As every Californian knows by now, our state is in the fifth year of a drought, and this persistent imbalance of supply and demand in our water supply is likely the new norm. The good news is that many of our state leaders have woken up to this fact, and in recent years have been clearing some of the logjams around smart water management. The state adopted a historic groundwater bill in 2014 to help ensure our reserves don’t run dry, and the legislature and voters passed a $7.5 billion water bond to help fund the infrastructure to make our state more resilient.
Archive for date: August 8th, 2016
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Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan for a regional electricity grid is being put on hold this year, and lawmakers are no longer expected to consider a measure that would allow California to partner with five other states in buying and selling power. The governor and state regulators hope more interstate cooperation would eventually help spread clean energy through the region, increasing the market for renewable sources such as solar and wind.
Looking north from Blue Canyon near Shaver Lake, copper-colored forests blanket mountain slopes that stretch ridge after ridge to the horizon. The patches of fading green that dappled these hillsides last fall have merged into an unbroken cover of rust-needled pines. At dusk, when the winds die down, an eerie stillness gives way to the muffled sound of munching as beetles chomp through one tree after another, thousands after thousands. This is the look — and the sound — of drought. Four consecutive winters with little to no snowpack, followed by four dry summers, have devastated California’s southern Sierra Nevada.
These are big shoes to fill: a man who knew that water was California’s new gold rush and who helped create the California State Water Project in order to quench the thirst of a growing California population and power up the state’s role as America’s biggest farm. He also oversaw the building-out of the freeway system for mass transit and was a leader who expanded the university level public education system, enabling Californians to grow and develop the native brainpower of Golden Staters.
Californians are known to take pride in the state’s many exceptional characteristics. But in at least one important area, we’d be wise to learn a thing or two from our neighbors. Not only are the Golden State’s water management challenges shared by other western states, but many of these places use more advanced practices to understand how much water is available, who has claims to it, and how much is being used.
The coal industry in the United States has been in a long, steady decline for decades. But since 2012, with the availability of cheap natural gas and the ramping up of environmental regulations to control emissions from coal-fired power plants, that decline has become a full-scale collapse: coal-mining employment has shrunk from 89,800 to 55,500, a drop of 38 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And though the coal business is no stranger to boom-and-bust cycles, this is something different. Emissions limits are becoming ever tighter under regulations such as the federal Clean Power Plan, and the utility industry is looking for more sustainable sources of power. Those jobs are never coming back.
California’s high country is a delight in summer, a cool respite from the heat of the state’s lower elevations. That’s especially true in the Sierra Nevada, where a corridor of shade transports vacationers from Fresno to Yosemite National Park under a dense canopy of cedar trees, firs and pines. But after five years of drought and insect infestation, more than 66 million trees have died across the state, many in the eastern Sierra. In tree-ringed communities such as Bass Lake and Shaver Lake, up to 80 percent of the pines and other conifers have died.