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California Water on the Market: Q&A with Barton “Buzz” Thompson

Felicity Barringer
Mar 3 2021

Three months after the first market trades of California water futures, a conversation about economic forces and an essential material for life.

By Felicity Barringer

Barton “Buzz” Thompson, Faculty Director, Water in the West

Barton “Buzz” Thompson, Faculty Director, Water in the West, Senior Fellow and Founding Perry L. McCarty Director, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment; Robert E. Paradise Professor in Natural Resources Law.   Water in the West, Stanford University

California water has joined gold, energy and bitcoin as a commodity whose future value can be traded on a financial exchange and the first market trades on water futures took place three months ago. The market, based on values determined by NASDAQ’s Veles Water Market Index, was hailed by some as a useful tool so California farmers can reduce the risk of drought-driven escalation in water costs. It was sharply criticized by others, from a United Nations representative to racial justice groups as potentially limiting access to something essential to life.

Buzz Thompson, a Stanford Law School professor and founding director of the Woods Institute for the Environment, now directs the Water in the West program. He founded the law school’s Environment and Natural Resources program and served as a special master for the United States Supreme Court in Montana v. Wyoming, an interstate water dispute involving the Yellowstone River.

Here are his answers to questions about the development of thinking about water’s value and the possible impacts of this market in water futures.

Water is essential for life, the growth of communities, agriculture, and streams and their fish. California has about 40 million people and an agricultural economy worth $47 billion. How has the value of water fluctuated?

The “value” of water is a contentious issue. In some people’s mind, water cannot even be valued in economic terms because of its importance to human life and health and to the environment. Beyond the ethical questions of valuing water, the economic value of water and its price generally diverge. Water was the subject of Adam Smith’s famous water-diamond paradox. Because we need water to survive, the value of water is the value of life itself. Someone without any water would give everything they have for that water. But despite its high value in use, water typically has a relatively low market price because it is often abundant. Diamonds, by contrast, are luxury goods. Their actual “value” is quite low, but since they are rare, they command very high prices. Water therefore has a higher value in use, but diamonds cost more.

When most people talk about the “value” of water in California, they are asking about its price in the state’s fledgling water markets. How much does a farmer have to pay to get more water for her thirsty crops? How much does a city have to pay to ensure that it has the water needed for its residents. Prices have varied tremendously. From 2012 to 2020, for example, water users paid anywhere from $50 an acre foot for water to $2200 an acre foot. (Water managers in the West generally measure water in terms of acre-feet, which is the amount of water that would flood an acre of land to a depth of one foot. It is roughly equivalent to the amount of water to meet the needs of two households for a year.)

What has determined water’s value in any given situation?

Elk graze the dry bed of the San Luis Reservoir on the eastern slopes of the Diablo Range in Merced County, California in August 2016.  Photo by John Chacon / California Department of Water Resources

Elk graze the dry bed of the San Luis Reservoir on the eastern slopes of the Diablo Range in Merced County, California in August 2016.   John Chacon / California Department of Water Resources

Scarcity has been the principal determinant of water prices. From 2012-2016, severe drought conditions drove some farmers to pay astronomical sums for water to keep permanent crops, like fruit trees or vineyards, from dying. That’s when you saw prices soar over $2,000 per acre foot. Indeed, during the height of the drought, farmers were willing to pay more for water than cities. Anything that leads to water scarcity will increase the price of water. Not only drought, but environmental protections like the Endangered Species Act, which reduce the amount of water that can be withdrawn from the state’s rivers and streams, push up the price.

California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), which will require Californians to reduce their pumping of groundwater to sustainable levels, will also lead to higher prices because it will lead to lower supplies. Demand is also a determinant. Because domestic water needs are relatively small, human use does not generally influence the price of water. Permanent crops like fruit trees, nut trees, and vineyards, however, help drive up the price of water during dry periods because farmers do not like to lose their investment in permanent crops.

