Passionate About Panoche

The “33 x 20” series continues today on Quest Radio, with the second of two parts on the proposed Solargen project in San Benito County. The report will be repeated on The California Report weekly magazine on Friday.

Catch up by listening to the first part and reading the accompanying blog post from last week.

PG and E already has transmission lines running along the Panoche valley floor.

PG and E already has transmission lines running along the Panoche valley floor. Photo: Andrea Kissack.

One thing becomes clear when you visit the Panoche Valley and the people that live and work there, everyone is charmed by it. The local ranchers, the environmental advocates, even the biologists hired by the Silicon Valley company that is looking at developing part of the valley for a commercial solar farm.

Thousands of acres of vast cattle land ringed by golden, scrub covered hills make up the Panoche Valley. The area has a vast, open beauty that seems very Californian. But in the springtime locals say it looks like Ireland. The land has also caught the eye of the CEO of Solargen Energy.

The company would like to build a 420 megawatt solar farm that would power about 120 thousand homes. To do so, Solargen would cover much of 4,700 acres of the valley with photo voltaic solar panels. Locals like chicken rancher Kim Williams worry it would change the character of the valley and harm wildlife. A group of local environmental advocates and ranchers have formed a group called Save Panoche Valley.

Kim Williams runs Your Family Farm in the Panoche valley and is opposed to the Solargen project.

Kim Williams runs Your Family Farm in the Panoche valley and is opposed to the Solargen project. Photo: Andrea Kissack.

Solargen, as required by law, has hired a team of wildlife biologists to do environmental surveys of the area which, it turns out, is home to several endangered species. Michelle Korpos, the leader of the team, has also developed a fondness for Panoche Valley where she has been working for the past year. Everyday she and group of biologists march out to the project site, and surrounding hills, searching out fox dens, canvassing creek beds and geo-tagging lizard scat.

Michelle Korpos, along with other biologists, has been hired by Solargen to run wildlife surveys for an Environmental Impact Report.

Michelle Korpos, along with other biologists, has been hired by Solargen to run wildlife surveys for an Environmental Impact Report. Photo: Andrea Kissack.

Charlie McCullough has owned his cattle ranch, one of the biggest in the area, since the early fifties and was born in San Benito County. He is one of five ranchers who has agreed to sell some of his land to Solargen. But McCullough is feeling remorseful that his decision could lead to such a change in the valley he loves.

 Charlie McCullough has agreed to sell some of his land to Solargen for their big solar project.

Charlie McCullough has agreed to sell some of his land to Solargen for their big solar project. Photo: Andrea Kissack.

The only commercial business in town is the Panoche Valley Inn which is not really an inn at all but a bar that serves as a stop for tired ranchers at the end of the day and birders and bikers on sunny weekends. The owner hopes the project’s contstruction jobs mean more business over the six year build out. But even the number of jobs Solargen promises to create has become contentious.

Larry Lopez, owner of the Panoche Inn, hopes construction of a big solar array would bring in more business.

Larry Lopez, owner of the Panoche Inn, hopes construction of a big solar array would bring in more business. Photo: Craig Miller.

One thing is for sure, the valley gets lots of sun, 90-percent of the solar intensity of the Mojave desert. But the Mojave, with its protected federal lands and desert tortoises, has turned out to be a nightmare for big solar entrepreneurs. Listen to our stories on the Panoche Valley which now finds itself in the middle of the debate over big solar. It’s all part of our series, “33 by 20,” a look at the obstacles in the way of California’s plan for utilities to generate one third of their electricity from clean energy by 2020. Here’s a map of solar intensity throughout the U.S.

Paddling the Coast for Climate Clues


Lane Hartman, Ian Montgomery, and Michael Taylor. Photo courtesy of Ian Montgomery.

Three Stanford students are starting a summer trip down the California coast today. They’ll be enjoying the views and the ocean breeze, but not from a convertible cruising down Highway 1. They’re kayaking from Monterey to San Diego. It’s going to take 2 months.

