Skip to content Skip to navigation

Under New Pollution Regulations, Milk Producers Seek Profit in Dairy Air

Apr 24 2018

From tests on metal bovines to electricity-generating manure pits, California is experiencing a radical transformation in the practices of the dairy industry. Taken together, the new initiatives amount to more than a crackdown on flatulent cows. They offer a model: how to reduce emissions while finding new sources of revenue.

Dairy cows in front of a digester in an undated photograph.

Keeping Methane Under Wraps By putting a cover over manure pits, dairy farmers can capture methane and use it to generate electricity or make transportation fuel. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

By Alessandro Hall

It’s no secret that the U.S. dairy industry has been struggling recently. As it faces depressed milk prices, concerns about water quality, fights over animal rights, and the rise of non-dairy alternatives — almond, soy, and rice “milk” — the dominant stature of milk in American culture is under siege.

So when the strictest rules in the country for curbing methane emissions took effect in California this year, the state’s 1,300 dairy farm families could have seen it as a devastating development. Methane is a natural product of bovine digestion, after all.

But for Paul Sousa, who grew up as part of California’s dairy industry, these rules feel a bit different. The state isn’t just telling farmers to make changes to reduce methane emissions, it’s telling them how, offering help, and showing ways that changes could be profitable.

Sousa grew up on a dairy farm and his family runs two of them in San Joaquin County. Now he works as a lobbyist at Western United Dairymen, an industry trade group. In all that time, he’s seen a lot of regulations. “We’ve gone through this with water quality and air quality,” he says, but those didn’t come with any economic incentives or financial support. Then came the measure called Senate Bill 1383.

A new law calls for reducing methane emissions by 40 percent from its 2013 levels by 2030, but comes with government outreach, economic incentives, and grant programs to help remake a more sustainable dairy industry.

This ambitious bill, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2016, targets short-lived climate pollutants like methane, fluorine, and black carbon. These potent greenhouse gases don’t stay in the atmosphere like others. But they are far more effective at trapping heat: 25 times more harmful than carbon dioxide over a 100-year span. They contributed to 42 percent of California greenhouse-gas emissions in 2013. The state’s 1.7 million dairy cows are the primary culprit.

The new law calls for reducing methane emissions by 40 percent from its 2013 levels by 2030, but comes with government outreach, economic incentives, and grant programs to help remake a more sustainable dairy industry. For Sousa, “this one has a very different feeling with the economic support that’s coming with it.”

The new rules, which could take effect in 2024, have wide-ranging implications for the oil, gas, and landfill sectors all over the state. But no region will feel its impact more strongly than the Central Valley, the heartland of the state’s milk-making operations. “In California, dairy is the big source of methane emissions,” says Ryan McCarthy, Science and Technology Policy Adviser at the California Air Resources Board (CARB), the state agency tasked with finding a way to meet the 40-percent target reduction. “Dairy manure … seems like the more readily addressable source emissions rather than the cows themselves,” he said. With a view to the California Air Resources Board gaining regulatory authority over the dairy industry in 2024, the agency is working proactively with dairy operators to prepare for needed changes.

Beyond Carbon Dioxide: A Look at California’s Greenhouse Gases

Source: California Air Resources Board   Geoff McGhee
 

Can “Digesters” Turn a Pollutant Into a Profit Center?

From tests on metal bovines to electricity-generating manure pits, California is experiencing a radical transformation in the practices of the dairy industry. Taken together, the new initiatives amount to more than a crackdown on flatulent cows. They offer a model: how to reduce emissions while finding new sources of revenue. Aided by government grants and technology innovations, farmers are beginning to upend dairy management orthodoxy.

The traditional method of treating manure is to flush it into fields or large, open-air lagoons. There, microbial organisms break down the waste through anaerobic digestion, spewing methane into the atmosphere. Although 60 percent of California’s dairy cows are still managed this way, all signs point to an emerging approach: When open-air lagoons are covered and sealed, dairy farmers can capture methane and use it to generate electricity or make transportation fuel. These systems, known as anaerobic dairy digesters, offer both environmental and economic benefits.

According to McCarthy, the California Air Resources Board believes digesters will deliver air quality, climate, and economic benefits. “If we can prove that model, we’ll get more projects faster.” He added, “it’s a win for the climate, for the air, for the farmer, and, when it does come time to regulate, it’ll be business as usual.” The dairy industry’s representative Paul Sousa says he also sees collateral advantages of eschewing methane-spewing manure lagoons: digesters offer water-quality benefits, and can generate cow bedding or fertilizer as additional byproducts.