Which variables have been most important to water’s value?

Two variables have been most important. The first, as just mentioned, is scarcity — whether from weather conditions, droughts, or regulatory measures. Water users are very concerned that a series of regulatory changes (reduced groundwater pumping as a result of SGMA, reduced diversions as a result of an update in the state’s Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan) could make water very scarce in the Central Valley, sending water prices there soaring. The second variable has been the hardening of demand. Historically, most farming in California was perennial crops like tomatoes and cotton. In droughts, farmers just planted less. Today, however, more and more acres are planted in permanent crops. Farmers are willing to bid much more for water to keep those crops alive.

Can we have a robust water futures market here, given the widespread lack of quantification or adjudication ensuring clear ownership?

We need to be careful when we talk about “water futures.” Water futures could mean a contract under which someone with a water right agrees to sell that water at a future point in time for a price that’s set today. By this definition, California has long had a limited form of futures market. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), for example, which supplies water to cities in the Southern California coastal plain, has an agreement with the Palo Verde Irrigation District (PVID) under which farmers in PVID agree to sell water during dry years to MWD. In this sense, we have long had a “futures” market in water.

What Price Water? It Depends When You Buy (graphic showing spot price of Nasdaq water index)
Bill Lane Center for the American West

What is new in California is a new futures derivative market by which all water users can hedge against increases in water prices. Now any water user who is worried that they might have to buy water at very high prices in the summer, if it doesn’t rain, can hedge against that increase. To do that, the water user buys a future for the price at which the market currently believes water will sell when the water user will need it. When the future expires, the water user gets the current price. If the price has risen, the water user gets more than he or she paid; if it dropped, the water user gets less. Importantly, this is not a future for the water itself. The water user must still find someone on the open market from whom to buy. If the price has gone up, the water user will now have more money to buy it.

The effectiveness of these new water futures depends on how accurately the futures track the real market price. The payout will be based on a composite of prices tracked by a private entity (WestWater Research). So anyone buying a future is betting on the accuracy of their calculations. In addition, remember that the value of water depends on location. The future is based on a composite, so it’s possible that the composite price might not rise as much as the price of water in a particular location — in which case water users who purchase the future will not be fully hedged.

Financial trades based on the future value of a commodity are a longstanding practice with metals, wheat, and energy. Now that California water futures are tradeable, will trades affect water’s value and availability? Will Californians pay more so traders get their cut? Or will trading stabilize their costs?

The fear, of course, is that the new futures market will increase the price of water during shortages by bringing speculators into the market. For decades, politicians and market critics have often blamed futures markets and speculators for run-ups in commodity prices. The evidence from other markets, however, does not support this contention. Supply and demand considerations will continue to determine the price of water on the open market in California, and changes in conditions will continue to lead to often large swings in water prices. The new futures product will simply allow water users to hedge against the risk that the price of water will rise before they need to buy more. While others are free to “bet” on the price of water by buying and selling futures, there is no reason to believe that this speculative trading will affect the actual price of water.

Water is heavy. State and federal governments have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on infrastructure to store, treat and move it. Will access to this infrastructure play a role in these trades?

The John R.Teerink Wheeler Ridge Pumping Plant, part of the state-run California Aqueduct in Kern County.

The John R.Teerink Wheeler Ridge Pumping Plant, part of the state-run California Aqueduct in Kern County.   State Water Resources Control Board

Infrastructure availability does influence water prices. Water is not worth as much if you can’t get it to where the water is needed. So the price of water is highly local. Water in the Sacramento Valley, for example, is relatively more plentiful than water in the San Joaquin Valley. As a result, prices are lower in the Sacramento Valley.

California actually benefits from the large amount of water infrastructure that it has built. It allows water to move around the state as demand changes. In the Central Valley of California, there are two massive water projects (the federal Central Valley Project and the California State Water Project). In most times, their water rights are separate, limiting to some degree the ability to move water from one system to another. During droughts, however, California has often merged the water rights, so that it is easier to move water from one system to another. This has allowed water to flow the most needy areas, reducing the cost of droughts and other water shortages.

