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

Alessandro Hall
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.”

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

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

Articles Worth Reading: Feb. 25, 2019

Dramatically Cutting Back Irrigated Farming in California’s Central Valley is required to replenish overdrafted groundwater, says an in-depth report from the Public Policy Institute of California. The changes needed to restore aquifers will require fallowing 500,000 acres of irrigated cropland. “Although ending overdraft will bring long-term benefits, it entails near-term costs...Only a quarter of the Valley’s groundwater deficit can be filled with new supplies at prices farmers can afford,” the authors write. They add “the best option for increasing supply is capturing and storing additional water from big storms.” Fresno Bee Public Policy Institute of California

The Senate Approved the Natural Resources Management Act expanding existing public lands, creating new national monuments, protecting miles of rivers from development, and preventing mining around Yellowstone and North Cascades National Parks. Controversies arose over a provision that could allow the return of hundreds of thousands of acres of federal land to Alaska Natives. These brought into clearer view the different priorities and fraught history of conservationists and Indigenous peoples. The Washington Post The Guardian The Washington Post (Op-Ed) High Country News

Representatives From the Quinault and Tohono O’odham Nations, the Calista Corporation, and Heartlands International Spoke About the Ongoing Impact of Climate Change on Native communities. The House Natural Resources Committee’s new subcommittee for indigenous peoples of the United States, in its first punlic meeting, heard how changing seasons and rainfall are altering growing seasons, food availability, and by extension, affecting cultural practices. Low-lying communities are particularly vulnerable to changes in precipitation and sea-level rise. The Arizona Mirror YouTube

A Multi-Part Exploration of the Colorado River’s Challenges Ends With an Ode to the River’s Former Wildness and a look at restoration efforts. Today, the Colorado River is a highly engineered river, plagued by invasive species of plants and fish. Some of its most biodiverse regions are man-made, and their future hangs in the balance with the future of water. Yale Environment 360

Across the Western U.S., Thousands of Cacti and Succulents Have Been Stolen From Public Lands. The market for these plants is lucrative, and rare species attract the attention of collectors and thieves. Removing the plants from their habitats can limit their chances of survival and endanger the remaining individuals. Even though thieves face felony charges and thousands of dollars in fines, the illegal trade continues. Innovative attempts to curb the poaching include cloning succulents and microchipping saguaros. The New Yorker The Guardian

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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