Expensive Flops Feed Suspicion Among Dairy Farmers

But before environmentalists, energy companies, and the government can leverage these benefits to create a more sustainable industry, they must rebuild trust with the dairy farming community. “When we started this, there were a handful of dairy digesters, maybe ten or 15, and a lot of stories of ‘well we’ve tried this before. It didn’t work then, why will it work now’?” admits McCarthy. “And the answer, we said, is that we weren’t really committed to making it work then and we are now. And there’s all these programs in place that can make it work and we want to work with you to figure it out.” He believes the message is getting through. “It’s a market that’s growing quickly.”

Digester developers agree. There’s growing interest and enthusiasm for digesters, but also skepticism from dairy farmers weary of unmet promises. “I think our biggest real obstacle right now it that so many of these digester projects in the past have failed. There have been a lot of digesters built in the past that are no longer running,” says Doug Bryant of Maas Energy Works, a California company that helps develop, finance, and operate dairy digesters.

But the company argues that developers have learned valuable lessons and collected data on how to increase digester longevity and efficiency. Maas Energy Works has built 13 operational digesters with another 17 in various stages of development. “There’s been a lot of people throughout the last ten to 15 years who have come making promises about the money that [farmers will] make with digesters and never deliver on those promises,” Bryant explains. “We like to think our company is changing the way that’s perceived.”

Dairy Cows the Main Reason for California's Methane

Dairies are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for roughly 60% of agricultural contributions of methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N20).

Dairy Sources
Other Sources of Methane

Move over the graphic to learn more. Click on a category to view sub-categories.

Source: California Air Resources Board

Promoters Hope to Overcome Past Experiences with Technical Support, Financing, and State Subsidies

One way Maas Energy Works changes the perception of dairy digester projects is by forging a working relationship with dairymen. In the past, developers have come in, constructed a digester, and then left. The farmers had to operate and maintain the device. As Bryant explains, “the dairyman in most cases is already running a million-dollar company and has their own huge business to manage. Trying to give them another business to manage doesn’t always work out well.” His company now allows dairy farmers to own the digesters, while operating and repairing the devices for them.

Now, a flurry of new anaerobic dairy digesters has popped up across California. More than 40 are functioning or in construction; most of them built in the last 18 months. At least another 40 projects are on the way. A big reason for the construction boom is state investment. With $99 million in greenhouse gas reduction money in hand, the California Department of Food and Agriculture plans to allocate between $61 and $75 million in grants to help finance dairy digester projects through the Dairy Digester Research and Management Program in 2018.

The program is essential to help farmers finance digester projects. The typical digester on a small dairy of 1,000 to 2,000 cows costs about $ 2 million, while larger farms can run up costs of more than $5 million. Greenhouse gas reduction credits will also help determine the affordability of digester projects. Ideally, these reward farmers for reducing methane emissions. But the instability of the markets is a limit on new projects. The value of government credits for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions fluctuates, making banks potentially hesitant to lend money to a project.

“If the payback doesn’t pencil out in five to six years or less, we don’t like to encourage guys to get into it, because that’s a long payback,” say Mass Energy’s Bryant. With the milk market struggling, farmers may be even more risk averse. With this in mind, the new law directs the government to develop new financial mechanisms. The aim: to solidify and add certainty to the projected value of carbon credits.

State Faces a Challenge: Deliver Concrete Benefits to Farmers

A 900-cow dairy farm in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, uses a methane digester, above.Steve Droter/Chesapeake Bay Program via Flickr
 

Success for these new digester projects will depend on farmers seeing benefit from the state’s environmental goals. As CARB’s Ryan McCarthy explains, “there’s still the early movers and some that are not necessarily as engaged as others but a lot of [dairy farmers] — as seen in the pickup in the number of projects — …hopefully see it as an opportunity.”

The law calls for various stakeholders to join a working group to create a sustainable market for energy produced from dairy digesters. “I think what SB1383 has done is created a forum to actually have conversations about how to promote [these projects],” says Fariya Ali of Pacific Gas and Electric. “I think that’s a positive thing to have a dedicated forum convened by the state agencies that allows energy companies and the developers and others to come together.”