A Bloomberg columnist, David Fickling, recently wrote, “A price on low-value public resources is crucial to encouraging less profligate use.” True?

Sprinklers spread water on residential lawns in Bakersfield, California in 2015.  Photo by John Chacon / California Department of Water Resources

Sprinklers spread water on residential lawns in Bakersfield, California in 2015.   John Chacon/California Department of Water Resources

The price of water is frequently lower than its actual value to society. Indeed, water is the only important commodity for which we do not charge people! When you buy water from your local supplier, you are typically paying only for the cost of treating the water and getting the water to you. You do not pay for the water itself, which the state effectively gives away for free. But taking the water out of a river or groundwater aquifer often has a significant opportunity cost to society. For example, extracting water from a river can harm the local ecosystem. Some water suppliers even subsidize the cost of water.

To get people to conserve and to encourage effective water management, we should charge people the true value of the water that they use. This, of course, raises the concern that poorer members of society will not be able to afford it. The answer to is to charge people for water based on how much water they use — what is known as an “inclining block” rate structure. In my ideal world, water supplies do not even charge people for a small amount of water. California has recognized that there is a “human right to water,” and that right should include free access to the amount of water needed for a minimum standard of living.

Once one gets beyond this human right, however, water users should charge people more and more per gallon as they use more. People who are conservative in their water use might pay $X per gallon, but the most profligate users would pay $10X per gallon for their excess use. A large number of water suppliers in California are using these types of rate structures, but they generally do not charge the largest users enough to really make a difference in their calculus. California law, moreover, has made it difficult for other water suppliers to adopt such pricing structures.

Generally arguments revolve around who should pay. Polling has shown that the general public would support a small fee on their water bills to help pay for safe water for all. The water utilities were adamantly against it, seeing it as the “camel’s nose under the tent” for a bigger set of fees like we have in the energy arena, which is understandable but unfortunate. But using general funds for ongoing operations and maintenance is risky. It puts something that must be continually on deck into an annual argument over the general fund, competing with every other human-services need out there out of a pot of money whose size varies considerably, depending upon the economy. No matter the economy, people need clean, safe, and affordable water and sanitation.

Ellen Hanak, a water expert, said that investing in water futures is simply “betting on the weather.” Is she right? What else do traders bet on?

Ellen’s point is an excellent one. Remember that California’s new water futures are really just a financial derivative. They are not a contract for water. Instead, they are a bet on the future cost of water. As a result, anyone who invests in a water future is really “betting on the weather,” which is typically the primary determinant of future water prices. In theory, investors are betting on any factor, including regulatory changes, that might change the future price of water. Because water futures currently focus on relatively short-term changes in price, weather is the major bet.

Which category of water user will be most likely benefit from these trades? Corporate farmers? Small family farmers? Small towns? Who will be hurt?

An almond orchard north of the Sutter Buttes in Calif. on February 24th, 2015. Photo by Kelly M. Grow/ California Department of Water Resources

An almond orchard north of the Sutter Buttes in Calif. on February 24th, 2015.   Kelly M. Grow/ California Department of Water Resources

The major water users who will benefit from water futures are those who can afford to pay for water futures. Remember that futures can go both up and down in value. If you are a small farmer, you might not invest in a water future because you do not want to risk losing the money you paid for the future if it suddenly rains a lot. I therefore expect that the beneficiaries of water futures will tend to be corporate farmers and other large users of water. In my view, the major losers will be those people who “bet” on water futures for speculative purposes and bet wrong. It’s hard to get too upset about them.

What’s your biggest hope for the impact of this market? Your biggest fear?

