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The Winners, the Losers, and the Landscape That Might Emerge If the Klamath River Dams Disappear

Francisco L. Nodarse
Aug 19 2020

Taking down four dams in Oregon and California would be a coup for advocates of dam removal. It could also mark the moment when their movement rediscovers a more realistic goal: bringing restoration into balance with human needs.

The Upper Klamath River in Southern Oregon, photographed in June 2016

The Upper Klamath River in Southern Oregon, photographed in June 2016   Bob Wick/ Bureau of Land Management via Flickr

Update, November 18, 2020

A new agreement between PacifiCorp, the states of Oregon and California, and the Yurok and Karuk tribes may overcome the final, unexpected obstacle to the legal framework for removing four aging dams on the Klamath River. Nearly two decades of work by the tribes, environmentalists culminated by enlisting both the utility and the two states to give more financial support for the massive project to restore the river.
 
In July, doubts were raised about earlier plans to transfer ownership from PacifiCorp to a new entity, the Klamath River Renewal Corporation, to manage their removal after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ruled that PacifiCorp needed to remain liable for costs related to the dams’ removal. To this end, FERC ruled that only a partial transfer of the license to operate the dams could take place, leaving PacifiCorp potentially liable for tends of millions of dollars in unexpected costs.
 
Now, the revision of the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement would transfer the license to the Klamath River Renewal Corporation and to the two states of California and Oregon, ensuring that the new owners would have the financial wherewithal to cover new costs. PacifiCorp’s basic requirement was to be free of future liability for the project, and the groups working to pull down the dams believe that FERC will accept the agreement.
 
Funds to pay for the dams’ removal will include $200 million from PacifiCorp, raised from ratepayers, and $250 million from California bonds originally designated to pay for water projects. A press release issued by the signatories of the agreement said, “Adding the states as co-licensees provides assurances the project will have sufficient financial backing...”

By Francisco L. Nodarse

The dams’ formal name is the Lower Klamath Hydroelectric Project, but locals call them the Klamath dams -- four aging structures straddling the California-Oregon border. By any name, they have been a rallying point for environmentalists, Native groups, and conservation-minded legislators who see the dams’ elimination as a landmark for the environmental restoration movement. It would be the largest project of its kind in the United States.

The Klamath complex consists of four hydroelectric dams, ranging from 38 to 173 feet in height. They were built between 1922 and 1964 to limit flooding and generate hydroelectric power, and still provide electricity to about 70,000 people. In the early 2000s, facing steep renovation costs to bring the dams up to federal code, their operator, PacifiCorp, announced that it would abandon the relicensing process and pursue removal instead.

Such an effort is, in many ways, without precedent: removing the dams would involve the draw-down of three reservoirs and the release of their built-up sediment over several years, as well as the removal of over a million cubic yards of earth and ten thousand tons of concrete and metal from the structures themselves.

As operators like PacifiCorp begin to embrace dam removal, it is becoming, if not commonplace, at least less remarkable. Hundreds of dams around the country are gone, and anti-dam efforts have accelerated. Major dam removals, like those on Washington’s White Salmon and Elwha Rivers in 2011 and 2014, respectively, proved that large-scale removal is feasible. They are also providing evidence of ecosystem recovery.

The Klamath debate is fueled by predictable arguments: over rising operation costs and diminishing returns, fears that releasing built-up silt will mar the waterway for both people and native salmon, the loss of over 150 megawatts of electricity generation and conflicting assertions of water rights.

But there is a real, if subtle change in the discussion. This may be the moment when opponents of the dams abandon the vision of pure restoration of the river.

PacifiCorp’s pro-removal stance tracks both shifting public opinion and economic realities: an early round of negotiations with government officials promised limited liability and a $250 million funding package for removal that made relicensing’s estimated $400 million cost nearly twice as expensive as removal. PacifiCorp, which has managed the dams since 1961, is now on the hook for just $200 million.

The current push to eliminate the dams began in the early 2000’s during relicensing by PacifiCorp, a subsidiary of the investor Warren Buffett’s holdings group. That moment coincided with a major water-rights conflict between tribes and agricultural groups.

Two Hundred Miles From the Ocean, a Gauntlet of Dams

The Klamath River Hydroelectric Project consists of four dams that were built between 1922 and 1964 to provide flood control and hydroelectric power. Their operator, PacifiCorp, has opted not to pursue a costly relicensing process that would keep them operating. While they continue to generate electricity and store water in three reservoirs, they have extremely poor accommodations for fish passage.