Much of the conversation revolves around how to connect the energy produced from dairy digesters with the rest of the California energy system. There is also hope that transporting biomethane away from dairy farms in pipelines will improve air quality in the Central Valley.

Although the electricity and fuel generated from digesters is unlikely to radically change the energy market in California, it can offer significant economic benefits for individual farms. Under the state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard program and Renewable Feed-In Tariff program, dairy farmers benefit from above market-rate credits. How? The economic gains from selling energy help pay for the cost of project installation, and also lower or eliminate a farm’s monthly electricity bill and offer a potential revenue stream.

Dairy digesters aren’t the law’s only focus. Although manure lagoons are a major source of methane, the state Department of Food and Agriculture is also helping pay for alternative strategies. This year, it plans to allocate between $19 million and $33 million to the state’s Alternative Manure Management Program. The law also established a working group looking at ways to remove volatile, methane-producing compounds from manure before it enters lagoons. These initiatives are less expensive than digesters and more familiar to dairy farmers.

The alternative management practices provide options for a diverse California dairy industry. “Not everything works on every dairy,” says Sousa. A dairyman “is going to pick from the menu and say this one works for me, this other one doesn’t.”

Researching Ways to Reduce Methane at its Source: Gassy Cows

Cows at the Joseph Gallo Dairy farm in the Central Valley in 2007. The farm’s use of dairy digesters was the subject of a television feature.KQED via Flickr
 

A third major focus of SB1383 is the development of a research working group to fill gaps in industry knowledge. Least is known about fixing the problem of enteric fermentation- the technical name for methane produced during digestion and released in cow burps. In 2015 bovine gas made up almost 30 percent of state methane emissions in the agricultural sector.

There aren’t any proven cost-effective strategies to curb this. The research group is soliciting ideas about what to do. “That working group has been trying to be expansive about the way we look at reducing our methane problem rather than putting all our eggs in the manure management basket,” says Joan Salwen, founder of Elm Innovations, a group that intends to submit their idea about possibly feeding seaweed to cows to cut down on their gas.

Digesters, alternative manure management strategies, and research initiatives seem to suggest radical recent changes. But the dramatic shift in California’s dairy industry may have started earlier. In 2012, the industry made a nationwide commitment to reduce methane emissions 25 percent by 2020. In that sense, the rules set in SB1383 are not far off the industry’s trajectory. “It’s not completely out of touch with things we’ve been working on, but it is a challenge when we get a mandate to do something else that comes with a cost if it doesn’t come with additional revenue,” says Sousa.

What’s different now is that financial investment goes with the crackdown on dairy-farm methane. For now, at least, the revenue is coming in and the digesters are going up. Sousa says, “I think that’s been key to the response, from the initial response of ‘Oh, yet another thing we’ve got to deal with’ to, we’re making lots of headway toward meeting our goals with funding.”

and the west logo

 

 

Read Next in ...& the West

Changing Currents: Picturing a Northwest Without Cheap, Public Hydropower

The power gained by harnessing the Columbia River paved the way for industrial development and widespread farmland irrigation. But what if, instead of public utilities, that power had been sold by private firms seeking profits?

Back to main page

 

 

 

 

Reader Comments

Submit your own thoughts and questions by using the form at the bottom of this page. Entries will be reviewed and posted as we get them.

Submit a Comment

We'd like to know what you think. We will not share your email address or add you to any lists. If you'd like to be notified about new blog posts and news from the Center, you can join our mailing list.

You will receive emails no more than once a week. We will not share your information.

 

...& the Best

Western Articles and Media Elsewhere
Compiled by Felicity Barringer

Articles Worth Reading: Sept. 11, 2018

In 27 Years, California Plans to Eliminate Carbon From Its Electrical Grid. That’s the central aim of legislation signed Monday by Gov. Jerry Brown. A year after a similar bill failed, the new measure underlines California’s desire to be the nation’s leader on working to slow climate change — the shifting weather that has turbocharged the state’s wildfires and caused increasing destruction from Redding to Santa Barbara. Meanwhile, wind developers are eyeing the California coast as a place to create new renewable energy for a changing grid. InsideClimate News Utility Dive

A Floating Boom a Third of a Mile Long is the Newest Garbage Collector in the Pacific Ocean. Its mission: start cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This gyre of sailing detritus has an estimated 1.8 trillion objects rotating slowly between California and Hawaii, and California. The nonprofit Ocean Cleanup is investing $20 million in the project. But can it really remove the 87,000 tons of plastic? New York Times/Associated Press

