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Articles Worth Reading: June 21, 2017

... & the Best

At the solstice: sun and wind energy hit a new high, financial aid for domestic water, the health costs of wildfires, and more. Some of the best reads from the past week.

By Felicity Barringer

Wind and Solar Are Now 10 Percent of National Energy Generation Moving into double digits for the first time, wind farms, and solar panels generated more than 10 percent of the total monthly electricity in the U.S., the U.S. Department of Energy has reported. Texas generates the most wind energy; of the top 12 wind and solar states, only California and Arizona produced more solar than wind last year. Houston Chronicle

… And Solar Power Produces Jobs Where Oil and Gas Once Dominated, as more than 300 laid-off oil workers in Pecos County, Texas found jobs installing solar panels. When oil prices tanked two years ago, hundreds of Pecos County workers lost jobs working at oil and gas companies in the prolific Permian basin. Pecos now has five operational solar farms, large projects that meet the definition of utility-scale: having the capacity to generate at least one megawatt, enough to power about 200 houses on a sunny day. Houston Chronicle

How Does a State Government or Local Utility Ensure Clean Water at Affordable Rates? Water prices in San Francisco increased by double digits in six of the last seven years, the latest national assessment by Circle of Blue has found. In Fresno, the state’s most destitute big city, water rates rose 15 percent in the last year. California lawmakers have slowly chipped away at the affordability problem. Now staff members at the California Water Resources Control Board are tackling the affordability component of the state’s 2013 Human Right to Water legislation with a novel approach for the United States: a state-run financial aid program to offset rising household water bills. Circle of Blue

Wildfire Pollution is Worse Than We Knew, as burning trees and brush recently studied emit triple the amount of fine particles into the air, compared to the levels recorded in the Environmental Protection Agency’s emission inventories. “Burning biomass produces lots of pollution. These are really bad aerosols to breathe from a health point of view,” said researcher Greg Huey of the Georgia Institute of Technology, which led the study. The research also describes other chemicals in wildfire smoke, some never before measured, and it raises the estimated annual emission of particulate matter in the western United States significantly. Science Daily

Colorado’s Mountains Are Part of Climate Change Measurements, so if one takes air samples for years atop a Rock Mountain ridge, one can watch the ratio of carbon inexorably climb above 400 parts per million. NPR/Colorado Public Radio

Mining with Dredges in Oregon’s Rivers Has Imperiled Some Salmon, prompting the Oregon legislature to pass a measure protecting critical salmon habitat in much of the western part of the state. Gov. Kate Brown signed it last week. About five years ago, the number of dredge miners in southwestern Oregon reached 2,000. Oregonian

Previously: Articles Worth Reading: June 8, 2017

 

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Graphics & the West

 

...& the Best

Western Articles and Media Elsewhere
Compiled by Felicity Barringer, Josh Lappen, and Alessandro Hall

Feb. 15, 2018

Biologists Sequence California Redwood Genome to Aid Preservation Efforts. As climate change threatens the vitality of coastal redwood stands, scientists are mining genetic data for clues about how to cultivate more diverse and resilient forests. Sequencing the tree’s 38 billion base pairs will help forest managers make future conservation decisions. Washington Post

New Map Visualizes Fragmentation of Western Rivers. Although the American West is known for free and flowing rivers, more than 49 percent of its river miles have been modified from their natural state by dams, diversion, or development. A new interactive map showcases the regions disappearing waterways. Center for American Progress

Across the West, Engineers, Energy Companies Target Untapped Geothermal Resources. A new technology called enhanced geothermal systems could unlock up to 500,000 megawatts of energy across the region. In the heart of the Mojave Desert, one company is already planning a power plant to harness the abundant renewable resource. NPR

Battling Water Scarcity, Imperial Valley Farmers Switch to Lettuce. Since 2001, lettuce acres are up 79 percent, while alfalfa, which consumes much more water, is down 21 percent. The shifting agricultural landscape has raised water levels at Lake Mead, which stores and distributes the water of the Colorado River. Bloomberg