Graphic: Map of the Klamath River and dams


Dams of the Klamath River Hydroelectric Project


Graphic: Dams of the Klamath River Hydroelectric Project.

Sources: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; ESRI Satellite Imagery; Natural Earth Data; USGS National Hydrography Dataset; NASA Elevation Data;

Geoff McGhee/Bill Lane Center for the American West


For Indigenous Peoples, a Chance to Restore Ancestral Fish Runs

A ranch outside Chiloquin, Oregon, on the northeast shore of Upper Klamath Lake.

Yurok, Karuk and Hupa citizens demonstrated in favor of removing the Klamath Dams at the headquarters of Pacificorp in Portland in September 2008 (left and right), and of the Berkshire Hathaway company in Omaha in May 2007 (center).   Matt Mais/Yurok Tribe

The Klamath debate is also overshadowed by the reality that the fish and the land once belonged to indigenous people who were dispossessed, and want a return of some small semblance of their ancestors’ life rhythms.

Even though a recent federal agency ruling may complicate the economics of removing the dams entirely, or breaching them — allowing water passage — they will likely be decommissioned soon. Still, the fight over the Klamath may help reshape environmentalists’ goals as they chip away at the legacy of engineers who sought to tame devastating floods and harness the rivers’ energy.

The longest-standing claims on the river are most clearly articulated by Frankie Myers, vice chair of the Yurok tribe. The Yuroks, along with the Karuk and Hoopa tribes, were forced to move to a reservation in the lower Klamath basin in the mid-1800s. Over the last century, they watched dams go up and the salmon, blocked from their spawning areas, disappear. “My grandparents and my parents were activists on the river here fighting for land and fishing rights,” Myers explained.

In 2002, a massive salmon die-off killed tens of thousands of Chinook salmon and ignited the modern conflict. In recent years, a century after salmon runs sometimes reached a million fish, the Pacific Fishery Management Council estimates the Klamath runs have set consecutive record lows for returning adult salmon; about 10,000 adults now spawn annually.

“The Klamath runs were the largest in California outside of the Central Valley,” said Peter Moyle, a fish biologist and professor emeritus at the University of California-Davis. “Archaeological remains show that salmon would swim all the way up to Oregon,” where they would spawn in cooler spring-fed water.

The dams – John C. Boyle, Iron Gate, and Copco No.1 and 2 – were built over a 40-year period. Now rising temperatures, algal blooms, and parasitic outbreaks, along with periodic droughts, have combined to create a crisis. ”Within 25-30 years,” Moyle said, “it’s reasonable to expect that most of the main stream Klamath will not be suitable to salmonids for most of the late summer.”

Is a Return to a Pristine Past Possible? What Would a Future Klamath look like?

Algae

Algae buildup on the J.C. Boyle Reservoir is visible from aerial imagery in Google Maps.   Google Maps

What began as a familiar debate between advocates of the benefits of taming the river and advocates of letting it run free is evolving. The new narrative of some dam opponents: removal should not aim to restore the Klamath of old, but to nurture the watershed while taking both human and environmental needs into account.

Preserving remnants of the old runs won’t restore the Klamath to its once-abundant past. “The magnitude of the human footprint has become so large it’s unimaginable to have a world without us,” said Stephen Pyne, emeritus professor at Arizona State University. “You make the arbitrary decision to ‘restore’ it to some point” in time, he said. “But what are we restoring it to? The Pleistocene? Restoration should not be the object.” His question is: “What can we learn from the past that might inform what we want to do next?” Removing the dams is not a guarantee of future salmon abundance, but, as Moyle conceded, “It’s the only real option we have.”

Skeptical of Prospects for Fish Survival, Water Users Rebel Against Removal Plans

A ranch outside Chiloquin, Oregon, on the northeast shore of Upper Klamath Lake.

A ranch outside Chiloquin, Oregon, on the northeast shore of Upper Klamath Lake.   Geoff McGhee/Bill Lane Center for the American West

Saving one part of the watershed’s history, local residents argue, means losing another part. Theirs. For Rex Cozzalio, a fourth-generation landowner on the Klamath, efforts to restore the river ignore his family’s way of life. For years, Cozzalio has spoken out against removal plans, arguing that they ignore scientific realities. He and other residents believe that the Klamath, which is naturally shallow and warm, never supported the extensive fish passages that fisheries scientists describe, and would certainly be unable to if the dams come down, and built-up sediment is flushed downriver.

