover. Years of drought and heat waves obstructed the salmon’s ability to spawn and reach the ocean safely, leading populations of the largest species of Pacific salmon off the coast to plummet. THE WASHINGTON POST

Oregon farmland could become the future site of chip manufacturing if the governor decides to move the line separating Portoland’s urban zone from surrounding rural communities. The state is looking to secure major federal investments to expand the domestic semiconductor industry. The tech expansion could pay off in billions of dollars in tax revenue and thousands of high-paying jobs for Oregon. Some farmland owners are eager for the change, others fear it. OREGON PUBLIC BROADCASTING

The reintroduction of a land management bill to help Las Vegas expand into the desert has been met with environmental concerns. The American West features millions of acres of undeveloped land owned by the federal government; 85 percent of Nevada’s territory is public land. For years, officials around Las Vegas have pushed for the passage of the Clark County Lands Bill, which would allow tens of thousands of acres of public land to be sold at auction to cities and developers looking to expand urban areas. But environmental groups oppose it, arguing that the sacrifice of public lands will result in more suburban sprawl that will only serve developers. INSIDE CLIMATE NEWS

One firm is making unexpected millions as national park visits surged during and after the pandemic. Visitors may assume that their registration fee payment on goes to support the park as entrance fees do, but a considerable chunk of the money goes to consulting group Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. WALL STREET JOURNAL

An Alaskan Indigenous community in St. Paul Island has taken fur seal conservation into their own hands. The island is located in the Bering Sea some 770 miles from Anchorage, and the Aleut community that resides there leads conservation efforts to protect the fur seals from population decline. The tribe has applied for the creation of a national marine sanctuary, which could be the first sanctuary to have an Indigenous tribe co-manage the sanctuary with the federal government. SIERRA MAGAZINE

The EPA announced new rules curbing cancer-causing pollution from chemical plants. The EPA claims that the proposed rules will result in a 96% reduction in the population facing cancer risk from 200 pollutants. The rules will affect nearly 200 pollutants, some of which are located close to communities of color. GRIST

The Sharp-tailed Grouse perform an ancient dance at the beginning of spring. The species was once abundant in the American and Canadian west; now, some populations have disappeared while others are large enough to hunt. AUDOBON MAGAZINE

Could the old Spanish dialect spoken by northern New Mexicans disappear? The ancestors of the current speakers, who arrived in the late 16th century — decades before the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock — and their descendants find their unique language is facing hard times. The Spanish spoken by waves of Mexican immigrants has begun to drown out the lilting old New Mexican Spanish. Older people who speak it often can’t get their grandchildren — preoccupied with the English-language internet — to learn it. But some linguists believe the dialect, which has survived for more than four centuries, will outlive the doubters.

Articles worth reading: March 27, 2023

Two new national monuments in the West; a Colorado ski haven using AI to get faster information about wildfire development; a 24-armed sea star that helps protect kelp forests may go extinct; a new system for rating atmospheric river strength; Yellowstone’s obsidian cliff offers a window on indigenous engineering, and more environmental news from the West.

By Felicity Barringer

The Biden Administration creates two new national monuments on sites important to Native history. One covers more than 500,000 acres of the Mojave Desert in Nevada and encompasses Spirit Mountain, a site sacred to tribes which bears the Native name Avi Kwa Ame. For the Fort Mojave and nine other Yuman-speaking tribes, Avi Kwa Ame is a central part of their creation story. The other monument, Castner range, was the site of a Texas military base used for training in World War II. Petroglyphs survive on the base’s rocks. Washington Post
High Country News

An upcoming Supreme Court ruling focused on Navajo land in Utah may change the handling of Native water rights. On March 20, the court heard oral arguments debating whether the federal government, in establishing the reservation, has ensured Navajo water rights. The Navajoi’s attorney argued, “The United States thinks that it alone decides whether it has made good on its promises. But that’s not how promises work.” California, Arizona, and Nevada argue that diverting Colorado River water to the reservation will harm them. Navajo Times
Civil Eats KSUT

Wildfire smoke from boreal forests in places like the American West accelerated earth’s release of climate-changing gasses in 2021, when their share of total carbon emissions rose to 25 percent, up from the 20-year average level of 10 percent. Jennifer Skene of the Natural Resources Defense Council said, “The boreal forest actually stores twice as much carbon per acre as tropical forests, locked up in its soils and in its vegetation. The Canadian boreal alone stores twice as much carbon as the world’s oil reserves.” Inside Climate News

Fire officials in a Colorado ski town use artificial intelligence to find new wildfires. The Telluride Fire Protection District partners with Pano AI, an artificial intelligence company, using high-definition 360-degree cameras, whose information is combined with satellite feeds and other data to create an early warning system — a high-tech lookout. Pano AI works with Aspen and Boulder and in California, Idaho, Montana, Washington, and Oregon. Denver Post

The 24-armed marine sea star, native to waters of the Pacific Coast, is threatened with extinction and may soon get federal protection. The sea stars had thrived along the west coast, but are dying wholesale, thanks to a wasting syndrome linked to the impact of climate change. The loss of the sea stars, which feast on sea urchins, may be connected to the loss of kelp forests, which the urchins are eating away. New York Times

Colorado’s and Utah’s snowpacks are significantly above average and could increase the volume of water flowing into tributaries of the drought-plagued Colorado River, but also could mean future floods. Colorado Sun
Salt Lake Tribune

California’s Central Valley farmland has become a series of groundwater-recharge areas thanks to the floods from 12 atmospheric rivers. Los Angeles Times

A new system for ranking atmospheric rivers is being developed and could prove to be a global benchmark for measuring a storm’s strength. Studies using the system provide new insight into the origins and impacts of these storms. Jet Propulsion Laboratory

New electric transmission incentives in Nevada and California. NV Energy gets new incentives to build a 525-kilovolt transmission system in southern Nevada, thanks to a vote by the Federal Energy Regulatory Agency. The system will handle new renewable energy sources and will fortify the reliability of the grid, the company argues. Consumer groups are concerned about potential increases in electricity prices. In California’s legislature, a proposed measure would lighten the administrative burdens for those building the 15,000 miles of transmission lines the state will need over the next 30 years. Utility Dive
T&D World

What erosion is doing to Alaska’s coastal communities, which lose up to 16 feet of shoreline a year. Some communities have already had to move — at huge financial costs. Now new solutions are being considered. Grist

Stories of Indigenous engineering and migration are built into Yellowstone’s obsidian cliff, whose molecular fingerprint is found on tools used by people around the continent. Tracing the travels of Yellowstone’s obsidian “We can figure out where people are moving on the landscape and from there how the tools themselves reflect their strategies and culture,” said a Yellowstone archaeologist. New York Times

The surfer and the scientist sense, in different ways, climate change’s impact on the waves and shoreline that define the surfing and environmental changes at Mavericks on the California coast. Washington Post

Articles worth reading: March 15, 2023

The Biden administration clears path for new oil extraction on Alaska’s North Slope; push-backs intensify against a Uinta Basin oil railway proposal; Washington state’s first carbon credit auction breaks records; the threat of wildfires in the West looms over policy decisions; remembering the Wounded Knee occupation 50 years later; and more environmental news from around the West.

By Bhu Kongtaveelert

The Biden administration approved ConocoPhillips’ proposed large oil-extraction facility in Alaska , at the same time moving to protect 16 million acres of land and water in the state. The Willow Project, with the state’s National Petroleum Reserve, would extract 180,000 barrels of oil a day. Environmentalists point to the risk for walrus and caribou habitats and homes for various Iñupiat communities. The state’s business and political establishment supported it, as did Native corporations, who see the project as a source of jobs and municipal revenues. But the mayor and most of the Native community nearest to the project did not. The Interior Department noted its move to cut the project’s size slightly, “will create an additional buffer from exploration and development activities near [caribou] calving grounds and migratory routes for the Teshekpuk Lake.” Washington Post
Atmos Anchorage Daily News
National Public Radio

The risks of train derailment and an oil spill into the Colorado River have led Colorado congressmen to join environmental groups in urging more study of a proposed new train line to carry Utah’s crude oil along the river to national rail hubs. The 88-mile Uinta Basin Railway is expected to quadruple crude-oil production and also exacerbate poor air quality and release millions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually. Any potential derailment in the headwaters of the Colorado River would be catastrophic to wildlife and a serious risk to the water supply for 40 million people in seven Western states. The Guardian
Colorado Sun
Inside Climate News

Rain falling on snow complicates water management in California. As rainstorms melt snowpack, managers release water from reservoirs to prevent overflows that flood Central Valley towns. However, this means less water from the melted snow would last into spring to alleviate drought-related water stresses. In addition, there are fears that excessive runoff will mean the return of the long-gone Tulare Lake, and the disruption of the thousands of acres of farmland that replaced it. Calmatters

Washington’s first “cap-and-invest” auction doubled the price of carbon credits sold in major markets like Quebec and California, with permits averaging about $49 per ton of carbon dioxide or its equivalent. The system is less reliant on carbon offsets and is designed to address equity concerns as past permit sales in other states like California disproportionately worsened air pollution in Black and Latino communities. Grist
La Times
Seattle Times

A new tax scheme incentivizes water conservation in the West. Colorado’s first groundwater conservation easement provides landowners with a substantial tax credit on the condition that they don’t pump groundwater. Circle Of Blue

Utah’s largest coal company will relinquish two mining leases , a decision which marks the first time fossil fuel companies agree to use the social cost of carbon in their environmental analysis. This will mean that monetary damages caused by greenhouse gas pollution will be integrated into the evaluation of a proposed federal coal lease. E&E News

Pumped hydro, a new kind of sustainable energy storage project planned for Utah, Nevada and Wyoming . With more federal funding and support, many companies are investing in pumped hydro energy storage in the West, despite roadblocks from local officials. Cleantechnica

Threat of western wildfires elevates forestry’s role in 2023 farm bill. At a hearing of the House Committee on Agriculture Subcommittee on Forestry, participants, mindful of the prospect of worsening fire seasons in years to come, highlighted the need for more aggressive action by the Forest Service to increase timber harvests and improve forest health and management. Agdaily

The success of future generations of trees in the West depends on how well forest management reduces the severity of forest fires in the coming years, a new study suggests. Researchers believe that with pro-active management of wildfires and forests, a short-term window of opportunity exists to help coniferous forests regenerate. Inside Climate News

Remembering the occupation of Wounded Knee, a half-century later . The South Dakota occupation and clashes with federal agents helped crystallize a new consciousness of Native rights and, while there are divergent views about the details of what happened,the protests had powerful social and cultural impacts. As one history professor said, “Collectively [the protests] helped establish a sense of permanence of Red Power, much the way that Black Power had for African-Americans, a permanent legacy.” Indian Country Today

Delta Airlines embarks on its net-zero journey thanks to sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) . Utah’s largest air carrier hopes to reduce its carbon footprint and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. However, the biofuel is two- to three- times more expensive than regular jet fuel. How refineries may respond to increased demand remains uncertain; there are no plans for production of the new fuel in Utah yet. The Salt Lake Tribune

Landowners fear injection of fracking wastewater may harm water supply in West Texas . Disposal of waste water from oil extraction could contaminate water in the Permian Basin used for drinking and farming. With a history of earthquakes in the area, locals are concerned about the potential of a major earthquake causing significant damage to the cement and steel casing around the waste pits, leading to a catastrophic event. The Texas Tribune

Articles worth reading: February 27, 2023

A record level of snow and rain continues to fall on California, leading to flooding and potential hazards; continuing impacts of the ongoing megadroughts led to tension between Indigenous communities and government over water rights; climate change is altering bird and pollinator biodiversity in the West; despite the flood and blizzard, the wet winter brought us mushrooms; and more environmental news from around the West.

By Bhu Kongtaveelert

Los Angeles residents just encountered unusually heavy snowfall in the hills after heavy rains created flooding. Records for precipitation have been repeatedly broken in 2023 in Los Angeles, with a record 2.04 inches of rain and the county’s first blizzard warning in 34 years. The New York Times

The nation’s second-largest reservoir has reached an all-time-low since it was filled in the 1960s. Despite increased precipitation from relentless rain and snow this winter, the impact of the ongoing 23-year megadrought means that one wet year is not sufficient to replenish Lake Powell’s depleted waters. As its water levels come closer to the spot where traditional power generation becomes impossible, managers are discussing new approaches, like piercing dam walls to create lower-level intakes. Inside Climate News
Los Angeles Times
Salt Lake Tribune

As Mono Lake, in the high desert below the eastern Sierra mountains, dropped to record levels, Kootzaduka Tribe has tried to assert its water rights to halt Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s legal diversions of water from the lake. The state water board faces a decision pitting the value of Indigenous people’s cultural heritage and food-gathering traditions — along with the value of maintaining a breeding area for birds traveling along the Pacific flyway — against the water needs of the populous Los Angeles area. Inside Climate News

Hawai’i’s water crisis, brought on by decades of fuel leaks — at least 200.000 gallons — from a military fuel storage facility. sits precariously above O’ahu’s sole aquifer. The Department of Defense has not made good on its commitment to shut down the toxic facility. Atmos

New study shows hotter years threaten California’s Central Valley songbirds. Along the 30-mile stretch of Putah Creek in the Sacramento Valley west of Sacramento, a stream that is also called “nestbox highway”, scientists have been monitoring how hatchlings become weaker in hotter years for over a decade. Eos

Farmers can help pollinators survive the stress of climate change. Planting “pollinator strips” — flowering plants next to farmland — has the potential to bring wild pollinators back to farms in the West. “When we create pollinator-friendly habitats, we create larger populations of pollinators that are going to have a better capacity to adapt to future changes,” said a plant-pollinator interactions expert. Food & Environment Reporting Network

A Nevada District judge clears the way for a huge lithium mine along the Nevada-Oregon line, despite opposition from environmental groups and some, though not all, of the representatives of local Native American tribes. The dissenters reject the idea that wildlife habitat, clean groundwater, and cultural artifacts should be sacrificed to obtain a rare mineral needed for most electric-car batteries. Las Vegas Sun

Winter storm winds have led to continual dust storms in Texas’s high plains region, where years of drought have left the soil desiccated. When these dust storms become so intense the stinging cloud of sands blackens the sky, they are called haboobs. Texas’s northwestern area is now under countless environmental warnings — a red flag wildfire warning, a high wind advisory, a visibility warning, and an air-quality warning. Texas Tribune

Tesla has agreed to open about 10 percent of its newly built supercharging stations to rival electric vehicles. But taking advantage of the new chargers will require the drivers of rival EVs to carry converters allowing them to use Tesla plugs, which are otherwise incompatible. It’s an example of the ways that the future of EV charging stations will present as many complexities as opportunities. Forbes

ChatGPT said its carbon footprint depended on the energy use of its computers and servers. While the climate impact of AI is a worry, the effect is likely small, as the global tech sector accounts for 2 percent to 4 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions, and AI is a small slice of that. Business Insider

California’s ordinance to ban new buildings’ natural gas systems in 2019 led to an ‘electrify everything’ movement nationally, according to new research from California-based non-profit, Building Decarbonization Coalition. One in five Americans now lives in an area that’s trying to move buildings off fossil fuels. Grist

Despite unprecedented hazards, fungi are growing in the West coast thanks to an unusually wet winter; mushroom hunters in the San Francisco Bay Area should have many opportunities for successful foraging. Local mushroom organizations Forage SF and WildCraft offer guided foraging walks in the woods in California and the Pacific Northwest. The New York Times

Articles worth reading: February 13, 2023

The West’s water crisis: uncertainty about the future of water deliveries from the Colorado River intensifies; extreme drought and flood jeopardizes livelihoods of more than 12,000 farmworkers; floodplains might be California’s solution to extreme weather;  copper mines put on hold to protect indigenous lands and salmon; hippies at Burning Man oppose geothermal energy; solving the attention crisis—caused by Silicon Valley’s inventions —might be the missing piece of the climate crisis collective action puzzle; and more environmental news from around the West.


By Bhu Kongtaveelert

In the western United States, water law is based upon the idea that whoever first put water to use can claim the right to it. But  tribal nations were often left out of the conversation. Now tribal nations have been asserting their water rights; The Gila River Indian Community (GRIC), which won some water rights in 1922, might soon have the legal rights to 20 percent of the Colorado River’s flow. With Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming missing the deadline for water-use reduction plans, the friction across the West intensifies as it grapples with how to manage the shrinking river. NEW YORKER LOS ANGELES TIMES

With the drought eliminating more than 12,000 California farm jobs out of an estimated 450,000-strong agricultural workforce in 2022, new research shows that ongoing drought and recent floods are exacerbating farmworkers’ food insecurity. FOOD & ENVIRONMENT REPORTING NETWORK

Local advocates and experts believe the 2,100 acres of floodplain restored by eliminating farmland across Grayson, California, protected the town from disastrous floods. Floodplain restoration may be California’s answer to the dual dangers of flooding and drought, sheltering towns from more frequent catastrophic flooding while storing groundwater for future droughts. REUTERS

The proposed Resolution mine in Arizona could tap into a new source of copper, vital material for renewable energy and electric-car batteries. To do so, it will have to demolish an area sacred to the Apache tribe, which considers it a corridor to God inhabited by holy spirits. NEW YORK TIMES

A contentious gold and copper pebble mine project in Alaska may now be off the table after the Biden administration formally restricted mining in the area to protect one of the world’s biggest salmon spawning grounds. WASHINGTON POST

Hippies at Burning Man may be standing in the way of renewable geothermal projects in Nevada, despite their environmentalist mantras. CURBED

Rivian Automotive, a maker of electric vehicles, is laying off 6 percent  of its workforce to reduce costs. The company is facing a price war in the industry sparked by price cuts made by Tesla and Ford; this is expected to hurt other U.S. EV start-ups, such as Lucid Group, and Arrival. Since November 2021, Rivian’s shares have fallen almost 90%. Conserving capital by laying off around 840 employees (manufacturing operations in Illinois will not be affected), Rivian hopes to ramp up production and generate profit. REUTERS

And while President Biden’s Jan. 30 tweet may make General Motors’ military-inspired Hummer EVs and large electric vehicles appear like a good idea, experts worry it might  jeopardize climate action and public safety. “It’s dangerous for the environment and for road safety, but also it’s not actually eligible for the tax credit,” explained David Zipper, a transportation policy expert and visiting fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School. INSIDE CLIMATE NEWS

Cities and states have sued oil companies for misleading the public about the dangers of climate change, but haven’t been able to make their claims in the courts they choose, thanks to legal maneuvering by industry lawyers. The Supreme Court could soon break these cases out of limbo if they decide that two Colorado jurisdictions, Boulder and San Miguel County, are allowed to sue Suncor and Exxon Mobil in state courts. The jurisdictions seek millions of dollars to support new infrastructure to withstand climate change. The decision will potentially allow the consumer-protection cases to proceed in state courts. GRIST

Our ability to focus is being systematically taken from us, argues Stolen Focus author Johann Hari. And the effects are prohibiting us from taking collective action on the climate emergency. “Both the attention crisis and the climate crisis are thematically linked in that they’re both about pushing us beyond limits that we can tolerate.” ATMOS

Articles worth reading: January 24, 2023

What the California storms did — destruction — and what they didn’t do — end the drought; a missing piece of energy transition will be finding enough electricians; Arizonas’s new governor is focusing on water conservation; the impact of a prairie-dog plague; a new law to protect Native artifacts; and more environmental news from around the West.

