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Articles Worth Reading: November 20, 2018

... & the Best

The unhealthy smoke from the wildfire in the Sierra foothills disrupts daily life around San Francisco Bay; solar plants in the desert are part of national solar energy boom; Arizona agencies’ rebellion may keep the state from taking part in the drought-era division of Colorado River waters; the environmental insults making Puget Sound’s orca population disappear, and other recent environmental news from around the West.

By Felicity Barringer

Raging Fires Made California’s Air 60 Times Dirtier than world health standards last week, and more than 10 times worse around the San Francisco Bay area, as smoke from the Camp Fire in Paradise sat on communities 200 miles away. Smoke, not flames, is the deadliest public health risk from wildfires. Bloomberg Grist

As Lake Mead’s Levels Drop, Can Seven States in the Colorado River Basin Agree on a drought contingency plan to share the predicted water shortage? A rebellion by two Arizona agencies may impel the six other states to make decisions on their own. Op-ed articles by the state’s governor and a former Interior Secretary scold the agencies for their intransigence. As Gov. Doug Ducey wrote, “The foundational purpose of a multi-state drought contingency plan is to transition to a drier future….However…demands for water and money to mitigate reductions are growing to insurmountable proportions.” Phoenix New Times Arizona Capitol Times Arizona Republic

Gray Wolves’ Protection Under the Endangered Species Act May Not Last, if a bill just passed by Congress becomes law. The measure ends federal protection from the wolves in the 48 contiguous states. In the Northwest, where wolves are considered endangered in the western two-thirds of Oregon and Washington, state agencies would take over. Environmental groups say the wolves’ recovery goals are not far off, but may not be reached if the federal government bows out. Oregon Public Broadcasting

With The New Approval of An Industrial Solar Facility in the California Desert, and the news that its electricity has already been sold, the state, which is already ahead of its legislated goals for renewable energy development, will give a big boost to the national boom in renewable energy — a national success that will eventually face strong competition from China. Clean Technica Solar Industry Magazine Solar Industry Magazine Time

Their Canadian Cousins Thrive, But the Orcas of Puget Sound Face An Existential Crisis. While they are the most studied whales in the world, they among the most endangered orcas. As the population of Canadian orcas has grown by 250 percent since 1974, and is at 309, the population of Puget Sound’s pods, now 74, has grown barely nine percent in the same period. Experts blame the impact of the expanding human and industrial presence in the orcas’ range. The three southern pods have not successfully reproduced in three years. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has put together a task force on recovering the whales. Seattle Times

 

Previously: Articles Worth Reading: Nov. 7, 2018

 

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...& the Best

Western Articles and Media Elsewhere
Compiled by Felicity Barringer, Danielle Nguyen and Carolyn P. Rice

Western States Stepping Up Their Monitoring and Regulating of PFAS, chemicals that exist in furniture, firefighting foam, waterproof makeup and clothing, and many other items. Polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) chemicals are take a long time to break down in the environment, and studies link exposure to higher rates of kidney and testicular cancer. In the west, PFAS contamination has been confirmed in water supplies in ten western and far western states. More states are going to court to fight back; New Mexico has sued the Air Force for PFAS groundwater contamination at two bases and more state lawsuits against manufacturers are being filed. “I think you're going to see a waterfall effect. You're going to see more states doing that,” said Matthew Schroeder, a lawyer who advises companies on PFAS-related legal risks. High Country News E&E News 

Permian Basin Oil Boom Has Health Consequences for residents of southeastern New Mexico, where life has become noisy and dangerous. Oil field trucks fling projectiles towards houses, methane flares can be seen to the east and south, and birds have been seen falling out of the sky. Families are experiencing headaches, blisters, and daily nosebleeds. Individual homes have has new wells pop up in every directions. New Mexico Political Report High Country News

California Utilities Plan Blackouts to Prevent Against Wildfires, prompting many residents to install solar in the homes. This change has pushed homeowners to shrink their environmental footprints and help to accelerate California’s transition to a carbon-free grid by 2045. But while the cost of solar panels and batteries has dropped in the past decade, they still remain unaffordable for most, leaving many residents facing sporadic outages. Washington Post