My biggest hope for the futures market is that they will actually help some water users hedge against changes in water prices and therefore take some of the risk out of their businesses. Futures derivatives are a form of risk insurance, and if they work properly, they can reduce the risk of engaging in societally valuable businesses. Farmers already participate in a variety of futures markets in order to reduce their risk. The new water futures are an addition to this portfolio of risk-reducing derivatives.

My biggest fear is that politicians and other market critics will seize on the new water futures as an indication that water markets are a danger to society and try to shut down or increase controls on such markets. Water futures and water markets are two different things. Water markets existed before the new water futures and are an important way by which society can ensure that water, particularly as it becomes scarcer, is used wisely. Water markets need to be carefully regulated to protect the human right to water and the environment. But with appropriate protections in place, water markets are an exceptionally important and valuable tool.


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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.

Wayne Lusvardi Rancho Mirage

Responding to California Water on the Market: Q&A with Barton “Buzz” Thompson

Maybe Thompson knows something I don't, but if farmers buy insurance (called hedges) in the euphemistic Derivatives market, the cost of that insurance will be passed on to the ultimate end users, as the traders in the Derivatives Casino are not around to lose money. The question is not whether farmers can stabilize their water costs, but is the additional cost of the hedge worth it in the long run? So, during one Dry Year when water is, say, $2000 acre foot, the farmer saves, say, $1000 per acre foot. But during the four preceding years when water was available, the farmer had to buy the hedge for no additional water. In short, what's the NET bottom line? I'm not sure Thompson or i know, but we might ask a farmer or a private water trader like John Vidovich.


Al B Clarke Blanding, Utah

Responding to California Water on the Market: Q&A with Barton “Buzz” Thompson

Fascinating article. Still reading, but most of this makes sense. Blanding is dry country. We irrigate our lawns and garden, but the house runs on a well. Some years we can't get water and lawn and garden suffer, as the well water is not adequate. I'd feel rotten making a fortune on water future contracts........

3/4/2021, 9:31am

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Compiled by Felicity Barringer, Melina Walling, Benek Robertson, Maya Burke, Kate Selig and Francisco L. Nodarse

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Low Wages Lead Firefighters to Leave California. Starting pay for members of highly-trained “hotshot” teams that fight the kind of wildland fires that have devastated the state: $13.45 an hour, similar to what high schoolers make at fast-food restaurants. Unemployment checks can be higher, and their state counterparts are paid twice as much. KNTV Newsweek

New Mexico Oil Boom Brings Production Back to Pre-pandemic Levels. The state’s oil production now exceeds North Dakota’s, putting it No. 2 in the country. Drillers pumped a record 1.18 million barrels a day in March, up from 1.13 million barrels a day in the same month a year ago, legislative staffers told the state's finance committee earlier this week. Texas, the biggest oil-producing state, produced 4.7 million barrels a day in March, down from 5.4 million before the pandemic, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. E&E Daily

The Country’s Cultural Divide Reflected In a Fight Over an Oregon Trail. “Yamhill is the urban-rural divide personified,” said one resident. In Oregon, as in other Western states, The “urban-rural divide” is shorthand for the cultural, Yamhill County received a grant to purchase the abandoned railway right of way to be repurposed it as a public trail. An early phase would span 2.8 miles, connecting the towns of Carlton and Yamhill/ The towns differ widely. Though Carlton grew with timber, wine revived it. Nearly every Main Street storefront houses a wine-tasting room. In Yamhill, most storefronts stand vacant, and yard signs and flags project a different vibe: “Blue Lives Matter” and “Don’t Blame Me, I Voted for Trump.” Trail construction between the towns began in 2020. But by spring 2021, building stopped. High Country News

Vivid Pictures of the Drought’s Impact on the Lake Shasta Reservoir Los Angeles Times

Articles Worth Reading: June 21, 2021

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The Electric Vehicle Transition Is Driving Demand For Lithium, which could be a boon for California’s Imperial Valley. Near the Salton Sea, an Australian company called Controlled Thermal Resources has invested in a geothermal energy facility that will also expose reserves of lithium without producing significant carbon emissions. Experts are optimistic that the market focus on renewable energy and the development of the Salton Sea lakebed could align, leading to a new “Lithium Valley” in the state. NPR