Richard Marshall, President of the Siskiyou County Water Users, said these concerns are often ignored. He believes tribal groups, who have been more directly involved in negotiations, "were sold a bill of goods because the original deal gave them loads of money to restore the river.” The current agreement, however, is more limited in scope, with little funding set aside for post-removal remediation.

Landowners are furious. “It’s rage,” said Loy Beardsmore, a retired teacher and local activist. “Threatening to lie down in the road.” Part of their frustration, she said, is the belief that if landowners’ worst fears come true, and water levels and property values fall while the Klamath becomes clogged with silt, they, unlike tribes, will have no legal recourse.

The fight, Marshall said, sometimes feels futile. “There’s a lot of outside funding from environmental groups and special interests that we can’t compete with. We’re a model place because we’re a large area with little population. I won’t say we’re poor, but we don’t have groups that can throw money at this.”

Residents feel that their voices ought to carry more weight. PacifiCorp’s decision, Cozzalio conceded, will always be the last word — but "the continuity and history of knowledge from generations living with the land and water give a far greater understanding and ability to make considered decisions than others, especially when the vested owner’s quality of life, future, and community are dependent upon those decisions." Ultimately, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s coming decision on the transfer of dam ownership will seal the Klamath’s fate.

Environmental and Safety Regulations Skewer Aging Dams’ Economics, as Cultural Winds Shift Against Them

The Elwha Dam on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula during and after deconstruction in October 2011 and May 2012.

The Elwha Dam on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula during and after deconstruction in October 2011 and May 2012.   National Park Service

The Klamath dams, like others across the West, are slowly but surely decaying. Construction of hydroelectric facilities in North America peaked in the mid-20th century, when the Klamath’s dams began generating power. In the decades since, a lack of infrastructure investment, shifting public opinion, and new options for renewable energy have made dams cost-ineffective and, at times, unsafe, leaving utilities companies scrambling.

Jeff Bodington, a financial analyst who has served as an advisor on dozens of dam removal projects said, “From an electric power value perspective, the new requirements to relicense can be prohibitively costly. If people who are getting the environmental benefits are willing to pay, and electric power doesn’t have to pay for all the benefits, then [relicensing] could make sense. But I can’t name a project where that’s the case.”

Removal thus becomes the most economically viable option. For a private nonprofit like the Klamath River Renewal Corporation, which would inherit the license to operate – or decommission – the dams, Bodington said securing funding is the key hurdle. “The question quickly becomes… Do you take the dam away, or simply breach it and leave most of it there? The cost implications of which it is are huge.”

Jared Huffman, whose second congressional district in California covers the Klamath watershed, remains “one hundred percent” confident the dams will be breached. “This will absolutely serve as a model for future projects -- but it’s going to be much more successful” if it happens quickly. “What matters is being invested in the success of this project, and we’re all invested.”

When Dams Are Removed, the Future Will Not Be the Past. Nor Should It.

Dam removal across the West is accelerating. Patricia Limerick, an environmental historian at the University of Colorado Boulder, said that effective change starts at the grassroots level, with movements like those of the Klamath tribes.

But there are risks of advocacy without complete understanding. FERC’s role in approving license transfer has resulted in public scrutiny. “FERC is being bombarded, people are writing from all over the world parroting the KRRC position that fish will populate again. Fact of the matter is that they don’t know what the issues are,” Marshall said.

FERC’s most recent move may not have done the dam-removal camp any favor by requiring that PacifiCorp remain involved — and liable — throughout the license transfer process. Bob Gravely, a communications specialist at the firm, said that though PacifiCorp remains committed to removing the dams, the ruling would force substantial changes to the original agreement, under which PacifiCorp would not have been responsible for potential damages.

While this ruling’s impact on the dams’ future remains unclear, Limerick sees FERC’s openness to a range of concerns — including environmental arguments — as evidence of a larger shift in attitudes from construction to conservation, and engineering to biology. Moyle agreed. “When I first got interested in dams, I started asking engineers: ‘How long do dams last?’ And they would say, as far as we know forever. But now we know that’s not true. Dams fail for various reasons, not all of them structural."

Changing notions of the West itself help explain both the new willingness to remove dams and the growing understanding that, when that is done, rivers will still never be what they once were. “There was a sense, even into the 1960s,” Pyne said, “that the story of America was a dialectic between European civilization and wilderness” — a flawed narrative that ignored the impact of indigenous peoples.

