Skip to content Skip to navigation

As Relicensing Looms, Aging Dams Face a Reckoning

Felicity Barringer
Mar 5 2019

Green power source or fish killer? As older dams around the West come up for relicensing, their owners know that they’ll have to spend heavily to fix problems, while new energy sources are getting cheaper.

alt

Seen here around 1968, the Cape Horn Dam on the Eel River was built in 1900, creating Lake Van Arsdale and sending water through a tunnel to a hydroelectric turbine in the Russian River watershed. Library of Congress
 

Update, May 16, 2019

The Potter Valley project won’t be an orphan much longer. Two months ago, the Pacific Gas & Electric Company abandoned the two-dam, one-tunnel facility, which generates 9.2 megawatts of electricity and transfers water from the Eel River to the Russian River. PG&E told the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission it would not renew its hydropower license. But agricultural interests in Sonoma and Mendocino Counties, which benefit from water transferred from the Eel River Water to the Russian River, feared losing that water. Now the Sonoma County Water Agency, the Mendocino Inland Water and Power Commission, and California Trout, Inc. are working together on a two-basin proposal. They hope to forge a planning agreement to “secure the region’s water supply and protect endangered salmon species in the Eel River and upper Russian River,” said a press release from the office of North Bay congressman Jared Huffman. It quotes Curtis Knight, executive director of California Trout, saying, “We are committed to finding a solution … that meets the needs of fish, water and people.” The agencies expect to form a new entity to take over the project.

By Felicity Barringer

More than a century ago, the people of Mendocino County in California needed electricity to fit into the industrialized world. So engineers generated power by building two dams and reconfiguring two rivers. For decades thereafter, people fashioned steadily improving lives around the new landscapes. At the same time, beset by environmental insults, the annual runs of salmonids in the Eel River withered.

Inevitably, priorities changed. As building the dams and creating the 9.2-megawatt Potter Valley project solved the need for electricity, a new need developed: irrigation. Tens of thousands of acre-feet of Eel River water were diverted to supply the power station at the headwaters of the Russian River’s East Branch. Then it flowed on, supplying cities and farmers and nurturing Mendocino and Sonoma County’s expanding agriculture – once pears and hops, now dominated by wine grapes.

The current need: repair the harm caused by the dams. That will cost so many tens of millions of dollars that the project’s owner, Pacific Gas & Electric – already losing money on it – is cutting its losses. It will not seek a new federal license.

This decision mimics PG&E’s recent moves away from other small hydroelectric projects, like the 12-megawatt Narrows project on the Yuba River in Nevada County, which PG&E sold last year to a local water agency. It also echoes decisions by the northwestern utility PacifiCorp, which, at a cost of $37 million, breached its 14.7 megawatt Condit Dam on the White Salmon River in Washington.

The Potter Valley Project: More Than Just a Dam

Built starting in 1905 by the Eel River Power and Irrigation Company, the Potter Valley Project grew over time to comprise two dams on the Eel River and two reservoirs: Lake Van Arsdale and Lake Pillsbury. The project eventually served two purposes: to generate power from Eel River water diverted to a powerhouse in Potter Valley, and to bring irrigation water to the Russian River watershed. This water served expanding agricultural areas in Mendocino and Sonoma Counties, including many new vineyards. Since the Russian River watershed is susceptible to flooding, the Army Corps of Engineers completed the Coyote Valley dam in 1958 for flood control. It created Lake Mendocino and provided a new source of both irrigation water and opportunities for recreation.

Timeline of the Potter Valley Project

Tap to see animated timeline of the Potter Valley Project

Sources: Potter Valley Project; Friends of the Eel River; Natural Earth Data; ESRI Earth Imagery; NASA Elevation Data

Geoff McGhee/Bill Lane Center for the American West

Choices Ahead for Owners of Small Hydroelectric Projects Across the West

Depending on how it finally turns out, the narrative of the Potter Valley project could be a cautionary tale for other dam owners whose stakeholders are at odds. Or it could be a roadmap to reconciling competing interests.

Dam by dam, owners of smaller hydroelectric projects around the West look at them with a cold eye as relicensing looms. Created with optimism a century ago, dams are now seen as fish-killers and river-distorters. New energy sources are getting cheaper. After decades of operation, owners approach relicensing knowing that, if they are to continue generating a single watt of electricity, they must fix the problems.

