Author Archives: Molly Samuel

Molly Samuel joined KQED as an intern in 2007, and since then has worked here as a reporter, producer, director and blogger. Before becoming KQED Science’s Multimedia Producer, she was a producer for Climate Watch. Molly has also reported for NPR, KALW and High Country News, and has produced audio stories for The Encyclopedia of Life and the Oakland Museum of California. She was a fellow with the Middlebury Fellowships in Environmental Journalism and a journalist-in-residence at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center. Molly has a degree in Ancient Greek from Oberlin College and is a co-founder of the record label True Panther Sounds.

Quick Link: So Far, 2012 is the U.S.’s Hottest Year on Record

Nationwide, 86 temperature records were broken in June, though none were in California

Temperatures have been so warm in parts of the country, they’ve established new “neighborhoods” in the record books, according to a report released today by NOAA. States in the West, the Midwest and Southeast set all-time heat records in June. California and the other West Coast states have not been affected by the heat wave. In fact, Oregon and Washington had a cooler-than-average June.


It’s official, although not necessarily a surprise. The average temperature across the contiguous United States for the first six months of this year has been the warmest on record – and by a considerable sum – dating back to 1895, according to a monthly report released Monday by NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center.

Read more at: green.blogs.nytimes.com

Why Hasn’t California Been Hit With This Summer’s Extreme Heat?

As the rest of the country roasts, California has enjoyed a moderate summer

Craig Miller/KQED

California has not experienced the extreme heat much of the rest of the country has this summer.

For more than a week, record-breaking temperatures have been baking the Midwest and East Coast. But while cities in other parts of the country broke and tied records for the hottest Fourth of July, in San Francisco I bundled-up in a couple sweaters and watched the fireworks through the fog. Which is typical. Overall, it’s been an average summer here in California, at least temperature-wise.

“At June around the state, most places were fairly close to normal, or a degree and a half below normal, so not any real extremes,” Jan Null, a meterologist with Golden Gate Weather Services, told me. “We’ve stayed in the mild, in-between area. It was not a particularly cold winter, and not a particularly hot summer.” Continue reading

Vote on $11 Billion Water Bond Delayed Another Two Years

The massive bond, which would have been on this year’s ballot, will now go to voters in 2014

California Department of Water Resources

The water bond would help fund restoration projects in the Delta.

The California legislature voted in favor of postponing the state’s water bond on Thursday. The bond, which would provide funds for water supply, environmental restoration and groundwater protection projects, was originally scheduled to be on the November, 2010 ballot. Then, the legislature voted to delay until this year, when they pushed it back, again.

“The ballot was too crowded and people had a lot of other things on their mind,” Senator Jean Fuller told me before the vote. “People are much more concerned about financial issues.”

Governor Jerry Brown’s tax measure is on this November’s ballot. He had previously asked for the water bond to be delayed, because he also didn’t want the competition.

An analysis by the Pacific Institute found that the bond is the largest since the one that funded the State Water Project in the 1960’s. Continue reading

CalFire: Watching Colorado, Preparing for the Worst

There have already been more than 2,500 wildfires in California this year

Craig Miller/KQED

A wildfire truck owned by California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire).

While CalFire experts, embedded with the California National Guard are helping fight the massive wildfires in Colorado, CalFire is also beefing up at home, preparing for the peak of California’s fire season. As of this week, the agency is fully staffed, with 7,000 personnel, hundreds of engines and dozens of air tankers and helicopters.

CalFire has already responded to 2,308 fires this year — that’s more than 1,000 more than at this time last year, and higher than the five-year average, too. Combined with the fires in local jurisdictions, there have been more than 2,500 fires this year, and that doesn’t include wildfires on federal land. Continue reading

Quick Link: Appeals Court Upholds EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Rules

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. ruled in favor of the Environmental Protection Agency today, agreeing with the EPA that greenhouse gases pose a risk to people’s health and welfare. The court also backed the EPA up on its rules on tailpipe emissions and large industrial polluters.

California filed briefs in support of the EPA in the case. The state was the first to regulate emissions from cars, and when the EPA began working on a national rule, California said it would adopt that one. This decision upholds the EPA’s regulations, which have already gone into effect.


A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia declared that the agency was “unambiguously correct” that the Clean Air Act requires the federal government to impose limits once it has determined that emissions are causing harm.