The Killer of Swaths of Bigleaf Maples in Washington State Is Unknown, but its impact is being felt from Washington State south to California. These trees, whose leaves can stretch a foot across, can grow 100 feet tall. Their impressive silhouettes mean that the landscape changes dramatically as they die. The U.S. Forest Service and the University of Washington, and the Washington state Department of Natural Resources have been studying the maples, but no diseases or insects have been found in significant numbers. So no known culprit. Seattle Times/Tacoma News Tribune

Bighorn Sheep and Moose Tell Their Friends Where to Go for the best food, a new study shows. The notion that migration behaviors, following the green wave of food around the West, was a learned behavior and not a product of genetic inheritance, had been around for a while. The thought was “they just have to learn how to do this,” said Matthew Kauffman, an ecologist at the University of Wyoming. So he set up a study involving bighorn sheep that were transplanted into an area unfamiliar to them, but where established herds existed. Without genetic coding for this particular migration, they did it anyway. National Geographic

Some Called Him ‘The Renaissance Man of the West;’ His Maps Combined Geography, History and Whimsy into one package. Jo Mora, an immigrant from Uruguay, did some sculpture and coin design before finding maps to be his metier. One observer said “They’re almost like books,” to be perused in bits and pieces at several sittings. The maps he left are cartographic cartoons, telling not just the shape of the state, but the stories of its places. Atlas Obscura

Articles Worth Reading: Sept. 1, 2018

Hunters Have Waited More Than 40 Years To Shoot Grizzlies around Yellowstone National Park. The wait was almost over, when a federal district judge delayed the hunt for two weeks to study whether the federal Fish and Wildlife Service erred in lifting protections from the bears. Judge Dana Christiansen wrote, “harm to…members [of endangered species] is irreparable because once a member of an endangered species has been injured, the task of preserving that species becomes all the more difficult.” Casper Star-Tribune Montana Free Press

Canada’s Transmoutain Pipeline, Whose Growth Was A Key Aim of the Canadian Government, Just Lost its bid for expansion in court. The Canadian Federal Court of Appeal overturned approval of the pipeline because the government failed to adequately consider native nations’ concerns and didn’t take environmental impacts into account. Opposition groups had argued that the risks of oil spills in the Salish Sea — home to an already-endangered killer whales — and the potential hazards of increased petroleum tanker traffic are too high a price to pay for an economic boom. The expansion could have tripled the 750-mile pipeline’s capacity bringing up to 890.000 barrels a day from tar sands in Edmonton to the coast of British Columbia. Oregon Public Broadcasting Grist Reuters

Facebook and the Navajo Nation Commit to Renewables, but on very different scales. The year-old Solar Project – built mostly by Navajo workers – is the largest tribally-owned renewable power plant in the country and has been operating a year. Generating 27.3 megawatts, it provides enough power for 18,000 Navajo nation homes – the same number that had been without electricity a decade ago. Facebook, the social media giant in Menlo Park, California, is also expanding its uses for renewable power, but on a far vaster level. It has committed to powering its global operations with completely renewable energy by the end of 2020, in party by positioning data centers near electrical grids that can accommodate more renewables. In the last year Facebook has signed contracts for more than 2.5 gigawatts of renewables, Cronkite News/Elemental Utility Dive

Lake Mead Has Been Using Lake Powell to Keep Its Levels Up and postpone the moment when drought contingency plans are triggered because its level has dipped below 1,075 feet. But scientists now report that this draining of Lake Powell can’t go on forever: it is now 48 percent full, while Lake Mead is 38 percent full. “We’re draining Lake Powell to prop it up,” said one scientist. Arizona Republic

Is The Current Drought Just the Beginning? David Gutzler, a climate scientist at the University of New Mexico, says “It is possible that the next big megadrought is upon us, and we’re right in the middle of it.” The snowpack that supplies the upper half of the Rio Grade has decreased 25 percent in the past 40 years. The Elephant Butte reservoir, the largest in the upper Rio Grande, is just six percent full, down from 24 percent last winter. Some 500 years ago, tree rings tell us, a megadrought hit the Southwest just as the Spanish arrived; the population was decimated. And a study shows that climate change increase the chances of a megadrought to 70 percent or more. Quartz