By Bhu Kongtaveelert

Will storms end California’s drought? That may be the wrong question. “We’ve always had wet years and dry years,” Dr. Peter Gleick said. “We still have variability, it’s now more extreme.” New York Times Videos, Photos and Maps of Storm Damage New York Times

500 mudslides, flooded communities, broken bridges: California faces long, costly storm recovery. The atmospheric rivers that pummeled California for weeks inflicted “extensive” damage to as many as 40 of the state’s 58 counties. Total repairs could reach as much as $1 billion. Los Angeles Times

A giant underground battery is potentially a $1-billion clean-energy solution. A group of local governments announced its 25-year, $775-million contract to buy power from what would be the world’s largest compressed-air energy storage project by Hydrostor. The technology could help California — and other states and nations — transition from planet-warming fossil fuels to renewable energy, without causing blackouts. Los Angeles Times

To abandon fossil fuels, America will need a lot more electricians. A shortage of skilled labor could derail efforts to “electrify everything,” especially in California. Already, homeowners are struggling to find technicians to upgrade electrical panels or install electric heat pumps. Among the barriers: limited funding for community college training programs and some social stigma tied to being labeled a ‘construction worker.’ Grist

Arizona’s new governor’s moves on groundwater conservation include releasing a report on the overdrafting of a sub-basin that supplies water to new developments in Buckeye, west of Phoenix and taking a new look at the state’s 1980 rules regulating groundwater withdrawals. The state is facing drought, diminishing Colorado River water, surging development and unregulated groundwater use in rural areas. Inside Climate News

Major prairie dog die-off had consequences for other animals, wildland. When plague struck black-tailed prairie dogs in the Thunder Basin National Grassland in Wyoming in 2017, a huge die-off followed. Prairie dogs play a “critical role” for vegetation and wildlife within their habitats, researchers have concluded, and plague creates a “major conservation challenge” for a variety of species, including birds. Washington Post

Researchers EEAGER-ly track beavers across the West with new remote sensing model. EEGER is the new artificial intelligence model that allows researchers to efficiently track nature’s engineers—beavers—at the scale of entire watersheds over time Eos

Biden signs law to safeguard tribal patrimony. The Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony, or STOP act, adds teeth to the growing push to return to tribes objects that have been looted either for profit or for use in museums with exhibits. The law should force more actions like the current return of remains and artifacts taken at the time of the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre in South Dakota. The Circle
Sioux Falls Argus Leader

Will federal funds for environmental justice get to communities that have suffered? Some of the $60 billion dedicated to environmental justice efforts from the landmark Inflation Reduction Act is beginning to trickle into communities, but there is growing concern that the mandate to deliver 40 percent of the “overall benefits” to disadvantaged communities won’t be enforced. Inside Climate News

A meditation on the way trees have found root in Californians’ psyches for many decades. The loss of hundreds of millions to disease, insects, and wildfire has a subtle but traumatic impact, the author of this piece believes, arguing that “civilizations are compromised when potent symbols are lost.” Can we cope with the loss and atone for it, or not? Places Journal

Articles worth reading: January 10, 2023

Wet and dry: why the drenching of California is happening and its relation to climate change; what the future holds for the users of the disappearing water in Lake Mead and the Great Salt Lake; Arizona developers want big planned communities but must find water for them first; greenhouses evolve in ways that can either conserve water or ensure food for tribal communities; and other environmental news from around the West.

By Felicity Barringer

How climate change is changing California storms — they aren’t markedly different from storms of earlier years, but there are more and more of them, New York Times

Understanding the force of atmospheric rivers, what powers them and what havoc they can wreak. High Country News

It’s great to get the water from California’s new rains — but where to put it? A look at what can and can’t be done by a California water expert. Ppic

But the drought, which hasn’t ended, is producing dire forecasts for both the Colorado River’s reservoirs and Great Salt Lake. The lake could disappear in five years, a new report says. The Washington Post And a conference of Colorado River users in December was told that in two years’ time, Hoover Dam may have no way to send its water to Arizona, California and Nevada because the water levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell will have fallen too far. “We are in a crisis,” said Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources. Both lakes could be two years away from “dead pool” or so close to deadpool that the flow out of those sams will be a horribly small number.” If the coming year is dry, he added, “it might be too late to save the lake.” Los Angeles Times

As groundwater depletion in the Central Valley accelerates, a record number of domestic wells went dry in 2022. Los Angeles Times

Big communities are planned in Arizona and New Mexico — if they can find water . Solving this conundrum is essential for developers like those behind the largest planned community in Arizona history — a massive mixed-use development on 37,000 acres west of Phoenix. But in 2021, as residential wells were running dry, the state Department of Water Resources halted new-home construction in Pinal County, south of Phoenix, because groundwater pumping exceeded the supply. New York Times

On the Blackfeet reservation, dogs are used to find contaminants in Native diets. Trying to understand the increase in unusual cancers and thyroid problems on parts of the reservation, tribal members are conducting a new scientific survey of existing environmental contaminants on the reservation. Grist/Native News Online

The evolution of the greenhouse, both for the era of drought and for supplying the needs of South Dakota’s Lakota community whose extreme weather has been a barrier to agriculture. Colorado’s greenhouses of the future — more vegetables with less water. Lettuce produced in a new, highly automated greenhouse on Colorado’s western slope is made with 95 percent less water input than lettuce from traditional farms served by the Colorado River, the owners of the Spring Born greenhouse claim. Big Pivots Sioux greenhouses aren’t so much about water conservation as protection from the elements. “Those underground on the reservation use geothermal energy to keep a stable year-round temperature,” say the Lakota operators of the new greenhouses. Lakota Times

Finding new homes for solar panels on everything from water canals to working farms. A pilot program to install solar panels over California’s water supply canals was powered by a $20 million grant from the state Department of Water Resources. Ktla At the same time, the federal energy department is investing $8 million in a program to expand the field of “agrovoltaics,” marrying solar panels with traditional farming. Bloomberg

Fighting renewable energy development in Nevada, a state one environmentalist calls “the Saudi Arabia of renewable energy.” The state plans to produce renewable energy for its own citizens and for sale around the West. The idea is to build out renewable energy, whether solar, wind, or mining for lithium needed for electric vehicle batteries, while simultaneously building out power lines to carry the electricity elsewhere. But some Native tribes and environmental activists, like those in Basin & Range Watch, work to oppose this build-out —- what it calls “energy sprawl” — in the Nevada desert. Harper’S

New congressional proposal for “Range of Light” national monument connecting Sierra parks attracts opposition. In mid-December, two representatives from California introduced a measure to designate as a national monument 1.4 million acres of land containing everything from giant sequoias to wildlife migratory paths to hundreds of different native species. Control of the monument’s lands would pass from the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to the park service. It’s opposed by those with interests in mining, timber and cattle grazing, uses which would be phased out. Outside Online

Articles worth reading: December 12, 2022

By Felicity Barringer

The Salton Sea, a drying lake in southeastern California, will get $250 million in federal drought funds over the next four years. The steady erosion of the lake, which is fed by the dwindling Colorado River, has exposed beaches of toxic dust that blows into nearby communities. Associated Press

Utah’s population growth – from 3.4 million today to 5.5 million by 2060 – will put severe strain on the state’s water supply, a new report shows. Kuer

Over the past decade, Americans have been “flocking to fire,” deserting areas prone to hurricanes and moving in growing numbers to landscapes more likely to burn, new research shows. Inside Climate News

The need to move Native groups threatened by climate change leads to a federal commitment of millions of dollars. Two tribes in Alaska and one in Washington will each get $25 million, funds earmarked to move away from coastlines and rivers. It is the biggest community relocation movement so far. The New York Times

Mauna Loa eruption halts key atmospheric measurements. ‘It’s a big eruption, and it’s in a bad place,’ geoscientist Ralph Keeling says of the eruption’s impact on the long-running monitoring of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Washington Post

The West Coast’s first offshore wind sale brought in $757.1 million with strong competition for leases at two Pacific Coast locations, one off Humboldt County and Morro Bay. It would, if everything were fully developed,enable five companies to produce about 4.6 gigawatts of electricity, enough to power more than 1.5 million homes annually. The Hill

The Ohlone Cafe set up shop on the steps of a Berkeley museum that once collected Native remains as archaeological artifacts. In it, two Native chefs revive Ohlone tribal cuisine near unburied ancestors. The New York Times

Two Washington towns have given orcas legal rights. Gig Harbor and Port Townsend are focused on ensuring the survival of a species whose numbers have fallen below 75. The moves are the latest steps in the “rights to nature” movement, which argues that nature’s features – animals, rivers, and forests – possess inherent legal rights. Inside Climate News

California water thieves are hard to catch. In 2015, the owner of a water-bottling company in California was siphoning from a tributary of the Tuolumne River. It seemed clear that the activity violated state restrictions, but proving it in court was a different matter. Grist

Black cowboy culture is not the anomaly it seems, as rodeos and other signs of cowboy life are flourishing in some Black communities. But as the historian Tyree Boyd-Pates said, “The moment you see a Black man, woman, or child on a horse, it’s a departure from what we expect.” Unrecognized are the racist origins of the term “cowboy,” originally used to demean Black cattle drivers in the Southwest in the late 1800s, she said. Los Angeles Times

On its journey to the sea, the Los Conchos, the southern Texas and Mexican river connected to the Rio Grande, once nurtured flourishing communities, crops and gardens; as it disappears,it is leaving them behind. The Texas Observer

The symbiosis between those who extract oil and those who run state government in New Mexico is represented by the 80-year-old Harvey Yates. His journalist-turned-wildcatter grandfather paved the way for the long-term connections between the state’s extractive industries and its government. By the early years of the 21st century, the family was said to own more oil and gas leases on public lands than any other entity, making them billionaires and part of state history. Searchlight New Mexico

Articles worth reading: November 29, 2022

The FDA approves a California company’s cultivated meat; the nation’s largest dam-removal project will commence next year; approval of a desalination plant sparks controversy in Monterey; lawsuits against Boeing show the company poisoned employees knowingly; how people try to get to public lands walled off by private holdings; and more environmental news from the West.

By Caroline Reinhart

The final go-ahead for removal of four Klamath River dams was provided by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, setting the stage for the largest dam-removal project in United States history. The Klamath River Renewal Corporation will begin taking down the dams in 2023. Restoration efforts of Indigenous communities of conservationists seek to revive the river’s salmon population and the ecosystem. San Francisco Chronicle
Humboldt Times Standard
High Country News

The Food and Drug Administration approves lab-grown meat for commercial consumption. A California-based cultivated meat company, Upside Foods, is set to release its products to restaurants once the Department of Agriculture finalizes an inspection process. Animal rights activists praise cultivated meat as a method to reduce or even eliminate factory farming and the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions. However, experts say the process requires a large amount of energy so it is unclear as to whether emissions will decrease or increase if a transition occurs. The New York Times
Upside Foods

California’s Coastal Commission approves a controversial desalination plant in Monterey. Environmentalists and social justice activists argue that the project, based in a poorer subdivision of Monterey, will put a disproportionate financial burden on the low-income residents and damage the ecosystem. Gov. Newsom, businesses, and agricultural stakeholders contend that the plant will diversify the state’s water supply, improving sustainability efforts. San Jose Mercury News
Cal Matters

A Boeing doctor’s warnings about toxicity of the work environment were ignored, from the 1980s onward, leading to birth defects in employees’ children and life-threatening health problems among employees, lawsuits against the company argue. These toxins include heavy metals, organic solvents, and even hexavalent chromium, infamous for its portrayal in the film “Erin Brockovich.” The Daily Herald

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee approves water rights bills benefiting the Colorado River Indian Tribes. The bill would grant access to water along with funding to complete plans for a water system for the White Mountain Apache. However, the next Congress could reject the bills. Navajo-Hopi Observer

What to do about public land that the public can’t reach? Private landholders, some of whom turn their property into hunting reserves, don’t want hunters to use their land to access public lands where they can shoot game for free. The New York Times

Alaska Power Companies is eyeing community solar farms that individual households can invest in. Anchorage Daily News

Fire and floods have crippled 70 — one in nine — of New Mexico’s acequias, threatening these community irrigation ditches that for centuries have been the umbilical cords of rural life. Albuquerque Journal

Western scientists locate underground channels that could expedite groundwater recharge. The discovery by scientists at Stanford University and the University of California, Davis, believe these “paleochannels” can help remediate the drought-ridden state’s groundwater supply, particularly assisting agricultural communities and private-well owners. San Joaquin Valley Water

In northern Arizona, the Hopi people’s ability to grow corn in dry lands is challenged as the Southwest is more than two decades into the worst drought in a millennium. Making the desert bloom gets harder and harder. Inside Climate News

Articles worth reading: November 14, 2022

Climate change exacerbates the likelihood of megastorms and ensuing floods; Washington’s new building codes mandate heat pumps; California incentivizes batteries for residential solar generation; federal court vacates a ruling on the controversial introduction of an Alaskan road; a toad and a tribe interrupt a renewable power plant’s construction; and more environmental news from the West.

By Caroline Reinhart

Climate scientists predict the increased chance of a “megastorm” hitting California. Fueled by changes in atmospheric river patterns, a megastorm would significantly increase the intensity and frequency of floods. The flooding damages have the potential to cost $3.2 billion each year if nothing is done to mitigate climate change. Such floods are expected to affect the Pacific Coast disproportionately. Oregonian

Federal appeals court reopens a case that could block road building through an Alaskan national wildlife refuge. The proposed road will connect rural, indigenous communities to emergency medical services and allow mining of minerals needed for electrifying the transportation sector. About 11 miles of the road would cross the 300,000-acre Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, an area of wetlands that has been a magnet for geese and other migratory birds. Conservation groups have been fighting to keep the land untouched. The New York Times
Parts Per Billion Podcast

An endangered toad stops the construction of a Nevada-based renewable power plant. The geothermal company, Orma, will fail to meet a contract deal to supply renewable energy to Southern California. The Dixie Valley Toad, not found anywhere else in the world, continues to survive with the help of Indigenous activists. Washington Post

Washington state will require heat pumps in new homes and apartments starting this summer, ensuring that home heating going forward will be powered by electricity, not natural gas. The Inflation Reduction Act funds will help the transition to fossil-free homes. Grist

Seattle Times

California gives homeowners new incentives to buy batteries when they purchase rooftop solar systems. State officials want a more reliant and stabilized power grid: adding a storage system will help accomplish that. However, the number of solar installations are likely to go down because the proposal lowers consumers’ credit rates for exporting power by 75 percent. Bloomberg

A former Arizona governor wants the state to stop Saudi Arabia’s use of groundwater to grow alfalfa which is then exported to the kingdom. Currently the state’s Land Department permits a Saudi firm, Fondomonte, to pump an unrestricted amount of groundwater in Arizona for free. Bruce Babbitt, former Arizona Governor and Interior Secretary under President Clinton, urges the governor to restore the affected area and collect overdue payments. Arizona Republic

Should the Yellowstone River roam? The property destruction from June’s flooding of the Yellowstone River is being repaired, but some now ask if the river, confined by riprap stones for 100 miles of its length, should now be allowed to find new channels naturally? Can people protect their property while preserving the health of the already imperiled river? High Country News

Corpus Christi Texas residents fight against proposed desalination plant. After a long history of committing its water suppl;ies to new fossil-fuel projects, Corpus Christi officials are now pushing for expanding desalinization options to increase its dwindling water supply, but are facing opposition. At the same time, Hillcrest, a majority African American neighborhood in the city, files three environmental lawsuits against them, one for discharging millions of gallons of brine into their water. Inside Climate News
Texas Observer Texas Observer

Battling drought, New Mexico offers farmers money to fallow their fields. Some farmers take the $425 an acre, while others wait for a potential monsoon, frustrated by the way the state allocates water. Civil Eats

Hawaiian conservationists replant seedlings of a once extinct tree species into its native soils. Good News Network

Articles worth reading: October 31, 2022

With future hydropower threatened, new federal limits imposed on how much two states can draw from the Colorado River; Denver appeals court decision stops miners from contaminating water sources; California gas stoves linked to carcinogen; Texas tribe fights for their aboriginal rights against the natural gas industry; early-warning technology alerts Californians before earthquakes occur; and more environmental news from the West.

By Caroline Reinhart

The Interior Department, watching the decline in Colorado River flow, moves to alter existing agreements. The move came after states failed to agree how to make the cuts needed to protect the drought-plagued system for distributing water and power. Even under current agreements, farmers, particularly those in Arizona,—which is set to lose about a quarter of its water allocation—will be disproportionately impacted. If water levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the two largest reservoirs, drop too low, hydropower turbines stop working and millions of customers lose a crucial power source. Las Vegas Review Journal The Salt Lake Tribune Arizona Republic

A federal court ruling in Denver prohibits miners from discharging pollutants into local waters. The ruling, along with other newly-enacted environmental laws, puts pressure on Colorado’s mining industry to obtain permits or close and clean up their mines. But as mountain tourism booms, residents of historic mining communities, like Alma, near the peak of the Rockies, seek to force mining companies to clean up. But they do not want mining to end. Denver Post

California gas stoves are emitting harmful amounts of air pollutants, according to a newly published study in Environmental Science and Technology. The most prominent of the chemicals is a known carcinogen called benzene; the World Health Organization has deemed any amount of benzene unsafe. Associated Press

An Indigenous group in Texas fights against proposed liquified natural gas projects on the coast near the Mexican border. Two terminals, to be built on the land of the Carrizo Comecrudo, could increase greenhouse-gas emissions and trample Indigenous traditions. Some financial supporters have bowed out; others argue the wells allow the export of fossil fuels to Europe and bolster their energy security during geopolitical conflicts like the war in Ukraine. Inside Climate News

2.2 million residents received a warning notification before a 5.1 magnitude earthquake hit the Bay Area last week. Government organizations have partnered with Google to create an earthquake early-warning system alerting Android-phone owners who are near a quake with a magnitude greater than 4.5. California Government

Solugen, a Houston-based start-up, uses corn syrup and genetically-engineered enzymes to make substitutes for common chemicals. Their technology produces common chemicals without the use of phosphates and oil. Bloomberg

The northern spotted owl, an icon of the Pacific Northwest, nears extinction as the remaining three to five thousand struggle to survive the adversities of wildfires and forest management. Environmental politics have historically depleted the populations but changes in policy are now boosting their slim chance of survival. Audubon

Utah water users don’t pay for metered use. A legislator wants to change that. Seeking to end the decades-old practice of having property taxes pay for water use—a system offering no incentive for conservation—one lawmaker introduced legislation to slow the impact of the long drought on the landscape by making Utahns pay directly, like water users elsewhere. Water companies are pushing back. Salt Lake Tribune

Are tribal fishing rights extinguished if Congress failed to approve a treaty with the tribe 167 year ago? Two members of Washington’s Cowlitz tribe, which is not formally recognized, were fined for taking too many razor clams from a shore along their ancestral lands. A lawsuit produced a comprehensive argument of why they had a right to the clams, but a state appeals court rejected the claim. Hakai Magazine

To relax: Photographs capturing the expansive landscapes of the wild West. Maptia

Articles worth reading: October 18, 2022

California proposes reducing its intake of Colorado River water supply and also increases its water independence by approving a desalination plant; new technology offers the prospect of zero-emission iron for steelmaking; the Supreme Court debates a California law banning the sale of caged-pig pork; the United States.Navy’s reckoning with its pollution of Hawaiian waters, and more environmental news from the West.

