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for people who care about the West

Mapping the solar eclipse; ‘America first’ energy; Underground drought

HCN.org news in brief.


Former Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, notorious for his harsh treatment of Latinos and the terrible living conditions at his jail, was hauled into court last month. In 2007, the American Civil Liberties Union and others sued Arpaio for racial profiling; in 2011, a judge ordered him to cease detaining people specifically under the suspicion they were in the country illegally. But the Department of Justice says he continued with his tactics. Now, he awaits a decision from a federal judge in Phoenix on whether he defied a court’s order to cease racial profiling. For years, Arpaio has been a symbol of several hot-button issues in today’s American West. In 2012, he received a lifetime achievement award from the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, an organization that pushes the idea that sheriffs are the supreme law of the land, above federal officers. Last fall, he was voted out of office after six terms. -Tay Wiles

Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, outside the federal courthouse in Phoenix, where he was on trial for violating a judge’s order banning racial profiling.
AP Photo/Angie Wang

2,802: Number of backlogged applications for permits to drill oil and gas on Bureau of Land Management lands.

257: Average number of days it takes the agency to approve a permit; the National Energy Policy Act requires it be done in 30.

In line with President Donald Trump’s “America First” energy development vision, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke signed a secretarial order in early July to speed up the Bureau of Land Management’s oil and gas permitting process. At a hearing for a subcommittee of the House Committee on Natural Resources, Interior staffer Katharine MacGregor said the agency would hire more employees to deal with the backlog. Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Calif., testified that the backlog is at its lowest since 2005, and that as of September 2015, there were 7,532 approved permits that industry had yet to use. In 2016, companies bid on less than 39 percent of allowed leases. -Tay Wiles 

"Trails in most of the West are getting really, really crowded. And in Alaska, there are, (A): not a lot of trails, and (B): not a lot of people on the trailsthat do exist."

—Krista Langlois, speaking on the “West Obsessed” podcast about an Alaska plan to establish a trail for thru-hikers along the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, and the economic boom that could bring. -Brian Calvert 


On the morning of Aug. 21, a total solar eclipse will pass over the West through Oregon, Idaho and Wyoming. It’s been almost 100 years since a full eclipse swept coast-to-coast within the continental U.S., but you’ll have to be in a 70-mile-wide band called the “path of totality”— and wade through hordes of gawkers — to see it. As part of High Country News’ ongoing eclipse coverage, we’re keeping tabs on where our readers will travel to see the moon pass over the sun. Let us know where you’re going by filling out our tip form online, and we’ll plot your destination on our live map.

 “I resupply when I need food, take a shower when I can and leave the rest up to the silence in the nights.”

—Photographer and thru-hiker Meg Roussos, one of only 290 people who have completed all three long-distance trails in the U.S. See her photographs from her latest trek on the Oregon Desert Trail.

A juniper tree stands alone on the desert steppe.
Meg Roussos

After a wet winter that filled reservoirs and lakes in California, Gov. Jerry Brown in April declared the drought emergency over. But for rural residents who rely on aquifers, the drought drags on. The problem is dramatic in the San Joaquin Valley, where over-pumping has caused groundwater shortages, and approximately 1,000 wells have run dry. That hits unincorporated rural communities the hardest, because they often lack the resources to maintain or expand community water systems or treat contamination. Despite the dry conditions, farmers continue to plant almond orchards, and new, deeper wells are being drilled. -Mark Grossi/News Deeply

You say

Derek Ryter: “We hydrogeologists have been telling people this for years, but climate and groundwater move slower than the news cycle.”

Richard Boylan: “We need to adopt modern water protection and harvesting practices, and abandon rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul impoundment boondoggles.”

Michael Surowiec: “Why isn’t there an effort to recharge the aquifers instead of building dams and reservoirs?”