How long will California’s drought continue?

Snowpack at record low levels

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A NASA Earth Observatory photo shows dry conditions in California in Jan. 2014.

Staff Report

FRISCO — The snowpack in some key California watersheds is at or near all-time record low, the state’s water managers reported this week after conducting their monthly surveys.

At one site, west of Sacramento in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the California Department of Water Resources reported less than 1 inch of water content in the snowpack, just 5 percent of the March 3 historical average for that site. Snowpack measurements are online here. Continue reading

Climate: California pikas vanishing from lower sites

‘It looks like we’re going to lose pikas from many areas where people have been used to seeing them …’

Colorado pika

A Quandary Peak pika enjoys sunny weather on a rocky ledge. bberwyn photo.

FRISCO — Global warming is probably shrinking habitat for California’s pikas, scientists said this week in a new study that looked at 67 locations with historical data on populations of the small alpine mammals. Pikas have already vanished completely from 10 of those sites, the researchers said, explaining that local extinctions are likely where summer temperatures are high and habitat is already marginal.

“This same pattern of extinctions at sites with high summer temperatures has also been observed in the Great Basin region,”  said Joseph Stewart, a graduate student at UC Santa Cruz and first author of a paper reporting the new findings, published January 29 in the Journal of Biogeography. Continue reading

Study: California’s biggest, oldest trees fading fast

Oaks, stands of dense, small trees becoming dominant

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Redwood trees in California. bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Hand-written notes from old forest surveys have helped scientists track long-term changes in California forests, including a decline of large trees of up to 50 percent in the Sierra Nevada highlands, the south and central coast ranges and Northern California.

The research team  from the University of California, Berkeley, UC Davis and the U.S. Geological Survey compared unique forest surveys collected by UC Berkeley alumnus Albert Wieslander in the 1920s and ’30s with recent U.S. Forest Service data to show that the decline of large trees and increase in the density of smaller trees is not unique to the state’s mountains. Continue reading

Anti-fracking groups seek ban in California

Fracked nation.

Fracked nation.

Activists say report downplays threat to water

Staff Report

FRISCO — California regulators this week released the first section of a new environmental review of fracking impacts.  But the study fails to take a hard look at many of the potentially harmful impacts, according to environmental activists.

The review by California’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources was released even though state scientists are still six months away from completing their analysis of the risks and harms of the controversial form of oil and gas extraction, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. Continue reading

Biodiversity: ‘Safe harbor’ for endangered Owens pupfish?

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Owens pupfish may find safe harbor on Native American lands in California’s Owens Valley. Photo courtesy California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Agreement with Native Americans could bolster populations of listed fish

Staff Report

FRISCO — Federal biologists are teaming up with Native Americans in eastern California to try and recover the endangered Owens pupfish under a safe harbor agreement that may include translocation of wild Owens pupfish to tribal lands, maintaining habitat, providing a source population for future reintroductions, and public education and outreach. Continue reading

More fracking pollution woes in California

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A natural gas well in western Colorado. bberwyn photo.

Central Valley groundwater tainted by illegal injections of oil and gas industry wastewater

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — All those warm-n-fuzzy fossil fuel industry ads showing clean-cut techs in lab coats with clipboards may play well on your plasma screen, but reality is a little different.

Rather than being upstanding corporate citizens looking out for the country’s best interests, some energy companies operating in California have been illegally injecting huge quantities of oil and gas wastewater into central California aquifers that supply drinking water and farming irrigation.  Continue reading

Global warming could reduce Sierra Nevada runoff by 25 percent

Increased plant growth projected to use more water

In the lengthening nights of October, the Snake River starts to freeze.

Global warming is likely to have a big impact on mountain runoff. bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Forests and brush moving up mountainsides as the climate warms could take a big gulp from streams and rivers, potentially cutting runoff by as much as 25 percent by the end of the century. Warmer temperatures will accelerate plant growth, triggering more water absorption and evaporation, according to researchers with  UC Irvine and UC Merced.

“Scientists have recognized for a while that something like this was possible, but no one had been able to quantify whether it could be a big effect,” said UCI professor of Earth system science Michael L. Goulden. “It’s clear that this could be a big effect of climate warming and that water managers need to recognize and plan for the possibility of increased water losses from forest evaporation.”

According to the researchers, runoff from mountain ranges is vulnerable to temperature hikes that lengthen growing seasons and result in more vegetation growth at high elevations, according to the study, to be published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Continue reading

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