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Delta Smelt Populations Plummet

Mar 8, 2016
Amy Quinton / Capital Public Radio

This is the worst year in history for populations of the tiny threatened fish that’s often on the frontline in California’s water wars. The state Department of Fish and Wildlife has found a mere handful of Delta smelt in its January and February trawls.

The department caught seven fish in January and six in February. UC Davis fish biologist Peter Moyle says catches have historically been in the hundreds.

High-Speed Rail Project Wins Crucial Legal Battle - For Now

Mar 8, 2016
California High-Speed Rail Authority

California high-speed rail supporters have dodged yet another legal bullet. As Ben Adler reports from Sacramento, the state has won a lawsuit that threatened to derail the embattled project.

When California voters approved a high-speed rail bond measure in 2008, they included several conditions. Among them, trains must speed passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in two hours, 40 minutes.

Opponents sued, arguing the state can’t meet all the conditions. Now, a Sacramento County judge has essentially ruled: maybe so, but it’s too soon to say.

Nader Assemi

Right now, Central California’s rolling mountain foothills are painted in brilliant orange flowers. After years of drought, California poppies are back with a vengeance.

Standing on the side of highway 168, Sandy Kowallis uses a knife to spread sky blue oil paint on a fresh canvas to capture the beauty of two poppy covered hillsides.

“And that should make it even more interesting. Because if you put a complement next to each other, like orange and blue, each will intensify the other,” Kowallis said.

San Joaquin Valley Town Hall Lecture Series

A new drought relief bill from Senator Dianne Feinstein is getting mixed reviews in the Valley, but at least one water expert says it's a a sign of progress. 

The long-awaited Senate bill provides for a lot of things, including funding for like desalination and more water storage. But the one thing it doesn’t do is mandate more pumping of water out of the Delta to store in places like San Luis Reservoir near Los Banos.  

Report: Pesticide Mixtures May Increase Health Risks But Are Unregulated

Feb 18, 2016
Department of Pesticide Regulation - Facebook

A new UCLA report says the California Department of Pesticide Regulation fails to regulate pesticide mixtures adequately. As Amy Quinton reports from Sacramento, the study finds the mixtures may increase health risks.

The study looked at three fumigants commonly applied together in California. It found a "reasonable likelihood" the three can interact to increase health risks to farm workers and people who live near fields or orchards.

Dean Florez
Dean Florez Facebook

Former State Senator Dean Florez is headed back to Sacramento, this time as a new member of the state's powerful Air Resources Board. 

Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de Leon announced the appointment Wednesday, saying in a written statement that the Shafter Democrat has "the resolve to stand up to the oil lobby who want to keep the status quo." 

A decade ago, Florez led legislative efforts to end the agriculture industry's historic exemption from state air quality rules. 

Florez issued the following statement:

San Joaquin River
Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio / White Ash Broadcasting

Despite promises that El Nino storms will not bring an end to California's drought, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced Friday that it will begin releasing more water into the San Joaquin River. The release is part of a program to restore the river's long-extinct salmon population on a 60-mile stretch of the channel that is typically dry.

Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio

Drive anywhere in Central California and you’ll see fields of almonds.  Some people wonder if the growth of the almond industry is sustainable. And as FM89’s Ezra David Romero reports the price of the nut just may have met a slippery slope.

  

Scott Lange and Nick Foster / http://www.darkskyphotography.com/

Imagine for a moment hiking the majestic John Muir trail in the High Sierra from Yosemite to Mount Whitney. Now imagine doing it in the middle of the night, with a load of sophisticated cameras, tripods and telescopes. That’s just what Scott Lange and Nick Foster did last summer, all in an effort to produce breathtaking long-exposure nighttime images of heavens and the landscape. 

Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio

The Kern County Board of Supervisors has approved new rules that supporters say will streamline oil and gas production.

The unanimous vote by the board Monday endorses a new environmental report that will make most surface production activities go through a process similar to the one to get a building permit.

The state will still regulate subsurface operations.

