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

 

Edited by Geoff McGhee.

 

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, Madison Pobis, Sierra Garcia and Danielle Nguyen

Articles Worth Reading: November 18, 2019

Mining Expansion Poses Risks for a Colorado Tourist Destination. The town of Glenwood Springs relies on water flows from the Colorado River and subterranean heating to supply its popular hot springs. Denver-based mining company Rocky Mountain Resources acquired a nearby limestone quarry in 2016. Now the firm has proposed plans to expand from 20 acres to more than 450 over the next few decades. Several surrounding towns, including Glenwood Springs — a bedroom community for ski resorts — have passed resolutions opposing the expansion, citing impacts of dust, traffic, and impacts on water (read our recent report from Garfield County, Colorado). The Bureau of Land Management has not yet decided whether or not to allow it. The Denver Post

Caribou Take Home the Gold for Long-Distance Migrations. A recent study confirmed the widely cited evidence that caribou are the mammals that routinely make the longest migrations over land. Over the course of a year, caribou will travel as much as 840 miles. The New York Times

Bird Rehabilitators Seek to Ban Lead Ammunition after seeing the devastating impacts of lead toxicity in raptors like Wyoming’s golden eagles. Lead bullets shatter easily upon impact, which means that birds feeding on prey that have been shot can ingest the toxic substance and suffer severe impacts to the brain and nervous system. Many hunters are resistant to the transition because lead-free ammunition tends to be more expensive and less-suited to certain styles of hunting. WyoFile

Dry Lakes are Kicking Up Dust Throughout the West and prompting air quality officials to consider legal action. The Salton Sea in California’s Imperial County and the Utah Great Salt Lake are two of the largest contributors to dust in the wake of increasingly dry conditions. Dust in the air clogs lungs and airways and carries with it toxic compounds from agricultural sources. Bitterroot

Mountains Could Act as Batteries for Storing Gravitational Potential Energy according to new research. As western states work to meet their renewable energy goals, lithium-ion batteries often fall short when it comes to storing energy from solar or wind for more than a few hours. But by using a contraption similar to a ski lift to hoist sand up mountainsides, gravitational potential energy is stored and ready to generate electricity once the material falls down again. The system would increase the time and scale of energy storage while avoiding the drawbacks of hydropower storage, like evaporation. Utility Dive

Articles Worth Reading: November 5, 2019

Devastating Sea Urchin Invasion is Spreading to the Oregon Coast and wreaking havoc on abalone fisheries. Rapacious purple urchins have decimated California’s kelp ecosystems in recent years, and new estimates suggest that as many as 350 million of the spiny critters were latching onto a single Oregon reef — a 10,000 percent increase over the 2014 numbers. “You can't just go out and smash them. There's too many,” says Scott Groth, a shellfish scientist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Conservationists and other stakeholders are hoping to combat the issue by paying divers to remove the urchins by hand so they can be farmed for their meaty roe. Associated Press

Lasers, LiDAR, and Drones Can Detect Methane Leaks that contribute to global warming and cost the oil and gas industry as much as $30 billion per year. Tech entrepreneurs in Colorado are working to design monitoring systems that are rugged enough to be left unattended in the oil fields forlong periods but accurate enough to identify even small leaks. Yale Environment 360

The Wild Population of California Condors is Well on its Way to Recovery. There are now more than 300 condors throughout the Southwest thanks to an aggressive breeding program and a ban on lead ammunition put into effect in July. Scientists are finding that an abundance of marine mammals contributes to healthier chicks. Soon the population will reach the goals originally set for the species in the 1996 plans Hakai

New Law Requires Texas Homeowners to Disclose Flooding Risk to potential buyers in the wake of damage from Hurricane Harvey. The new law means that buyers are more informed about flood history and risk, but properties in floodplain areas may have more difficulty selling. Surveys suggest that more than 74 percent of Americans are in favor of a disclosure law that can help buyers decide whether or not to purchase a home or seek flood insurance. NPR