Moving away from the narrative of restoration toward a goal of environmental management will be its own challenge. Beardsmore, for her part, said that even if removal scars the land, “the [old] narrative is too powerful for reality to undermine it,” leaving the vision of restoration intact.

Pyne echoed this concern. "Americans are more prone to looking at the past than the future. We need to rewrite the agenda, and make the future better for our children…. otherwise you get the equivalent of Williamsburg. It’s fun, it’s a theme park, but people don’t live there."

Myers, the Yurok vice chair, said that the mystique of a recoverable past, and the countervailing narrative of economic development, are both uniquely American. “That conversation of balance hasn’t taken place in the country for 500 years — the only conversation has been around growth, with the idea that more growth always equals prosperity. We're finally getting to the place in our public consciousness where we can talk about balance… with the natural world, and recognize that we're not above it, and that what we do to it affects our lives.”

 

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Edited by Felicity Barringer.

 

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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 Los Angeles

Responding to The Winners, the Losers, and the Landscape That Might Emerge If the Klamath River Dams Disappear

I have followed this project closely for several years. This is the most thorough, timely and balanced article that I have seen yet. In particular, the author should be commended for reaching out to several key players, obtaining excellent quotes from them and placing them in context. I look forward to reading your future updates on important issues in the Klamath River Basin, including the tradeoffs between restoring the river and agriculture.

8/27/2020,11:02am

Roger G.J. Rogers Upper Shasta Valley

Responding to The Winners, the Losers, and the Landscape That Might Emerge If the Klamath River Dams Disappear

Should the dams be breached. What is the current fisheries management plan for breaching dams. Does the the California Department of Fisheries have an approved plan to prevent some of the existing nonnative species such as bass, crappie, and perch, etc. from being introduced into the lower Klamath Watershed.

8/20/2020, 5:32pm

Francisco Nodarse responds:

The major emphasis of the research has been on what happens to native salmon, and some consideration has also been given to sucker fish. The writer makes a good point about bass, perch, and other fish. Some work on the issue of non-native species expansion in the wake of dam removal has been done by Desiree Tullos at Oregon State. Generally, scientists believe that species expansion is not a major threat in the Pacific Northwest. However, there is no clear answer to this question in the plans of fisheries experts we reviewed for this post.

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California Announces Plan to Conserve 30% of State’s Land and Coastal Waters by 2030 as part of the state’s fight against climate change. The effort comes on the back of a growing movement by environmental groups, scientific organizations and the National Geographic Society to advance the “30 x 30” goal: preserve at least 30% of the world’s land and oceans by 2030. While the decision drew criticism from Republicans, environmentalists praised the announcement as key toward addressing a host of environmental issues in the state. San Jose Mercury News

Montana Asks Court to Throw Out Major Public Lands Decisions after federal judge ousted Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) acting director from his post. The decisions include BLM plans to open up hundreds of thousands of acres for oil and gas drilling. In response, the Department of the Interior argues that former BLM director William Perry Pendley took “no relevant acts” to be thrown out. Pendley served unlawfully for 424 days. The Hill

EPA Grants Oklahoma Environmental Oversight in Indian Country. Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt’s request to the EPA allows the state — not Indigneous nations — to regulate environmental issues in Indian Country. While the decision was welcomed by Oklahoma’s state oil and gas industry, Cherokee Nation and Muscogee (Creek) Nation quickly denounced the decision. “This was a swift move meant to circumvent the federal government's trust, duty and obligation to consult with the tribal nations concerned,” wrote Muscogee Nation’s press secretary in a statement. Washington Post Indian Country Today

Experts Developing Plan for Trout Recovery in Los Angeles. Biologists and engineers are setting the state for a “fish passage” through downtown L.A. that would aid in the recovery of the Southern California steelhead trout, a threatened species. Concrete and treated urban runoff in the L.A. River channel blocks the trout from returning to local rivers to spawn. The recovery effort could rival the return of the gray wolf, bald eagle and California condor. Los Angeles Times

The Votes Cast, a Fat Bear is Crowned in Alaska. Every year, the Katmai National Park and Preserve holds Fat Bear Week, an online competition that allows individuals to vote on large bears, in an effort to raise awareness about the park’s wildlife. This year’s champion? Bear 747 (named in reference to the Boeing 747), weighing in at more than 1,400 pounds. The New York Times