Interior Secretary Visited Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, and in the wake of the visit the department deferred oil and gas leases within a 10-mile zone surrounding the park for one year. David Bernhardt accompanied Senator Martin Heinrich and tribal leaders to visit Chaco Canyon on May 28, 2019. The deferral will give Congress time to vote on the Chaco Culture Heritage Area Protection Act that Senators Heinrich and Udall introduced earlier this year. Farmington Daily Times

Oil and Gas Industry Looks to Recycle Wastewater, as energy companies have created 210 billion gallons of wastewater between 2005 and 2014. Fracking blasts large amounts of water into the earth to crack open underground rock formations that hold oil and gas. Each barrel of oil yields half a barrel of wastewater, and one fracked well could use up to 6 million gallons of water. Companies drill thousands of wells annually. There has been a recent push to reuse wastewater instead of disposing of it by injecting it back into the ground. Carlsbad Current Argus

Articles Worth Reading: May 20, 2019

California Announces Ban on Chlorpyrifos, a toxic pesticide that affects child brain development. California, one of the nation’s largest agricultural states and the nation’s top chlorpyrifos consumer, uses the pesticide on crops such as oranges, grapes, and almonds. Governor Newsom proposed $5.7 million to support the transition to alternatives. The ban follows similar legislation in Hawaii, New York, Oregon, Connecticut, and New Jersey. Washington Post

Report Shows Hazardous Air Quality in 96% of National Parks, with some of the most popular parks such as Joshua Tree, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon, and Mojave being the worst offenders. The study by the National Parks Conservation Association showed that ozone levels in these parks were considered dangerous for up to two months. Air pollution has a lasting impact on visitor and park health, and contributes to climate change. Over the last two decades, air pollution in national parks has been comparable that of the 20 largest cities in the United States. The Guardian

Plans for Arizona Mine Spark Controversy as its construction was approved by the Trump administration. Conservation groups are standing together to sue the federal government to block construction. They claim that the proposed $1.9 billion Rosemont copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains would destroy jaguar habitats. Three Native American tribes are also objecting to the approval of the project, arguing that construction would harm remnants of sacred sites. This would be the third-biggest copper mine in the country. Arizona Republic

Supreme Court Rules Treaty Lets Crow Tribal Members Hunt on Public Lands, reversing the decision of Wyoming courts that fined Clayvin Herrera for illegally killing an elk in the Bighorn National Forest. The decision upheld the validity of an 1868 treaty that granted tribal members “the right to hunt on occupied lands of the United States so long as game may be found thereon.” Wyoming had argued the treaty was voided by the declaration of Wyoming’s statehood in 1890 and the creation of the national forest in 1897. They argued “Wyoming statehood was not just a legal event, it was a recognition the once wild frontier was no more. And the Crow Tribe understood that its hunting right had ended.” The Supreme Court disagreed. Casper Star-Tribune

Treaties Secure Environmental Protections for Tribal Nations such as the Tulalip Tribe in Washington State. Climate change, which is eroding shorelines and affecting water in the Puget Sound, is a daily fight for the tribe. Nationwide, treaty rights have been the foundation for tribes securing major land and water victories over the past couple decades. Tribes have the potential to call the United States government to action regarding addressing climate change. High Country News NPR

The Energy Department is Actively Working to Save Montana’s Colstrip Power Plant, or its fossil energy chief told the state’s two senators. Colstrip, located east of Billings, is one of a grow-ing number of coal plants that are facing closure thanks to the rise of national gas and renewables and increasing customer aversion to coal-fired energy. The huge 2,094-megawatt plant has been on the ropes economically, but the Energy Department is investigating if technology to capture carbon-dioxide emissions could prove useful to enhancing recovery of oil in nearby oil fields. Utility Dive

Articles Worth Reading: May 6, 2019

California’s Latest Weapon in the Fight Against Climate Change is carbon farming, the process of absorbing carbon from the air and moving it to be stored in the soil. Through the Healthy Soils initiative, now in its third year, farmers can receive grants to grow plants on their farms that soak up carbon dioxide. A report found that farms and forests could absorb up to 20 percent of the state’s emissions. KQED

Basking Sharks Spotted off Southern California Coast for the first time in three decades. The basking shark, the second-largest shark species, can grow up to 8,000 pounds and 33 feet long. These gentle giants have recently been spotted off of Santa Barbara, Ventura, Santa Monica Bay, and San Pedro. One of the causes of their decline was fishermen killing them when they got caught in salmon nets. Sightings could mean that their population is starting to recover, or that climate change is affecting their habitat patterns. Orange County Register