Articles Worth Reading: August 21, 2018

Colorado River Cutbacks Possible by 2020, the Bureau of Reclamation forecasts.The result could be water shortages in the Lower Basin states of Arizona, New Mexico. If Lake Mead’s elevator drops below 1,075 feet, as is likely in 2019, decade-old agreements mean downstream users will lose water the next year. Arizona farmers would be hit hardest. KUNC Radio Circle of Blue John Fleck

Arizona Farmers Who Depend on Irrigation Will Fight Cutbacks before they let one third of Pinal County’s agricultural fields go fallow. “That’s a pill we’re not going to swallow,” said one, a board member of the Maricopa-Stanfield Irrigation and Drainage District, one of the county’s largest. “It would be a huge economic hardship.” Water Deeply

Phoenix Has Learned That Heat Can Kill, and More Is Killing More People. As summer temperatures have reached well above 100 degrees for days on end, Phoenix lost 155 people to heat-related deaths in 2017. To gird itself against the “silent storm” of heat deaths in the future, it aims to prepare for heat emergencies the way other cities prepare for hurricanes. Phoenix is in competition for a $500 million grant to make its ideas a reality. KJZZ/NPR

When It Comes to Sage Grouse Protections, Wyoming Wants to Keep Its Level of Protection. Even as the Interior Department seeks cutbacks in requirements for mitigating the destruction of sage grouse habitat, the state that houses one-third of these birds is pushing back. The federal government apparently will not disturb Wyoming’s rules even as it cuts back on similar safeguards of its own. In a recent letter to the Bureau of Land Management, Gov. Matt Mead said the federal agency should “defer to the state’s assessment of how to apply avoidance, minimization and, if necessary, compensatory mitigation to address impacts to this State-managed species.” Wyofile

The Ocean Off the San Diego Coast Just Broke All-Time Temperature Records. “Just like we have heatwaves on land, we also have heatwaves in the ocean,” said Art Miller of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. At risk are kelp forests and coral reefs, and the marine “heatwaves” last longer than those in the atmosphere. A new study predicts they will become more common. The Guardian

The Last Salmon Cannery in British Columbia Is a Sign of the Future, as Native Nations are taking over the business of processing the fish that have sustained them for centuries. In 2015, the owner of St. Jean’s cannery, Gerard St. Jean, sold a controlling interest in his family’s business to NCN Cannery LP, a partnership between five of the 14 Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations that call the western side of Vancouver Island home. Hakai Magazine

Midsummer Heat and Fire: August 6, 2018

How Hot is it Around the West This Year? Hotter and hotter. A landmark: Death Valley just had the highest temperature on Earth. Again. The Washington Post

How Have Wildfires Changed? The fire tornado is the newest phenomenon that is defining wildfires during this, one of the most destructive and unusually hot summers in human history. “From an on-the-ground, human perspective, July looked and felt like hell.” Six of California’s 10 most destructive fires have occurred in the past 10 months. The Carr fire near Redding, California (animation), has burned more than 1,500 homes. Grist

How are the Fires Hurting the Air We Breathe? Air quality in parts of the Rocky Mountain states of Idaho, Wyoming and Montana as well as parts of California, Oregon and Washington has got significantly worse, even as the rest of the country has experienced a sharp improvement in air quality, “There’s a big red bullseye over that northern Rockies area where they are getting the big wildfires,” said a co-author of a University of Washington study. The link between the smoke and illness or death is sometimes complicated; smoke exacerbates a range of conditions. No death certificate cites “air pollution” as the cause of death. The smoke from the deadly Ferguson fire near Yosemite (animation) is making Fresno’s air extremely unhealthy. The Guardian/Climate Desk Fresno Bee

How Are We Going to Pay for Fighting Fires? Congress just changed the way in which the federal government will pay for large fires, but it may not make a dent in controlling the burgeoning costs of fighting big fires. Fire seasons are longer, and there is more to burn. Climate change, the fire deficit on many western lands and development in the wildland-urban interface ensure that the potential for major fires is baked into the system for decades to come. Scientific American/The Conversation

How Can We Preserve Some of the Forests We Inherited? Without major ecological investments, Arizona risks losing its ponderosa forests in a generation. It's likely too late to save it all, so federal foresters and their allies are racing against the next megafires to choose the places that matter most. Some areas are crucial to the survival of rare birds or the small mammals whose paws scatter the seeds of new forests. Some areas, after fires, could filter ash and debris from water headed for city systems, reducing treatment costs, and preventing post-fire floods. But all this means major investment in thinning trees.“We’re really managing for the future, so we have a forest,” said a silviculturalist for the federal Forest Service. Arizona Republic

