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You and Us and the West

Nov 14 2016

The veteran journalist Felicity Barringer introduces the Center's news blog, & the West, which will feature reports, interviews, and analysis on the future of California and the North American West.

Photographs, clockwise from upper left: Paul Serrato; California Department of Water Resources; Geoff McGhee; Bill Gracey via Flickr; California Department of Water Resources

By Felicity Barringer

Welcome. You have just clicked your way to our blog, & the West, which is a new offering from Stanford University’s Bill Lane Center for the American West.

Our posts will be of the West, for the West and by and about the people and lands of the West. We will report, we will seek comments and conversation, and we will post opinions from all corners of the arid West, the wet West, the West of the Pacific and the West of the Arctic.  Much of what we talk about will focus on rural outposts. We will also post about ideas and issues and people from Canada and Mexico.

Many subjects will be part of our title. These will center on the places and the industries, the environment and the workplaces and, most of all, the people for whom the West is home. We care about all the things that have made the West what it is, and all the things that are changing it into what it will become.

Water & the West
Water – its politics, and its science and value will always be a central focus, as will the development of groundwater governance in California. There are many different academic and non-profit research institutions whose work will be a foundation of our articles on water. But with water, as with every other subject that comes into our lens, we will often use people and their lives to explain the impact of the science, the policy disagreements or the cultural changes the region is undergoing.

Landscapes & the West
We will approach these as works of art and a focus of policy disputes over what should be done with them and who should decide. Our sources will be policy specialists, environment experts, geologists, artists and more.

Native Nations & the West
The rising spirit of Native Nations, best shown in Standing Rock, is having an impact on places across the West, where so many Native Nations began. We will be looking at their cultures and the tools — both actual ones and legal ones — being used to preserve them and their fights.

Our posts will be of the West, for the West and by and about the people and lands of the West. We will report, we will seek comments and conversation, and we will post opinions from all corners of the West – U.S., Canada, and Mexico.

And there will be more. Ranching and the West. Mining and the West. Fire and the West. Health and the West. Fish and the West. Trails and the West. Poverty and the West. Horses and the West. Trains and the West. Forests and the West. Grazing and the West. Migrants and the West. All the things that are part of the West are of interest to us.

Where Research Meets Journalism

We want to be a place where research findings about geology or sociology blend with our journalism about the world of the West, to give a multi-dimensional picture of the region’s life and issues. We will also introduce, and constantly update, a library of links you can use to explore the subjects we cover.

Us and You

“We” is not just a few of us at the Bill Lane Center for the American West. “We” includes you – your comments, your criticisms, your ideas for coverage, your own stories. We will usually be giving you new offerings every week, using both the written word, images of the West, and digital deep dives into the maps and data that describe the West. We don’t know what, exactly, we will be discovering as we go, but we want you with us as we figure it out.

More to Come

Our first effort examines the deeply disputed proposal for President Obama to declare a new federal monument in southeastern Utah, under the Antiquities Act. To find out when new posts are available on the blog, follow us and @westcenter on Twitter, or join our & the West mailing list.

Yours truly,

Felicity, @felicitybarr

Geoff, @mcgeoff


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...& the Best

Western Articles and Media Elsewhere
Compiled by Alan Propp

March 15, 2017

A U.S. Appeals Court this week upheld an Indian tribe’s right to the groundwater beneath its reservation. This decision, which has significant implications for the future of water management in the West and beyond, signals Native Americans' willingness to protect their water supplies using the courts. While the battle will likely continue in higher courts, the ruling remains a major victory. Circle of Blue

Ecologists are exploring radically new techniques to manage tree-covered land in the Sierras, as pressure on forest health increases from a number of directions. Researchers now endorse a “toolbox” approach incorporating resistance, resilience, and realignment to combat stressors from heat waves to insect plagues. This is proving to be a difficult change for forest managers using long-developed management schemes. Yale Environment 360

The Crescent Dunes solar thermal project is the largest energy station of its kind in the world. It delivers power to NVEnergy, which serves the majority of Nevada’s population. Large-scale solar thermal plants, whose association with harm to wildlife has made them controversial, nonetheless represent a massive step forward in renewable energy’s development in the west. Alec Ernest presents a documentary film showing the scale and challenges of Crescent Dunes. In related news, Nevada's 50-year-old Reid Gardner power plant officially stopped burning coal this week. KCET

Hear from western readers about some of their experiences in the American West. High Country News asked for uncomfortable truths, encounters, and revelations from readers in the West, and published a sampling of their responses. High Country News