The Blackfeet Nation Hopes to Open National Park in northwestern Montana to educate tourists about the story of their tribe. The Nation, which once owned half of Glacier National Park, sold the land to the federal government in the late 1800s. Members of the Blackfeet Nation hope to reassert the tribe’s place in the region’s history, protect the reservation’s natural resources, and provide new opportunities for indigenous people to benefit from the tourism economy. High Country News

Río Fernando de Taos Revitalization Collaborative Tackles Watershed Problems to improve the health of an important New Mexico river. The collaborative is working to improve water quality and infrastructure, as the river contains high levels of E. coli and has low water levels. The alliance of organizations includes the Taos Valley Acequia Association, Taos Land Trust, Amigos Bravos, The Nature Conservancy and Trout Unlimited, the town of Taos, Taos County, and the U.S. Forest Service. Taos News

Advocates Criticize Final Version of Recovery Plan for Endangered Jaguar that was released Wednesday, April 24, by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The jaguar, once inhabiting wide areas of the United States, was killed off in the early 1900s under a government policy aimed at big predators. The plan, which carved out narrow sections of protected habitat for jaguars along the Arizona and New Mexico borders, is seen by environmentalists as a way to push the species out of the country. Arizona Republic

Articles Worth Reading: April 22, 2019

A Divided Senate Confirmed David Bernhardt as Interior Department Secretary by a 56-41 vote on April 11. Three Democrats split from their party to join all voting Republicans in supporting the Colorado native and former lobbyist. Over the years, in his private sector experience, Bernhardt has represented a variety of clients including California’s Westlands Water District and the Independent Petroleum Association of America. E&E News

Judge Rules Environmental Analysis Required Before Ending Coal Mining Ban on public lands. A federal district judge in Montana said that the Interior Department was wrong to overturn the Obama-era ban on coal leasing without doing any sort of environmental review. The ruling did not, however, reinstate the ban or prescribe exactly how the current Interior Department must conduct its environmental review. The New York Times

President Trump Signed Bill Endorsing Colorado River Drought Plan setting out an agreement among seven western states on how to draw less water from the river. Two separate plans were negotiated for the states of river’s Upper Basin — Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico — and for those in its Lower Basin — Arizona, Nevada, and California. The plan aims to protect the Lake Mead and Lake Powell reservoirs, whose levels have been declining to critical levels due to 19 years of drought and overuse. But the largest holder of Colorado River water rights, the Imperial Irrigation District in far southeastern California, has sued to block the agreement, saying it should include measures to contain environmental damage around the dying Salton Sea. Arizona Republic Desert Sun

California’s Karuk Tribe Battles to Protect Itself from Fire Threats amid drier forests and rising temperatures. With none of California’s large emergency assistance budget being allocated to the state’s 106 tribal nations, the Karuk tribe must compete with other tribes for grants or prescribe burns to protect their 1 million acres of territory. Compared to other ethnic communities, Native Americans are more likely to live in areas with the highest potential for wildfires and the lowest capacity for response and recovery. High Country News

Chemical Taints California Water in Paradise, California, where 85 people died last year in the nation’s worst wildfire in a century. The chemical benzene, which occurs naturally in fire and is linked to leukemia and anemia, got sucked into water pipes, largely thanks to plastic melting during the fire. It will take two years and up to $300 million before Paradise residents can safely use local water for drinking, cooking, and bathing. Associated Press

A Black Market for Eagle Feathers is being driven by Native American demand. The feathers, which are believed to bring well-being and prosperity, have grown in demand due to the development of modern ceremonial traditions such as the powwow and the Native American church. With poaching rampant on the reservations, federal laws have tried to protect eagles by permitting the building of aviaries by tribes for religious practices. Audubon Society

Wild Horses Find Homes After Controversial Roundup last fall, which some believed would end in the horses being sold to Mexico for food. Out of 261 wild horses rounded up from the Modoc Plateau and moved to corrals in Modoc County, all but 30 have been placed in homes. After the roundup, they were housed over the winter in the Double Devil Wild Horse Corral and were fed and cared for by the Forest Service and volunteers. San Francisco Chronicle

