It's National Library Week (April 12 - 18), and here in HCN's hometown of Paonia, Colo. we just celebrated the opening of our brand-new public library. After 5 years of hard work, the old, dingy, 3,700-square-foot library has been replaced by an 8,000-square-foot building with tall windows that let in plenty of light and a view of the mountains. The chairs are comfy, the kid's corner welcoming.
I remember small towns by their libraries: The moss-covered cottage in Inverness, Calif., where I curled up on the window seat and worked on my thesis for a week; the old train depot in Lyons, Colo., with the moldy collection of historic silverplates that made me sneeze. Anyone who grew up in a small, rural town knows how important these oases are. They provide crucial access to the internet, and many other services like ESL and literacy classes. They are havens for difference and intellectual growth in sometimes harsh, inhospitable surroundings. They are often poorly funded and staffed, with erratic hours.
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California’s State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project (CVP) – which serve the vast Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys of California - have projected dramatically reduced water delivery to all water users. Municipalities, wildlife refuges and farmers who hold water rights can expect to receive 50% to 60% of what has been requested. Most agricultural operations without water rights (so-called “contract farmers”) are expected to get between 15 and 20% of requested water. Farmers on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley are the last in the water line; water managers say these farmers will receive no water deliveries this year unless spring rainfall increases dramatically – an unlikely event.
Delivery of CVP water to west-side San Joaquin Valley irrigators was approved based on the availability of “excess water” in some wet years. Nevertheless these irrigators have planted orchards, vineyards and other permanent crops. Many of them have also developed irrigation wells which they utilize when water from the federal Central Valley Project is not available. However, groundwater pumping is more expensive, groundwater levels have been constantly dropping and land subsidence is a problem.
West-side San Joaquin water users include corporate farms in the politically powerful Westlands Water District. In the past these powerful water users received water despite state-wide shortages. Typically it has been wildlife and endangered fish which have been shorted to provide water to Westlands farms. But this year federal and state officials say they will not cave-in to political pressure. Additionally, environmental groups including the California Water Information Network are on alert to quickly challenge any federal-state backsliding.
But Westlands and its allies have not given up. In fact they have planned what they hope will be a massive protest march for April 14-17 .
Protest organizers are calling for suspension of the federal Endangered Species Act which has mandated less pumping from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and for the development of new reservoirs. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is expected to attend in order to push his plan for more reservoirs and a peripheral canal to by-pass the Delta. Senator Diane Feinstein – who in the past has promoted legislation designed to guarantee water to Westlands Irrigators – will also attend part of the 4-day event.
This week, the Montana Senate is voting on legislation that could give gas companies much more control over water pumped out of coalbed methane wells in the Powder River Basin. Senate Bill 505, if passed, will legitimize what many Montanans consider "water theft."
A single coalbed methane well can produce around 16,800 gallons of water every day. Water lawyer Ken Wonstolen called the copious runoff a "gift" to the West at the Colorado Water Congress. Why not, he asked with a gleam in his eye, treat this water and sell it? Although children in Montana are often told not to use water from coal seams for watering plants due to its high salinity, and it is often contaminated with chemicals like lead and arsenic, it can be treated, or used for stock and dust control.
The main obstacle to gas companies treating and selling produced water, or just dumping it, is the question of who that water actually belongs to. In Montana and Wyoming, groundwater is often subject to senior water rights held by property owners. If the produced water is defined legally as surface water, on the other hand, it becomes fair game. Consequently, there's been quite a bit of wrangling over the definition of produced waters-- are they groundwater or surface water?
Counterintuitive as this may seem, the bill designates methane company pipes the legal source of produced water, rather than the aquifers those pipes draw the water from. This redefines the water as "surface water" and makes it available for use by gas companies if they file for a "temporary" use permit and promise to put it to "beneficial" use.
The Northern Plains Resource Council protests that a) water doesn't come from pipes and b) "temporary" actually just means that companies can use the water until it runs out, leaving farmers and ranchers in the lurch.
A March Journal of Hydrology study predicts that aquifer drawdown in the Powder River Basin due to gas development could be 290 feet deep in the middle of the drilling fields, sucking water from more than 46 miles away. The depletion could affect aquifer recharge, river flows, wells and springs for 200 years.
Over the years, we've run a lot of stories about the spotted owl (most recently, Spotted owl or red herring? and Hostile Takeover). The threatened raptor, which depends on old growth forests, was blamed for the decline of logging in the 90s, and timber companies have continually pushed to reduce the bird's protection. Both enviros and industry sued the Bush administration over the most recent version of the recovery plan, including the amount of critical habitat set aside for the owl.
Now, the Obama administration says that rather than continuing to litigate, it will toss the Bush plan and rewrite it.
The Seattle Times reports:
Depending on how the plan is rewritten, it could jeopardize an initiative to more than triple logging in Western Oregon forests controlled by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. And it casts into doubt a proposal to loosen restrictions on logging in owl habitat in national forests east of Washington's Cascade Mountains.
In deciding to reconsider the Bush plan, Department of Interior lawyers cited the interference of Julie MacDonald, a political appointee who meddled with at least a dozen threatened/endangered species decisions over the past several years. Interior recently filed similar motions in other politically-tainted cases, including suits over Gunnison sage grouse, Canada lynx, and bull trout. At long last, it looks like industry and political interests will finally take a backseat to science.