Wyoming Legislators Advocate for Yellowstone Conservation Fee. Seeking to capitalize on Yellowstone National Park’s four million annual visitors, lawmakers in Wyoming have proposed that the National Park Service implement a conservation fee. The revenue generated would help protect wildlife outside the park in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, including parts of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. Casper Star-Tribune

Feb. 2, 2018

Montana Property Owners Block Access to Public Lands as Class Tensions Simmer. An estimated 4 million acres of public lands are landlocked by private, government, or tribal lands. From Wyoming to Idaho to Utah, public access through private land is a hot-button issue in the West. In an effort to broker agreements and settle disputes, Montana has hired the first public lands access specialist in the country. The Guardian

California Water Diversions Power Wine Industry at the Expense of Migratory Fish. For decades, hydroelectric dams and underground pipes have channeled the Eel River’s flow to the nearby Russian River. Now conservation groups are pushing to restore the river’s natural path, to help the struggling salmon population. Local farmers and wineries are pushing back. Water Deeply

New App Allows Users to Report Damage to Utah Public Lands. Conservation groups have developed TerraTRUTH, an application that uses crowdsourced data to report vandalism and illegal ATV use. The developers hope that the new technology will help guard areas that lost federal protections in the recent cutbacks to the Bear Ears National Monument. Salt Lake Tribune

Oil Industry Shows Signs of Recovery in Wyoming, but Jobs Return More Slowly. In 2014, the plummeting cost of oil caused layoffs across the state. During the years of economic downtown, companies learned how to operate more efficiently. Now the industry’s resurgence is outpacing its labor market. Casper Star-Tribune

Soil-Fumigant Ban Promises to Transform California’s Strawberry Industry. For years, hiring companies to fumigate soil was standard practice, but new regulations to protect consumer health and surrounding ecosystems will have wide-ranging effects for the industry’s producers and consumers. Treehugger

Jan. 22, 2018

Uranium Mining Industry Seeks Resurgence in Navajo Nation Borderlands. Mining companies aggressively lobbied Secretary Zinke to shrink Bears Ears National Monument and lawmakers to ease mining restrictions, creating new opportunities for America’s nuclear industry. But members of the neighboring Navajo Nation, still recovering from the consequences of mining decades ago, worry about the health effects. The NEW YORK TIMES

Rock Art Experts Spar with BLM, Energy Companies Over Fate of Utah Petroglyphs. The Bureau of Land Management has begun leasing parts of Emery County for oil and gas drilling. As the energy industry and preservationists argue over potential adverse effects, one photographer is determined to discover and map the region’s rock art sites. SALT LAKE TRIBUNE

More Than 50 Yellowstone Bison Headed for Fort Peck Tribes Escape. Biologists had held the group of bison in captivity for almost two years to ensure they were free of brucellosis. The National Park Service launched a criminal investigation this week after discovering evidence that bolt cutters were used to free the bison. BILLINGS GAZETTE

Tribal Members, Conservationists Collect Lichen Trying to Rescue Last Caribou Herd in the contiguous United States. A coalition of environmentalists created an 18-acre maternity pen in British Columbia last year to protect birthing caribous from predators. Now they are collecting hundreds of pounds of lichen to sustain the population. OREGON PUBLIC BROADCASTING

Rodenticide on California Marijuana Farms Poisons Endangered Owl Species, a new study indicates. Northern spotted owls primarily eat rats, exposing them to the dangerous poison. Despite efforts from government regulators and environmentalists to phase out the products, rodenticides are widely available in stores. Scientists worry legalization of recreational marijuana will lead to more rat poison in the ecosystem. SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

Jan. 11, 2018

Port Developer Launches Federal Lawsuit Against Oakland Coal Ban, saying he has the right to process any legal commodity without interference. The Oakland city council banned coal handling in 2016 after discovering Bowie Resource Partners, Utah’s largest coal producer, was funding the city’s new shipping terminal. Bowie Resource Partners hopes to use Oakland’s port as a gateway to energy markets in Asia, while city government officials in Oakland worry about public health effects. Arguments will begin January 16th. Salt Lake Tribune