Navajo Woman Reflects on the Importance of her Grandmother’s Weaving. Melanie Yazzie remembers holding yarn between her feet as her grandmother wove traditional rugs in their home in Arizona. Now a printmaker and educator, she draws from her memories of her grandmother to find purpose in her work. The piece begins at the podcast’s 11:41 mark. The Moth Podcast

Articles Worth Reading: October 22, 2019

Greater-Sage Grouse Populations Stand a Better Chance, thanks to a new court ruling that found a lack of acceptable scientific support for the Trump administration’s rollback of protections on more than 9 million acres of the bird’s habitat in states like Wyoming and Oregon. The rollback in March was an effort to lease prime land for oil and gas drilling projects. This week’s court ruling, in which the judge wrote, “When the [Bureau of Land Management] substantially reduces protections for sage grouse contrary to the best science and the concerns of other agencies, there must be some analysis and justification,” is a win for conservation groups suing to get the plans thrown out. The sage grouse has already lost some 90 percent of its historic numbers. Audubon

Colorado Cannabis Growers Are Becoming More Energy-Efficient by taking advantage of sustainable investments in technology. Carbon emissions are rising with the expansion of the legal marijuana industry because indoor growing operations rely on huge amounts of electricity to power cooling and lighting equipment. Creative design systems and a rigorous energy offset program are helping to keep the state on track for its efficiency goals in the next few years. The Denver Post

Shellfish Farming Permit Thrown Out Due to Concerns for the Marine Environment in the Pacific Northwest. A federal judge found the Army Corps of Engineers didn’t properly analyze the environmental impact of aquaculture farms. The industry takes in nearly $150 million per year in Washington state, the hub of shellfish aquaculture. Critics said the original permit doesn’t account for potential damage from microplastics, herbicides, and tideland conversion. The Seattle Times

Ecologists Lobby for Wildlife-Friendly Highway Crossings Along the Border With Mexico. Mexico’s Highway 2 intersects a wildlife corridor that could be used by populations of endangered species like jaguars, ocelots, and black bears traveling between Arizona and Sonora. Wildlands Network is pushing for additions to highway construction that would direct animals to safe crossings and maximize their chances of survival during dangerous travel. ASU Cronkite News/Arizona PBS

Wild Burros Aren’t All Bad for the Death Valley Ecosystem according to ongoing research. Yes, the donkeys compete for resources with the park’s native species, but they may also serve other beneficial purposes. By digging wells in dry streambeds, they create small water sources for insects and amphibians and help struggling tree species germinate. The default option is to round up and remove the burros, but there may be unintended consequences for the complex desert ecosystem. Undark

Articles Worth Reading: October 7, 2019

California Fisherman Are Repeatedly Catching and Releasing Protected Great White Sharks Without Consequences due to cloudy language in the law. Although state regulations strictly prohibit killing a Great White, it’s almost impossible to prosecute because anglers can claim the catches were accidental. Changing ocean conditions mean that more of the animals are sticking around in Southern California, spurring advocates to call for heftier penalties for illegal takes. Hakai Magazine

More Than 80,000 Wild Horses Ended up in Foreign Slaughterhouses Last Year even though killing horses for food is illegal in in the U.S. “Kill buyers” say that exporting to Canada and Mexico decreases the exploding population and helps feed the world, but animal rights activists say that the Bureau of Land Management can do more to protect adoptable horses. The New Food Economy

The Western Rivers Conservancy Conserves Vital River Habitat by Purchasing Land and partnering with local managers. The recent acquisition of old-growth forest surrounding the Blue Creek watershed marks a 10-year effort to preserve critical salmon streams. The organization has purchased and conserved an estimated 175,000 acres of riparian habitat since its founding three decades ago. The acquisitions are handed over to stewards who are expected to implement long-term conservation management plans and make the lands more accessible to the public. Modern Conservationist