By Caroline Reinhart

California says it will decrease its usage of the Colorado River by approximately 10 percent through 2026, amidst the state’s succession of historic droughts. The participating water agencies will be paid a portion of the $4 billion in drought relief funds from the federal Inflation Reduction Act. Upper Basin state officials have reacted positively, but say it is not enough. Cal Matters
U.S. News & World Report
Colorado Sun
Maven’S Notebook

Like the Colorado River, another key source of California water is also losing ground to the worst drought in a millennium . Shasta Lake in northern California was created by a dam built across the Sacramento River in the 1930s and 1940s. It now holds just one third of its capacity, forcing farmers to cut back on crops and towns to truck in bottles of drinking water. The Wall Street Journal

To find an alternative source of water, California approved plans for a $140 million desalination plant . The Doheny Ocean Desalination Project in Dana Point, south of Los Angeles, is the first desal project to go into effect since the establishment of more restrictive regulations in 2019. The California Coastal Commission found that the resulting environmental impacts to be minimal, proving the project as a potential model for other small, drought-sensitive communities. Reuters

Electra, a Colorado startup that produces zero-emission iron, could provide a model for decarbonizing the steel industry, which accounts for seven percent of U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions. With the $85 million dollars invested in the company and a strong endorsement from Bill Gates, facilities will be up and running next year. Bloomberg
Bloomberg Podcast

California’s voter-approved law prohibiting companies from selling pork if they crate their pigs, is under review in the Supreme Court. During oral arguments, both liberal and conservative justices raised questions about the impact of 2018’s Proposition 12 on surrounding states. While environmentalists and animal rights activists advocated for humane treatment of the animals, the pork industry argued that the legislation will interfere with interstate trade and hurt their profitability. Civil Eats
Successful Farming

The U.S. Navy recently spilled 1,000 gallons of sewage into Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor. It was the latest in a series of environmental incidents. Prior to the leakage, the Navy was fined $9 million for violating hundreds of safety regulations. Among these violations include the discharge of fuel tanks and fecal bacteria and explosions of toxic military waste. Environmentalists, local residents and military families joined together to raise awareness of the issue. Grist

A Los Angeles County homeowner has donated an acre of her land to the Tongva community, giving descendants of southern California’s original residents their first control over local land since the mission system was established. In 2019, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order to create opportunities for indigenous groups to co-manage or gain land ownership. Los Angeles Times

Gray whale populations along the Pacific Coast of North America have declined by 38 percent since 2016’s population peak. With approximately 16,650 gray whales left in the region, scientists found that the cause may be the historically low reproduction rates. Reuters

Elise Atchison’s novel, Crazy Mountain, reflects on the gentrification of mountain communities as the Covid-19 pandemic pushed people to live further away from busy urban areas. Her work shows how the power of storytelling can ignite emotional responses around the nexus between human communities and the environment around them. The Mountain Journal

Articles worth reading: October 3, 2022

Wildfire smoke erases years of clean-air gains; why the biggest Colorado River water users will have the most trouble cutting back, despite likely new requirements; disproportionate Arizona heat deaths among trailer residents; insects still protected by California’s endangered species act, and more environmental news from around the West.

By Felicity Barringer

Streams with intermittent flows, like wetlands or southwestern arroyos, could lose federal protections, depending on the outcome of a Supreme Court case out of Idaho. If interpretation of the Clean Water Act’s term “adjacent to navigable streams” is narrowed, waterways that run only when it rains could be unprotected. Beginning its term, the court heard arguments pitting lawyers from the Pacific Legal Foundation against the Environmental Protection Agency and environmental groups. C-Span: Oral Arguments
Bloomberg Earthjustice Pacific Legal Foundation

Clean air advances are undone by wildfire smoke, which is affecting the health of many around the West. In 2020, some 25 million people lived amid potentially toxic air filled with dangerous small particles generated by wildfires. In the words of Marshall Burke, a Stanford University scientist who co-authored a recent study on wildfire smoke, “We are seeing the undoing of a lot of that clean air progress, especially in the West.” The New York Times

Where Colorado River water isn’t, and why: the avoidance of science in the original Colorado River compact, and the current political realities making big cutbacks excruciating everywhere from Imperial Valley in California to Pima County in Arizona. John Fleck in conversation, and in his own voice, talks about how hard things could get. Vox
John Fleck

New cutbacks in water budgets likely if accounting for reservoir evaporation is required. California, Arizona and Utah — the lower basin states in the Colorado River system — might have to cut back their use by up to 1 million acre-feet if federal officials insist these states account for evaporation from Lake Mead. Upper basin states — Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming — have long had to cut their water use in line with evaporation from their reservoirs. KUNC

The summer heat in Arizona is increasingly deadly, especially for mobile home residents. There have been 153 heat-related deaths so far this year in Maricopa County — the state’s largest, which encompasses the cities of Phoenix and Scottsdale. Historically, about 30 percent of the indoor deaths occurred in trailers, said a research professor at Arizona State University. Heat deaths in manufactured homes are seven times greater than in homes with a foundation. Arizona Family

High Country News

California’s only glaciers are disappearing amid the persistent heat of recent years. San Francisco Chronicle

The lights go out at New Mexico’s San Juan generating station, one of the last big coal plants surrounding the Native nations of the Southwest. Read our past coverage. Albuquerque Journal

Insects remain protected by California’s endangered species act after the state Supreme Court turned back an industry attempt to undo protections granted by a lower court. Four native bumblebee species that are already imperied may now have additional protections. Center For Food Safety

Finding collaboration in Washington State’s arguments over wolves, which now number 206, is a work in progress. As the writer observes, “Wolves are a symbol. What they represent depends on your beliefs. To some environmentalists, the animals are emblematic of a healing wildness. To other conservative ranchers, wolves symbolize bureaucratic meddling in a rural way of life that treasures self-reliance.” But more people are trying to square the circle. Biographic

Colorado’s Front Range counties are “severe” violators of federal clean air standards, EPA rules. Their ozone levels are among the nation’s highest, the agency said. The finding is likely to mean tighter rules on Colorado industries and could push gas prices higher. Coloradoan

Sea-level rise in Humboldt County is happening twice as fast as it is in other parts of California. By 2060, water levels are expected to increase by 3.1 feet, with impacts on both Highway 101 and shoreline wastewater treatment plants. The good news: what happens in Humbolt can provide lessons for resilience, such as focusing on the restoration of coastal wetlands. San Francisco Chronicle

The new book “Indigenous Continent” shows Native peoples as powerful actors in shaping early, crucial events in American history. Its Finnish author, Pekka Hamalainen, a University of Oxford professor whose work has long focused on Native American history, is part of “a growing group of scholars who are taking up the challenge of re-envisioning the grand narrative of early American history,” writes a University of Georgia historian. The New York Times

Articles worth reading: September 19, 2022

Floating offshore wind turbines on the California coast the aim of the Biden administration; helping condors return to their old range; the most endangered fish in the Colorado River and in the U.S.; Oregon’s last coal plant demolished; Grand Canyon bison moved to tribal land further east; the future of fog; the health costs of free shipping, and more environmental news from the West.

By Felicity Barringer

The future of fog is, well, foggy. A 2010 University of California, Berkeley study found “that the frequency of fog, [on the northern California coast] measured by fog hours per day, had dropped 33 percent” since the mid-20th century. While it may have stabilized since, “less fog is a game changer for a lot of things,” said the scientist who did the study. Redwoods, getting at least 30 percent of their annual moisture from fog, are the poster child for fog-dependent species. But what would the disappearance of fog mean from agriculture or human migrations? “Would San Francisco be, well, San Francisco without fog?” the author asks. The New York Times

Major floating wind energy facilities are planned for the waters off California, specifically off Humboldt County in the north and Morro Bay in the center of the state. The Biden Administration launched a floating wind turbine initiative that would provide energy companies with enough leases along the Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf coasts to provide 15 gigawatts of floating offshore wind production by 2035. The Floating Offshore Wind Shot, led by the departments of Energy, Interior, Commerce and Transportation, also intends to cut the cost of this new technology. Utility Dive

Condors are coming back to the Pacific Northwest. The number of these endangered birds, with an average wingspan of 9.5 feet, was just 27 about 35 years ago. Now there are perhaps 300, several groups, from the Northern California Condor Restoration Program to the native Yurok Tribe, have a plan to reintroduce them where they once lived. Washington Post

“Dinosaurs of the Colorado River” is the sobriquet for the rarest fish in North America. Native razorback fish date back three million years or more. They are bottom feeders that “were once an important part of the river’s food chain because they nosh on dead plant and animal matter that might otherwise build up and cause disease while returning essential nutrients to the ecosystem,” wrote Stephanie Mencimer. “They’re a bellwether for the health of the entire river ecosystem, from Wyoming to the Gulf of California,” said an environmentalist. Mother Jones

Making Yellowstone National Park more friendly to its original occupants is now the work of the Shoshone-Bannock tribe and other Native groups. Native American tribes and legal scholars are asserting the tribes’ right to hunt, fish, gather, and control the future of the park – and maybe eventually recover some of the land for the original inhabitants of the area. Wyofile

The hidden health costs of free shipping, particularly in places like the warehouse capitals of California’s Inland Empire. The mega-warehouses more than 100,000 square feet large bring with them constant rivers of diesel trucks that spew some of the most dangerous air pollutants. The explosion of online shopping has meant a parallel explosion of warehouse construction that has spread around the West and the rest of the country. When warehouses arrive, the lungs of the local populace are at risk. Sierra Magazine

Oregon’s last coal-fired power plant has been demolished, two years after it ended its four decades of operation on the Columbia River. The last such plant in the Pacific Northwest is in Centralia Washington, and is scheduled to shut down by the end of 2025. Jefferson Public Radio

California appeals court ruling limits state water agency’s options to handle droughts. The judges rule that the State Water Resources Control Board can’t curtail annual deliveries by holders of senior water rights unless it provides evidence of what’s been diverted and stored. If it wants to curtail such deliveries in future droughts, the board may first be required to develop data tracking individual diversions and the amount of water that contractors have stored. California Water Research Blog
Sierra Sun Times
Sacramento Bee

National park officials transfer Grand Canyon bison to tribal lands further east. Seeking to control a herd that could damage the nation park’s resources, federal and state agencies joined park rangers to gather the animals from the North Rim and transfer them to the Intertribal Buffalo Council for transfer to Native lands in Oklahoma and South Dakota. Park biologists say they can potentially trample archaeological sites below the canyon’s rim. Arizona Republic

Monitoring bugs and butterflies to prevent insect extinction is now a focus of new research. Although the danger to these uncharismatic six- and eight-legged species has only slowly come into focus. “If invertebrates disappear, that’s a big problem for us humans,” said Elise Willcox, 29, said on a recent morning as she hiked around it. Now researchers are gathering data on the prevalence of butterflies from wood nymphs to fritillaries to the Rocky Mountain Parnassian. These counts are part of widening international efforts to deploy a sort of collective radar to monitor whether the decline of bugs could herald an insect apocalypse. Denver Post

Articles worth reading: September 6, 2022

The cooperation model forged by Yakima River’s stakeholders could inform the Colorado River’s warring parties; a Nevada farmer becomes a beaver believer; unequal access to clean water in California’s Central Valley; new Montana wildlife refuge designed to accommodate migration routes of ungulates from the Flathead Reservation; and more environmental news from around the West.

By Felicity Barringer

The users of Washington State’s Yakima River abandoned legal battles and met in conference halls instead of courtrooms to create a framework for multi-pronged efforts to limit water waste, restore fish runs and ensure access to the river’s bounty by all the once-competing stakeholders. Could the solutions developed on this smaller river be a template for ending the fights over the shrinking Colorado River? The New York Times

The Colorado River basin’s alfalfa problem has no easy solution. An essay on a politically impossible way to meet federal demands for significant conservation in the seven-state basin: curtail growing the food for cattle. “If the Rocky Mountains’ winter snowpack is like a huge reservoir that feeds the Colorado River system, then the alfalfa fields stretching from western Colorado to Southern California comprise a sort of anti-reservoir, sucking up a good portion of the water in order to feed beef and dairy cattle…” These crops represent almost half of the agriculture in Colorado, Utah, and Arizona. In California’s Imperial Valley, alfalfa farmers use 400,000 acre-feet annually. High Country News

Texas is drowning in toxic wastewater from oil and gas extraction. Pulling fossil fuel from the ground will likely produce about 588 million gallons of toxic wastewater per day for nearly four decades, a new study has found. Given the volume, recycling is difficult, given the cost and the end result of the process – half of the treated wastewater would be turned into a concentrated brine. This would need permanent storage. “It’s a massive amount of salt,” said the director of the Texas Produced Water consortium. “We’d essentially create new salt flats in West Texas…” Inside Climate News

Are all public waterways open to the public? The answer is different in Colorado and New Mexico. Colorado’s image as a sportsman’s paradise doesn’t reflect private landowners’ ability to bar fishermen and rafters from waters adjoining their property. The New York Times

New Mexico’s top court allows public use of streams on private land. A newly-released state Supreme Court opinion said that, even if adjacent banks have private owners, the water belongs to the public and “walking and wading on the privately owned beds beneath public water is reasonably necessary for the enjoyment of many forms of fishing and recreation.” Albuquerque Journal

Federal regulators just gave final approval for removing the Klamath River dams, meaning the nation’s largest dam removal project could begin next year. E&E News

The inequity of access to clean water in California’s Central Valley has worsened; the number of dry wells in California is up 70 percent in a year; one million people have no access to clean water. They are disproportionately poor people of color. A stampede to drill wells before new regulations limit groundwater extraction has accelerated the growth of dry wells numbers and increased the total of those whose water is now contaminated. Los Angeles Times

A new Montana wildlife refuge has been created near the Flathead Reservation. Its location is based on the findings of scientists for the Confederated Salish-Kootenai tribes, who mapped the migration corridors for elk, mule deer, grizzly bears and other wildlife The Lost Trail National Wildlife Refuge will be located on private land that is under conservation easements. Lost Trail National Wildlife Refuge is located near Glacier National Park, on private land with conservation easements. Montana Free Press

In dry times, the value of beavers, who store water for free, is increasingly embraced by their onetime antagonists: farmers in Nevada and across the West. In seven states in the high desert and mountain West, the federal Bureau of Land Management is helping build faux beaver dams hoping to attract actual beavers to expand them. “We need to get beavers back to work,” said Wade Crowfoot, California’s top natural resources officer. The New York Times

Are the kelp forests that anchor the West Coast’s marine ecosystem endangered? An environmental group, pointing to the impact of development and increasing predation by sea urchins, wants an official federal designation. Oregon Public Broadcasting

Young Inuit Hunters are adapting the traditional hunting culture to climate change’s transformation of the landscape. For generations, hunting, and the deep connection to the land it creates, has been a mainstay of Inuit culture. A warming climate is transforming the marine landscape and putting the hunt in jeopardy, prompting the next generation of hunters to seek out new ways to maintain their traditions. Hakai Magazine

Climate change has transformed the experience for Pacific Crest Trail hikers walking 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada. They always timed their months-long hikes to avoid snow. Now they must balance those familiar calculations with the need to avoid wildfires. All the trail’s landscapes, from high desert scrub to giant sequoias, have been touched by the heat and drought that have consumed the West. The New York Times

Articles worth reading: August 24, 2022

The roots of the fight over the Colorado River go back years, when overuse was always preferred to cutbacks; a company dodging the responsibility for cleaning up uranium mines; Oregon officials unveil and, after resident objections, quickly deep-six a map locating wildfire dangers; bounty hunting is back, reconfigured for the era of state laws on abortion and guns; and more news from the West.

By Christina A. Macintosh

To avoid a clean-up, a uranium mining company seeks to buy out New Mexico residents and demolish their homes. Homestake, the company in charge, failed to remove nuclear waste created by a mill built in 1958 and closed in 1990. Local residents suffered serious health consequences, but government officials didn’t initiate a clean-up. The new plan awaits approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Committee. At the same time, the Navajo Nation’s president, Jonathan Nez, joined the environmentalists pushing for federal legislation to ban new uranium mining in the Grand Canyon region and require the cleanup of 500 old mines. Los Angeles Times
Navajo Hopi News

Bounty hunting is back, as new laws in Texas and California give people incentives to turn people in to law enforcement. But it is different this time: people aren’t being rewarded for hunting down an outlaw, as they were in the 19th century. Now people are rewarded for snitching on their neighbors, be it on questions of abortion or gun ownership. Cal Matters

A four-decade analysis of the Colorado River’s wet and dry cycles shows how Lake Powell and Lake Mead have gotten to their current, critically low state. The states dependent on the rivers used up all the river’s flow in wet years, not refilling the reservoirs, then overused them in dry years. John Fleck

Fourteen tribes in the Colorado River Basin argue they’ve been sidelined in discussions about conserving water. In a recent letter to the Interior Department, they claimed the bureaucrats failed greater consultation with the native population in the current discussions as to how to conserve the river. The letter claims that the Interior Department has failed to keep tribes informed, even though the future decisions will affect tribal water rights. Ksut

Water managers in the Southwest explore building desalination plants as the water scarcity crisis in the region persists. Although there are already a few desalination plants in California, there are limits to the relief such plants can offer: desalinated water is expensive, thus not feasible for the extensive amount of water needed for crops. , which require large quantities of water. Ksut

After homeowners expressed outrage, Oregon officials withdrew a map detailing wildfire danger across the state. Homeowners complained the new designations of their properties could be in error and would lead to burdensome requirements. They also worried their insurance rates would increase.The Oregon Department of Forestry said the state would refine the map with the help of Oregon State University, despite believing that most of the map is accurate. E&E News

The lessons California has learned from megafires can be applied to the impending megastorm, as officials understand the importance of research, preparation, and the ways different climate-change impacts can have a compound effect. California was caught off guard by the increased intensity of wildfires in the past decade; signs of increased precipitation driven by a changing climate can allow officials to adapt more quickly, based on their wildfire experience. Scientific American

Articles worth reading: August 8, 2022

Unproductive efforts for water savings mean an uncertain future for the Colorado River’s users; a legal challenge to a proposal to thin Yosemite’s forests to cut wildfire risks; the Newsom administration’s a plan for a single Delta tunnel; warming waters mean historic highs and lows for Alaska salmon runs; and more environmental news from around the West.

By Christina Macintosh and Felicity Barringer

Negotiations unproductive as states using the Colorado River try to answer federal demands for major cuts. The four Upper Basin states have laid out the cuts they prefer, but say further efforts are stymied without a new plan from California and Arizona, the Lower Basin’s two biggest users. With an Aug. 16 deadline approaching, California’s water barons at the Los Angeles Metropolitan Water District and the Imperial Irrigation District are discussing cuts of perhaps a quarter the size of the federal demand. Lake Powell and Lake Mead may lose the ability to generate electricity — hitting “dead pool” water levels — without big cuts. Denver Post

Desert Sun John Fleck

Mono Lake, a water body dating back millennia, is slowly disappearing. Alkali flats are emerging around the edges of the salty waters of the lake. Wind drives dust storms creating some of the worst air pollution in California. An emerging land bridge is connecting the mainland to an island refuge for migrating birds, which could enable coyotes to prey on the young of gulls nesting there. “It affects everybody, that lake, we all live around it,” said Marianne Denny, a 40-year resident. San Francisco Chronicle

Examining the present and future of the Los Angeles River, partially encased in concrete. What happens to the river between the beginning of the 51-mile-long waterway, where restoration is underway, and its channelized, polluted terminus in the city of Long Beach? Circle Of Blue

A plan to restore Yosemite National Park’s forests by chainsaw is in its early stages. Park officials believe that thinning the park’s forests — the project would cover less than one percent of them — is one of the best ways to save them. Over a decade, drought and beetle infestations have killed more than 140 million trees in California, including 2.4 million in Yosemite. The New York Times
The environmental group that has sued to block the tree-cutting calls it a logging project. The Fresno Bee

South Dakota’s Ogalala Sioux Tribal Council bans a Baptist preacher and suspends missionary work done without explicit permission. The unanimous vote by the council in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, came after the preacher, Matthew Monfore, distributed pamphlets that allegedly demonized Lakota culture. Tyler Yellow Boy, a council member, said, “This preacher has come to our homeland to attack our way of life…. He’s calling our spirituality devil worship.” Native News Online

A long-lived pine’s immunity to marauding beetles is ending. The Great Basin bristlecone pine, traditionally resistant to beetles that kill other conifers, is now suffering from insect ravages. A scientist is observing the unusual deaths of bristlecones, including a 1,500-year-old tree in Utah’s Wah Wah mountains. Salt Lake Tribune

New plan lays out details for a single tunnel to funnel Sacramento River water south to cities and farms. Versions of the project have been debated since the 1980s; the latest plan faces opposition from environmental groups, citing concerns about impacts on marine life. San Jose Mercury News
Los Angeles Times

Salmon runs in Alaska are reaching record highs and lows due to climate change. Warming waters have led to smaller Pacific chinook and chum populations on the Yukon, whereas sockeye are getting more time to grow before entering the ocean, thanks to the reduced period of lakes freezing, This means they are better able to compete upon entering the ocean. High Country News

An Oregon senator has proposed a bill to conserve grasslands, the first-ever piece of legislation proposed to protect such an ecosystem. Grasslands are a carbon sink, storing carbon in their roots. They currently face numerous threats, including wildfires, drought, and commercial development. The bill proposes incentive-based conservation projects and research initiatives. The Washington Post

Articles worth reading: July 20, 2022

A new report makes an argument for breaching Columbia River basin dams, but the White House in not on board yet; electric tractors make a debut on Oregon fields; Wyoming solar development impedes wildlife migration; wildfires give a new argument to housing development opponents and logging supporters; and other recent environmental news from around the West.

