If we keep sucking down Colorado River water the way we have been (likely), and if climate change reduces the amount of water in the system (also likely) there's a fifty-fifty chance that the system's reservoirs will hit bottom by the middle of this century. That's the stark conclusion of a new study released in July by the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Other river researchers say that a 1 degree Celsius increase in average temperature will translate to a 5 percent drop in annual water discharge from the Upper Basin, which produces the vast majority of the system's water. But even small attempts at conservation could have big impacts. A 6 percent reduction in current demand results in a 37 percent reduction in the risk that the reservoirs will dry up. (For more background on the Colorado River, see our stories "A tug of war on a tightrope", "Arizona returns to the desert", "What's worse than the worst-case scenario? Real life" and "How low will it go?".)
"Water managers are used to engineering solutions," says CU-Boulder scientist Doug Kenney, "but we've hit the limits there. Now we need political solutions and reallocation of water rights." But even that may not be enough, as witnessed by what's happening in Australia's Murray-Darling Basin.
This morning, the fires continue to burn in California, Utah, Arizona, Colorado and elsewhere. And the haunting yet beautiful fire photos continue to make their way into the Intertubes so that those of us who are lucky enough to be far away from the fires can experience them vicariously, and safely.
The L.A. Times probably has the most comprehensive selection of pics of the Station Fire.
And the Sacramento Bee's "The Frame" photo blog has some of my favorites, especially the first in this series.
This is an amazing, stop-action look from the Mt. Wilson tower cam, currently at the edge of the fire, but also threatened by the flames.
And how about a couple of videos. The first, of a DC-10 tanker making a drop on the Station Fire, as captured by Fireground Action Photography, will get the adrenaline flowing. The second is a more tranquil view of 100,000 acres going up in flames, time-lapsed, with a Brian Eno soundtrack. Watch:
Yowch. It's hot out and it's dry and it's smoky. Often, in this part of Colorado, the end of August marks the tail end of the wet monsoon season. This year, the monsoons were rather feeble, if they arrived at all, and during the last two weeks we've experienced some of our hottest days of the summer. Apparently, the same fire-friendly weather has been hitting points further West, too. Currently, at least 20 "large incident" fires are burning in the West, with the most, and the most severe, in California. Los Angeles' edge is currently getting singed.
The news and images from L.A. is harrowing, sometimes tragic: Two fire fighters were killed in a vehicle accident while battling the Station Blaze. Several houses have burned and thousands more are threatened. And as of this afternoon, the Mt. Wilson observatory and communication towers was in the path of the flames, which had charred more than 105,000 acres.
That's just the biggest fire in California. A handful of others, from the foothills of the Sierra Nevada near Sacramento, back down to the southlands are also threatening homes. Further east, a fire near Payson, Ariz., forced the evacuation of some 500 homes. More than 300 homes were evacuated near New Harmony, Utah, thanks to a lightning-caused blaze. Active fires were reported in Oregon, Washington, Montana and Colorado, as well.
Keep up with the latest on the fires here:
InciWeb gives a quick, up to the minute overview of current fires (Click on the fire's name in the left-handed column for specifics on that particular fire).
The L.A. Now blog has the latest developments of the L.A. area fires.
NASA has amazing satellite images of the fire and smoke.
The Sacramento Bee's "The Frame" photo blog has incredible images of that state's fires.
In this era of hyped-up security concerns about our southern border, why would a remote Montana border station with a daily average of three travelers get $15 million of stimulus money? Montana Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus say it’s because they asked Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to fund projects in their state, whose border has been "unfairly ignored" (see HCN's story).
Napolitano, however, denies politics had anything to do with how $720 million in border upgrade funds were distributed, which the AP reports resulted in out-of-order funding as marginal projects jumped ahead of high-priority ones. Yet the Nogales, Ariz. border checkpoint, in Napolitano’s home state, will receive almost $200 million, five times more than any other project, according to the AP.
In recent weeks, the Obama administration has made safety on Indian reservations a major priority, doling out a slew of grants to tribes all over the West.