The Right of Personhood for the Klamath River Means It Can Bring Cases in Tribal Court, opening up avenues for legal advocacy and shifting the conversation around indigenous knowledge. The move follows a precedent set by New Zealand tribes and an international indigenous movement called Rights of Nature. Although no case has yet been brought to court, the Yurok Tribe’s resolution means that issues like pollution, diseased fish, and even climate change can now be addressed through tribal court. High Country News

A Small Alaska Town Is Slowly Being Consumed by Rusting Cars along with refrigerators, forks, shoes, and everything else imported by plane and boat. With limited options for removing waste once it arrives, Bethel’s citizens instead create graveyards of junk and spare parts. Native Yup’ik Elder Esther Green says that the abandoned cars are more than an eyesore — they’re a disturbance to their native land. “Everything around us has ears, and they can see and they can feel. Just like us human beings.” 99 Percent Invisible Podcast

Articles Worth Reading: September 23, 2019

Las Vegas is Thirsty for Snake Valley Groundwater even though there is not enough now for key wetlands and springs in this semi-arid region on the Utah-Nevada border, a U.S. Geological Survey study shows. There is certainly not enough to send the Las Vegas area, 250 miles to the south, as much as it wants. The Southern Nevada Water Authority, a regional wholesaler that serves Las Vegas, has applied for an additional 50,680 acre-feet of water per year, which would almost double the current volume of permitted withdrawals of 55,272 acre-feet per year. Circle of Blue

While Seeking Montana Land to Restore Biodiversity, a biologist made friends in Silicon Valley and enemies on the short-grass prairie. The American Prairie Reserve’s strategy was buying land from ranchers who had been struggling economically. After raising $156 million, mostly from Silicon Valley, buying 400,000 acres of land, and reintroducing 800 bison, the group is now a pariah locally. As one rancher said, “their media blitz was 'You guys have been doing it wrong all your lives, and we're about to buy you all up because you're all broke…They came in and insulted the culture and said, we're going to replace you all with bison." Sierra Magazine

From Monterey Bay to the Canadian Border, the Coast Would Become Protected Orca Habitat under a new federal proposal. If it becomes final, the area would be a massive expansion of the ocean area deemed critical for the survival of the killer whales of the Puget Sound. Their hunting ground extends from Southern California to the Salish Sea, but the fish they eat are disappearing, scientists have found, noting that the habitats where people have made major changes are the same ones feeling the extreme effects of climate change. The new area would begin just south of Santa Cruz and would include about 15,626 square miles. Seattle Times

Alaska Summer Heat Means Disappearing Water and Worries about the future. Residents of the Native village of Nanwalek on the Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage are suffering from a severe drought and working hard to conserve their freshwater. Last month, town officials decided to shut off the taps for 12 hours every night. Nanwalek was one of six communities suffering water shortages during the unusually hot summer. The village, home to the Sugpiaq tribe, is trying to find funds to purchase a reverse osmosis machine to desalinate sea water. Npr

Duck Fat Is for Gentrified City Dwellers. Bear Fat is for Lovers of the Wild. Pastries using bear fat get rave reviews, one hunter-cook says. But the old habit of using bear fat has languished because the quality of the fat depends on what the bears eat – and many eat mostly human garbage. From baking to curing baldness to predicting the weather, the many uses of bear fat over the centuries, and the way the creation of the teddy bear curbed human appetites for bear fat. Atlas Obscura

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

Nov 18 2019 | ... & the West Blog, ... & the Best | Stories Recommended by the ‘... & the West’ Blog
A mining expansion threatens a Colorado town; dried up lakes are stirring up trouble for western states; harnessing gravity for energy storage; and other environmental news from around the West.
Nov 11 2019 | Center News, Happenings, ArtsWest
A curatorial tour of a new Cantor Arts Center exhibition gave audiences a glimpse of iconic Western photographs.
Nov 1 2019 | Stanford News Service | Center News, Research Notes
The new normal for Western wildfires is abnormal, with increasingly bigger and more destructive blazes. Understanding the risks can help communities avert disaster.