By Christina A. Macintosh

Breaching dams in the Columbia River basin may be necessary to restore salmon, a new Commerce Department report concludes. An accompanying White House statement stopped short of endorsing dam removal. Billions of dollars have been spent on unsuccessful salmon recovery efforts, but removing the dams would be costly and require replacement of thousands of megawatts of hydroelectric power. E&E News   Also, any decrease in salmon populations cuts killer whale populations, though most of the arguments about dam removal center around the importance of the fish for tribal sustenance. Oregon Public Broadcasting

After years of warnings about an overused Colorado River, reality bites. “If I’ve learned anything recently, it’s that humans are really reluctant to give things up to prevent a catastrophe,” said Brad Udall, a water and climate scientist at Colorado State University. “They’re willing to hang on to the very end and risk a calamity.” Los Angeles Times

Oregon farmers test drive electric tractors as the electic-vehicle industry moves into the agriculture sector. The companies producing these tractors are trying to attract farmers with low carbon footprints and affordability in the face of high gas prices. Though the climate benefits depend on the region’s mix of energy sources, the electric tractors reduce greenhouse gas emissions in all scenarios. Inside Climate News .

Despite damage of Yellowstone floods for people, ecosystem benefits occur from high-water events. Floods lead to growth of riverside vegetation, such as willow and cottonwood trees. Flooding also benefits trout, as surges of water deposit debris that can provide habitat for the fish and create spawning grounds. High Country News

Oregon companies sue over state rules for farm worker protection from extreme heat and wildfire smoke. These rules can require employers to provide cool water, rest breaks, and shade after a certain temperature thresholds. Despite protective laws now in force in California and Washington, farmworkers in most of the country remain unprotected against harsher conditions resulting from climate change. Grist

Wyoming weighs the competing needs for solar development and habitat conservation, after pronghorns were forced to migrate across Highway 372 when a large solar farm blocked their usual migration corridor. This raises questions about the impacts of sustainable energy and the role of state wildlife agencies in energy projects. E&E News

Game poachers on Wyoming’s Wind River Reservation are seldom prosecuted, while Natives’ treaty hunting rights are often ignored. The rules on and off reservations are unequally enforced, a new investigation shows, reporting that “even when poachers are caught in the act, prosecution isn’t easy. In 1978, the U.S. Supreme Court stripped tribal courts of jurisdiction over non-Indians who commit crimes on tribal lands, leaving federal authorities to prosecute such offenses in most cases.” High Country News

California lawmakers support carbon-capture as one way to eliminate the state’s carbon footprint by 2045, raising environmental advocates’ concerns about the safety of underground carbon storage. Researchers have suggested that earthquakes could lead to leaks; they worry about the lack of specificity about this technology’s use. Los Angeles Times

Wildfires are the latest weapon for environmental groups opposing new housing. The competing needs for fire safety and affordable housing are pitted against each other. Associated Press   At the same time, some lawmakers cite wildfire risk as an argument against designating wilderness areas rather than leaving them open to logging. High Country News ​​

Articles worth reading: July 7, 2022

What the aridification of the Southwest could mean; a discussion of whether pay increases for firefighters battling wildfires are sufficient; tight restrictions on single-used plastics now the law in California; appeals court allows Arizona copper mine to proceed over Native objections, and more news from the West.

By <b’>Christine McIntosh

The changes aridification is likely to bring to California and the Southwest are akin to those that ended the Puebloan culture in the Southwest 850 years ago. The ancient Puebloans in the Four Corners area were a dominant, prosperous culture until they suddenly abandoned their homes. Evidence now accumulating indicates a great drought led them to go. Los Angeles Times

Meanwhile, outside Scottsdale, Arizona, a suburban community is running out of water. Will it be an object lesson that will slow home development or simply spiral into endless fights over whose water is whose? New Yorker

Wildfire fighters receive increased pay, but is it enough? Two podcasts – The Landscape and NPR’s InHospitable – put wildfire fighters on the air to discuss the recent increases to firefighter wages, proposed policies that could further benefit wildfire fighters, the historic issues around firefighter pay and benefits, what it’s like to fight wildfires, the mental and physical challenges associated with the profession, and what the government can do to attract new people to the profession. The Landscape Podcast
Inhospitable Podcast

A fisherman sues for access to a Colorado stream. Under federal law, the underlying beds of navigable rivers that were once used as commercial thoroughfares, are state property. Colorado, however, argues that its waterways – “steep, rushing, canyon-bound” – are all “‘non navigable within its territorial limits.’” This means major river beds are private property. A fisherman is suing the state of Colorado to make its riverbeds accessible for recreation. High Country News

Apache tribal members’ claims rejected by federal appeals panel. A 2-1 ruling by an federal appeals panel for the 9th Circuit denied the claims of a nonprofit group of San Carlos Apache tribal members and allowed the transfer of thousands of acres in Arizona to a copper mine. The nonprofit group, Apache Stronghold, had argued that the land holds religious and cultural importance to tribal members. Reuters
E&E News

More oil drilling in Alaska? The Biden administration is weighing a bid by ConocoPhillips to move forward with an Arctic oil exploration project. A federal judge blocked the project last year, on the grounds that the government failed to adequately assess the environmental harms of the project. Washington Post

Does a stiff quota system for California oil rig inspectors harm their work? The well-inspection quota set for inspectors for California’s oil and gas regulatory agency was 5,000 a month across a 25,000-square-mile area, according to an investigation by The Desert Sun. Management’s goal: drive up reporting numbers. The nearly undoable obligation was a factor, staff members believe, in the belated discovery of gas leaks in Bakersfield. The Desert Sun

Restrictions imposed on single-used plastics in California. In an effort to end plastic pollution from the omnipresent plastic packaging that can degrade into toxic particles, Gov, Gavin Newsom signed a bill over the opposition of both industry manufacturers and environmentalists who called the measure too weak. Los Angeles Times

Low-income communities throughout the West endure a disproportionate share of pollution. It’s true in Wilmington, California, a South Los Angeles community which has the largest concentration of oil refineries in California, with residents experiencing a rise in deaths caused by Alzheimer’s, liver disease, heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes, and diabetes. High Country News

It’s also true in West Eugene, Oregon, the home of a wood treatment plant which released dioxins, which cause cancer, thyroid, and reproductive problems. High Country News

Articles worth reading: June 21, 2022

Floods wreak havoc in Yellowstone National Park; a look at the potential catastrophe if the Great Salt Lake dries up; sequoia trees were resistant to older fires; now more intense new ones are killing them; will industrial solar facilities harm sage grouse; a profile of Wilma Mankiller, the new face on the quarter; and more news of the West’s energy, people and environment.

By Felicity Barringer

Historic floods upended everything at Yellowstone National Park. All four park entrances closed. A Park County commissioner noted, “it’s a little bit ironic that this spectacular landscape was created by violent geologic and hydrologic events, and it’s just not very handy when it happens while we’re all here settled on it.” Rebuilding could take years. KTVQ
The  WASHINGTON POST Associated Press

As the Great Salt Lake dries up, Utah confronts “an environmental nuclear bomb.” As the lake disappears, “flies and brine shrimp would die off … threatening the 10 million migratory birds that stop at the lake annually to feed on the tiny creatures…. Most alarming, the air surrounding Salt Lake City would occasionally turn poisonous” as nearby residents inhale blowing dust containing arsenic from the lake bed. The New York Times

Decades of connecting western waterways mean droughts spill over. “There are enough connections that the water supply consequences of a drying American West are not felt in isolation. They are exported to neighboring watersheds.” Circle Of Blue

Sequoias, the world’s oldest and largest trees, are struggling to survive climate change. The trees are used to old wildfires. But recent fires are far more intense; the trees can’t handle them. Since 2020, three fires have killed up to 19 percent of them. Washington Post

New fires ignite from Alaska to Arizona and threats multiply. Alaska Daily News
Flagstaff residents offered pictures of their latest blaze. Arizona Daily Sun
So did photographers near New Mexico’s Calf Creek/Hermits Peak Fire Albuquerque Journal

Pay low, stress off the charts: reckoning with firefighter morale. Forest Service morale has plummeted. Firefighting is backbreaking; an average starting wage is $15 an hour. Promised raises are in limbo. How can the Forest Service hire and keep employees? Los Angeles Times

Conflicts arise with big solar power buildouts planned in Washington State, many of them in areas with sensitive wildlife, like sage grouse. Proposals for more than 40 proposed projects covering 80,000 acres were reported by the Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife. Seattle Times

Sheepherders’ pay has become a big issue in California, whose overtime pay rules now cover this once-excluded subset of agricultural workers. Sheep ranchers, whose industry has long been in decline, have filed a lawsuit arguing the rule will cripple them. The sheepherders — almost all immigrants on temporary visas — filed their own lawsuit against the agency that hires them. The dispute comes as a new appetite for targeted sheep grazing, a form of ecosystem service, is giving new life to a declining industry. Civil Eats

To protect oceans, the Interior Department is phasing out single-use plastics on public lands. The policy could reduce ocean-bound plastic by limiting the agency’s willingness to get, sell, and distribute single-use plastic products on hundreds of millions of acres of federal land in national parks, monuments, and wildlife refuges. Interior is the source of nearly 80,000 tons of solid waste annually. Grist

Two Navajo policemen are the focus of the new AMC television series “Dark Winds,” based on the mystery novels by the late Tony Hillerman. While HIllerman was not Native, Indigenous talent handled much of the show’s development. Native America Calling interviews the writers Billy Luther (Navajo, Hopi and Laguna) and Razelle Benally (Oglala Lakota and Diné) and two leading Native actors. Native America Calling

Erica Geis, author of the book “Water Always Wins,” talks about listening to water. KQED says of its new interview, “She argues that our water system here in the state and around the world is not going to hold for much longer. What comes after will require us to live and work with water’s desires.” KQED

Articles worth reading: June 7, 2022

Drought impacts keep on coming, including sinking California towns, disappearing crops, and a future with half as much Colorado snow and a dry Rio Grande river; an appeals panel rules that under California’s endangered species act, bees qualify for coverage; appointment of an Indigenous federal judge is a reminder how few there are; a 400-mile power line will carry Wyoming wind energy to states further west, and other news about the West’s energy, people, and environment.

By Felicity Barringer

Up Close: Law & the West

How three Wests diverge on cannabis

The West led the charge to legalize marijuana. As it becomes big business in many cities and towns, some others view it with distaste grounded in moral qualms or concerns about criminal cartels. Will growing revenues help sweeten the pot

Read more »

The Rio Grande is steadily receding, and if the aridification that the Southwest is now seeing becomes permanent, researchers fear that, beyond the current impacts of the megadrought, like the destruction of worsening wildfires — the current Calf Creek Fire has burned 315,000 acres — a bigger disaster awaits: the disappearance of a major river. This year the Rio Grande is expected to go dry all the way up to Albuquerque. “We’re past the point of easy answers,” said an environmental expert. Yale Environment 360

Towns in the San Joaquin Valley are sinking as much as a foot a year; researchers examine how to make it stop. The new drought and the decades of excessive groundwater pumping that preceded it have accelerated the phenomenon of subsidence torquing canals, pipes, and buildings. Between October 2020 and September 2021, towns in Kings and Tulare counties sank by almost a foot, according to estimates from satellite observations. Researchers at Stanford University have used a new remote sensing apparatus to conclude that stopping groundwater overdrafts won’t be enough to end subsidence; groundwater levels must rise. San Francisco Chronicle
Stanford News Service

Drought’s impact on California agriculture: probable food shortages, since as many as 690,000 acres could be fallowed in 2022. An executive of the California Farm Water Coalition predicted that “as much as 691,000 acres taken out of production this year, a 75 percent increase over last year and 151,000 acres more than the previous high in 2015.” The kinds of crops that could be quickest to be abandoned are annuals like broccoli and tomatoes. Now, “for every acre that is left unplanted because of a lack of irrigation water, there is the equivalent of 50,000 salads that will not be available,” said another Farm Water Coalition executive. The Packer

Is almond production headed downhill? California is the world’s biggest almond producer, and almonds are the state’s most lucrative crop. But the difficulty of keeping trees watered is discouraging new plantings and prompting some farmers to uproot existing trees. One grower said payments of $1,000 per acre-foot of water during droughts that come every three years could make continued almond growing untenable. Politico

Colorado will lose half its snow by 2080, Los Alamos researchers have found. They used artificial intelligence and machine learning, accelerating the gathering and processing of data. “We’re not saying Colorado is going to become a desert. But we see increased aridity moving forward,” said Katrina Bennett, a hydrologist at the national laboratory. Denver Post

Something’s fishy: when endangerment is the issue, bees, like fish, deserve protection. A Californis state appeals court found some invertebrate species, like bees, come under the same umbrella species designation as fish, in the state’s own endangered species act. The iummediate impact could be protections for four bumblebee species that are in grouble. Citrus and almond farmers, among other agricultural groups, argued that insects don’t qualify for the law’s protections. But three appeals judges said they do. Law And Crime

Lands returned to tribal governments in Montana. A bison range on more than 18,000 acres of undeveloped land in northwest Montana — land taken by the U.S. Government without the consent of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes – is now under their control. In 2020, Congress passed a law that gradually moves management of the land from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to the tribes U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, who signed off on the law last year. National Public Radio

A dearth of Indigenous federal judges remains, despite the recent appointment of Sunshine Sykes in the Central District of California. Now seven of more than 4,200 federal judges identify as American Indian, all at the lowest level of federal courts. None have ever served on an appeals court or the Supreme Court. Justice Neil Gorsuch appointed the first Native Supreme Court clerk in 2018. And a new report indicates most state supreme courts in the mountain states lack many judges of color. Balls And Strikes
Boise State Public Radio

Interior approves big power line for renewables across the West. The Interior Department just gave final approval for a 416-mile electric transmission line PacifiCorp seeks to build to let renewable energy travel across three states. The Gateway South project is designed to get wind energy from Wyoming into the grid of more westerly states. Interior’s Bureau of Land Management argues that up to 600,000 average homes could be powered by up to 2,000 megawatts of new renewable resources. E&E News

Wyoming utilities balk at the cost of Wyoming’s law mandating carbon capture. For the state’s support of coal-burning utilities to continue, they must work to keep climate-warming carbon from their emissions. Wyoming produces 40 percent of the nation’s coal; selling it generates nearly 60 percent of state and local revenues. The state plans to remove carbon dioxide from industrial emissions and store it, to keep the coal industry in business. But in March, the utilities covered by the new state law requiring capturing carbon submitted filings telling regulators it couldn’t be done, and they didn’t plan to try. Inside Climate News

Alaska hatcheries sending many – maybe too many — pink salmon into the Pacific. Some 50 years ago, the population of pink salmon in the north Pacific Ocean was one-third of what it is today. Hatcheries are part of the reason. Hatchery pinks help support the fishing industry, but when they interbreed with wild fish, the result is a less fertile salmon population. So experts wonder: are the hatchery pinks, which helped rescue the crippled salmon runs six decades ago, too much of a good thing? Hakai

Articles worth reading: May 24, 2022

As the megadrought presides over the aridification of the West, its consequences are felt everywhere, from a weakened power grid to unwatered lawns to unbuilt homes; a federal report recounts decades of abuse of Native children forcibly sent to boarding schools; a small Utah town transforming its coal-fired power plant; Idaho farm workers harvest food but have little to eat; and other news from the lands of the West.

By Felicity Barringer

Up Close: Energy & the West

Weighing the consequences of losing carbon-free energy in California

Billions in potential federal dollars have led Gov. Gavin Newsom to pause the decommissioning of the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant — source of one sixth of the state’s green energy.

Read more »

The drivers of the West’s worst drought in a millennium are twofold: persistent coolness in tropical Pacific waters that nudges the jet stream – and many storms – out of reach, and an atmosphere made thirstier by climate change. The thirstier the atmosphere, the more moisture it sucks for the soils below. A climate scientist provides an up-close look at why the current dryness may be prolonged. The Conversation

The consequences of the drought multiply, affecting yards in southern California. Los Angeles is about to restrict outdoor watering. KABC-TV

The power grid’s reliability is threatened as hydropower declines. The North American Electric Reliability Corp suggests that the West is at risk of energy emergencies during summer heat waves. Reuters

Growth and development are kneecapped in communities from the central California coast to the mountains of Arizona and southwestern Utah. As a new report says, “As the Western United States endures an ongoing megadrought that has spanned more than two decades, an increasing number of cities, towns and water districts are being forced to say no to new growth. There’s just not enough water to go around.” Pew Charitable Trusts

A grim future expected, with scientists suggesting a 75 percent chance that drought continues through 2030, when factoring in the impacts of continued climate change. High Country News

Indian boarding schools were created to erase Native culture; hundreds were supported by the federal government, according to a new Interior Department report. Letters from parents were hidden, physical abuse was common, hundreds of students died. As the assistant Interior secretary of Indian Affairs, Bryan Newland, said during the press conference, “That impact continues to influence the lives of countless families, from the breakup of families and tribal nations, to the loss of languages and cultural practices and relatives. We haven’t begun to explain the scope of this policy until now.” Native News Online Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo, now seeks remedies and healing after boarding school cruelties. KSUT

A federal judge renews sage grouse protections for a subpopulation on the Arizona-Nevada border. Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley of California’s Northern District overruled the Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2020 denial of continued protections for the bird, saying it had ignored the science that earlier had led the service to declare the birds in this group a threatened species. E&E News

Several ports in the Pacific Northwest seek to transform their cruise ship business, requiring cruise lines to plan for a time when vessels use no fossil fuels. Seattle Times

At the end of long workdays, Idaho farm workers find grocery shelves depleted – if they have access to any grocery stores. Sometimes, they have access only to the snacks at a local gas station. Big Pivots

The small town that’s set to reshape the West’s energy future. The town of Delta, population 3,600, is home to the coal-fired, 1,800-megawatt Intermountain Power plant that supplies more than 15 percent of Los Angeles’s electricity. It is also the site of a planned $1.9 billion transformation of that plant into the world’s largest hydrogen-fueled generating station. Los Angeles Times

Articles worth reading: May 11, 2022

Colorado river reservoirs at historic lows; southwestern cities adapt to water shortages; nearly 100% of California’s energy demand supplied by renewable energy for one day; Pacific native representatives call for a UN investigation into Hawaiian oil spill; and other recent environmental reads.