Tens of millions of dollars are often at stake. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission licenses hydroelectric projects for up to 50 years, but sometimes just one year at a time to ensure problems are resolved. Limited revenue from electricity may not justify expensive remediation. Before it was sold off, a financial analysis of the Narrows project showed costs would have outweighed profits by more than $12 million over the first five years.

Depending on how it finally turns out, the narrative of the Potter Valley project could be a cautionary tale for other dam owners whose stakeholders are at odds. Or it could be a roadmap to reconciling competing interests. Whatever the lesson, the project is part of a larger transformation in how people understand debts owed to the environment. And how they are repaid. “[The Potter Valley project] is a subset of a much larger body of problems,” said Scott Greacen, conservation director at Friends of the Eel River, a conservation organization that is seeking to restore natural streamflows. Over the decades, “we took a lot of capital out of natural systems. Now the bills are coming due.”

Fighting climate change is another urgent need. One way is by creating carbon-free electricity – what dams do. The historian Heather Lee Miller, a staffer at Historical Research Associates in Washington, believes that if all governments classify small hydroelectric projects’ energy as renewable, subsidies could change the financial picture.

“Certainly some of the dams are in terrible places,” she said. Others, like PacifiCorp’s 1.1-megawatt project at Wallowa Falls in Oregon, are being relicensed. “There’s a backlog of dams that aren’t in the right spot,” she said, but added that, as the climate changes, it would be wrong to think small hydro-electric projects have no future.

What is the difference between projects like Wallowa Falls being relicensed and those, like Potter Valley, being abandoned by big electric companies? Economics are central. Relicensing the Potter Valley project promised to be daunting even before PG&E, facing hundreds of millions of dollars of wildfire liabilities, declared bankruptcy. “It now looks like PG&E’s overall incentive structure has shifted,” Greacen said. “They have given up.”

Western Dams Facing Relicensing Through 2025

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is charged with certifying hydroelectric projects for operation. It can license them for up to 50 years, but sometimes as little as one year at a time to ensure problems are resolved. Owners must file notice five years in advance of expiration that they intend to reapply, and must file an application at least two years before the license expires.


Sources: Federal Energy Regulatory Commission


Sources: Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

Bill Lane Center for the American West

Who Decides the Future? A Stakeholder Group Struggles to Find Compromise

The federal government determines the terms of PG&E’s exit. FERC will solicit interest from others to run it. If no one comes forward, it will order PG&E to develop a decommissioning plan that may or may not include removing facilities.

PG&E’s finances are private, but the economic analysis done for the Narrows project on the Yuba River offers guidance.

Jeff Bodington of San Francisco, the financial analyst who did it, said, “these projects made sense at the time they were built and perhaps for decades thereafter. Many still make sense.” But “some may make sense day in and day out, but when a license expires, relicensing can be very costly. A small project cannot absorb big relicensing costs. For each relicensing, he said, “these questions get asked. Are there fish impacts? Recreational impacts? Other impacts?”

The Potter Valley project had many impacts. The region’s congressman, Jared Huffman, created a working group of all stakeholders — water agencies, local and county governments, tribes, federal and state wildlife specialists and environmental groups – to hash out what the project should become and what happens to the dams.

Asked if the Potter Valley project is an electrical project or a water distribution project, Congressman Jared Huffman said simply. “Yes.” He added, “The question is, whether it can be both of those things and a fish recovery project.”

Dams a Mortal Threat to Fish Runs, Scientific and Regulatory Consensus Holds

Coho salmon, Chinook salmon and steelhead are on a trajectory to extinction in the Eel River basin.

In the past two decades, the federal government agreed with scientists that salmon and steelhead runs in the Eel River are threatened. A 2010 report from the Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California, Davis, concluded, “coho salmon, Chinook salmon and steelhead are on a trajectory to extinction in the Eel River basin.”

The culprits listed in that report include early 20th-century commercial fishing and mechanized logging whose clear-cuts on the hillsides caused erosion that silted up the river. Floods in 1955 and 1964 added silt and changed the river’s course. All that hampered fish passage, but not as much as Scott Dam, built in 1922. It blocks dozens of miles of spawning areas. The report said, “the loss of salmonid habitat upstream of Scott Dam means there are fewer areas to serve as refuges for salmonid and steelhead… during environmentally unfriendly periods such as extended droughts.”