While most people see California at the forefront of the fight against fossil fuel interests, “Big Oil” still holds a large sway in this state of progressive and environmental values. Both politically and economically, oil interests have a massive stake and wield a large influence in the California’s decisions, which may test the state’s role as a climate leader in the years to come. Reveal

Some energy billionaires are planning bold new clean energy initiatives in Western states. From California to Wyoming, the energy landscape is shifting, and Sammy Roth from the Desert Sun evaluates the costs and benefits of the coming changes. This podcast explores his story. Sea Change Radio

February 9, 2017

Rising temperatures in California could soon spur a shift in crops for Central Valley farmers. While rising winter temperatures could benefit some agricultural commodities, others (such as walnuts, cherries, and pistachios) will suffer. Within the next few years, farmers must either find technologies that allow these trees to flourish, or leave abandon them and turn to warmer-weather crops. Valley Public Radio via NPR

The energy mix in the West continues to shift towards sustainable sources – the opening of Tesla’s battery farm in Southern California could be followed by the closing of the West’s biggest coal plant in Arizona. The Aliso Canyon gas leak led Southern California Edison to search for more reliable energy sources, opening the door for lithium-ion battery storage provided by Tesla and others. Meanwhile, declining natural gas prices and rising costs for coal electricity production are making many coal plants — like the Navajo Generating Station — economically infeasible. The Guardian Grist Grand Canyon Trust

The expansion of predator populations is causing a kaleidoscope of reactions across various western states as locals struggle to balance conservation and ranching concerns. In Oregon and beyond, the recovery of wolves may mean that individuals (such as a high-profile wolf by the name of OR7) may lose their novelty, making them more expendable. Meanwhile, Colorado is cracking down on black bears and cougars in order to protect its thin mule deer population, an effort that has not been implemented without controversy. High Country News onEarth

California is increasingly turning to an unorthodox source for drinking water: recycled sewage water. Since 2014, the state has aggressively increased funding for wastewater treatment and recycling. Once produced largely for non-potable use – on landscaping, for instance – effluent is increasingly purified intensively and used for drinking water and aquifer replenishment. This technique is spreading despite the difficulty of the purification process. Undark

Biologists and fisheries managers in Oregon have begun using eDNA to find threatened species in river systems through water sampling. This novel technique uses highly sensitive water sampling techniques to find the DNA that endangered creatures shed from their skin, urine, and feces. With more refinement, the approach has the potential to revolutionize fisheries management, making it cheaper and easier to monitor species in waterways throughout the western United States. NPR

January 31, 2017

President Barack Obama is gone now, but what sort of mark did he leave on the West’s climate, energy, and lands? In the “West Obsessed” podcast, High Country News covers the wide-ranging and (for the most part) positive impacts that happened on his watch, including the development of renewable energy, the first far-reaching actions to address including the development of renewable energy, the first far-reaching actions to address climate change, and the last-minute designation of large federally protected conservation areas. High Country News

In the vein of the last administration’s conservation efforts, learn more about his recent expansion of Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. This stunningly beautiful protected region contains one of the most ecologically rich areas in North America, with species ranging from northern spotted owls to rare butterflies, and remains an important area for biodiversity research. While contested by some, Cascade-Siskiyou’s expansion is hailed by many as a victory for the conservation of large, intact, and critical habitat areas in the United States. Undark

Stanford’s new data visualization project, called “Follow the Money,” allows users to track the destination counties for a variety of different environment-related funds. Find your county and see how much it has received through the years from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Forest Service Revenue, the Federal Mineral Leasing Act, and more. Or, choose a fund and track how its payments have changed through the years, such as the dramatic increase in mining and drilling funding for Utah and Colorado in the mi-90s. Stanford Spatial History Project | CESTA

The consequences of the Aliso Canyon gas leak in Southern California were far-reaching over the last two years. The leak emitted massive amounts of methane and toxic chemicals into the atmosphere for months before the SCGC was able to get it under control. This environmental and health disaster, essentially invisible to the naked eye, has united communities against the reopening of the facility and given a regional boost to a relatively new and under-tested form of energy technology: batteries. The New York Times

New collaborative research on the Yellowstone River reveals the complex consequences that human activities can have on the rivers in the region. The combined effects of these actions - which include diversion for irrigation, erosion control, and the placement of boulder breakwaters - weaken the river system and make it vulnerable to stressors like fish-killing parasites. Yale Environment 360

As California’s extended drought continues, tensions remain high over water rights and who is entitled to the usage of various water sources. The state has imposed increasingly strict consumption quotas, and has begun to turn more attention to the largest water users in the state. This article explores the developing energy efficiency technology and research efforts in the region, with a specific focus on the state’s economically critical and most extensive water consumption industry: agriculture. The Desert Sun

‘...& the West’ Blog