By Zack Boyd

Colorado River reservoirs are at historic lows, causing federal regulators to withhold water to western states. The decision was a first, and will retain water in Lake Powell in Utah, rather than allow it to flow into Lake Mead on the border of Nevada and California. While regulators hope this will maintain hydropower generation at the reservoirs, it is unclear if this will be a sustainable plan to address a drought with no signs of ending. The New York Times
Bloomberg Law

In spite of water supply issues, southwestern cities have managed to reduce use and sustainably source water. San Diego in particular has reduced per-capita water use by 43 percent, largely by encouraging low-water-use appliances, wastewater recycling, and payouts to homeowners to tear out their lawns. Phoenix and Las Vegas have pursued similar projects. While large cities have been able to thrive despite the ongoing drought, small towns and agricultural regions have continued to struggle with water access. Yale Environment 360

One day in April, renewable power provided over 99% of California’s energy demand for the first time. Two-thirds of the electicity demand on April 30 was met by solar, with the rest being generated by wind, geothermal, and other renewables. Some observers noted that energy demands remain variable and more work will be necessary to bring the state to 100% renewable energy year-round – and around the clock. Desert Sun

Indigenous representatives for Hawai’i have asked for a UN investigation into last year’s oil spill at Honolulu. The spill, which leaked 14,000 gallons of fuel into the city’s underground aquifer, originated at a Navy base. Calls for an investigation centered on native Hawaiians’ rights to clean water for both everyday life and ceremonies. Navy officials have pledged to close the base, but have not made any progress in doing so over the last six months. High Country News

Residents of Houston still struggle with the impacts of Hurricane Harvey, five years later. The federal government pledged more than $9 billion, yet state and local governments have not fully distributed these funds to communities hit by the hurricane. The distribution chain for these funds is politically fraught, leaving thousands of residents waiting while government agencies debate how to run recovery programs. Many fear that a future storm would wreak the same havoc on the city unless more restoration projects are done. Grist

Honey production by bees is down 14% nationwide. This decline is tied to many factors, including herbicides, pesticides, and ongoing drought. Reduced honey production can have massive impacts on the honey industry as well as on pollination. Civil Eats

Articles worth reading: April 25, 2022

Wetland restoration at the intersection of California’s Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers; foreign ownership of US cropland has tripled in the last decade; the Yup’ik people in Alaska forced to relocate due to sea level rise; American farmers are struggling with supply chain disruptions; San Diego proposes a pumped storage hydroelectric project; and other environmental reads from around the West.

Also this week: in a new Up Close, Felicity Barringer looks at how pandemic restrictions fed the rise of secessionist movements and political extremism in rural northern California.

By Zack Boyd

Repairing the intersection of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers and restoring native wetlands. The two rivers, which drain the northern and southern halves, respectively, of California’s Central Valley, are considered major flood risks. California has spent $300 million so far on renovating the levee system that supplies surface water to farmers. Associated Press

Between 2010 and 2020, foreign ownership of U.S. cropland tripled, according to the Agriculture Department. This is largely due to increased international investment in wind farms, which have a very small footprint and therefore leave space for cropland. Foreign holdings in all agriculture in the U.S. (including forests and pastures) totals more than 37 million acres as of 2020 — an area larger than Illinois. Federal lawmakers have begun pushing for more strict review of foreign purchases of agricultural land in the United States. Civil Eats

The Yup’ik people of Alaska are facing displacement due to rising sea levels. The shoreline near Newtok– a Yup’ik village on the western coast of Alaska– has been eroding at a rate of 70 to 90 feet per year. Though the Biden administration pledged $46 million to address the impacts of climate change on Indigenous communities, tribal leaders doubt that these funds could be used in time to prevent damage to the Yup’ik village, if they are approved. Crosscut

Supply chain disruptions have had severe financial consequences for farmers across the West. Shipping carriers have increasingly sent empty containers directly back to Asia, rather than load them with crops and other goods from the United States in order to increase their profits. Farmers, exporters, and Washington officials have struggled to come up with a solution to the problem, which is leaving tons of agricultural products stalled in warehouses. The New York Times

San Diego has proposed a large-scale pumped storage hydroelectric project that could greatly expand the city’s energy storage capacity. Unlike typical hydropower projects, pumped storage uses water flowing between one high and one lower-elevation reservoir, and does not block an existing river’s flow. There has been an uptick in pumped storage project proposals, with proponents citing their superior energy storage capacity compared to current battery systems. Politico

A retrospective on the discovery of ‘murder hornets’ in the Northwest reveals the drama that unfolded in trying to study the species and its spread in North America. Though researchers in Washington retrieved the first known nest before dozens of queens escaped, a handful of nests have been found in the state since the original discovery. Scientists are still grappling with the implications that these massive hornets will have on bee species in the west and beyond. National Geographic

California state biologists argue that the Joshua Tree should not be listed as endangered, despite the concerns of some environmentalists. The Fish and Game Commission will issue a final decision on the species’ status in June. Los Angeles Times

Following the legalization of recreational marijuana in New Mexico, Native American tribes are calculating the risk of growing the crop. Many tribes plan to use cannabis revenue to pay for infrastructure and elder care, but fear retribution from the federal government, which continues to designate marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance. It is unclear whether or not the federal government would exercise authority over first nations producing and selling cannabis products. Native America Calling

Articles worth reading: April 13, 2022

The Clinton-era roadless rule didn’t prevent all timber harvesting in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest; the federal government awards $9 million to Native American communities for clean energy projects; snow crab catches decline in the Bering Sea; Cedar City, Utah, wants to take water from a nearby valley, prompting opposition from environmentalists, tribes and neighbors; and more environmental news from the West.

By Zack Boyd

The Roadless Act did not prevent loggers in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest from harvesting timber on thousands of acres. Thanks to land swaps between the federal government and private companies, swaths of the Tongass have been logged, despite ostensibly being protected by a Clinton-era act. The little-known practice of land swapping has stripped away large old-growth forests and affected small towns along Alaska’s coast. Grist

The Muwekma Ohlone tribe was falsely declared extinct a century ago, and later was dismissed as a relative newcomer to northern California. New scientific evidence supports tribal claims of an extended past in the region, to at least 2,000 years ago. This is likely to bolster their push for federal recognition. The authorship of the academic paper reporting the DNA findings includes members of the tribe. New York Times

In Wyoming, sage grouse breeding may mask the root causes of the species’ decline. The state has sponsored breeding programs in an attempt to reverse the sage grouse’s 81 percent decline in the last 53 years, with extremely limited success. While the oil industry has tacitly supported breeding programs, conservationists cite that few, if any, farmed birds survive to reproduce in the wild. Industry specialists fear that an endangered species listing would have dire consequences for the state’s economy. Wyofile

The federal government awarded nearly $9 million to 13 Native American communities for clean energy projects and to improve energy security on reservations. These projects will update existing infrastructure and power buildings that previously lacked energy. Native News Online
Department Of Energy

Researchers in Texas believe they have found a way to get rid of invasive “crazy ants,” which have blinded birds with acid. University of Texas researchers and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department have identified a pathogen that seems to only infect the invasive insects and cause colony collapse within two years. Despite some reservations, they have used it. It may be the first time the cause of collapse of an invasive species has been identified and then implemented to successfully eliminate the invader. Texas Monthly

Snow crab catches in the Bering Sea have been declining, thanks to climate change. The 2022 season has tallied a 90 percent decline in crab catches from 2021; this near-collapse has been caused by the decline of Arctic ice, which supports algae that are crucial to the Bering Sea food chains. The ice also and keeps water cool for the crustaceans. Climate warming is most concentrated at the poles, and could spell the end for local fisheries and severely disrupt key arctic ecosystems. Seattle Times

Cedar City, Utah plans to pull water from a nearby valley, sparking debate over the future of water security in the West. The proposal has snaked its way through court appeals for over a decade. City officials argue it is crucial to the survival of the city, but a broad coalition of environmentalists, ranchers, and local tribes have opposed the proposal as not only environmentally destructive, but uncertain to yield the water the city needs to survive. The Guardian

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland plans to reverse a nearly 50-year-old Bureau of Indian Affairs policy giving it veto power over tribal land use. Haaland, the first Native American Secretary of the Interior, cited the policy as an obstacle to tribal sovereignty and a detriment to tribal-government relations. The Hill

Oregon’s Klamath Irrigation District has voted to pull water from the drought-stricken Klamath Basin, acknowledging this could limit their access to federal drought relief. Many area residents believe that the federal funding is only a small fraction of the income farmers could generate with the water that a federal contract keep them from taking. Federal regulators have restricted access to the basin’s water to protect endangered fish species that are culturally relevant to local Klamath tribes. The local representative has cautioned the residents against breaking the contract, citing legal repercussions and loss of federal funding. Jefferson Public Radio

Articles worth reading: March 29, 2022

Lake Powell’s hydropower future uncertain as its elevation drops near critical levels; California requires increased water conservation; a toad whose secretions used for psychedelic medicine is now threatened by overharvesting; a California proposal would give $100 million to Native Americans to buy back ancestral land; and more recent environmental news from the West.

By Felicity Barringer

As the Colorado River Compact reaches its 100th anniversary, its future is in doubt. A recent symposium highlighted the collision between the diminishing water supplies with the unrealistic promises of the past. Salt Lake Tribune

The elevation of Lake Powell just dropped below 3,525 feet. A drop of 35 more feet for the smaller of the Colorado’s two massive reservoirs would end hydropower used by 5.8 million customers in seven states. Last year, the Bureau of Reclamation tried to help by sharply increasing releases from upstream dams and reducing downstream flows to Lake Mead; the Western Area Power Agency bought 833,000 megawatts of expensive auxiliary power. Big Pivots
Water Education Colorado

Water restrictions mandated in California as drought enters third year. But while Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive order requires 400 water agencies around the state to tighten conservation rules — the most severe statewide restriction since 2016 — there are no universal mandates and no fines for districts that fail to adequately conserve. Instead, local providers set their own rules for conservation, including limits on the number of days of watering landscaping and an overall target of perhaps 10 to 20 percent in cutbacks. San Jose Mercury News

A new road cutting through Alaska’s Izembek National Wildlife Refuge is more likely after a federal court appeals panel upheld a land exchange crucial to building the road, which would go through the 310,000-acre Izembek National Wildlife Refuge near the southern tip of Alaska’s peninsula. The King’s Cover Alaska Native village corporation wants a road to provide quicker access to medical emergency flights. Conservationists contend wildlife that depend on the refuge would be hurt. Anchorage Daily News

Resurgent interest in psychedelic medicines could hurt the Sonoran toad, whose secretions and the experiences they evoke may help conditions like depression and anxiety. But synthetic alternatives are available, and scientists warn that the widespread efforts to harvest toads could decimate the Sonoran Desert populations on the Arizona-Mexico border. Also of note: A portrait of Octavio Rettig, who has become one of the chief proselytizers of toad trips, who believes that “smoking toad” is a practice dating back to ancient Mayan and Incan societies. The New York Times
The New Yorker

California utilities were given state safety approval despite their failure to prioritize wildfire mitigation in the areas at greatest risk, a state auditor’s report shows. With 600 unplanned “public service power shutoffs” in 2021 to prevent wildfires, the auditor said the utilities “failed to focus their [remediation] activities in high fire-threat areas.” Utility Dive

Plans for a series of massive solar arrays in a Nevada county near Death Valley are worrying people in small rural areas nearby. They fear that the industrial appearance of the new plants would discourage tourism and spoil the craggy outlines and delicate colors of Death Valley National Park. E&E News

The idea for a Chumash National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Santa Barbara County has a major new obstacle — the proposed construction of as many as eight wind power generators in the same region off California’s central coast. What the wind energy proponents say is an important clean-energy effort is seen by the Chumash people as an affront to the preservation of the offshore ecosystem. Los Angeles Times

Showing the Green River’s declining flow with 112 years of statistics: Twitter

Articles worth reading: March 14, 2022

California can once again set its own standards for vehicle emissions; the process if changing the offensive names of federal sites continues; Colorado tightens financial requirements on oil and gas producers, the better to ensure abandoned wells don’t continue to dot the landscape; Native Americans feel kinship with Ukraine; Yellowstone’s 150th anniversary prompts a reexamination of the history of tribal repression; and more.

But first, in this installment of Up Close, we explore the Bay Area’s halting return to the office, as commuters contemplate the hazards of Covid exposure and surging gas prices.

By Felicity Barringer

Up Close: Energy & the West

California commuters face a squeeze

The Golden Gate Bridge in 2021. Photo by Jeremy Bezanger on Unsplash

The two cataclysms reordering the world — the war in Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic — force us to recalibrate everyday decisions, such as how much gasoline we can use and how often we want to be close to a group of strangers. In other words, how we get to work. 

The final impact of the pandemic’s work-from-home requirements aren’t yet known; more offices are calling employees back to their old desks. But two things about the future of transportation in the San Francisco Bay Area are increasingly clear. Driving will cost more. And it will be a while longer before people are as willing to take buses, trains and subways. 

Driving has been Californians’ way of life. The San Francisco Bay area and adjacent cities like Stockton and Modesto have been home to more than 120,000 supercommuters – people who drive at least three hours round-trip to and from work, a 2019 study found. 

That’s the most in the country. For millions of commuters in the Bay Area, regional gas prices now top $5.69 a gallon. The Russian oil shutoff, caused by the Ukrainian invasion, is driving costs higher. 

And while a Bay Area Council survey indicates that 40 percent of employees could opt for work weeks with three days in the office going forward, cutting out 1.1 million daily commutes, there is no sign of a wide return to the close quarters of public transit systems. 

Ridership on Caltrain, which runs from Gilroy to San Jose to San Francisco, remains down sharply; last month’s report showed overall weekday travel activity was down 31 percent from pre-pandemic levels; it is now at about 20 percent of the levels of 2018 and 2019.

Like Caltrain, BART is starved for riders. Last month, directors of the Bay Area Rapid Transit System were told ridership is likely to remain well below pre-pandemic levels till 2029. The San Francisco Chronicle reported the pandemic cut ridership to 12 percent of BART’s pre-COVID level; more than 18 months later it is now not even at 30 percent of the old level of weekday passenger trips, according to the San Jose Mercury-News. The ridership drop could cost BART $1 billion when this fiscal year ends. ABC7News quoted the system’s director of financial planning saying, “Many commuters may not return to the transit community even when they return to work.” 

If all those commuters stay in their cars, the consequence will be not only bone-wearying commutes, but increased pollution — unless electric cars dominate the fleet. Eighteen months ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive order required that by 2035,  all news vehicles sold be  zero-emission vehicles. This would cut greenhouse-gas emissions 35 percent and smog-forming emissions 85 percent, state figures show. 

But 80 environmental groups just demanded tougher rules. Answering those who say the Ukraine crisis requires producing more fossil fuels, the environmentalists say it requires producing more electric cars. Sammy Roth’s Los Angeles Times newsletter argued, “accelerating the shift to electric cars and electric heat pumps, the U.S. and Europe could slash emissions while dealing a powerful blow to Vladimir Putin….” 

Roth reports that a Stanford research scholar, Michael Wara, proposes a trade: Increase oil and natural gas production in the U.S. in the short term, to cope with the Ukrainian war gas crisis, but only if Congress approves “a massive program to electrify the U.S. vehicle fleet.” 

Transportation systems, like those in the San Francisco Bay Area, have proven vulnerable to the two crises of the moment. Wara’s proposal is a reminder that another cataclysm, the results of a warming climate, should impact people’s decisions. Electric cars and public transit offer two ways to avoid the worst consequences of the crisis around the corner.

The best of recent reads from around the West:

California regains its prerogative to set vehicle pollution standards more stringent than the federal government’s. Reversing the Trump administration, which had stripped California of the tool that had made it a national leader in reining in smog-causing pollution from cars, the Biden administration renewed its independent power. As the nation’s leader in vehicle sales, California’s ability to set its pollution controls independently has a profound influence on the kind of cars produced nationwide. The state has mandated that only zero-emission vehicles will be sold after 2035. The New York Times

Can the legal structures controlling water allocation in the West survive climate-change-driven aridification? The United Nation’s latest dire report on climate change confirms that drought will be routine and “shows how clearly how our western U.S. water management institutions, developed in the 19th and 20th centuries, are ill-suited to the challenges posed by climate change,” said John Fleck, director of the University of New Mexico’s Water Resources Program. Bloomberg

An offensive term for Native American women is to be removed from more than 660 federal sites. “Words matter, particularly in our work to make our nation’s public lands and waters accessible and welcoming to people of all backgrounds. Consideration of these replacements is a big step forward in our efforts to remove derogatory terms whose expiration dates are long overdue,” read a statement from Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. E&E Daily

Yellowstone National Park’s 150th anniversary brings discussion of overlooked parts of its history, including a local massacre of 200 Blackfeet Indians directed by a U.S. Army lieutenant whose name now graces one of the park’s highest peaks, Mount Doane. And we learn that early commercial despoilment of the park, from hotel building to logging, so alarmed William “Buffalo Bill” Cody that he wrote a letter of protest to a New York newspaper in 1883, a year after the park was created. E&E News
National Parks Conservation Association Washington Post

Some Native Americans see kinship with Ukraine. In both Canada and the United States, tribes have condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, reflecting their own history of conquest and the values of their ancestors who resisted colonialization. Axios

Offshore Wind Coming to Oregon and California. The California Energy Commission gave a $10 million grant for the Humboldt Wind Farm off the California coast. And the Oregon Energy Department recently published a draft study looking into the challenges and benefits of generating up to three gigawatts of energy each year from deep-water floating wind turbines off the state’s southwest coast by 2030. The turbines could be placed in waters from Astoria to Coos Bay. T&D World
Utility Dive Capital Chronicle

Colorado oil and gas regulators approve ‘strongest in the nation’ financial rules. The rule will significantly increase the size of bonds that operators must present to the state to cover cleanup costs. As for the old wells left to rust when owners went bankrupt, new fees will raise millions to plug these orphan wells. Colorado Newsline

A Trojan Horse of a Brook Trout may, over time, spell an end to his own invasive population who are outcompeting native brook and bull trout, from New Mexico northward across the mountain West. Biographic

The northern Yukon’s Bluefish Caves yield clues to the earliest arrivals from across the Bering Sea 23,500 years ago. Hakai

Articles worth reading: February 28, 2022

The worst megadrought in 1,200 years plagues the West; California forests are dying; a new study finds eagles poisoned by lead bullets; environmental justice issues tied to California sea level rise in San Mateo county; a $36 million damage award on a worker’s claim of asbestos poisoning in the mines of Libby, Montana, could herald big future costs for the company’s insurer, and other news from the West.