“If we walked we could go faster,” says Ian Montgomery, a sophomore Earth Systems major. He’s making the 400-mile trip with Lane Hartman and Michael Taylor. The three are united by, as they explain on their blog, a “love for surfing and great bodies of water” (Montgomery is from Southern California, Hartman and Taylor are from Michigan and the Marshall Islands, respectively).

Montgomery expects the slow pace (about 10 miles a day) and the sheer novelty of the expedition will provide opportunities to talk to locals about changes they’ve seen along the coast. The students will stop along the way to talk to ecologists, representatives from environmental groups, fishermen, and coast residents.

The students did a test run earlier this week.

Photo: Lane Hartman.

The intertidal zone is an interesting place to study climate change, explains Montgomery, because there are so many variables: air temperature, water temperature, tidal action, and human impacts.

As the students travel they won’t just be collecting anecdotal evidence. They’ll take note of what animals they see in the water and also take pictures of the intertidal zone as they go along. By photographing a 25 centimeter by 25 centimeter square a day, they’ll create a series of snapshots of what lives where on the California coast.

They’ll be able to compare their findings with research from last century done by  marine biologist–and friend of John Steinbeck’s–Ed Ricketts. Montgomery unearthed Ricketts’s records of what species lived in the intertidal zone in Monterey in the ’20s and ’30s (some of the records are singed on the edges, survivors of a fire that tore through Ricketts’s lab in the 1930s). Montgomery suspects they’ll find that species have moved since then, pressed north by warmer temperatures. He already knows some have, like the tube snail (serpulorbis squamigerus), a species that was once limited to Southern California, but is now common in Monterey Bay.

You can follow their progress and see pictures from the trip on the students’ blog.

Positive Feedbacks in a Warming Arctic

A thermokarst study site near Toolik Field Station (Photo: Gretchen Weber)

A thermokarst study site near Toolik Field Station (Photo: Gretchen Weber)

The Arctic is warming, almost twice as fast as the global average, according to a recent study.  Much of the accelerated warming here is due to positive feedbacks, including one related to the loss of summer sea ice in recent decades.  White surfaces, like snow and ice, reflect most of the sun’s energy and have a high albedo, while the unfrozen ocean absorbs it.  This creates a feedback loop: the warmer the temperatures, the less sea ice.  The less sea ice, the more heat absorbed, the higher the temperatures.  (As Molly Samuel reported recently, scientists are studying albedo as it relates to California’s snowpack and water supply.)

Another concern in a warming Arctic is thawing permafrost.  Earlier this week, I was out with my polar fellow colleagues measuring the depth of the permafrost here around Toolik Lake with a metal probe and a plastic ruler.  In some places we measured it to be just centimeters below a thin surface layer of plant-supporting soil called the “active layer.”

According to Breck Bowden, a scientist from the University of Vermont who studies permafrost here at Toolik, the latest modeling shows that approximately half of the permafrost in the Arctic will thaw in the next 50 years.  That’s significant not just for the Arctic ecosystems, but potentially for the entire planet.  Scientists estimate that there’s one to two times as much carbon frozen in the Arctic soils as there is currently circulating in the atmosphere, said Bowden.   The problem is that as the permafrost thaws, that carbon (mostly in the form of frozen organic matter), some of which has been frozen for thousands of years, will be processed by microbes in the soil and ultimately released into the atmosphere as greenhouse gases: CO2 and methane.

“So why should someone who is living in Alabama, or Nigeria, or the Phillippines worry about what’s going on the Arctic?” said Bowden. “Well, they should worry a lot if there’s going to be a massive amount of CO2 that gets into the atmosphere and your sea level rises or your crops fail because of changes that are related to CO2 changes globally. What happens here in the Arctic is going to affect everything on the globe.”