Articles Worth Reading: October 6, 2020

The Royal Bank of Canada is Withholding Financing for Drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, citing its “particular ecological and social significance and vulnerability.” This policy change may be part of a paradigm shift for major financial institutions, which finance and drive the majority of oil and gas development. The bank’s pledge comes after the U.S. Department of the Interior’s recent decision to open up the refuge for development. RBC joins five major U.S.-based banks in this decision to not finance development in the ANWR, including Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, and J.P. Morgan Chase. The Narwhal

A Devastating Fire Season Just Keeps Going: to date, California wildfires have consumed four million acres as 8,200 fires in August killed 31 people and destroyed more than 8,400 buildings. Burning through 100,000 acres, the August complex fire in Mendocino County is the largest on record, “at nearly five times the size of New York City.” It is only 54 percent contained by weary fire fighters. Increasing temperatures exacerbate the fires’ intensity; their effects are being experienced at greater distances, as hazardous air quality conditions extend across the continent. The Guardian

An in-depth video shows the severity of California’s fires and what to worry about now, like mudslides. San Jose Mercury News

Canadian Indigenous Groups Looking to Invest in the Keystone XL Oil Pipeline which Indigenous groups in the United States oppose. Four First Nations groups in Alberta and one in Saskatchewan are pursuing an equity interest in the pipeline, signing a memorandum between the pipeline developer, TC Energy, and Natural Law Energy, which represents the Three Maskwacis Nations and the Saddle Lake Cree Nation, in Alberta, and the Nekaneet First Nation in Saskatchewan. The idea is to create a long-term partnership. Neither party explicitly commented on the Indigenous-activist led resistance movement to the pipeline. Members of the Lakota Nation and the Fort Peck Assiniboine Sioux who led a delegation to the U.S.-Canadian border for an anti-pipeline prayer ceremony in mid-summer, described a Native employee of TC Energy “a traitor.” Kallanish Energy Billings Gazette

Snake River Dams Not Going Anywhere After Federal Decision to Release More Water for as much as 16 hours daily to help stabilize the population of fish, particularly Chinook salmon, that have suffered serious decline in the entire Columbia River watershed. The plan adopted by three federal agencies won praise from groups representing farmers and loggers, but skepticism from conservationists and dismissal from the Nez Perce tribe. Boise State Public Radio

Solar Energy Expansion Is in Overdrive in West Texas; the state has 17 solar facilities, including 13 with capacities of at least 100 megawatts of power. With intense sun and large swaths of empty land where major solar farms can spread out, West Texas has long been ideal for solar development. Texas’ free-market approach and loose regulations encourage all big electricity projects, including solar. The cost of developing solar farms has dropped about 40 percent in Texas in the last five years, according to an industry association. Texas Observer

Clam Gardens, Revived on the Beaches of British Columbia, are expanding crustacean habitat using an age-old Native practice of flattening the shoreline with small rock walls and tilling the sand to improve aeration. Using these methods and removing predators like the sea star allows the Wsáneć, Hul’q’umi’num, and Stz’uminus First Nations to expand the habitat for butter, littleneck, and horse clams, plus crabs, chitons, seaweeds, and other useful species. Generations of Native land stewards continued this practice even when overrun by colonial settlers who passed laws criminalizing the work. The Guardian

Articles Worth Reading: September 29, 2020

Knowing How to Fight the Megafires of Climate Change is the daunting task facing firefighters today. Wildfires are behaving in unprecedented ways and the traditional ways to fight them are proving inadequate. The Yellowstone Fire of 1988 was a harbinger of what is now an annual series of catastrophes. Hotter, drier weather increases the scale, power, and frequency of wildfires, which spawn tornadoes and thunderstorms. Once unheard-of Arctic fires produce large volumes of greenhouse gases; every degree Celsius of temperature rise increases lightning activity by 12 percent. Yale Environment 360

Recycling Helps Rid Us of Forever Plastics? No, Say Some Experts. Much recycled plastic, from yogurt containers to bags and “clamshells,” heads not for a new life but landfills. One former executive told a PBS Frontline investigation that selling the idea of recycling meant they could sell plastic. While all used plastic can be repurposed, it’s expensive to pick it up, sort it, and melt it down. KQED

New Mexico Resists a New License for Nuclear Waste Storage Facility. A New Jersey company wants a 40-year license to build a multi-billion-dollar complex near Carlsbad. It would store up to 8,680 metric tons of uranium, packed into 500 canisters. Future expansion could allow up to 10,000 canisters of spent fuel from nuclear plants around the country. State officials told Nuclear Regulatory Commission that the firm’s analysis is incomplete, the site is geologically unsuitable and environmental justice issues are being ignored. Associated Press