By Syler Peralta-Ramos

A new study finds it’s been at least 1,200 years since anything rivaling the West’s current megadrought. Tree ring data from thousands of sites across the southwest, which only provide data as far back as 800 AD, show no signs of a drought of this severity. Consequently, the most recent similar drought must have occurred sometime before that 1200 year period. The study, conducted by Park Williams of UCLA was published this week in the journal Nature Climate Change. 40 percent of the current drought is attributable to climate change. NPR

California forests are dying, losing an estimated 9.5 million trees to drought, beetle attacks and disease in the last year alone, aerial surveys by the U.S. Forest Service have found. The total loss was not as great as recorded two years ago, but since 2010, more than 172 million trees have died. San Francisco Chronicle

Bald and golden eagles are facing a new threat, scientists say, after discovering lead in nearly half of sampled birds. The lead is thought to have entered the ecosystem through spent ammunition of hunters that contaminates remains of their kill. Roughly a third of the birds showed signs of lead poisoning. It can cause death, slower reproduction and other health complications for the birds. Policies designed to prevent hunters from using lead bullets haven’t stopped the practice. Conservationists hope the new study will persuade more hunters to switch. The New York Times

San Mateo is the California county most at risk from sea level rise. About 100,000 people live within three feet of the high-tide line, and nearly half of these residents are people of color. Beyond flooding risk, rising groundwater levels may push contamination closer to the surface, creating health risks . Many of the low-lying communities located around the Bay Area are struggling financially and would be devastated by frequent and severe flooding. Sea level planners are hoping to minimize impacts by preparing for a 10-foot rise above today’s high tide. KQED

The Biden Administration is re-examining permits for the Spring Creek coal mine in eastern Montana to determine if the environmental cost outweighs the benefit to communities depending on mine jobs. Biden hopes to replace Trump-era carbon pricing mechanisms with stronger programs intended to incentivize emissions reductions. Associated Press

A $36.5 million damage award to former worker in W.R. Grace’s Libby, Montana vermiculite mine — where miners breathed in and were coated with asbestos dust — could herald large ongoing costs for the defunct company’s insurer, whose officials knew and failed to warn workers of their risks of deadly illness. Hundreds more lawsuits against Maryland Casualty Company are pending. It’s been about 28 years since the first suit against W.R. Grace, which overall paid several million dollars in claims by victims before filing for bankruptcy in 2001. The New York Times

Beavers are expanding their range northward into the Arctic as climate change frees up new habitat. The animals were virtually unheard of in northwest Alaska but have since established a stronghold in the region. Between 2002 and 2019 the number of beaver dams increased by 5000 percent over previous levels. Scientists worry that the animals are causing irreversible damage to the tundra ecosystems that evolved without beavers, which dam streams and cause floods. High Country News

Scientists are experimenting with adding genetically modified brook trout to streams in an effort to eradicate this invasive species. Brook trout are out-competing native trout, but eradicating just the invaders is no easy task. The team hopes introducing brook trout, which can only have male offspring will cause the invaders to die out over time Anglers and their supporters dispersed the brook trout across pristine waterways and alpine lakes in the West to expand fishing opportunities. Prior eradication strategies also killed native fish. Biographic

A Los Angeles resident describes the challenges that come with living alongside urban coyotes, a species that is now adapting and thriving in cities. Urban residents typically despise the animals which threaten their pets and the manicured image of suburban L.A. Getting rid of them is not an easy option, so people are learning to adapt to their continued presence in the neighborhood. The Los Angeles Times

Up Close: Bipartisanship & the West

The WGA’s argument for moderation

By Felicity Barringer, Feb. 28, 2022

Almost invisible in the political rancor of 2022, one political organization is demonstrating, its boosters argue, that bipartisanship can work. It’s the Western Governors’ Association, including 22 states and territories, from Texas to the Dakotas and Kansas to Guam. 

In a recent piece in The Hill newspaper, the group’s executive director, Jim Ogsbury, wrote, “defying the stereotype of American politicians and ineffective, feckless and self-interested, western governors are among the most collegial, respectful, and pragmatic leaders populating this country’s political landscape.”  THE HILL

One would expect that the executive director would say positive things about his bosses. But it also appears that Ogsbury has some solid evidence of progress on such important western issues as land and water use and landscape management. 

The bipartisanship shown among governors doesn’t translate in the legislative arena. The Western Caucus in Congress, E&E News reports, has “skewed Republican for years” and is doubling down on opposition to the environmental agenda favored by Democrats. POLITICO

Sure, the agreements WGA has achieved involve low-profile issues  like controlling invasive species or improving telehealth, not culture-war fodder like transgender identity. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott just made big news for endorsing legislation that could expose parents of transgender children to prosecution for child abuse. POLITICO 

Instead, it is issues like land use where bipartisanship marks their approach. Most western states include a large portion of federal lands; all face intensifying wildfires. Drought and climate change deprive many of their accustomed water supplies. In 2020, after WGA pressure, the Army of Corps of Engineers backed off its effort to force holders of water rights to get the Corps’ permission to use their water stored in federal reservoirs. WGA

This month, Idaho Gov. Brad Little, the WGA’s outgoing chairman, wrapped up a series of discussions under the banner “Working Lands, Working Communities.” These examined issues from drought to wildfire to cross-boundary land management and restoring ecosystems. They received virtually no media coverage except in one avowedly conservative blog, The Western Way.  THE WESTERN WAY

It may be easier to get the federal government to accept WGA land management strategies based on both science and experience. Right now, Gov. Little argues, WGA ideas can make a difference on how the money in the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill is spent. He said, “The states do have the good fortune of having a significant increase in resources, whether it be the infrastructure bill or the [$1.9 trillion] American Rescue Plan. 

“…How do we get the money deployed and not waste it…?,” he asks.  Perhaps by avoiding unnecessary public arguments. 

According to WGA director Jim Ogsbury, that starts with keeping state leaders in the loop., “One of the things we’re really focused on,” he wrote, – “we want to improve the state-federal relationship. Want to be authentic partners, want to be consulted…. It’s going to result in better policy if states and governors have a part in authentic federal policy development.”

Articles worth reading: February 14, 2022

The Supreme Court examines whether intermittent streams are covered by the Clean Water Act; dwindling water on the Great Salt Lake spurs interest and investment from lawmakers; the Interior Secretary speaks out against Rocky Mountain states’ killing of wolves and considers restoring endangered species protections; an Indigenous tribe from Washington can reclaim its cultural history of whale hunts; and other news from the West.

By Syler Peralta-Ramos

The Clean Water Act’s definition of “Waters of the United States” is in the Supreme Court’s hands. The plaintiffs in the case an Idaho landowner filed against the Environmental Protection Agency seek to exclude from federal regulation all rivers and riverbeds that periodically go dry. Whether or not intermittent rivers and streams are protected has been debated for decades. If the Supreme Court accepts the proposed exclusion, three-quarters of streams in the Southwest would lose federal protections. High Country News

A federal court puts wolves back on the endangered species list, though not those in the Northern Rockies. A decade ago, Congress preempted the judiciary and removed federal protection for wolves in Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana. The new ruling came at a time when Interior Secretary Deb Haaland published a condemnation of intensive wolf killing near Yellowstone National Park. In response to the highest amount of extermination since wolves were reintroduced there in 1995, Haaland’s op-ed took issue with the states’ approach and said: “The Fish and Wildlife Service is evaluating whether a re-listing of the northern Rocky Mountains’ gray wolf population under the Endangered Species Act is necessary.” For two decades, state and federal regulators, along with westerners in Congress, have fought over who controls the wolves’ fate. Associated Press
USA Today
Mountain Journal

California’s drought outlook remains uncertain in the the final months of the rainy season. The deluge of fall rain met with a dry start to 2022 to make the coming weeks especially crucial. Whether or not the drought persists is unlikely to become clear until March. Even if large amounts of precipitation fall, the drought’s impact on groundwater stores will persist. California Water Blog

Dwindling water levels on the Great Salt Lake spurred Utah lawmakers to action, but it may be too little too late. Record lows in lake levels are a major threat to migrating birds, the mineral extraction industry, brine shrimp, and lake-based recreation. Arsenic-rich dust from the lakebed also threatens to pollute nearby air. If water levels drop too low, the lake could become too salty for its ecosystem to bounce back. Seeking to invest in solutions, lawmakers have proposed a mixture of ideas from rewriting incentives for farmers to conserve water to using pandemic funds from the government to install water meters in homes without them. Associated Press

The most wildfire-prone areas in the West have the fastest rate of population growth, particularly in California, Washington, Oregon and Texas. That is the finding of a new study from a team of climate researchers from Stanford, UCLA and the Australian National University. The team compared its maps of where vegetation creates the highest fire risks to population migration into the wildland-urban interface. Overall, migrants into these areas doubled between 1990 and 2010; but in the highest-hazard areas the growth was 160 percent. The Conversation

The Standing Rock Sioux tribe withdrew its cooperation from the Dakota Access Pipeline environmental assessment after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the pipeline’s operators failed to supply an adequate emergency preparedness response plan. The pipeline goes beneath Lake Oahe, the tribe’s main water source. Concerns have arisen over the pipeline operator Energy Transfer’s failure to address the difficulties of cleaning up an oil spill beneath the lake. Mongabay

For the first time in 25 years, the Makah Indigenous peoples in Washington might soon hunt gray whales. Subsistence whale hunting has been a part of the Makah culture for generations, though the Marine Mammal Protection Act stopped them from continuing this tradition. In October a federal judge recommended granting an exemption to the law for the Makah Tribe. An environmental assessment determined the hunt would have a negligible effect on the overall population of gray whales, which number around 21,000 to 25,000. Civil Eats

Highway wildlife crossings are proliferating, with the upcoming crossing of Highway 101 north of Los Angeles planned as the largest to date. Existing crossings that dot Utah, Wyoming, and Montana cut down on both animal death and human death and injury from collisions on the roads that crisscross old wildlife migration routes. About a thousand structures, from bridges like the one planned outside Los Angeles to culverts, underpasses and tunnels, help species navigate their road-divided world. NPR

The Biden administration invites new public comment on a major oil project on Alaska’s North Slope. The ConocoPhillips Willow project was approved in the final days of the Trump administration. The Biden administration initially supported the project, but climate activists cite the newly announced comment period as a major test of Biden’s climate policy. The announcement may signal that the US is changing course. Inside Climate News

Articles worth reading: February 1, 2022

A redwood forest returned to its original indigenous inhabitants; an endangered wolf stopped by the border wall; extreme drought sparks collaboration in the lower Colorado river basin; electric vehicle battery demands spark a cobalt rush in southern Idaho, and other news from the West.

By Syler Peralta-Ramos

Shrinking water supplies in the lower Colorado River basin force western states to collaborate on new river policies. Sparked by the severity of drought conditions in the West last year, California, Nevada and Arizona signed the “500+ plan” which dedicates $200 million to increasing the water in Lake Mead by 500,000 acre-feet in 2022 and 2023. The plan aims to increase the basin’s reserves and improve preparedness for future drought conditions. Water levels in the lower Colorado River Basin have been dropping for two decades but sparse 2021 runoff led to the first shortage declaration on the river and “created an opening for the political will necessary for an innovative solution.” Aspen Times

A new report warns that California has too many vineyards to support sustainable farming practices and balanced water supply and demand. The report, “The State of the U.S. Wine Industry 2022,” cited the continued drought in California as increasing pressure on the industry with reservoirs still only 37.7 % full despite heavy December precipitation. Mixed with threats of wine oversupply, the report suggested hectares of vines must be removed to keep the industry and the environment in balance. The Drinks Business

A wet autumn brought hope of an end to California’s drought but January brought back dry weather. January is on track to be the driest on record for much of the already water-starved state. The winter months when precipitation is most likely is only halfway done, though hope for a rapid end to Cailifornia’s water problems may be in vain. Washington Post

In southern Idaho, increased demand for cobalt – an element crucial to the production of electric vehicle batteries – spurred construction of new mines in the state’s “Cobalt Belt”. The vast majority of the world’s cobalt supply is mined from the Congo and exported to China, leading North American companies concerned with foreign reliance to search for more local sources. While the goal of cobalt mining remains an environmental positive, metal mining generates more toxic waste than any other industry in the U.S. The long term impact of future operations is a concern of conservationists and local Native American groups who live with the fallout from the old Blackbird mine site. The Atlantic

Electric vehicles and charging infrastructure exclude the needs of outdoor recreation enthusiasts, but automakers are innovating to change that. EV charging stations are being built in national parks and popular trailheads to go along with “adventure ready” EV trucks and plug-in hybrids that are the latest electrification trend. GM hopes to bring more practical fast-charging to remote wilderness areas using hydrogen fuel cell powered stations, removing the need to be hooked up to the grid. Axios

Scientists tracked an endangered red wolf migrating along the U.S.-Mexico border wall in search of a mate farther south. The data was among the first concrete signs that the 105 miles of new wall in New Mexico have tangible impacts on large animal populations in the region, several of which are federally listed as endangered species. The tracking data from the wolf, known by scientists as Mr. Goodbar, shows that the wall is in violation of the Endangered Species Act though the Department of Homeland Security has the authority to ignore ESA law. National Geographic

Montana intends to limits wolf killing near Yellowstone National Park if another six animals are killed in the southwestern Montana region. The state Fish & Wildlife Commission vote comes after 20 wolves were killed on the park’s borders this season, the most since wolf reintroduction in the area more than 25 years ago. Montana Free Press

A hundredfold increase in Western Monarch butterflies. In 2020 a record low number of 2,000 Western Monarch butterflies overwintered in California,sparking dire concerns for the long-term viability of the species. This winter there are more than 247,000 gathered along the coast. Despite the miraculous hundredfold increase, scientists remain concerned about the crucial pollinators who are in trouble due to climate change, pesticide use, and habitat loss. The recent increase represents only 85% of historic numbers from the 80s and 90s. Mongabay

A Bay Area podcast about how individuals can help the species rebound. KQED

Native tribes will receive 523 acres of redwood forests from Save the Redwoods League, a California nonprofit, which is transferring the Mendocino county land back to descendants of its original inhabitants. Funds for the purchase were donated by the California utility PG&E as part of their efforts to reduce environmental damage. The land will now belong to the Intertribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council, a group of 10 tribes whose ancestors were removed from the area by European settlers. The council hopes to expand and connect the redwood forests now under tribal management in the area to restore and expand local ecosystems. The New York Times

Articles worth reading: January 18, 2022

Yellowstone-area lawmakers set their sights on bears and wolves; Arctic fires weaken carbon-sequestering permafrost; growing concern over agricultural dust in the West sparks new monitoring infrastructure, a new push to monitor heat deaths, and other news from the West.

By Syler Peralta-Ramos

In recent months 20 of Yellowstone’s wolves were killed in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming during ongoing hunting seasons, marking the deadliest season since wolves were reintroduced. Park officials called the news “a significant setback for the species’ long-term viability and for wolf research.” And a columnist argues for importance of allowing wolves to flourish. Associated Press Mountain Journal The New York Times

Wyoming Lawmakers are again asking the Fish & Wildlife Service to remove Endangered Species protections of the Yellowstone grizzly after two prior failed attempts since 2007. Governor Mark Gordon stated his hopes to return grizzly management to the state, allowing for a reduction of the population in areas where grizzlies are not tolerated. Associated Press

In the West, severe drought prompts arguments over water rights. But do rivers have their own right to flow? For the National Audubon Society and Trout Unlimited, the answer is a resounding yes. After acquiring a lease to portions of the Gallinas River in New Mexico, the organizations embarked on an environmental experiment aimed at a new water management philosophy. Alongside Indigenous communities, the organization hopes to form the state’s view of the river’s claim to its own water. Biographic

Warmer temperatures and fire are causing carbon-rich Arctic ground to rapidly break apart. New research found that climate change is making wildfires more common in the Arctic and accelerating the melting of permafrost in Alaska’s North Slope. Melting permafrost causes large sinkholes and ravines which release large quantities of methane previously sequestered in the frozen ground. Fires contributed to a 60% acceleration in this process since 1950 due to the removal of the vegetation that once helped to insulate the frozen soil below yet climate models are yet to account for the complex process occurring in the north. Wired

Hawaii is testing a new incentive structure for electric utilities to speed up the transition to renewables. Old regulations favored expansion of existing, non-renewable infrastructure. The new system, flips the dialogue and rewards the utility based on performance with the aim of expanding and integrating renewable energy infrastructure without increasing consumer costs. NPR

The danger of people dying from the heat became more evident in 2021, and a new analysis by the California Natural Resources Agency calls on the state government to set up a monitoring system identifying and tracking heat-related illness and deaths. Scientific American

As dust becomes a growing problem, scientists scramble to find its source and how to stop it. A lack of adequate monitoring infrastructure in agricultural areas makes it challenging for scientists to determine the severity and origin of dust events. That will change as new modeling techniques and satellites are being put to the task in 2022 and 2023. In the meantime, as famers in California’s Central Valley fallow land thanks to groundwater restrictions, air quality is likely to decline. Prolonged exposure to dust can cause breathing issues in people with asthma as well as a fungal infection known as Valley Fever. Civil Eats PPIC

Skiing is changing. Milder temperatures, drought, and a global pandemic have reduced the appeal of ski resorts, pushing snow lovers to find new ways to enjoy the wintertime. Of necessity, it is evolving, with a new rise in ski touring, which is a hybrid of both cross-country and downhill skiing. Stevens Pass in Washington has become a center for ski touring, also called uphill skiing, which originated centuries ago in Europe. The New York Times

Articles worth reading: January 5, 2022

The origins and impact of Colorado’s winter wildfires; Californians learn to treat wildfires as a part of everyday life; snowstorms in the Sierra Nevada broke records but only dented the ongoing drought; the troubling intersection between green energy projects and sacred tribal spaces; how a plan to create a fossil-free suburban neighborhood in Colorado was thwarted; and more environmental news from around the West.

By Felicity Barringer

How climate change intensified the Colorado fires that engulfed entire suburban neighborhoods near Boulder. The disaster began with spring rains that produced lush vegetation, then a scorching dry summer that turned the grass to spark-ready fuel. By the end of July, 40 percent of the states was in a drought; by the time the fires hit, that figure hit 100 percent. Wind gusts greater than 100 m.p.h. created an epic firestorm. Washington Post

Living with wildfire has become a necessary skill in California. A writer follows the psychic changes that they and other state residents are undergoing, saying, “Living in California now meant accepting that fire was no longer an episodic hazard, like earthquakes. Wildfire was a constant, with us everywhere, every day, all year long, like tinnitus or regret.” The New York Times

Massive winter snowstorms haven’t ended California’s drought. Despite huge storms that left snow levels at 160 percent of normal in the Sierra Nevada, a leading California water official says “this drought is far from over.” Says another: “We dug a really deep hole with this drought, and we have a really long way to go to get out of it.” Los Angeles Times
San Francisco Chronicle National Public Radio

The things that could move water scarcity from a rural problem to an urban one, and what Phoenix, Denver, St. George and Grand Junction are doing to keep their water systems working. Drought is the focus of problems that put water supplies at risk, but don’t forget about earthquakes and wildfires. Cal Matters

Green energy projects in the West overlap with tribes’ sacred spaces, and the habitat of species at risk, prompting new confrontations between old allies. High Country News
Nevada Current Bloomberg

Radioactive contamination has crept into drinking water, stemming from sources like nuclear weapons production, uranium mines, hospitals, or naturally occurring elements. The Environmental Working Group estimates that drinking water used by more than 170 million people – more of them in California and Texas than other states—could pose a cancer risk because of its level of radioactivity. Ensia

An ambitious plan to make a new Colorado neighborhood fossil-free thwarted by construction industry practices and preferences. Overall, buildings supply 13 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions; the building sector may prove as resistant to change as the coal and oil sectors. Inside Climate News

Red light, green light. An essay on how management of the Colorado River could change for the better, as long as people still recognize the impact of the historic drought. “This phenomenon can be seen most clearly in the transition from inaction in the 1990s to action in the early 2000s. The river’s policy management community, fully aware of the possibility of future difficulties, discussed a range of potential policy actions to respond. However, full reservoirs created a “red light” condition. As the reservoirs dropped in the early 2000s, the light flashed “green,” a federal mandate was issued, and important, difficult policy steps were taken.” Water

Articles worth reading: December 20, 2021

This week, in a new feature called “Up Close,” we survey a group of notable recent stories on California’s deep groundwater problems amid an ongoing drought. Additional stories follow below.

By Felicity Barringer

UP CLOSE: Groundwater

California’s Crisis Is Latest Chapter of Water Flowing to Power

As atmospheric rivers blow in from the Pacific and threaten to prompt public amnesia about the West’s continuing drought, the cost of re-engineering California’s water systems over many generations is coming due. The history of the torquing of the state’s natural systems has been vividly recalled by Mark Arax, a reporter and San Joaquin Valley native, who understands every misappropriation of rivers and how we drained California dry.