Southwestern Tribes Are Calling For An End to Water Insecurity after the COVID-19 pandemic revealed severe inequities in access to water on reservations. A new report highlights the challenges faced by Indigenous communities; many lack basic indoor plumbing and running water or rely on contaminated water sources. Tribal leaders now hope to use the new report in crucial negotiations over the management of the Colorado River. Experts say that river’s flow will continue to diminish as a result of climate change, exacerbating water shortages. Insideclimate News

An ASU Professor Has Created the First Parcel of Land to be Legally Owned by Wildlife by expanding on existing legal frameworks for “pet trusts,” which provide legal protections for animals. Professor Bradshaw has turned an acre of her property into a wildlife-friendly habitat, and hopes that a practice of transferring ownership to backyard animals will help homeowners cultivate a sense of stewardship for the environment. Some conservationists and legal experts are unsure of the solution’s practicality, but Bradshaw says that the future of U.S. biodiversity cannot rest on public land management alone. Arizona Republic

Robert Bullard’s Fight for Environmental Justice Isn’t Over despite a lifetime of pioneering work exposing the unequal impacts of pollution on Black and brown communities. Bullard, a professor at Texas Southern University, recently received a lifetime achievement award from the United Nations Environment Program, but says that his work continues as a teacher of future generations of environmental and climate justice advocates. Texas Observer

See How The West Has Changed Since The Last Census in this data visualization showing population and apportionment of Congressional seats. California was the only Western state to lose a seat, while Montana, Oregon, Colorado all gained a seat; Texas gained two. High Country News

Articles Worth Reading: April 26, 2021

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Idaho’s State Senate Voted to Allow Private Contractors to Kill 90 Percent of Wolves in the state to protect hunting and agricultural interests. The population has held steady at about 1500 wolves for the past two years, but ranchers and farmers say reducing the number to 150 could reduce the financial losses associated with wolves attacking sheep and cattle. If the wolf population falls below 100, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may resume management in the area. Associated Press

The Environmental Protection Agency Is Reversing Its Decision to Keep California From Requiring More Stringent Tailpipe Emission Controls than those of the federal government. With 13 other states signing on to California standards, 36 percent of the U.S. auto market is in states abiding by the tougher rules. The Trump administration sought to throttle California’s decades-old freedom to set standards to clean the nation’s dirtiest air. The Washington Post

Researchers Consider Environmental Impacts of the Border Wall in Southern Arizona, which ecologists say threatens wildlife and poses greater risks of damage from flash floods. Indigenous communities mourn the damage to sacred lands, which they say cannot be undone by removing the wall. The Biden administration must now decide whether halting construction is enough, or whether further action is necessary to improve conservation outlooks and land management practices at the border. Arizona Republic

East Palo Alto Residents Collaborate With Scientists and City Government to Fight Sea Level Rise in this multimedia feature from the Pulitzer Center’s Connected Coastlines Initiative. Although East Palo Alto’s budget is hundreds of times smaller than San Francisco’s, their plans to mitigate the threat of sea level rise are well ahead of much of the Bay Area. Even so, a historical legacy of disinvestment, racial segregation, and regional disparities could undermine East Palo Alto’s strategies, which include replacing old levees and accounting for infrastructure upgrades to sanitation systems and electrical towers. Experts say a coordinated effort will be necessary to keep the entire Bay safe from catastrophic flooding. KQED

Native Fishermen Compete With Industrial Trawlers For Declining Halibut Populations off the coast of Alaska, where warming temperatures wreak havoc on Bering Sea ecosystems. Crab, pollock, salmon and halibut numbers are all shrinking, but industrial fishermen don’t feel the pressure; even as they target lower-value species, they waste millions of more expensive fish like halibut as bycatch. Now, fishery managers are discussing new limits that would reduce waste and even the playing field for Native fishermen, but industrial operations are fighting the new restrictions, saying it’s unrealistic to reduce bycatch in practice. National Geographic