Articles Worth Reading: April 9, 2019

California’s High Water Puts Oroville Dam’s Repaired Spillway to Use for the first time since the crisis that caused an evacuation. In 2017, storms caused the spillway to break apart and flood; nearly 200,000 people were forced to flee. Repairs cost $1.1 billion, and this is the first time since those renovations that excess water was drained into the spillway. Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Measurements of the Health Impacts from Oil and Natural Gas Extraction May Be Indequate, A UCLA study reviewed three dozen journal articles published over the past six years and found a positive correlation between individuals’ poor health and their proximity to fossil fuel extraction operations. High levels of suspected carcinogens such as benzene, toluene, and ethyl-benzene have been measured at oil and natural gas sites. Science Daily

California Adopts New Wetland Protections to Counteract Federal Rollback. A new state policy plan will counteract the proposed rollbacks. The state regulation establishes protections for human activity, preventing some areas from being paved over or plowed. California’s waterways, 90 percent of which have been lost to human sprawl, are important for drinking water, flood protection, groundwater recharge and wildlife. San Francisco Chronicle

Trout Lovers Trek To the Río Grande to See Juvenile Cutthroat Added to the river at Questa’s Cutthroat Fish Festival. Relocating cutthroat to expand their populations has become an annual tradition in the Wild Rivers Recreation Area near Cerro, New Mexico. Conservationists have worked for decades to increase the native cutthroat population in northern New Mexico. Almost 10,000 trout were relocated during this year’s event. Taos News

More Mexican Gray Wolves Roam the Southwest now than at any time since the Fish and Wildlife Service began protecting them more than two decades ago. The population has jumped about 12 percent since its brink of extinction in the early 2000s. Mexican gray wolves are the rarest subspecies of gray wolf in North America, with a population of at least 131 in New Mexico and Arizona combined. E&E News

Fish Numbers Plummet As Pumping and Invasive Clams Upend the Food Web in the San Francisco estuary, a new study from the University of California, Davis, reveals. Microscopic algae called phytoplankton are at the base of the food web (phytoplankton are food for zooplankton, which are food for fish). Clams, brought in the holds of oceangoing vessels, and freshwater pumping by California’s two major water delivery projects have cut phytoplankton by 97 percent from the late 1960s, prompting a similar dramatic drop in the number of fish. Daily Democrat

Articles Worth Reading: March 26, 2019

New Mexico Governor Signs Law Mandating the State’s Energy Supply Be Carbon-Free by 2045; a bold move that puts the state in the forefront of the cities and states that have passed legislation to fight climate change. The law allows for state bonds to provide support for the state’s major utility to shut down the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station in the Four Corners area and creates funds for support and retraining of workers at the plant. It also mandates new apprenticeships so New Mexico workers can enter the clean-energy workplaces of the future. Albuquerque Journal

The San Joaquin Valley Aquifer Lost Five Percent of Its Carrying Capacity in the first two decades of the 21st century, thanks to severe droughts and the resulting over-pumping, according to new research from Arizona State University. Groundwater in aquifers accumulates in “pore spaces” between rocks and grains of sand. The elasticity of these pores, which close when water is withdrawn, means they usually rebound when groundwater is recharged. But if too much is withdrawn and the pore spaces close too far, their elasticity is gone and the aquifer’s capacity shrinks irreversibly. American Geophysical Union

The Colorado Drought Contingency Plan Is Now Before Congress, as representatives of all seven Colorado River states, including California, ended their arguments and agreed on a final version. Bypassed were the demands of the Imperial Irrigation District for $200 million in federal funds to clean up the fetid and deteriorating Salton Sea. Successive droughts have meant that the Colorado River, which serves 40 million people and 7,812 square miles of farmland, needed new agreements for dividing water in times of shortage. After California’s Colorado River Board, by an 8-to-1 vote, provided the final state’s approval, state representatives met in Phoenix with a top federal water official and sent a letter to Congress seeking its approval. The plan sets up new formulas for water use if Lake Mead drops below a crucial level during a prolonged drought. Desert Sun Salt Lake Tribune