Eel River Diversions Were Slashed in 2006… But Then Russian River Fish Suffered

Eel and Russian River Map
The Potter Valley Project takes water from the Eel River, which flows north, and pumps it into the Russian River, which flows south towards wine country. Bill Lane Center for the American West

In 2004, the Federal Energy Regulatory commission ordered the diversions cut back from what was then 160,000 acre-feet annually. Now they average 72,000 acre-feet. These inter-basin diversions help fish in the Russian River. The Eel River water flows through a mile-long tunnel to generate electricity at a powerhouse on the banks of the East Fork of the Russian River. The water not used by the Potter Valley Irrigation District and other local diverters ends up behind the Coyote Valley dam in Lake Mendocino and is released periodically into the Russian River.

The state Water Resources Control Board requires the Sonoma County Water Agency to keep minimum stream flows on the Russian River to maintain fish spawning and migration and support recreation. The Eel River water transfers help them do that, according to Don Seymour, a principal engineer at the Sonoma County Water Agency.

The agency has had difficulty meeting its minimum instream flow requirements while not depleting Lake Mendocino. It won’t be easy to serve its urban, industrial and agricultural customers and help its endangered fish recover if there is less water in Lake Mendocino.

Help for Spawning Fish Could Cost Tens of Millions of Dollars – or Hundreds

Joshua Fuller, the National Marine Fisheries Service’s expert on salmonid runs in the Eel River, agrees that the Russian River fish do benefit from the Eel River water — but says access to the upper Eel River is crucial for reviving its salmonids.

Different strategies give fish access to spawning grounds. These include dam removal, a fish ladder, or hauling fish in trucks. Fuller heads one of two working groups in Congressman Huffman’s ad hoc committee weighing Potter Valley’s future. His group on fish passage is about to pick the two best of available solutions.

Good fish ladders are expensive. In August, the Lost Coast Outpost reported that a 2017 engineering report prepared for PG&E “found that constructing a functional fish ladder at Scott Dam would likely cost between $55 million and $93 million.” It would be “challenging to build, complicated to operate, very costly, and would have uncertain effectiveness.” Removing Scott Dam would be at least as expensive. Increasing the size of Coyote Valley dam, which holds back the Russian River, could cost $300 million.

Where could the money come from? As Congressman Huffman said, “If you look around at any stakeholder in either basin, none of them has the capacity to solve this problem and pay for it on their own. The only way to do this is to come together and unlock state and federal money.” His stakeholders group could sign a legal agreement giving the project a way forward without litigation.

PG&E’s January 25 announcement that it wanted out of Potter Valley complicates the plans being developed in the ad hoc committee. Huffman said that the glue binding potentially antagonistic stakeholders “is the fact that everybody’s at risk. There are really lousy solutions” possible “for everyone, no matter what their perspective.”

As Hydropower Profits Dwindle, Paying off Environmental Debt Gets Harder. But Renewable Energy Mandate May Help

Aerial image of Scott Dam
Scott Dam on the Eel River, above, completely blocks salmonid migration. A fish ladder could cost $55 to $93 million, and might not work. Rob Badger

The details of the project’s role in two different water basins are unique, but it has one thing in common with others: its owners are disinclined to pay environmental debts. “There’s the broader context of what’s going on in electricity markets,” said an energy consultant who would not speak for attribution. “With historically low wholesale energy prices, utilities, not surprisingly, will operate their lowest-cost units. Particularly if you have old infrastructure.”

But a new reality is emerging. Climate change puts a different perspective on the future of some small projects: states like California mandate a largely, or entirely carbon-free electric portfolio 25 years hence. “Resources that are 100 percent renewable are the new black,” he said. “That creates an opportunity for resources that have been ugly ducklings.” Todd Olson, a spokesman for PacifiCorp, which relicensed the Wallowa dam in 2017, said, “We went through the whole analysis many times over. We ultimately kept it because it is renewable, and there are other community values.”

Residents of Lake, Mendocino, and Sonoma Counties feel the Potter Valley project is crucial to them. “We’re talking about legacies now,” said Fuller of the fisheries service. “This project has been going on so long, cultures, families and generations are built around it. Say the project goes away: life is going to change for people.”

Data doesn’t yet show a clear trend of small hydropower projects’ owners walking away from them, although Mr. Bodington did say, “The trend is more getting taken down than put up.” Dozens of licenses are due for renewal in the next decade. Studies begin years before a license expires; the Potter Valley project’s license expires in 2022.