What Does it Mean to Live Amid the Heat and Fire? “One truism about the future is that climate change will spare no place. Still, I suspect the threat of warming feels more existential in New Mexico than it does in Minnesota…. The fire risk was so high by June 1 that the U.S. Forest Service closed all 1.6 million acres of the forest to the public. The forecasts for our water supplies are equally grim.…. Staying put may not mean that Colin and I lose what we’ve put into our home, and it may not mean running out of water. But it may mean bearing witness to the slow death of the Rio Grande. It may mean biting our nails every June, hoping this won’t be the year that a mushroom cloud of smoke rises from the Santa Fe Mountains, which are primed for a destructive fire.” High Country News

July 24, 2018

Factory Nut Farms Drain an Aquifer in Arizona; Homes Go Dry. There are 356,000 acres of nut orchards in the Sulphur Spring Valley. And to ensure a constant water supply, farmers can drill a well 1,000 feet deep every 160 acres. As yearly water consumption doubled, the soil in the aquifer collapsed, and the elevation sank 15 feet in places. Now a water-truck delivery services must ensure water for homeowners. Many have abandoned their homes. The New York Times

Endangering the Endangered Species Act? Or Making Sensible Changes? The moves to change the 45-year-old law credited with saving the bald eagle began in Congress, where legislation to change the law has percolated for years. That accelerated this year, and now the Trump Administration proposes major changes. The Washington Post ASU Cronkite News

Feds Returning Mining to a Place That Had Left It Behind. Once a coal town in Colorado’s Western slope, Paonia has transformed itself over the past few decades. It’s now known for wineries, boutiques, galleries and organic farms that draw tourists from nearby ski resorts. But Paonia’s shift away from its fossil fuel roots could be reversed under the Trump administration’s new push to maximize oil and gas leasing on federal land. Reveal/E&E News

Climate Change Leaving Wild Horses Dying of Thirst on the Navajo reservation. Last month, more than 100 were found dead, stuck in thick mud near a dried-up stock pond. Now a dozen volunteers are taking care of 200 other horses of the more than 30,000 horses counted on the reservation in 2016. But because of horses’ competition with cattle for sparse forage, the tribal government hopes to partner with outside groups to get some horses adopted. KJZZ via Elemental

As Wildfires Spread, Scientists Try to Understand Health Impacts. With fires spreading and air quality alerts being called around the West, scientific efforts to correlate the particulates from the widespread smoke have redoubled. Two Colorado universities and the University of Washington are part of an unprecedented effort, costing more than $30 million, to map the fire-sparked air pollution, using aircraft, satellites and vans full of high-tech equipment. Boulder Daily Camera Science Magazine

June 1, 2018

Mussels Off Coast of Seattle Test Positive for Opioids, according to scientists at the Puget Sound Institute at the University of Washington Tacoma. The mussels were contaminated, they said, by oxycodone present in sewage that was treated at wastewater plants and pumped into the sound. Mussels are bottom feeders and filterers that often test positive for other drugs, but this is the first time they’re known to have been polluted with opioids. Huffington Post

Court Rules Montana Broke Law in Allowing Gold Drilling North of Yellowstone. The district court found that environmental regulators ignored environmental concerns and illegally approved Lucky Minerals Inc.’s plans to drill for gold in Emigrant Gulch, a narrow canyon near Chico Hot Springs. Opponents believe the drilling may lead to an industrial-scale mine that could harm the environment, water quality and the region’s tourism-based economy. The court directs the Montana Department of Environmental Quality to complete a more extensive environmental review Bozeman Daily Chronicle

California Governor Sets Permanent Water Restrictions . Although California declared an end to one of its longest-lasting droughts this past year, Governor Jerry Brown signed two new laws that would require cities, urban water districts, and large agricultural water districts to set strict annual water budgets – or risk fines. Three factors should go into the new standards: an allowance of 55 gallons per person per day for indoor water use; a set amount for residential outdoor use that will vary depending on regional climates; and a standard for water loss from leaky pipes. The Mercury News

Interior Department Plans to Auction 4,000 Acres of Northern Arizona Public Land for Oil Exploration. The decision follows the Trump administration's rollback of environmental protections for oil and gas leases on public lands. Local environmental organizations are prepared to challenge the plans in court, claiming that drilling and fracking the land, which straddles the Little Colorado River, could deplete and pollute groundwater. White Mountain Independent