Mining, Drilling and Grazing Now Easier as the Sage Grouse Management Plan of 2015 Loses Its Bite. The old plan was a cooperative effort to ensure the birds, several hundred thousand of which live in the oil-rich rangeland of 11 western states, didn’t decline so far that endangered species protections would kick in. The old program set out special “focal areas” requiring protections for the chicken-sized, ground-nesting birds; these are now gone. Cattlemen felt the 2015 requirements were too rigid and applied at too fine a scale; the 2015 rules also required that energy leasing in some areas be prioritized away from areas best suited to the grouse. A Center For Western Priorities representative said, the changes mean “the administration will drive the sage grouse closer to an endangered species listing.” Associated Press New York Times Wyoming Public Media Western Livestock Journal

The Navajo Generating Station’s Last Possible Savior Won’t Save It. By a 9-to-11 vote, a committee of the Navajo Nation Council rejected a plan for a tribal firm, the Navajo Transitional Energy Company, to explore buying the power plant and the coal mine that supplies it. For the last couple of years, NGS owners had pulled out or signaled they wanted to. The tribal enterprise wanted to save hundreds of jobs held by Navajos. But the barriers to this solution included a demand by the power plant’s owners for a cap on the liability for cleanup, which could cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Seth Damon, the council’s speaker, said the “Navajo Nation Council signaled that it is time for change. In order to develop a healthy and diverse economy that does not overly rely on any particular industry, the … council will advance new and innovative development initiatives.” Indian Country Today

Articles Worth Reading: March 11, 2019

New Restrictions on Colorado River Withdrawals in Dry Times Are Close, but the federal Bureau of Reclamation says, in effect, “close only counts in the game of horseshoes.” The Arizona state legislature met the bureau’s deadline as it agreed to the drought contingency plan formulated by all three states in the river’s lower basin, but the final deals with Native tribes and with California’s Imperial Irrigation District aren’t done yet. The arguments go on. Cronkite News

Native Trout Are Making a Comeback in Colorado, but It’s Taken Decades. As the West was colonized, so were its streams; native fish suffered as non-native ones were introduced. The native greenback cutthroat trout was mistakenly declared extinct in 1937, but its history turns out to be much more complicated. Today, the subspecies survives, but barely, and scientists do not agree on a solution for the fish’s future. Biographic

Ranchers in Montana Want Consumers to Know Where Beef Comes From. The U.S. imports roughly 10 percent of its beef -- from countries like Canada, Argentina and Uruguay -- but it doesn’t have to be labeled as such. Country of origin labeling, Montana ranchers argue, will help consumers make more informed choices--and think it will be good for business. If passed, a bill in the Montana State Senate would require this labeling, as well as prohibit labeling as “meat” the cell-based meat now grown in vitro in laboratories. That decision which could be detrimental to this nascent industry. Civil Eats

Sustainable Development and Gentrification Do Not Have to Go Hand in Hand. An affordable housing project in an industrial, low-income neighborhood of Portland could show the country how green infrastructure can help alleviate poverty and keep communities intact. This project includes weatherization of mobile homes and sustainable landscaping. High Country News

We Need Maps to Comprehend the Scale of the Grand Canyon. Be careful, though–some maps are more attractive than they are accurate. As the iconic national park’s 100th anniversary approaches, listen to the Science Friday podcast explore the history of Western mapmaking through the lens of the maps of the Grand Canyon. Science Friday

Art Installations Thrive in the Coachella Valley. Desert X, a biennial art exhibit, opened this past weekend. It showcases art in mediums that range from fabric to cell phone, all to connect people with the valley and its human history. Explore some of the installations in this photo gallery. The Desert Sun

Graphics & the West

Where California Grows Its Food

See the most detailed survey ever done of crops and land use in California. It covers nine million acres of land devoted to grapes, alfalfa, cotton, plums, you name it – food for people and animals all over the world. View map »

California's Changing Energy Mix

A look at the energy sources California utilities have used gives us insights into the state’s progress in decarbonizing its electricity supply. In 2015, 35% of total electricity generation (in-state generation plus imported electricity) came from zero-greenhouse-gas sources, which include solar, wind, hydropower, and nuclear. View Graphic »

U.S. Conservation Easements

Conservation easements of various kinds cover more than 22 million acres of land in the United States, according to the National Conservation Easement Database, a public-private partnership. Take a look at our interactive map of nearly every conservation easement, with details on over 130,000 sites. View map »

 

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