Subsidies for Rainwater Harvesting Systems in Tucson Decrease Demand for potable water, a new study shows. Five years ago, Tucson’s public water utility began offering rebates to residents who installed systems to divert water onto landscaping or store it in cisterns. New research shows the subsidies have already changed water usage habits, decreasing demand for water during every month of the year. News Deeply

Bering Sea Elders Group Express Outrage at New Lease for Offshore Drilling in the Arctic. President Trump lifted restrictions on offshore drilling last week, causing a group of Alaskan tribal leaders to worry that increased ship traffic will impede their ability to conduct traditional hunts for walruses and other marine mammals. Alaska Public Media

Proposed Dam in Wyoming Would Generate 73 Million in Public Benefits, developers say. Lawmakers will meet Friday in Cheyenne to discuss funding for the West Fork Reservoir to be carved out of Carbon County’s Little Snake River. A new report from the Water Development Commission suggests the dam could provide 26.5 million in new economic activity, 26.8 million from instream flow, and 5.4 million in construction, and 9 million in new recreational activities. Many locals are skeptical. WYOFILE

Colorado Snowpack Levels Drop to 30-Year Low as officials brace for a potential drought. In Southwestern Colorado, the snowpack is at 22 percent of the normal level. Even with more than half the snowpack accumulation season remaining, it is unlikely that new snowfalls will make up the deficit before spring. Water suppliers are debating how to maximize reservoir storage while planning for heavy flows. Denver Post

Dec. 28, 2017

Utah’s San Juan County, Site of the Fierce Protests Against the Bears Ears Monument, has a new concern: a federal judge has upheld an expert’s creation of new voting districts giving more weight to the votes of Navajos. The Navajos sued the county in 2012, saying the existing districts for the three-person county commission and the five-member school board were racially biased. They claimed that nearly all the Navajo population was stacked into one county commission district, while whites held a comfortable majority in the other two districts. In 2016, U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby agreed the districts were unconstitutional. When the county and Navajos could not agree on new ones, an outside expert was called in to redraw the lines. Last week, Judge Shelby upheld the expert’s boundaries. KSJD

For Decades, Southwestern Cattle Trampled the Grass As They Moved, leading to a 75 percent decline in cattle in the early 1900s. Now responsible cattle grazing and handling practices have turned things around, and there are about 30 million beef cattle in the U.S. Using science and data is key to running more sustainable ranches. This is the story of Dean Fish, an Arizona rancher who produces beef cattle sustainably. He uses low-stress techniques to herd cattle and fine-tuned genetics to produce a herd that grows to market size with a minimal impact on the land. Cronkite News/Arizona Public Broadcasting

Worries About the Oregon Spotted Frog Prompt a Lawsuit as an environmental group claims the Bureau of Reclamation hurts its habitat. The Dec. 19 lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity claims that the operations of two Deschutes River dams, through which flows water from the Wickiup and Crane Reservoirs, coordinate flow levels with irrigation demand. The group argues that alternately flooding and de-watering of the frog habitat violates the Endangered Species Act. Oregon Public Broadcasting

New California Communities Seek to Hold Fossil Fuel Companies Responsible for climate change. Santa Cruz County and Santa Cruz City filed lawsuits against 29 fossil fuel companies in Superior Court on Dec. 20. In July, Marin County, San Mateo County, and the city of Imperial Beach sued 37 fossil fuel companies, seeking damages from the industry for its role in sea level rise. The cities of San Francisco and Oakland then filed their own suits in September against five major oil companies. The new suits focus not just on sea level rise but also seek restitution for damages to the hydrologic cycle and its resulting increase in severe weather, drought and wildfires. Yale Environment 360 Climate Liability News

Wyoming Leases to Oil and Gas Firms Rise 800 Percent in 2017. Even though Wyoming has had its boom years, this year’s lease sales stand out, officials say. During the downturn of 2016, revenue from the Bureau of Land Management lease sales and the Office of State Lands auctions combined added up to about $16 million. This year, Wyoming netted a combined $146 million, leasing about a half million acres of federal and state land. The reasons are still unclear; it could be the Trump Administration’s embrace of fossil fuels, or a new Wyoming online leasing system, or both. Casper Star-Tribune