Anglers On The Los Angeles River Face A Tenuous Future as the city plans to revitalize the waterway with a new system of parks and cultural centers. Many destitute Angelenos rely on the river for food, shelter and refuge; the city will likely remove homeless encampments as part of their new investments. Homeless advocates worry that the new parks will create a wave of “green gentrification” that leaves out already marginalized communities. High Country News

Eastern Washington Is Investing In Clean Hydrogen Energy Infrastructure amidst debate over the alternative fuel’s viability. Supporters believe producing combustible hydrogen could help eliminate fossil fuels used by heavy emitters like the construction and aviation industries, but the technology is costly. However, the Pacific Northwest has an advantageous surplus of clean power from wind and solar farms, which engineers say makes the region an optimal place to test a pilot program. Inside Climate News

Wind Turbine Techs Brave Heights in this photo feature on blade technicians who climb and belay on the enormous fiberglass structures to perform maintenance. Patagonia

Articles Worth Reading: April 12, 2021

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland Visited Bears Ears as crowds of tourists and looters frustrate advocates seeking to restore the original scope of the national monument. Former President Trump shrank the areas of monuments at Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in 2017, reversing Obama-era protections. Haaland must decide whether to recommend that Biden restore the previous boundaries. Indigenous groups want to see the monument expanded, while Republican politicians, ranchers and miners in Utah resist increased federal protections. Washington Post

Las Vegas Pushing to Become First City to Ban Ornamental Grass. This desert gambling metropolis, whose utility has for nearly two decades rewarded homeowners for replacing grass with dry landscaping – xeriscaping – is planning to go one step further. The utility is asking Nevada state legislators to outlaw about 40 percent of the remaining greensward, arguing that there are almost eight square miles of grass in medians or office parks that no one walks on. Last year was among the driest in the region’s history; for a record 240 days, there was no measurable rainfall. About 90 percent of southern Nevada's water comes from the Colorado River, whose reservoirs at Lake Mead and Lake Powell are near record lows. Associated Press

What’s In Toxic Wildfire Smoke? To find answers, scientists chase storms and rig cargo planes to become flying laboratories. Chemists, immunologists, and other experts have begun using air and ash samples from recent catastrophic fire seasons to unravel the human health impacts of wildfire emissions, though they say fully understanding the long-term effects may take years. National Geographic

Three Interest Groups Face Off In a Scramble Over Temperate Rainforests on the southwest corner of Vancouver Island. A century of logging has depleted about 80 percent of the old-growth trees on the island in British Columbia. An anti-logging group is blockading an area near Fairy Creek. But the Pacheedat First Nation, which gets provincial compensation in exchange for allowing logging in their territory, has not agreed to the blockade, though some tribal members sympathize. Legal action is pending. The Tyee

A New Wildlife Refuge In Albuquerque will become the first urban wildlife refuge in the Southwest, officially opening this fall. The Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge promises more open space for historically disenfranchised Chicano communities. The new amenities are expected to raise property values, opening the town to potential gentrification, cultural change and excess tourism. Equitable representation for community members in the preserve will be key to grounding the refuge in the values of environmental justice, the refuge’s supporters say. High Country News

Cattle Ranchers Seek Control of Free-Roaming Tule Elk In Point Reyes, prompting opposition from conservationists. When Congress designed the national seashore as public land not only for nature preservation but also for farmers’ “cultural heritage,” it sowed the seeds of repeated conflicts. In the late 19th century, human development nearly drove the elk extinct. Though herds were reintroduced in the 1960s, the species returned to a landscape shaped by cattle. Now, it’s unclear who will control the future of that landscape. Biographic