Conservation and Human Rights Groups Link Up to Protest Border Wall. Organizations opposed to the proposed wall plan to gather on June 2 at the site of new border wall construction near the Santa Teresa Port of Entry, west of El Paso, Texas. The groups cite concerns from militarization of border communities, to the threat to wildlife, endangered species, and public land. KRWG Las Cruces

May 21, 2018

Congress Could Prevent Closure of Navajo Coal Plant and Mine. The bill, drafted by Rep. Paul Gosar, an Arizona Republican who serves on the Committee on Natural Resources, would address several problems facing the plant that is now up for sale. The legislation exempts the new owner of the plant from the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Air Act. Opponents, like Navajo representative Nicole Horseherder, say that it “should be called a tribal exploitation act,” because it would remove environmental safeguards for the Navajo people. Arizona Star

To Clean Up the Willamette River, Oregon Hopes to Remove Homeless Camps. The Department of State Lands proposed a measure that would ban people from camping alongside a stretch of public-owned beach along the river. The river is undergoing cleanup after years of industrial pollution, including several oil spills. However, these beaches have become increasingly popular for homeless people, whose tents and fires are blamed for destroying nearby vegetation. Oregonian

Six States Are Suing Washington State for Blocking Coal Port Expansion. Attorneys general from Montana, Wyoming, Kansas, Nebraska, Utah, and South Dakota filed a joint amicus brief against the Washington Department of Ecology. That office had denied the environmental permits necessary for the expansion of the Millennium Bulk Terminal based in Longview, saying it would cause “significant and unavoidable harm” to the environment. Attorney General Fox of Montana, the latest to join the lawsuit, says politicians are “hold[ing] coal states hostage.” Missoula Current

Local Resistance to Native Tribes’ Push to Change Two Names on Map of Yellowstone National Park A geologist and a soldier, one of whom is said to have advocated for the “extermination” of native people and the other of whom has been a war crimes in an Indian massacre, both are memorialized in the park, by Hayden Valley and Mount Diane. Tribal groups petitioned the U.S. Board of Geographic Names for a change; local county commissioners are pushing back. WyoFile

New Focus on Small Farmworker Communities’ Bad Drinking Water. California's Central Valley is home to 19 percent of food production in the world, but about 100,000 of its residents have lived without clean drinking water for decades, and a million may do so today. Two audio reports look at the reasons, the cost of solving the problem permanently by filtering toxins out of tap water, and the reli-ance to date on indifferent stop-gap solutions. KCET Podship Earth

Why Are Environmental Groups so White, and What Can Be Done About It? A 2014 report found that ethnic minorities do not exceed 16% of board members and or staff of environmental organizations. A similar 2018 report found that of 2,057 organizations that volunteer their data, 80 percent of board members and 85 percent of staff are white. While some institutions are trying to increase diversity, the statistics are slow to change. Environmentalists of color like Eddie Love and Queta González say organizations must commit to systemic change and changing their own internal cultures. Ensia

May 8, 2018

Study Finds Mega-Storms Will Become Increasingly Common for California. Extreme weather swings will occur more frequently as global warming raises sea levels and puts more water vapor in the air, according to a new study published in Nature Climate Change. It suggests that the drought-to-flood weather patterns the state has experienced in recent years indicates a growing risk for more turbulent weather ahead. San Jose Mercury News

Hawaii May Ban Sunscreens Containing Chemicals That Hurt Marine Environment. After years of advocacy by local groups, Hawaiian lawmakers have passed a measure to ban the sale of sunscreens with the chemicals oxybenzone and octynoxate. The risk of these chemicals has often been overlooked, but they have been shown to wash off in the ocean and threaten local marine life and ecosystems, particularly coral reefs. Should Gov. David Ige sign the bill, Hawaii would become the first state banning such products to protect marine ecosystems. Washington Post

Oregon Health Department Says Air Near The Dalles Is Safe, Despite the Odor. For several years, residents living near the Amerities railroad tie plant in The Dalles have voiced concern over the stench apparently a result of the plant’s chemical activities. The plant uses a creosote mixture to treat the wooden ties, which emits several substances called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that, in high levels, are known to cause cancer and other health problems. While the air does not pose these risks, according to the report, it may still cause reactions in some people. KGW TV