Whether or not Scott Dam is removed, and whether or not that decision is part of a wider trend, Mr. Huffman does see attitudes on dam removal changing. “Each time there’s a successful dam removal, it is demystified a little bit,” he said. “You should naturally see things get little bit easier, where dam removal makes sense going forward. But it’s always going to be case by case.”

 

and the west logo

 

 

 

Read Next in ...& the West

A City Rose on the Marshes. Will the Bay Take it Back?

One of the newest communities on San Francisco Bay is preparing for the water around it to rise as the world warms. But what preparation is enough? And for whom?


 

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.

Anonymous Yuba County, CA

Responding to As Relicensing Looms, Aging Dams Face a Reckoning

Interesting article. The FERC relicensing process is a lot more complicated and not exactly as described here. The idea that every project is unique is true. In our area of California, a lot of the dams and hundreds of miles of conveyances were built for hydraulic mining water supply or to contain the resulting debris from that process. These water systems were later adapted into agricultural supply and hydroelectric generation. When hydro projects now come up for relicensing, they have to deal with these historic issues as well as complying with many environmental and cultural laws that didn't exist when they were constructed. There is little relationship between the generation capacity and the cost of relicensing. However, the electric generation hydro provides is very flexible in terms of turning it on and off, which makes it very useful in combination with wind and solar, which can be intermittent. This helps in matching generation to varying power demand (the duck curve).

3/21/2019, 2:01pm

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, Sierra Garcia and Danielle Nguyen

Articles Worth Reading: July 2, 2019

A Tiny Creature Threatens Utah’s $1.8 Billion Lake Powell Pipeline. The culprit is an invasive mussel. Concerns that the quagga mussel will infiltrate the water supply and grow inside pipes could well stall the long-awaited pipeline, which is designed to carry water from the Colorado River to quickly growing Utah counties. Utah’s Division of Water Resources has proposed adding a molluscicide (a compound that kills mollusks) into the water supply, but critics fear that it would be impossible to prevent the quagga ‘epidemic’ from eventually spreading further via the pipeline. Salt Lake Tribune

As Legal Cannabis Spreads, Growers Go Organic to gain an edge and meet a growing demand in the industry. Many growers chose to go beyond state restrictions on pesticides for marijuana and cultivate a holistic, ultra-organic brand. Many new organic-certifying companies are emerging to fill the vacuum left by the U.S. National Organic Program’s inability to vouch for cannabis-growers’ standards, since cannabis remains federally prohibited. Several firms provide certification for additional attributes, such as being biodynamic or handled through fair trade. Environmental Health News

Who Gets To Own The West? The answer to the fraught question: a shrinking group of wealthy landowners, 100 of whom collectively hold more than 42 million acres. The new landowners face considerable local opposition when they close down trails, roads, and other spaces that many have had access to for generations. The handful of people consolidating these gigantic swathes of land argue that cracking down on local recreational use of the land promotes conservation. The New York Times

Reining In Free-Roaming Horses to protect ecosystems in the Great Basin region from possibly permanent damage has become a more urgent task. . The wild herds have swelled to over 300 percent of the Bureau of Land Management’s estimated “appropriate maximum level.” As they roam across 31.6 million acres of remote rangeland, the horses compact the soil, consume scarce water sources, and trample native plants. However, because grazing domestic animals also occupy many of the same areas, it is often difficult for scientists to single out the ecosystem damage caused by wild horses. Also, public affection for the wild horses makes policymakers reluctant to control their rapid population growth. EurekAlert

Dramatic Ocean Warming Off Alaska Raises Concerns For Hunters And Wildlife alike as both struggle to find sufficient food with diminishing sea ice. Villagers who hunt in the summer for meat to store for the winter are traveling unprecedented distances to find the edge of the sea ice and the marine mammals that dwell there. Seabirds, seals, and grey whales, are suffering as well. The vanishing sea ice, which has already blown away the record low ice levels set last summer, is linked to human-caused global warming, since it is a direct result of very warm ocean temperatures (comparable to temperatures off the coast of California). Anchorage Daily News