‘Glamping’ Project In Joshua Tree Puts Sustainable Development To The Test as Airstream tourism company AutoCamp breaks ground on its first high desert tourism attraction. While its designers tout the eco-friendly features of the campus, residents worry that tourism could send housing prices soaring and that heavy tourist traffic could harm desert ecosystems. Desert Sun

Grasshoppers, Opera, And Ecological Collapse intertwine in this audio story of a Wyoming entomologist and his quest to find the truth about a melting glacier. Atlas Obscura

Articles Worth Reading: March 29, 2021

Latino Neighborhoods in the Southwest Are Far Hotter than Anglo neighborhoods, which have more trees and shade. The difference is as much as seven degrees in southern California, according to a new study of 20 urban areas. It shows the poorest 10 percent of neighborhoods are much hotter — four degrees Fahrenheit on average — than the wealthiest neighborhoods nearby. In particular, areas with large Latino populations bear an unequal burden. Arizona Republic

The Interior Department Rescinded a Decision That Had Eliminated Tribal Ownership of a portion of the Missouri River on the Fort Berthold Reservation and given it to the state of North Dakota. Under the Trump administration, a department statement said, Interior had agreed that North Dakota owned mineral rights despite eight decades of legal precedent to the contrary. Now the department says it needs to look more closely at the legality of ignoring the ownership rights of the Mandan, Hidatsa and the Arikara Nation. The Hill

A Republican Congressman’s Proposal to Breach Four Snake River Dams has reopened more than a century of arguments over the structures. Their construction violated treaties, flooded 14,4000 acres, crippled salmon runs and provided both a modest amount of electricity and the ability to barge inland crops to Pacific ports. Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson’s $33.5 billion plan to breach the four dams has renewed that debate. A look at the pros and cons of the proposal, and an advocate’s website visualizing the impact of dam removal. Oregonian Spokesman-Review Magic Valley Save Our Wild Salmon

What Western Governors Say They Care About is reflected in this summary – complete with a word-cloud graphic – from their association’s office’s report on recent state-of-the-state addresses. Not surprisingly, the most prevalent word is “Covid.” It’s followed by “Vaccine,” “Education,” “Infrastructure,” and “Broadband.” Western Governors Association

Covering 4,000 Miles of California Canals With Solar Panels would annually save 63 billion gallons of water from evaporating and provide 13 gigawatts of renewable power, according to a feasibility study published in the journal Nature Sustainability. That is roughly half the new capacity the state needs to meet its decarbonization goals by the year 2030. Wired

The West is Losing the War to Preserve Sage-Grouse Habitat. Human activity and fire have destroyed millions of acres of habitat for the greater sage grouse. A new federal study is deeply pessimistic about the future of the bird as it loses its essential range. Expanding, ferocious wildfires play a major part in the destruction, but so do invasive, quick-burning plants like cheatgrass. Federal and multistate efforts have helped cut the rate of destruction, but a warming climate means land managers are losing their fight. E&E Daily

Ways of Emitting Less Methane, both from leaking oil and gas wells, intentional venting of gas, and even cow burps, are getting new attention. New Mexico’s Oil and Gas Commission just adopted new rules to control oil fields’ venting and flaring of gas. And researchers at the University of California, Davis have increasing evidence that adding tropical red seaweed to cow feed can reduce bovine methane emissions by up to 82 percent. Associated Press Grist

As the Nation’s Largest Wind Farm Is Readied In the Wyoming Town of Rawlins, immense pride in the coal mining that used to power its economy remains. The New York Times “The Daily” Podcast

Larry McMurtry, Novelist of the West, Dies at 84. McMurtry’s stock in trade was de-mythologizing the West of early paperbacks and mid 20th-century television series, and offering a portrait that was more raw and more real. He did so most memorably in the 843-page novel “Lonesome Dove,” about two Texas rangers driving stolen cattle from the Rio Grande to Montana in the 1870s. He was also part of the creative force behind the movie “Brokeback Mountain.” The New York Times Dallas Morning News

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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