His vivid reconstruction of — and somber lament for — California water grabs focuses on the remaking of rivers and aquifers to support the San Joaquin Valley’s mighty agricultural industry. To make money and to feed the country, farmers in the Valley need predictability and a regular water supply in a part of California where extremes of water are routine. In Arax’s words, “the water whose too much can destroy us, whose too little can destroy us, whose perfect measure of our needs becomes our superstition and our story.”  The extremes led farmers to look to underground aquifers to ensure predictable supplies. MIT Technology Review 

The demands for water, wherever it can be found, continue and animate a new Los Angeles Times investigation into the frenzy of well drilling by California farmers that has left taps running dry. As the piece makes clear, the 2014 law designed to ensure California groundwater is used sustainably has failed to protect hundreds of lower-income homeowners whose wells are dry because the aquifer has been drained by large agricultural pumpers. 

Of course the stories about overdrafts have appeared for several years, but now a new collection of stories are showing that the state is mindful of past abuses and won’t accept groundwater plans from two dozen different basins in the San Joaquin Valley. The plans appear to allow aquifer levels to go so low that more domestic wells could run dry. The question state regulators face: will the controls of the much-hailed 2014 groundwater law take effect soon enough, or do the decades of built-in delays ensure sustainability will be unattainable?   SJV Water CALMatters  Los Angeles TImes

In other western news:

Three thirsty southwestern states agree to Colorado River cutbacks. California, Arizona, and Nevada along with tribal communities like the Gila River Indian Reservation will cut 500,000 acre-feet annually from their use of the oversubscribed and shrinking Colorado River for the next two years. Farmers will endure the biggest cuts, and will be compensated to the rune of $200 million by both local water agencies and the federal government. Arizona Republic
Los Angeles Times

A Houston oil company is indicted for its role in creating the oil spill off the shores of Orange County in California. Prosecutors say the spill was worsened when workers at Amplify Energy Corp. and its companies failed to respond properly to alarms that signaled a pipeline rupture. NPR
San Jose Mercury-News

California is changing the financial incentives for installing rooftop solar panels after deciding that the existing system of net energy metering was unfair to lower-income ratepayers. Utility Dive

Colorado overhauls transportation plants to eliminate more CO2. The state’s transportation department took the lead because traffic is the largest source of air pollution in the state. The rules govern how Colorado’s five major regional planning districts design and build projects through 2050, and require that new projects reduce pollution around the state. Denver Post

Western states spent almost $12 billion suppressing wildfires from 2005-2015, a figure that doesn’t include the cost of massive wildfires in the past four years. Just 12 percent was reimbursed by the federal government. Boise Public Radio

Three experts in prescribed fires offer their experiences in support of increasing these planned events to mitigate the furious wildfires that have been consuming the West. Outwest Podcast

“The weather of the past will not be the weather of the future,” said a climate scientist attending a recent climate science conference at which scores of detailed studies were presented charting the effects of the hotter, drier world — particular the future for western wildfires. The Washington Post

How to understand the disappearance of Alaska’s snowy owls? In 1995, a researcher recorded 54 nests in a 214-square-kilometer area around the North Slope’s largest town, which in 2016 was renamed Utqiagvik. In 2020, he found none. Why did they start disappearing? Perhaps because lemmings that make up 90 percent of their diet are also disappearing. The owl population worldwide is down 30 percent or more in three generations, international observers say. The owl research puts a focus on what’s happening in one of the fastest-changing regions in the world; temperatures in the Arctic are warming twice as fast as elsewhere. Hakai

Articles worth reading: December 6, 2021

By Felicity Barringer

Disappearing snowpack in the West. Is the end of western mountain snowpacks in sight? San Francisco Chronicle
Washington Post

Disappearing water in the West. Does groundwater have a future in California, or is its depletion inevitable? Stanford Earth Matters

Disappearing water, Part II. Water agencies serving 27 million Californians are on their own next year, getting nothing from state water projects. Los Angeles Times

Disappearing water, Part III. Small farmers in the Central Valley wonder: where is Kings County water going? They fear that if large amounts of water continue to be exported — with little to no oversight from the state — small farmers will be driven out. SJV Water

Oregon’s proposed Jordan Cove liquified natural gas project abandoned. It was designed to include a liquified natural gas terminal and a 229-mile natural gas pipeline. The facility, designed to send liquified natural gas to Asian markets, had received federal approval, but this was contingent on Oregon agreeing to the plan. This never happened, and the company that planned it, Pembina Pipeline Corp., has asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to cancel its authorizations. Oregon Public Broadcasting

Interior Secretary Haaland works to eliminate racist place names, like those using the word “squaw.” How names like “Chinaman Gulch” affected one Asian American. Grist

The long tail of wildfire damage in western communities. Damage from the 2010 Schultz fire near Flagstaff was exacerbated as floods followed the flames. A new study found that “costs associated with the Schultz Fire and flooding continued to accrue over ten years,” rising from the original top estimate of $87 million to more than $100 million. Arizona Republic
Northern Arizona University

As the sage grouse population drops, the BLM reviews its conservation plans. Burned sage grouse habitat is being renewed as prisoners help replant sagebrush in wildfire areas. Wyofile
H20 Radio

The arrival of tens of thousands of European greens crabs could spell disaster for the Lummi Nation’s cultivation of salmon and shellfish in Washington State. Bellingham Herald

The journeys of Alaska’s Western Arctic caribou herd, told as part of a personal biography with arresting photographs. The herd has declined by more than 50% in the past two decades. Biographic

Articles worth reading: November 22, 2021

California wildfires shrink the giant sequoia population; Chaco Canyon will be protected from oil and gas drilling for at least the next 20 years; groundwater sustainability plans for four major California groundwater basins deemed inadequate; a small community of Colorado farmers fights for their water rights as they use a communal acequia irrigation system; tree DNA is used in a Washington State criminal trial, and other environmental news from around the West.

By Anna McNulty

California wildfires have wiped out 13 to 19 percent of the giant sequoia population over the past 15 months. The giant sequoias, which reside on the western face of the Sierra Nevada, are disappearing at staggering rates because they occupy dense forests and experience extreme drought, making the trees extremely vulnerable to fire. The New York Times

An atmospheric river drenches the Pacific Northwest, inducing floods, mudslides, evacuations, and deaths. The weather system, which is a long and narrow band of water vapor that can transport a month’s worth of rain in just a few days, adds to the severe environmental challenges of the region, already plagued by wildfires and rising temperatures. The Pacific Northwest’s environmental challenges are related, as wildfires remove a crucial layer of vegetation that captures rainfall and slows down the spread of water. Without this important layer, the region suffers even more from the atmospheric river. Gizmodo The Guardian

A 20-year oil and gas drilling ban in a 10-mile radius around Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. The Biden administration announced that after many years of indigenous requests, the area, which is home to many sacred sites for Pueblo people, will be protected. The move follows President Biden’s decision in October to increase protections to Bear Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante, two national monuments in Utah. Despite the Biden administration’s new protections for some sacred sites in these monuments, the administration has received pushback from Native Americans and environmentalists because it approved a pipeline in Minnesota which cuts through tribal lands and watersheds. The New York Times

State agencies criticize four new plans to keep groundwater pumping sustainable in California’s Central Valley. The state’s top water agency says plans in several major agricultural areas don’t make it clear how residential drinking water supplies will remain unharmed. Cal Matters

The Biden administration reinstates a ban on roads and logging in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. The ruling restores a Clinton administration law that was reversed by the Trump administration. The Washington Post

Spotted owls’ critical old-growth forest habitat in the West Coast will be protected in a move by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, reversing a Trump-era decision to open millions of acres of old-growth forests to logging. The Trump administration played down the threat of extinction that logging would cause to the endangered species, using flawed science to support their decision. Associated Press

A farming community in Colorado’s San Luis Valley fights for their water rights in the face of the Southwest megadrought. The community relies on acequias, a centuries-old irrigation system brought from Mexico that pumps water out of rivers into desert valleys for irrigation. The 300 families who rely on acequias are among the most vulnerable to the drought since most do not have wells if their acequias run dry. The acequias are managed collectively. Companies, such as Renewable Water Resources (RWR), take interest in the region’s water, offering to pay farmers for water rights and jeopardizing the vitality of the acequias system. National Geographic

New research indicates that the Sierra Nevada has “two birthdays.” The mountain range’s first birthday is its initial formation 100 million years ago. Then, a volcanic eruption dwarfed the range 40 million to 20 million years ago. The second birthday dates to 10 million years ago when the range was reborn, as the Sierra Nevada rose to the heights we witness today. Stanford Earth Matters

Tree DNA used as evidence in a criminal trial to prosecute people involved in illegal logging. The group, led by Justin Andrew Wilke, was accused of chopping down and selling sought-after maple trees, which are used to make musical instruments, in Olympic National Park. It is illegal to fell trees in national forests without a permit. A research geneticist for the U.S. Agriculture Department’s Forest Service testified at the Washington State trial that the wood the group sold was a genetic equivalent to the remains of three cut maple trees in the area. The Washington Post

Articles worth reading: November 9, 2021

The COP26 could tighten restrictions on oil and gas company operations in the West; rural western residents take on a firefighting role; the Quinault Nation in Washington state must relocate inland due to the rising sea levels; floating offshore wind has a future off of California’s coast; as the West continues to dry, challenges arise for Coloradan farmers, and other environmental news from around the West.

By Anna McNulty

How might the COP26 impact the American West? The 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, is underway in Glasgow, Scotland. More than 20,000 participants from nearly every country in the world gather to tackle climate change with the objectives to keep global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels and reach global net-zero emissions by mid-century. President Biden’s proposed methane regulation, his interest in minimizing oil and gas leaks, and the new green steel pact with the European Commission could mean stricter regulations for oil and gas companies in the West, but it remains unclear whether he will follow through with these proposals. Boise State Public Radio The New York Times The Washington Post Reuters

The Quinault Nation must move a village inland as the rising Pacific Ocean threatens their coastal community in Washington. To be safe, the Quinault people plan to build a new village 100-feet above sea level for 660 residents. The new village will be a half-mile uphill from their current homes. Their plan is to build 300 housing units, a K-12 school, police and fire stations, parks, trails, and a cultural museum. This project will cost around $150 million, an amount they do not have the means to reach on their own. Quileute, Hoh, and Shoalwater Bay people, three other Indigenous tribes in Washington, also need to move inland due to sea-level rise. Bloomberg

Many residents in the rural West become their own fire defense. Rural residents have purchased fire trucks and construction rigs, converted vehicles into water trucks, installed water pumps, and taken firefighting classes. Some have been practicing fire management for decades; others have taken up fire management due to recent fire incidents on their properties. Many professional firefighters express concern about this growing movement in the rural West. The New York Times

The California Coast will be home to an offshore wind farm in the near future. While the dates are not settled, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill ordering California to create a plan for offshore wind by 2023. Once technologically infeasible in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, where the water can be 600 feet deep near shore, offshore wind can now become a reality on the West Coast due to a new floating platform technology that can be installed in water over thousands of feet deep. The implementation of floating offshore wind is essential in order to meet California’s targets of having 60 percent renewable electricity by 2030 and 100 percent renewable electricity by 2045. The proposed offshore wind farm –– planned to be installed near Morro Bay and the city of Eureka –– has not been embraced by everyone. Many fishermen near the proposed farm fear for their jobs and livelihoods. The Atlantic

One country, two diverging climates. Climate change has created separate climate outcomes for the Eastern and Western United States. A drier West and a wetter East emerge. Maps from the New York Times depict this difference. The New York Times

The Hoopa Valley Tribe is hopeful the Trinity River ecosystem will be restored after a Fresno County Court Judge repudiated a Trump-era water contract on October 27. The contract, between the Federal Bureau of Reclamation and Westlands Water District, would have provided the Westlands Water District indefinite access to 1.15 million acre-feet of water from California’s Trinity River. Most of the water would have likely been sent to California’s Central Valley for irrigation on industrial farms. According to fishing and conversation groups and tribal nations, the contract would have disregarded law that requires that the Westlands Water District pay $400 million to the Bureau of Reclamation for ecosystem restoration of the Trinity River, which the Hoopa Valley Tribe for centuries have depended on for salmon, a dietary staple. High Country News

As sea levels rise, many California lawmakers support managed retreat, which is a plan for the government to purchase beachfront homes and rent them out until they are wiped away by the Pacific. Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed a managed retreat bill last month, but many state politicians believe it is the only path forward because the Pacific Ocean could rise as much as 3 ½ feet in the next 30 years. E&E News

As the Western drought continues, farmers in Colorado struggle to adapt. Some Coloradan farmers share their stories. NPR

Articles worth reading: October 26, 2021

Nevada lands that some tribes consider sacred may soon be dug up; a study reveals the repercussions of the Cascade Mountains’ melting glaciers; some California counties have saved enough water for decades to come while others have nearly run out; the Navajo Nation president demands federal regulations to increase their water supply; floodwaters may damage the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, and other environmental news from around the West.

By Anna McNulty

Nevada’s Thacker Pass, which includes some sacred land, could be scarred by a new mine, as a multinational company plans to implement a 1,000-acre project to produce lithium for electric car batteries. A federal judge ruled that the tribes had not established that Thacker Pass was the site of a massacre of Indigenous people by US soldiers in the late 1800s. In addition, three tribes had been consulted about the project by federal officials and raised no objections. Now three other Indigenous groups, seeking to block the mine in court, are presenting new evidence they claim establishes the site of the massacre. A final court hearing and ruling are needed to allow the mining to begin. The Guardian Associated Press

Tensions rise between Yuman-speaking Indigenous tribes and renewable energy companies over the future of a section of the Mojave Desert. Indigenous communities and conservationists call upon the Biden Administration to establish the 380,000 acres as a national monument, noting the historical and cultural importance of the land; renewable energy companies see the vast area as a perfect place to install wind and solar farms powering multiple homes and businesses, accelerating the transition to a renewable future in the state. E&E News

A 50-year project studies the impact of melting glaciers in the Cascade Mountains, the most glaciated area in the lower 48 states. The glaciers provide 25 percent of the region’s water supply, which is used for drinking water, power, agriculture, and salmon runs. The glaciologist behind the operation, Mauri Pelto, studies the glaciers by foot and has covered around 5,000 miles and ascended more than 160,000 feet during the course of his multi-decade project. National Geographic

San Diego expects to have sustainable water supplies through 2045, even as water resources in the rest of the state dwindle. More than two decades ago, the San Diego County Water Authority divorced itself from Los Angeles County water resources, developing various infrastructure projects to build diverse sources of water. The New York Times

California’s Mendocino County has an amalgam of towns with abundant water and towns with none. As the American West dries, neighboring towns bear the weight of the drought unevenly. The Washington Post

The Navajo Nation president calls upon the federal government to make regulatory reforms as water is increasingly scarce due to the Southwest megadrought. Up to 40 percent of Navajo people do not have running water or electricity. The Navajo president states that federal dollars need to be invested to increase water and electricity access for tribal people. Politico Pro E&E News

Flooding jeopardizes the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, as floodwaters near the pipeline increase due to rising temperatures, accelerating snowmelt and intensifying rainfall. At least three different times in the past two years, river floods have caused bank erosion, bringing Alaskan rivers closer to the pipeline. Alaska is warming faster than any other state in the U.S., posing great risks for future floods and other climate-related disasters. Inside Climate News

To much surprise, more than 2,500 western monarch butterflies emerged in one day at a California sanctuary. The western monarch population has seen a major decline in recent years due to habitat loss and climate change. In 2020, only 1,914 western monarchs arrived at the sanctuary in the entire year. The butterflies migrate from Canada for the summer to the California Coast and Baja California for the winter. The reemergence of western monarchs does not necessarily indicate a long-term trajectory for population recovery, but signs of hope reemerge, as well. The Washington Post

Articles worth reading: October 11, 2021

Indigenous Peoples’ Day becomes a state holiday in a ninth state –– Oregon; annual precipitation in the San Francisco Bay area dwindles further; the Dixie Fire comes to a standstill; Hopi people must make challenging concessions as a result of the Southwest Megadrought; the Four Corners Potato may be one agricultural solution; and other environmental news from around the West.

By Anna McNulty

Oregon recognizes the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day, removing Columbus Day as a holiday. Tribal leaders in Oregon say this reversal is long overdue but one step forward. Nationally, at least 130 cities and 20 states recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day or similar observances on the holiday that is still celebrated as Columbus Day in much of the country. The Oregonian CNN National Geographic Washington Post

New maps show the extent of the spill of 126,000 gallons of oil spreading off of the southern Californian Coast. Investigators now believe that the pipeline had been struck by vessels’ anchors, probably repeatedly, in the months before the leak. The pipeline at issue connected three offshore platforms to a pumping station in Long Beach. This spill threatens the future of the offshore oil industry in California, which currently boasts 200 miles of pipelines that feed into 23 offshore platforms. The New York Times Associated Press

The San Francisco Bay area’s precipitation was one-third of normal for the ‘water year’ from Oct. 1, 2020, to Sept. 30, 2021. San Francisco saw 9.04 inches of rain, compared to 23.65 inches in a normal year. Santa Rosa received 13.01 inches of rain, compared to the 14.9 inches of rain in a normal year. San Francisco Chronicle

After two months of nonstop spread, the Dixie Fire comes to a halt at around 963,000 acres. The second-biggest fire in California history entered an area with slower winds and small pockets of rain, allowing firefighters to attack the flames with bulldozers and hoses. The firefighters also got lucky, being in the right place at the right time. The Los Angeles Times

Fences, which are omnipresent in the American West, harm wildlife. The American West has enough fencing to wrap around the equator 25 times. New studies find that fences trap and kill wildlife, separate mothers and children, and injure animals. Scientists in the growing field of fence ecology have begun modeling, mapping, and removing fences to protect Western wildlife. The Atlantic

There’s a rift among different Indigenous groups over the future of oil and gas drilling near New Mexico’s Chaco Culture National Historical Park. Congress is considering legislation to set up a no-drill barrier on the park’s edge; Navajo Nation leaders want to reduce the area off-limits to drilling, concerned that tribal members with land allotments could miss out on drilling-related jobs and income; they want a congressional hearing held locally. In contrast, many Indigenous activists, environmental groups, and politicians support the Chaco legislation, citing the law’s ability to protect cultural resources and preserve land in the region. Associated Press

The Southwest megadrought poses great challenges for the Hopi people. Faced with depleting water sources, the Hopi people must cut back on either their cattle or their water-intensive crops. Tensions are rising between Hopi farmers and ranchers, as neither side wants to limit their activities. Both sides agree that the Hopi people are unfairly impacted by the drought while cities in Arizona continue to exhaust state reservoirs with few restrictions or conservation efforts. The New York Times

Oregon leaders aim to implement home-hardening rules to protect against fires, a plan that is met with criticism from homeowners and homebuilding and agricultural industries. State leaders want fire-safe building codes in high-risk areas; critics believe this will drive up costs and breach private property rights. NPR

The Aaniiih and Nakoda Nations in north-central Montana gather native seeds from healthy plots to revitalize degraded land. The tribes work with the Fort Belknap Indian Community Grassland Restoration Project to care for their land, promote cultural understanding, and bring back their land to its original state before European colonization. High Country News

With a history spanning 11,000 years, the Four Corners Potato may make a striking comeback in the Southwest. The potato, an Indigenous superfood, is drought-resistant, becoming a viable food source in the midst of the Southwest megadrought. Yale Climate Connections

We’ve seen the powerful wildfire photographs, but what’s it like to be the photographer? Josh Edelson tells all. Gizmodo

Articles worth reading: September 28, 2021

Hydropower from Glen Canyon Dam gets increasingly vulnerable; new worker protections for extreme heat exposure will take effect in the U.S.; a federal judge seeks evidence that the Joshua tree should be protected under the Endangered Species Act; invisible oil leaks threaten Texas; goats become unlikely protection against future wildfires, and other environmental news from around the West.