Restoring Water In Paradise might be harder than the California Water Board expects, argue water contamination and plumbing specialists argue. Several academic experts say that the Water Board’s recommendations aren’t good enough to screen for water contamination by volatile organic compounds produced by the fire. How much responsibility the California Water Board bears for fixing contamination is also unclear; most of the damaged pipes are in individual buildings. This regulatory enigma further confuses the question of what the state and the town should do to ensure an uncontaminated water supply – a prerequisite of restoring the community. (Podcast is 3 minutes and 45 second long.) Circle of Blue

Articles Worth Reading: June 17, 2019

Convicts are Returning to Farming—and Anti-Immigrant Policies Are the Reason. Now the jobs that Mexican and Central American farm laborers often fill are left empty. Agriculture-intensive areas such as Washington, Idaho, and Arizona are turning to convict leasing on a scale not seen in more than 100 years. Like undocumented immigrants, convicts don't have the same level of legal labor and wage protections standard in most situations, and are often apyed well below the minimum wage. Although the Jim-Crow era practice, which used mostly black prisoners, was banned at the start of the 20th century, in the 21st century it has made a lucrative comeback. The Conversation High Country News

The Federal Bureau of Land Management Plans to Push a Massive Photovoltaic Project in the Nevada desert near Las Vegas; it would be the largest solar array in the country and one of the largest in the world. Some conservationists object to the proposed location of the 11-square-mile solar array and battery system, which is home to the threatened desert tortoise. The area also abuts several popular outdoor recreation areas. When constructed, the project could provide solar power to Nevada, California, and Arizona as early as 2021.E&E News Las Vegas Review Journal

This Year's Snowmelt Surge Is a Welcome Reprieve for the Parched Southwest, a “complete turnaround” from the two-decade drought that has left reservoirs and rivers running low across the region. Water levels in major reservoirs, like Lake Powell at the Utah-Arizona border, have risen up to a foot a day. The extreme reversal has pushed rivers to their limits, replenished the Rio Grande, and made some popular rafting and camping spots unusable. Exceptionally low 2018 water levels in Lake Powell, which supplies water for Arizona, California, and Nevada, had led to speculation that Arizona would face a lower water allowance this year. Colorado Public Radio News 

Cactus Smuggler's Case Reveals 'Growing Problem' of Rare Cacti Pilfered from public lands to serve a burgeoning domestic and international trade. The smuggler was convicted of illegally collecting over 500 cacti from the Lake Mead National Recreation Area along the Arizona-Nevada border. The cacti were sold online for more than $20,000, and included species that take decades to mature. Because cacti can be relatively easy to smuggle and conceal, authorities worry about the challenge of protecting delicate desert ecosystems and threatened species from the growing popularity of the prickly plants. E&E News 

An Effort to Recover Suspected Agent Orange Chemicals From Wallowa Lake has ignited fears over possible water contamination and speculation about the origins of the barrels. Recreational divers discovered ten100-gallon drums in the Oregon lake last summer labeled as containing herbicides 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T. These are key ingredients in the infamous Vietnam War defoliant (and carcinogen) Agent Orange. The delicate removal process began ten months after divers first reported the barrels at the lake bottom. The Oregonian

The West's Worst Fires Aren't Burning in Forests, but on scrub-covered open rangeland in the Great Basin region, which includes Idaho, Utah, and Nevada. Because wildfires on the sparsely populated open range don't attract as much public attention as forest fires, nine million acres of scrubland have quietly burned away on the range in the last five years alone. There are even fewer resources available to fight the remote range conflagrations than for forest fires. The frequent fires on the range may permanently destroying scrubland habitat essential for over 300 species, like pronghorn and sage grouse, where fires have burned too hot and too often. High Country News

Articles Worth Reading: June 3, 2019

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

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 »

 

Recent Center News

Jul 15 2019 | ... & the West Blog, ... & the Best | Stories Recommended by the ‘... & the West’ Blog
As wildfire season begins and landowners seek to reduce lush grass, demand for goat herds soars across the West; Phoenix seeks to reduce heat-related deaths; California creates a fund to protect utilities and homeowners after major fires; how Canada and the United States manage the Columbia River watershed could be redefined; and more recent environmental news from around the West.
Jul 12 2019 | Out West student blog
"This internship can be a 10-week “trial-run” for this kind of career," says Caroline Beckman, Trust for Public Lands intern.
Jul 11 2019 | Out West student blog
"I am appreciative of the amount of time I have been able to spend in nature so far this summer," says Santa Lucia intern, Max Klotz.