A 37-Year-Old Public Trust Doctrine to Preserve Inland Lakes just got a new look from the Nevada Supreme Court. In the precedent-setting 1983 Mono Lake case, the California Supreme Court ruled that the public trust interest in the water, fish and wildlife of the lake meant diversion of the lake’s tributaries must be controlled. Nevada’s Supreme Court just took a different tack, saying the state could not reshuffle existing rights to the Walker River to protect the receding Walker Lake. Ninth Circuit federal appeals judges had send sent the case to the Nevada court; it’s now headed back to federal court. Las Vegas Sun Nevada Independent

Local Control Was the Hallmark of California’s Groundwater Law, but a new study shows the local plans tend to favor large agribusiness over small farmers. Only about 12 percent of 260 new groundwater sustainability agencies include representatives from tribal groups or small farms not already affiliated with local irrigation districts. Estuary

After Four Decades of Combat Over the Efforts to Drill for Oil Under the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Appear Headed for Success. With the lives and livelihoods of the Indigenous groups of the region at issue, a month ago, the Interior Department cleared the way for bidding on drilling rights. But the voices of the Iñupiat people — some of whom welcome the chance to earn revenue from lands that were once theirs — and the Gwich’in people, for whom the caribou of the region are both a nutrition and cultural linchpin — are seldom heard. A collaboration with of the The Threshold podcast, and the Center for Investigative Reporting. Reveal

Aquariums are Accustomed to Showing the Ocean’s Shallows, Not Its Depths. Now, around the world, they are figuring out how to display the mysterious and remarkable animals of the deep sea. Two years hence, California’s Monterey Bay aquarium hopes to create the first large-scale exhibition of deep sea life and the impact that warming and seabed mining may have on the unseen world. The New York Times

Articles Worth Reading: September 23, 2020

Establishing a New Indigenous Wildfire Task Force is the goal of a California State Senate candidate, Jackie Fielder. As “fire season” becomes increasingly intense, the need for effective fire management practices increases, and Indigenous groups’ knowledge becomes a beacon for forest managers.. Fielder’s plan is based on the Karuk Climate Adaptation Plan, which shows how controlled burns help prevent destructive wildfires. SF Weekly

Recent Fires Destroyed Much of Washington State’s Crucial Sage Grouse Habitat An expert on the birds said that the state’s population of less than 1,000 grouse may have been cut in half as fires burned more than 600,000 acres of forest and sagebrush rangeland this year. Overall, scientists have issued a report showing that grouse populations in nine states have declined 44 percent in five years. Mongabay

Los Angeles Is Working to Turn Recycled Plastic into Pavement and Parking Lots. Three years ago, when China announced it would take no more recycling waste, the federal Energy Department started looking for ways to dispose of the excess piling up in American dumps. The city is working on a project to create asphalt containing recycled plastic and has experimented with the asphalt mix on parking lots and small roads. It is now planning to use it on a major street near Walt Disney Concert Hall. E&E News

The Southwest Is Suffering a Major Bird Die-Off, as thousands of migratory birds have been found dead in recent weeks. The cause of this mass die-off remains unknown, but some theorize that raging western wildfires forced many birds to reroute their migrations, and that exceptionally dry conditions have greatly reduced the presence of insects, birds’ main source of food. Large avian mortality during migration is rare and few instances have been as large as this one. High Country News

Microsoft Has Launched the Second Phase of an Underwater Data Center Experiment , extending work done off the West Coast in 2015 to explore the feasibility of submarine computing. Their Natick Project intended to explore underwater data centers’ potential economic and environmental advantages relative to those on dry land. The findings: a sealed container on the ocean floor could improve overall reliability, given that oxygen and humidity corrode terrestrial centers as they do other modern infrastructure. The team also hopes that offshore data centers could support faster information retrieval over interconnected networks. CMSWire

A “Language Keepers” Podcast Illuminates the Struggle to Keep Indigenous Languages Alive in California. Two centuries ago, as many as 90 languages and 300 dialects were spoken in California. Today only half this number remain. This series explores the current state of four Indigenous languages that are among the most threatened in the world: Tolowa Dee-ni’, Karuk, Wukchumni, and Kawaiisu. It features stories of families and communities across California working to revitalize their Native languages and cultures. Emergence Magazine

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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