"The Department of Justice is well aware that Indian Country is struggling with complex law enforcement issues involving violent crime, violence against women and crimes against children, and that tribal communities are doing what they can with limited resources," said Deputy Attorney General David Ogden in a press release.
Thirty-four percent of Indian or Alaska Native women will be raped or sexually assaulted during their lifetimes, compared to the national average of 21 percent, and 39 percent of Indian women will suffer domestic violence, compared to 25 percent nationally.
Tribes in North and South Dakota received more than $1 million for shelters and domestic violence programs, four New Mexico tribes were awarded $1.2 million for equipment and law enforcement officers and the La Jolla band of Luiseno Indians in California received $400,000 for a domestic violence program.
Most recently, the Dept. of Justice announced that 16 tribal communities in Washington will receive more than $5 million, primarily for the addition of new police officers and domestic violence programs, funded by the Justice Department's Office on Violence Against Women.
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Joe Griego hasn't worked in nine months. He hasn't been able to do much since a bull crushed his ribs and damaged his spinal cord while he was on the clock at a New Mexico dairy.
He hasn't been sitting around milking workers' compensation checks while he recovers, either. In fact, Griego's had little help paying off more than $30,000 in medical bills because New Mexico's workers' comp law doesn’t mandate coverage for farm workers—an injustice a lawsuit filed against the state this week on Griego’s behalf intends to right.
The complaint contends that the exclusion violates farm workers' rights to equal protection under the New Mexico Constitution, and shines another spotlight on the vulnerabilities of the West’s agricultural workforce, covered in HCN’s recent feature, The Dark Side of Dairies.
Griego's employer hasn't totally abandoned him, according to Maria Martinez, a staff attorney for the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, which filed the suit. The dairy's insurance covered $5,000 of Griego's medical bills, and he garnered $1,800 in lost wages, a fraction of what he would have earned had he been working.
If you haven't read Rebecca Clarren's excellent HCN cover story on the West's immigrant dairy workers and the on-the-job dangers they face, do it now! If you have read it and want to learn more, you should check out the story's hefty (and heavy) sidebar: A comprehensive list of deaths and injuries in the West's dairies spanning the last six and a half years. Click on the pink listings to see original accident reports and investigations.
"A healthy, fit firefighter is a safe firefighter."
This is what Stan Palmer, a member of the Northwest Wildfire Coordinating Group's Safety and Health Working Team tells me when I ask about firefighter fatalities (See the related infographic on the top five causes of firefighter deaths since 1910). Over the years, firefighters in the West have died in numerous ways: brain aneurysms, asphyxiation, falling rocks; the gruesome list goes on and on.
But through efforts of the NWCG team, there have been major improvements in firefighting safety measures and firefighter nutrition. Usually, significant changes are made after extreme wildfires lead to numerous fatalities.Read More ...
High Country News reported this phenomenon four years ago, in a piece by Adam Burke called The Public Lands' Big Cash Crop. But this year the story is making big headlines around the West as huge gardens of marijuana are discovered and destroyed on public land from California to Colorado. The Denver Post reported today that more than 20,000 marijuana plants have been found this summer on Colorado's national forest land -- most recently in Pike National Forest on Friday, where 14,500 plants along with garbage, a drying shed, a rifle and propane tanks were recovered. The Post says the pot garden -- about the size of a football field -- could be the largest marijuana-growing operation ever found in the state.
Michael Skinner, assistant agent in charge of the USFS Rocky Mountain Region, says the huge operation indicates that Mexican drug cartels "have discovered the Rocky Mountains." Skinner has requested $100,000 to cover costs for searching for the marijuana farms -- but with only 29 rangers overseeing more than 14 million acres of forests and grasslands in the state, the odds are against success.
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In eastern Idaho, one small rural school recently gained international fame. In late July, the Teton Valley Community School of Victor, Idaho, was recognized as one of eight finalists in the 2009 Open Architecture Challenge: Classroom. The competition, sponsored by Architecture for Humanity, received 400 submissions from 65 countries.
Finalists included two other U.S. teams as well as teams from Colombia, India and the U.K. The winning team, to be announced in September, will be awarded $5,000 dollars and the partnering school will receive $50,000 to carry out the design.