NIMBYism and the Environment: Opponents of Housing Development for Homeless Cite Environmental Law to Shut Down Project. The Los Angeles development’s would-be neighbors, the Rosadas, have filed a lawsuit claiming that the city violated the California Environmental Quality Act when it approved an environmental report prepared for the city by consultants. The land to be developed apparently sits over an abandoned oil well, causing concerns over remaining contaminants in the soil. While experts conducted extensive studies on the land before the housing plan, the Rosadas insist the dangers to the environment still exist. Los Angeles Times

An Unusual Alliance: Washington Farm Groups Joins Cattle Association and EPA in an Environmental Suit. The Washington Farm Bureau succeeded in overcoming, for the moment, a state court decision that blocked them from intervening in an environmental organization’s lawsuit. The suit, by Northwest Environmental Advocates, alleges federal and state regulators aren’t protecting waterways from agriculture and required buffers to keep out runoff are inadequate. The Bureau has been concerned that an eventual decision might hurt agricultural interests, and wanted a seat at the table. Capital Press

April 20, 2018

Las Vegas by the Sea? Desert City Thinks About Desalination. With a new report predicting the Nevada city will outgrow its water supply within 20 years, Bronson Mack, a spokesman for the Southern Nevada Water Authority said recently, "Certainly desalination might be part of Southern Nevada's water portfolio at some point in the future. He added, "it could be something that happens within the next 20 or 30 years." Water Deeply

Once Again, Water Is For Fighting Over: the Central Arizona Project Is Accused of Unfairly Manipulating its claims on the Colorado River. Four states from the Upper Basin have joined Denver's water utility to accuse the Arizona agency of seeking to avoid the kind of cutbacks that could be imposed on other river users, In the throes of an 18-year drought, with Lake Mead's levels projected to decline further, the states risk losing their decade-old spirit of cooperation. John Fleck/Inkstain Denver Post

Protecting Hawaii's Reefs Means Cutting Tropical Fish Collection. That's the impact of a ruling by federal judges in the 1st Circuit Court. The court voided all 131 outstanding aquarium permits issued by the state of Hawaii, blocking the harvest of a quarter-million fish annually. This ruling blocking recreational harvesting of tropical fish comes on the heels of a Hawaii Supreme Court ruling last fall, which held that all commercial aquarium collection permits in the state had been issued illegally. Hawaii's conservation groups.have been fighting to protect the reefs and marine wildlife. Wisconsin Gazette

If Mojave Desert Groundwater Is Sent to Cities, Can Bonanza Spring Survive? Yes, say studies by Cadiz Inc., the company selling the groundwater. No, says a new study, which links the spring — the biggest in the southeastern Mojave — to the same deep pool of groundwater from which Cadiz plans to pump 16 million gallons annually. Andy Zdon, a hydrogeologist, determined that Bonanza Spring seems to have a "hydraulic connection" to the deep aquifer Cadiz will use. "The spring is going to be highly susceptible to drawdown from the pumping," he said. "It would likely dry up." Desert Sun

Wyoming Area Set Aside for Species in a Collaborative Process Now May Be Leased. County commissioners in the southwestern section of the state object to the fact local Bureau of Land Management officials have been stripped of their ability to postpone leasing decisions, while examining environmental effects. They fear that the new policy, removing decision-making to the bureau's Washington, offices threatens the 522,236 acres of the Greater Little Mountain Area — and the work of a years-long collaborative effort — to optimize the area's management. Proposed leases would allow drilling along a 150-mile mule deer migration route. WyoFile

To Thrive, the Conservation Movement Needs Buy-In by People of Color. But this video report on the fraught history of the National Park Service and non-white visitors shows that if people of color need to learn more about the value of parks, parks need to know more about people of color. Grist

Graphics & the West

 

Recent Center News

Sep 14 2018 | Out West student blog
“With the general election approaching,” writes the Center’s summer research fellow Benek Robertson, “I hoped to highlight specific policy areas that could influence the general election and California politics for years to come.”
Sep 13 2018 | Center News
Beyond her accomplishments at Water in the West and Stanford, Newsha Ajami has also shown an intense dedication to developing and mentoring the generation of scientists, engineers, and policymakers following in her footsteps.
Sep 12 2018 | Out West student blog
“I’ve come to recognize the value of rephotography as tool to analyze environmental change through time,” writes San Francisco Esturary Institute intern Nick Mascarello.