Whites are moving back into the city of Denver, and people of color are sprawling into suburbia, according to a case study in the Sunday edition of The Denver Post.
Hey, that’s the same story in Washington, D.C. Dubbed “Chocolate City,” D.C. is due to transition from majority black to majority white in 2014, according to some folks who made projections from past censuses.
Typical story for a lot of places: higher property values in the city drive lower-income households out. And those same property values also make it tough for certain types of land usage like urban gardens to blossom (literally) – all this because commercial ventures are more profitable.
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At first glance, I thought it was an April Fool's Day joke, the front-page headline in the Denver Post which announced that "Utah to ease liquor laws."
But upon further reading, I discovered that it was no joke. As of July 1, Utah's liquor laws will resemble those of most other states. You'll be able to walk into an establishment and order a drink, without having to join a "private club," and there will be no more "Zion curtains" to separate bartenders from their patrons.
And in a related but different new law, the state government has legalized the hobby of making beer at home in your spare time.
Years ago, federal law allowed Americans to make up to 200 gallons a year of wine for personal use, but it didn't allow for beer until 1976. Not that I paid much attention to that law, or any Colorado regulation, when I took up brewing my own in 1975. After all, the local grocery store sold "Blue Ribbon Hop-Flavored Malt Extract," and what else would you use that for?
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Tomorrow Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder will visit Mexico to discuss ways to halt the flow of guns across the border. Mexico has some of the strictest gun control laws in the world, but its drug cartels are armed with high-powered weapons smuggled over the border from the United States. More than 6,000 people have died in Mexican drug wars since 2006.
Caveat: I do not own a gun, and never have. The only gun I've ever shot was a BB gun, and yeah, it was fun to hit the tin can. Many of my friends are gun owners, gunsmiths, collectors and hunters, and I support the right to bear arms -- up to a point. But we're far beyond that point in this country, and the Second Amendment has been used and abused to defend an absolute right for anyone to purchase any number of killing machines. We see the results of that paranoia-with-a-weapon play out on U.S. streets, schools, post offices, businesses and campuses every day, resulting in more than 30,000 gun deaths a year, about a third of them suicides.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon said this week there is a correlation between Mexico's drug violence and the end of the U.S. ban on sales of assault weapons (the ban expired in 2004). Ninety percent of the guns confiscated in Mexico come from the United States.
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At their worst, carbon offsets are opaque, morally-ambiguous items that reek of guilt, arcane rites of penance and the potential for profiteering. When you buy an offset it's hard to tell whether your money will actually be used to plant the promised grove of trees or install, for example, a slew of compact florescent light bulbs. It's even tougher to ensure that those trees will sequester a meaningful amount of carbon, or that the light bulbs will remain intact. There's enough uncertainty in the whole process to leave you wondering what exactly you spent your money on, and whether your purchase had anything to do with the stated goal of combating global warming.
So thank goodness the folks at Beef Producer Magazine have shed some light on the situation. They've gone right ahead and grabbed the truth by the throat with an article titled, "Carbon Credits are Easy Money." (The link will connect you to a search page. Click on the top entry to read the Beef Producer article.)
You may have already guessed where this is going. Here's the lede from the story:Read More ...
How would you like to be a doctor with 37,000 patients? If you're the lone veterinarian in Washington's Adams County who treats food animals, that's how many cows, sheep and pigs await your attention. A fall 2007 survey showed that many counties don't have even a single vet trained to treat livestock. Three-quarters of newly-trained vets specialize in companion animals (dogs and cats), and the few practicing large-animal vets are starting to retire in droves.
The shortage is most acute in Midwestern farm states, but every Western state except Wyoming has at least one county with more than 5,000 food animals and zero large-animal vets. New Mexico and Montana are worst off, with at least five counties that have more than 25,000 food animals and no vets. And that's risky for public health and for food safety, according to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office. The Billings Gazette reports:
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Yesterday, President Obama signed the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009. His signature ensures protection for more than 2 million acres of wilderness nationwide, and sets the long-awaited Navajo-Gallup water project in motion, delivering badly needed infrastructure and acre feet to the Navajo Nation.
More than 70,000 people in the Navajo Nation do not have easy access to clean drinking water. At least 40% of residents have to drive considerable distances to fill water drums, which makes it difficult for communities on the reservation to exist, much less grow or thrive. In Gallup, New Mexico, city wells are often contaminated by chemicals like sulfate and uranium, and water levels are dropping between 7-29 feet per year.
Historically, the Navajo have been excluded from western water allocation, as Matt Jenkins' 2008 story, "Seeking the Water Jackpot," explains. Last week, 247 Democrats and 38 Republicans voted to pass the omnibus bill, which guarantees an $870 million water delivery system that will transport 37,764 acre feet of water every year from the San Juan River in Shiprock to Gallup, New Mexcio, the Jicarilla Apache Nation in Arizona, and Window Rock, AZ. The project is set to be completed by 2010.
37,764 acre-feet is a drop in the bucket compared to the 600,000 acre feet in Navajo water rights that the Omnibus Act confirms. Infrastructure to deliver this amount of water could take up to 13 years to complete, depending on funding, but it will allow the Navajo to plan their future with more confidence.