By Anna McNulty

The Colorado River continues to dwindle, posing a threat to hydropower production at Glen Canyon Dam, which provides power to five million people. Lake Powell, a reservoir on the Colorado River, powers the electricity-generating turbines for the dam. Despite a summertime infusion of water from upstream dams, the level of Lake Powell has dropped to 3,547 feet above sea level. If the reservoir drops just 57 more feet, the turbines will no longer be able to produce power. Without hydropower from Glen Canyon Dam, customers will be forced to look to more expensive energy sources, including many Indigenous tribes in the West. Arizona Republic

Can the biggest agricultural state in the United States maintain its title? California, which produces one-third of the vegetables and two-thirds of the fruits and nuts in the United States, faces a severe water shortage, posing challenges to its irrigated agriculture. Soon, wetter states may need to take on much of California’s agricultural responsibilities. The New York Times

The Biden Administration announces new worker protections against extreme heat exposure after the United States experienced the hottest summer on record. NPR and Columbia Journalism Investigations found that 384 people died from heat exposure in the U.S. in the last decade. Many of the deaths were farmworkers in California and Nebraska and construction workers and trash collectors in Texas, with Hispanic people making up one-third of the fatalities. NPR

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must reconsider its decision to exclude the Joshua tree from the Endangered Species Act, thanks to a federal district judge’s order. Scientific evidence reveals that Joshua trees are at risk of extinction by the end of the 21st century. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has 60 days to decide if they will appeal the order and grant protections to Joshua trees. The Desert Sun

Teenagers in Portland, Oregon participate in the Global Climate Strike, calling for the city to go fully carbon neutral by 2035. The Portland protesters join teenagers around the world demanding climate action. The Oregonian

Researchers found the world’s top shale oil field has an invisible leak releasing more than a ton of methane per hour. Researchers from the Environmental Defense Fund calculated that a West Texas leak of the potent greenhouse gas has an environmental impact equal to that of about 47,000 idling cars. They say that the owner, Energy Transfer LP, is not alone; EDF found such emissions at 533 different locations, with 149 continuous leaks. Bloomberg

The Makah Tribe in Washington State may be able to hunt gray whales again. An administrative law judge’s recommendation to the US Department of Commerce declared the resumption of hunting would not disrupt the whale population. The Makah people hunted whales for more than 2,700 years until 2002, when they lost hunting rights because the Marine Mammal Protection Act required them to get a waiver. They applied for one in 2005 but have not received one. The Guardian

Alaska’s dramatic climate makes it hard to build resilient homes, and climate change has only made it worse. The Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC) is working to address this challenge, building sustainable and durable architecture that applies Indigenous knowledge and the most up-to-date technology available. Many Alaskan residents live on top of permafrost, which covers 80 percent of the state but is thawing quickly. CCHRC’s solution is to build adjustable house foundations that can shift up to nine inches to accommodate the changing permafrost. Washington Post

Goats are now one solution to mitigate wildfires. Goats eat grass, leaves, and tall brush, vegetation most grazers cannot reach, and vegetation that is known to combust quickly and create wider fire spread. In addition, the goats’ waste returns organic matter to the soil, increasing the soil’s ability to hold water. Lani Malberg, a goat herder who developed this fire-suppression practice in graduate school, practices her technique in the American West. The New York Times

“What was brown and dry was now lush and green” –– a new Tuscon resident experiences the Southwest monsoon season for the first time. She joins the Southwest Monsoon Fantasy Forecast, an online game where people make monsoon predictions, embracing small moments of order in our ever-changing climate. High Country News

Articles worth reading: September 14, 2021

Eyes from space monitor water diversions in California; protecting Native sacred sites remains difficult; California’s two-month-old Dixie fire may become the state’s worst ever; salmon numbers in Alaska’s lower Yukon drop sharply; battery storage expands and overheats and other environmental news from around the West.

By Felicity Barringer and Anna McNulty

Satellite monitoring is the latest tool California’s water police are using to keep track of illegal diversions. Now agricultural diverters in California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta no longer claim they didn’t do it — they increasingly claim they had the right to take water. Circle Of Blue

The drought is easing opposition to helicopter roundups of wild horses. Some opponents find that, in the face of dwindling supplies of water and plants to sustain the animals, gathering them to safer locations may be necessary. Reuters

Salmon shortages harm communities in Alaska’s Lower Yukon, where it has been an economic and cultural staple for hundreds of years. Now they are forced to look elsewhere for food and commerce. A typical fall chum salmon count on the Yukon is 868,000; as of August 31, it was 93,000. Anchorage Daily News

As California’s industrial battery storage expands, overheating and a shutdown sideline a key project. The growth of battery systems that can work with intermittent power sources like wind and solar is accelerating. But then came overheating, scorched wires and a unit shutdown at the key Moss Landing facility. Inside Climate News Power Magazine

Mountains, underground springs and rock formations sacred to Native peoples in the West often lie outside the boundaries of the lands they control. When their sacred spaces are surrounded by public land, tribes must argue their case along with the recreation industry, mining companies, and others with little background or interest in tribal religions. Arizona Republic

Prescribed fires and mechanical thinning can lessen the impact of fires in the West. These treatments had been practiced by Indigenous communities for many years until the U.S. government enacted fire suppression laws in the early 20th century. The result was creating highly combustible fuel-load buildup in Western forests. National Geographic

A new California fire record may soon be broken. The two-month-old Dixie fire in the Sierra has incinerated more than 927,000 acres so far. The fire is 59 percent contained, but the sections that are not fully controlled could scorch enough land to outpace last year’s August Complex Fire, which burned more than a million acres, the greatest swath of destruction in the state’s history. Scientific American

A yearlong project documents people hit by the 2020 Alemda Fire in southern Oregon and how they have rebuilt their lives in the months since. The photojournalist Alisha Jucevic captured a post-fire world of displacement and loss, particularly for migrant workers. She also witnessed the recovery, from meeting new neighbors to graduating from high school. High Country News

Articles worth reading: August 30, 2021

Wildfires’ side effects, from landslides and tainted water to undrinkable wine; water shortages spell trouble for lucrative marijuana and almond crops; pollution backsliding, from new gas plants in California to ozone in Utah; Paradise pursues land buybacks to build a fire perimeter; and how to live with wolves – some of the latest environmental reads.

By Felicity Barringer

The inequality of climate change in California’s Coachella Valley. Just as COVID-19 revealed income-based inequities in health care, climate change is revealing inequities in the pain and suffering caused by heat, drought, and floods. Take Coachella Valley, whose western half is a luxury playground and whose eastern half is home to hot and ragged trailers housing people who do menial labor on the western side. Propublica

Do California almonds have a future? The historic drought across the U.S. West is an arrow aimed at California’s $6 billion almond industry, the source of about 80% of the world’s almonds. Some farmers in California’s Central Valley are practicing “deficit irrigation” — providing less water than the trees need. Others fallow fields for annual crops to save water for the trees or plan to pull up some of their trees. So “our huge investment that we put in these trees is gone,” one said. More growers are expected to abandon their orchards as water becomes increasingly scarce and expensive. Associated Press

The prospect of undrinkable smoky wines is a waking nightmare for California vintners. Whatever the destruction the drought has caused California’s agricultural bounty overall, grape growers feel a particular impact from the fires. Wine grapes tainted by smoke often make for undrinkable wines. One grower said drinking wines with a burnt rubber taste feels “like licking an ashtray.” Inside Climate News

Water restrictions on pot growers stir Hmong community fears in California’s Siskiyou County. The Guardian

The well fixer’s warning. As wells keep going dry, Matt Angell, a well fixer in Claifornia’s Central Valley, keeps on digging. “Nature alone didn’t explain what had gone wrong with this well and scores of others — ag wells, home wells, business wells, the junior-high and high-school wells — that were bringing up so much air. From the data on his devices, Angell calculated that the underground water table in Madera County, one of the most over-tapped in the West, had dropped an astounding 60 feet over late spring and summer. “I’m 62 years old. I’ve been doing this California town more than half my life, and I’ve never seen this. Not even close,” he said. “This is all brand new, and it’s shaken everything I believe in.” The Atlantic

California approves temporary gas plants to avoid blackouts caused by the loss of hydropower. Although Gov. Gavin Newsom has supported a managed decline of fossil-fuel production in the state, his government okayed more than 9,000 new oil and gas permits in the past 36 months. Bloomberg Gizmodo

After a fire is out, its impacts go on. Cleared by wildfire in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, a swatch of empty land led to a mudslide that required hauling out as many as 135 truckloads a day of mud and rocks to uncover I-70. But that may only be part of the fires’ impact: as a Colorado official said: “Water flowing from fire-scorched land can also taint streams, rivers and drinking water reservoirs with a variety of toxic chemicals. E&E Daily

Monsoon rains on a burn scar in Flagstaff, Arizona destroy 24 homes. Navajo-Hopi Observer

Paradise now seeks to buy out burned-out homeowners. The homes consumed in the deadly Camp Fire almost fire three years ago might not have gotten permits under current building codes. But the West has a libertarian legacy of loose zoning rules, and California’s tight housing markets force people to live in places like this that are cheaper and less safe. These high-risk properties are now the focus of a town effort to get homeowners to sell their properties back and turn the land into green space, a new fuel break to slow future fires. NPR

Don’t fence me in is Wyoming’s new motto, as fences blocking wildlife migrations are being taken down around the state. National Geographic

Whose ozone is it, anyway? Industries in Utah’s Salt Lake region say their emissions aren’t the problem. China’s are. Salt Lake Tribune

How to live with wolves in the new old West. A profile of a family on a Montana ranch. Patagonia

Articles Worth Reading: August 16, 2021

Fire and drought continue to choke the West and states are finding new ways to save water and expanding opportunities to reuse wastewater; a fire ecologist talks about what makes fires tick; With Lake Powell’s continuing evaporation, bits of Glen Canyon once underwater reemerge; California’s new energy code, and other environmental news from around the West.

By Felicity Barringer

California Bans Removal of Stream and River Water. Early this month, state regulators barred thousands of Californians from diverting surface water to their lands and crops. The emergency declaration covers the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta watershed, which stretches from the Oregon border well into the San Joaquin Valley. THE LOS ANGELES TIMES  SACRAMENTO BEE

The Oldest Water Rights in California Have Been Sacrosanct for a Century. Will That Change? Those who watch California water issues wonder if the state’s new curtailment of surface-water withdrawals is a harbinger of a future in which the water rights dating before 1914 – long considered untouchable – will be put into play. SJV WATER

Paying Farmers and Ranchers Not to Use Colorado River Water may be one avenue to cut back the number of lawsuits over rights to the river. Colorado and other states are considering the option, and at least one non-profit is moving ahead. “If they’re paying us more than we think the value is of the production, it’s a no-brainer to do it,” the rancher Bill Parker said. Parker’s deal with Trout Unlimited paid him $15,000 to keep water in the creek to ensure conditions can support fish and a healthy ecosystem. COLORADO PUBLIC RADIO

Seeing the Hidden Beauty of Glen Canyon as Lake Powell disappears is a benefit of the megadrought. THE NEW YORKER

Increasing Western Efforts to Reuse Wastewater mean forgetting about the “yuck factor” behind, as San Diego and California’s Orange County have been doing for a decade. Now Arizona municipalities, like Scottsdale and Phoenix, are starting to work with plants that clean effluent so thoroughly that direct potable reuse is possible. ENSIA

Tracking Western Wildfires With Maps and Satellite Photos. Before-and-after satellite photos show the Dixie Fire’s destruction. REUTERS and this fire map is being constantly updated.  NEW YORK TIMES

Gavin Jones, a Fire Ecologist, Discusses Its DNA: how they burn, the indigenous techniques for managing fire, and the trend lines for fires’ future. OLOGIES PODCAST

California Adopts a New Energy Code Encouraging Electrification. UTILITY DIVE

A Federal Pause on Oil and Gas Leases Hasn’t Stopped Growth in Wyoming’s Rigs. Oil and Gas companies were operating five rigs in Wyoming the week of Jan. 29 when President Biden announced a pause to review oil and gas leasing policies and royalty rates. This week, 15 rotary rigs were staffed, according to Baker Hughes, an technology company. During the pause, the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has granted 1,984 drilling permits to energy companies — almost double the 1,059 issued during the same period in 2020. WYOFILE

How to Think About Transplanted Species in the West. The scientist Peter Moyle has spent a career studying what is happening with the fish in California’s rivers, and has this observation: “To some extent, native and non-native fishes can form coalitions (novel ecosystems) where the resources available are divided up among the species, much as it supposedly is in undisturbed habitats (e.g. Aguilar-Medrano et al. 2019). But, in general, non-native fishes are replacing natives as habitats change, mostly as we have changed them. How do we live with this change but still save native fishes? Let’s start with language.” His look at how we think, and talk, about the species that came from somewhere else.  California Water Blog

Articles Worth Reading: August 3, 2021

Ongoing drought news: plans for how to cope with the West’s dry future, the rise of water thieves and record-low lake levels; California utility plans to bury 10,000 miles of power lines to avoid wildfire ignitions; landslide closes major interstate through the Rockies; Montana Water Court establishes rights for hundreds of Chippewa Indians, and other recent environmental news from around the West.

By Felicity Barringer

Drought Puts Water Supply in Many Northern California Communities at Risk. “The current drought now covers 85% of California. Santa Clara Valley Water District Board President Tony Estremera has warned residents that “we could face the possibility there will not be enough water (next year) to meet basic demands without serious risk of subsidence in 2022.” Salt water intrusion in crucial pumps more likely as river flows into the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta are law. Erik Ekdahl, deputy director of the state water board’s division of water rights, said the situation creates a potential “doomsday scenario.” SAN JOSE MERCURY-NEWS

If the West Doesn’t Adapt to Drought, It Will Break. “If you talk about drought, drought is our new normal. It’s not a drought anymore,” said Newsha Ajami of Stanford’s Water in the West program. “We have to shift that mindset … drought is.our reality.” GIZMODO

Less Available Water Means More People Willing to Steal It. California thieves in water trucks are backing up to rivers and lakes and pumping free water they sell on a burgeoning black market. At nighttime, others siphon water from city hydrants, homes, private wells, or even pressurized water mains. “Any way that you can imagine that somebody is going to grab water, they’re doing it,” said Mendocino County Sheriff Matt Kendall. CAL MATTERS

Record-Low Water Levels at Both Lake Powell… ARIZONA DAILY STAR

…and the Great Salt Lake UTAH DNR

[An image showing damage to Interstate 70 through Glenwood Springs (CDOT)] Landslide Closes I-70 Through the Rockies Indefinitely. Colorado’s main route over the Continental Divide suffered “extreme” damage in a landslide, “unlike anything seen before” said Colorado Department of Transportation employees, It is unknown when the damage inflicted by the rock and mud slide will be repaired and the road reopened. COLORADO SUN

To Reduce Wildfire Ignition Risks, PG&E Will Bury Some Power Lines. Northern California’s major utility is planning to put 10,000 miles of its power lines underground, to avoid the impacts of branches or trees falling on lines and sparking wildfires across drought-stricken California. Customers will likely foot the bill. ASSOCIATED PRESS

Plans for 850-Megawatt Solar Array in Nevada Withdrawn in Face of Local Opposition. The array, called the Battle Born project, would have been one of a growing number of solar energy production sites in the Moapa Valley region about 30 miles northeast of Las Vegas. LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL

Setting a Precedent, Montana’s Water Court Settles 800 Water Rights Claims for members of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. “I hope it’s the first step in a tidal wave of such decisions, the court’s chief judge, said Russell McElyea. The decree establishes ownership of tribal reserved water rights held in trust by the United States government. It makes clear how much is allocated to users in a particular basin and establishes their priority. NATIVE NEWS ONLINE

The Growing Lure of Dark Sky Tourism draws visitors to the West and Midwest, from northern Nevada to Nebraska. There are now more than 60 dark sky parks, communities and reserves in the country, including western parks like Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde, Joshua Tree, and Death Valley. In Idaho, the Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve is certified as having among the darkest skies, and Bruneau Dune State Park is seeking the same recognition. In Nevada, dark sky designations now made under a new state law. NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC KOLO-TV

Articles Worth Reading: July 19, 2021

The consequences of the unremitting drought for salmon in California, for hydropower in California and Nevada, New Mexico’s acequias and the Gila River in Arizona; wildfires spread and mushrooms proliferate; the roadless rule is back in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, and the impact of the post-pandemic tourist boom on the Yellowstone area’s grizzly bears.

By Felicity Barringer

A Look at the Future of a Southwest With Less Colorado River Water. Water users include farms that need outsized amounts of water. Semiconductor plants making the computer chips used in innumerable products need millions of gallons daily. Then there are developers and the water needs of new homes. “We’re about to declare the first water shortage ever on the Colorado River,” says Chuck Collum, a program manager for the Central Arizona Project, an agency that delivers Lake Mead’s water to the state. “This isn’t just an Arizona problem. This is a Colorado River basin problem.” BLOOMBERG

Work Underway to Avoid Losing Hydropower Around the West. Dams upstream of Lake Powell in Utah make emergency releases of water as the lake is projected to go lower than it has even been since it was filled more than 50 years ago. The turbines at Lake Oroville in California are expected to shut off in a few weeks. KUNC KCRA

Some of New Mexico’s Acequias Go Dry. A few of these canals, which are part of an Arabic irrigation brought to the state by Spanish explorers in the 1600s, are still delivering water to farmers. Others are not. A few decades ago, snowfall and rains kept them functioning. But exceptionally arid weather has persisted for two decades, drying many up. THE NEW YORK TIMES

Heat Threatens to Exterminate Salmon now in the Sacramento River. This summer’s extreme temperatures, combined with the decades-old impact of building the Shasta Dam, are on track to kill virtually all the salmon now in the Sacramento River. SACRAMENTO BEE GIZMODO

The Fate of the Gila River in Arizona and New Mexico Is Unsure as the southernmost snow-fed river in the country loses more and more water. What once was a perennial stream flowing 649 miles through those two states and emptying in the Colorado River, is now intermittent and facing a future without snowmelt. YALE ENVIRONMENT 360

Now 80 Large Western Wildfires Have Torched More Than 1 Million Acres; Montana and Idaho had the most fires, and the Bootleg fire on the Oregon-California border was the worst; burning at least 303,000 acres. CNN


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Staff and Contributors

Felicity Barringer

Lead writer

A national environmental correspondent during the last decade of her 28 years at The New York Times, Felicity provided an in-depth look at the adoption of AB 32, California’s landmark climate-change bill after covering state’s carbon reduction policies. MORE »

Geoff McGhee

Associate editor

Geoff McGhee specializes in interactive data visualization and multimedia storytelling. He is a veteran of the multimedia and infographics staffs at The New York Times, Le Monde and MORE »

Xavier Martinez

Xavier Martinez

Editorial Assistant

Xavier graduated from Stanford in 2023 with a degree in economics and is currently a master’s student in Stanford’s journalism program. He has written about the high phone call costs faced by U.S. inmates, temporary Mexican workers’ interactions with the labor market and the efficacy of government healthcare assistance programs. A lifelong lover of charts and maps, he enjoys combining data journalism with narrative-style reporting. 

‘& the West’ is published by the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University, which is dedicated to research, teaching, and journalism about the past, present, and future of the North American West.

Bruce E. Cain

Faculty Director

Kate Gibson

Associate Director

Past Contributors

Rani Chor
Editorial Assistant, Winter 2024
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Editorial Assistant, Spring 2022
Anna McNulty
Editorial Assistant, Fall 2021
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Editorial Assistant, Spring 2021
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Editorial Assistant, Winter 2021
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Editorial Assistant, Fall 2020
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Francisco L. Nodarse
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Editorial Assistant, Winter 2020
Madison Pobis
Editorial Assistant, Fall 2019
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Danielle Nguyen
Editorial Assistant, Spring 2019
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Editorial Assistant, Winter 2019
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