Read more at: www.nytimes.com

Why is Hydropower Relicensing So Complicated?

Unraveling the knot of hydropower development on the Yuba River

Molly Samuel/KQED

Englebright Dam is not part of any of the hydro projects on the Yuba River, but it's surrounded by them.

When most of the dams in California were built, there were few, if any, safety or environmental regulations governing how they operated. Now most hydropower projects, whether they’re owned by local agencies or power companies, need licenses from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC. (Federal projects don’t require FERC licenses.) Licenses are good for 30 to 50 years, and licensees don’t have to keep up with, for instance, environmental laws passed in the intervening years. So when a hydropower project does come up for relicensing, there’s a lot to catch up on.

I described some of the relicensing process in a radio story for The California Report for Climate Watch’s “Water and Power” series. Dennis Smith, the Hydropower Relicensing Manager for Region 5 for the Forest Service, gave me a taste of how complicated relicensing is when he showed me a flow chart [PDF] of how the process works. It has 39 boxes on it, each a discrete step. A typical application takes at least five years to complete. Some take much longer.

“You could have a child and he would be in the first grade by the time you got a license for a dam,” Smith said. Continue reading

Sea Level Rise Will Hit Calif. Harder Than Rest of the West

New study zeroes in on sea level rise on the West Coast, finds variation based on location

Scorpions and Centaurs/Flickr

San Francisco International Airport could be underwater within the next few decades.

By 2030, sea levels on most of California’s coast will be five inches higher than ten years ago. By 2100, three feet higher. That’s according to a new report by the National Research Council. The study arrived at numbers that aren’t far from previous projections of sea level rise, but other research has been on a global scale, and this one focused specifically on the West Coast.

“What was surprising to me was Oregon and Washington being so different,” Robert Dalrymple told me; he’s a professor of civil engineering at Johns Hopkins University and chair of the Committee on Sea Level Rise in California, Oregon, and Washington, which wrote the report.

Sea level rise happens at different rates at different places. Continue reading

Rethinking Hydropower

The bureaucratic, expensive and often contentious world of hydropower relicensing

This post is part of Climate Watch’s series, “Water and Power.”

Just so we all start on the same page: there are a lot of dams in California. People have been building dams here since the Gold Rush, and though the dam building boom of the first half of the 20th century is long-over, the dams are still here.

This animation shows all the dams in California. To see a breakdown of which ones are connected to hydropower projects (and which rivers in California remain undammed), explore the Water and Power map. Graphics produced by Don Clyde. Research by Lisa Pickoff-White.

When people began building dams in California, they probably were probably mostly thinking about gold. Later, they had more lofty ideals: controlling floods, supplying water to cities and farms, generating electricity.

One thing they probably weren’t thinking much about: pond turtles. Until recently. Continue reading

Quick Link: California’s Coast is Particularly Sensitive to Acidification

A new study published in Science finds that increasing acidity will hit the California coast especially hard, affecting the diverse marine ecosystem and the industries that rely on it.

A new high resolution computer model reveals that over the next 4 decades, rising ocean acidity will likely have profound impacts on waters off the West Coast of the United States, home to one of the world’s most diverse marine ecosystems and most important commercial fisheries. These impacts have the potential to upend the entire marine ecosystem and affect millions of people dependent upon it for food and jobs.

Read more at: news.sciencemag.org

New Soot Limits Will Challenge Some SoCal Counties

The EPA’s new air quality standards reduce the amount of soot allowed in the air

Craig Miller/KQED

Soot comes from diesel trucks, industrial emissions and fires.

Two California counties are already behind the eight-ball with the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed new limits on soot. San Bernardino and Riverside are the only counties in the country that the EPA projects will not be able to adhere to the upper limits of its new range.

Soot has been linked to asthma, heart attacks and strokes and it’s also a culprit in climate change. The nasty stuff, also known as black carbon, comes from smoke from fires, diesel tailpipes and industrial emissions.

The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing an update to its national air quality standards, which seeks to lower the amount of soot in the atmosphere. The new rule would limit the annual exposure to fine particle pollution to between 12-and-13 micrograms per cubic meter. The current standard is 15 micrograms per cubic meter.

The New York Times’ Green blog writes that the EPA had delayed issuing the politically volatile proposal until it was ordered to by a federal court judge. California was one of the states that challenged the delay: Continue reading