Two weeks in the West
by Jonathan Thompson
The price of that guacamole you love to snack on is probably going to climb. California's farmers, already struggling with drought, are facing even drier times, and some avocado growers are hacking down trees to save water.
California has withered under drought for much of the last decade, and this year could end up being the driest on record for the southern part of the state. The watershed of one of the region's primary water arteries - the Colorado River - is also unusually dry, and its major reservoirs are only about half full. The state has, in large part, learned to live with those shortages, but now things may get tougher. In December, a court order will limit the amount of water that federal and state agencies can pump from the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta, which provides drinking water to 25 million people as well as irrigation water to countless farms. The ruling, which could cut by one-third the 1.1 trillion gallons of water pumped annually, is intended to help the Delta smelt, an endangered fish whose numbers, long in decline, have plummeted by 93 percent over the last year. In all likelihood, nature won't make up for the Delta's diminishing water: Climatologists expect this winter to be even drier than usual due to the oceanic phenomenon known as La Nina.
The potential crisis could give a boost to Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed multibillion dollar bond package, which would fund water projects, including three new dams in the state.
Sayonara. Sen. Pete - Domenici, that is - New Mexico's senior Republican senator, announced Oct. 4 that he will not seek re-election in 2008. That leaves a wide-open race for the seat, which the six-term senator was almost sure to have held had he chosen to run. Domenici's brought a lot of money into New Mexico and has been a strong supporter of conservative policies nationally. But his legacy - good or bad - is most likely to lie in his support for nuclear energy. Last year, he helped clinch the deal to bring a nuclear enrichment plant to New Mexico. He has also pressured the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to be nicer to industry, pushed for nuclear-friendly provisions and subsidies in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and has advocated for the Yucca Mountain federal repository. The nuclear industry has returned the favors, contributing hundreds of thousands of dollars to Domenici's campaign coffers.
There weren't supposed to be grizzlies in the Clearwater National Forest of Idaho. Or at least that's what the feds said. So, the guy from Tennessee who was hunting black bear on Sept. 3 and ended up shooting a grizzly instead probably can't be blamed. Though environmental groups have been claiming for the last decade or more that there are grizzlies in the area, the shooting marked the first officially confirmed sighting since the 1940s. U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials are now warning hunters in the area to take a close look at target bears before pulling the trigger.
Grizzlies have had a tough time elsewhere, too. Two bowhunters killed a mama bruin with cubs near Libby, Mont., in late September. They claimed self-defense. And in Yellowstone, a 250-pound female grizzly was found dead. Apparently, another grizzly killed her during a fight.
There was a time when folks in the once-isolated polygamist community of Short Creek could go about their daily lives without much outside scrutiny. These days, though, just about everyone is getting a glimpse into the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints community, made up of Hilldale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.
During much of September, the national media - obsessed as always with sex - couldn't pull its gaze away from the trial of Warren Jeffs, the church's leader, who was ultimately convicted of being an accomplice to rape. His crime: arranging a marriage between two cousins, one 14 and one 19.
It's not yet clear how the verdict will affect the FLDS towns. But even after the Jeffs brouhaha dies down, the attention may continue. Short Creek is just not as isolated or remote as it once was; Hilldale is in Washington County, the fifth fastest-growing county in the nation.
Gambling on green
Sin City's all about excess consumption, making it an unlikely place to be on the cutting edge of enviro development. But throw in some healthy tax incentives, and even Las Vegas can go green: A half-dozen large projects are currently in the works there. The biggest is MGM-Mirage's Project CityCenter, which will sport its own power plant, recycle some of its water and recycle or reuse 80 percent of the materials left over from the demolished parking lots and hotel that previously occupied the lot.
The CityCenter Casino Resort in Las Vegas, top, will include The Harmon (400-room hotel and residences), the 350-unit towers of the Veer luxury condos, and the 1,500-unit Vdara (condo and hotel).
$7 billion Amount MGM-Mirage expects to spend building Project CityCenter, its massive new "green" development on the Las Vegas Strip.
9 megawatts Capacity of on-site power plant that will provide 10 percent of the complex's power.
9,000 Number of single-family homes this could power.
48,000 Tons of greenhouse gases MGM-Mirage estimates will not be emitted from the project thanks to energy-efficient technology.
373,470 Estimated tons of carbon dioxide the project will emit each year.
1 Estimated percent that building costs increased in making the project green.
$390 million Estimated tax breaks the project may qualify for under a Nevada green building law passed in 2005.
76 Footprint, in acres, of the project.
4,800 Number of hotel rooms contained in the project.
94,600 Gallons of water used per room each year by the MGM-Grand Casino, another property owned by the same company.
$518 Average amount the Southern Nevada Water Authority spends per person on developing new water supplies.
$1 billion Amount of tax dollars that could be lost over the next decade from just seven proposed projects, under the Nevada green building law.
2 Number of years the law had been in effect before lawmakers voted to reduce its tax breaks.
-Christine Hoekenga© High Country News