New York Times

For over 150 years, California has collectively embraced an identity as a place where people go to reinvent themselves and to remake the world. From the Gold Rush to the Silver Screen; from valleys of wheat and oranges to valleys of microprocessors and software – the Golden State’s story is one of innovation and riches, but also tension over what has been lost in the process of creating the future. 

NASA Study: California Drought Doubles Idle Farmland Acres

Oct 29, 2015
NASA

Farmers in California's Central Valley have left more than one million acres of agricultural land idle all year long. As Amy Quinton reports from Sacramento, that’s more than double the amount before the drought.

US Forest Service Prevents Its Own Scientists From Talking About Study

Sep 17, 2015
Courtesy of US Forest Service / InciWeb

The US Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station is preventing one of its scientists from talking about a study he authored in the journal “Science.” As Amy Quinton reports from Sacramento, the agency even unsuccessfully requested that Science editors hold the article or remove his name from the study.

Westlands Water District website

The Westlands Water District has reached an agreement with the federal government in a decades-long dispute over who is responsible for water runoff from westside growers’ fields. In the deal, Westlands will assume responsibility for managing the wastewater, which is often laced with toxic chemicals like selenium from the soil. Westlands will also agree to retire at least 100,000 acres of farmland. The water district estimates that a federally-run cleanup plan would have cost the government around $3.5 billion. It’s unclear how much the district will spend on the drainage solution.  

Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio

California’s drought is having a devastating effect on its forests. Aerial surveys around the state show more than 20 million dead trees so far. And the drought has a partner in crime – the pine beetle. As Amy Quinton reports from Sacramento, if this deadly combination continues it could drastically change California’s forested landscape.

Drought Causing $2.7 Billion Economic Hit To California

Aug 18, 2015
Amy Quinton / Capital Public Radio

A new UC Davis study projects the fourth year of drought in California will cost the overall economy two-point-seven billion dollars. But as Amy Quinton reports from Sacramento, the study’s authors say agriculture remains remarkably resilient despite the drought.

The report finds the agricultural sector will be hit hardest by the drought, losing nearly two billion dollars and more than 10,000 jobs. Farmers will also take 500,000 acres out of production this year. But the report finds agriculture is still fairly robust. 

Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio

Spurred on by a request by local oil industry leaders, Kern County is currently exploring a plan that would dramatically revamp the way the county permits oil and gas wells. Under an environmental study that's currently in the works, getting a new well permit could become as easy as getting a county building permit.

Scientists Discover What Makes Lake Tahoe Blue

Jul 23, 2015
Tahoe Regional Planning Agency newsletter Tahoe In Depth

Scientists have long thought that the blueness of Lake Tahoe was due to the lake’s clarity. But as Amy Quinton reports from Sacramento, a new study shows that algae plays an important role.

For the past three years, UC Davis researchers have been measuring the degree of blueness in Lake Tahoe using a NASA research buoy. They compared those results with the lake’s clarity and found something surprising. 

Schadlow: “Clarity and blueness are controlled by very different things.” 

Valley Citrus Growers Feeling More Pain As Drought Drags On

Jul 23, 2015
Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio

Citrus growers in the Central Valley say fewer trees are producing fruit, so the price of citrus could increase at the grocery store.  But, farmers' costs have skyrocketed because of the drought.

Zack Stuller is a grower in Exeter. He says he hasn't received water from the Central Valley Water Project in two years.

He has spent $2,000 an acre foot for water from distant agencies and  $70,000 to dig a well for six-acres of lemons.

More Wildfires In California, But No 'Mega Fires' In 2015 So Far

Jul 22, 2015
Katie Orr / Capital Public Radio

There's been a significant increase in the number of wildfires this year in California. But, as Ed Joyce reports from Sacramento, the size of the fires has been relatively small.

Four years of drought and record warm temperatures have created dangerous wildfire conditions in California.

And, it's been a busy year for firefighters.

Berlant: "Already this year we've responded to well over 1200 more fires than we would in an average year for the same time period." 

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