One indicator that the permafrost in the Arctic is already thawing is the increase in thermokarsts, which are places where the permafrost has thawed and the ground has collapsed, causing a disturbance in the landscape, and often releasing large amounts of sediment into nearby streams. Several scientists, including Bowden, study thermokarsts around Toolik Lake, and they’ve observed that the number of them is increasing.

A group of us were in the field with Bowden yesterday as he paid a visit to one of his research sites about 20 minutes up the Dalton Highway from Toolik Field Station, and a 30-minute hike across the uneven ground that defines the tundra landscape.

Picking our way through the tundra (Photo: Gretchen Weber)

Picking our way through the tundra (Photo: Gretchen Weber)

“The Arctic explorers uniformly and universally cursed walking on the tundra, and you can see why,” Bowden explained as we hiked.  “You step on it, you break your ankle. You step between it, you break your ankle.  It’s very lumpy.”

The thermokarst we hiked to was not particularly catastrophic-looking to my untrained eye.  It’s a gully that’s about 300 meters long, 20 meters wide, and about five meters deep.  The collapse happened in 2003, and in the subsequent years it has widened, and vegetation has grown back along its sides, giving them a gentle, convex shape.  Someone like me might have hiked down one side of this thermokarst and up the other without giving it much thought.

Bowden was careful to point out that thermokarsts are a natural phenomenon.  (They also have been known to occur when roads and houses are built in the Arctic without proper insulation.)  But he also believes that the increase in thermokarsts observed in remote areas around Toolik is not natural.

“Thermokarsts have been going on as long as there’s been an arctic landscape, and there have been more of them when it’s warmer and fewer of them when it’s colder,” he said.  “But I do firmly believe that there are more of them now than there were 20 years ago, as a consequence of warming we can document in a variety of places.  The question is, why is the warming occurring?”

Clock Ticking for Solar Developers

The “33 x 20” series continues Monday on Quest Radio, with the first of two parts on the proposed Solargen project in San Benito County. The reports will be repeated on The California Report weekly magazine.

Well hidden among the coast ranges of San Benito County, there’s a valley where, as one ecologist put it, “the hammer is hitting the anvil.” Mike Westphal of the Bureau of Land Management’s Hollister field office was describing the current tension playing out in Panoche Valley between two environmental goals: the mandate to combat global warming with a transition to renewable energy, and the desire to conserve the habitat of endangered animals, as well as California’s remaining ag land.

Solargen argues that Panoche Valley is a rare combination of great sun, proximity to population centers, and existing transmission lines to get the power there. (Photo: Craig Miller)

Solargen argues that Panoche Valley is a rare combination of great sun, proximity to population centers, and existing transmission lines to get the power there. (Photo: Craig Miller)

As part of our collaborative series: “33 x 20: California’s Clean Power Countdown,” Quest Senior Editor Andrea Kissack and I have been exploring the effort by Solargen Energy to develop Panoche Valley as a utility-scale solar power array (the state defines “utility-scale” as any facility that produces 200 megawatts of electricity or more).

Like many developers, Solargen CEO Mike Peterson is racing to break ground by the end of this year, in order to cash in on up-front stimulus money from the federal government. He says Panoche Valley presents a rare alignment of attributes for solar power: high solar potential (he says 90% of the Mojave), relative proximity to population centers, and existing transmission lines to get the power there. Peterson told me that the lines already in place have enough available capacity to handle his 420 megawatts of solar power, though a spokeswoman for PG&E says that question is still under study.

Meanwhile, some farmers and wildlife advocates have opposed the plan, saying big solar “farms” are better placed on “degraded” land. Ron Garthwaite, who runs Claravale organic dairy, says “This is just not the place to put it. There’s other places which have no ag value and which have less of a natural value where they could put it.”

Standing at the valley's north end, BLM ecologist Mike Westphal points to where 2,000 acres might be covered in PV solar panels. (Photo: Craig Miller)

Standing at the valley's north end, BLM ecologist Mike Westphal points to where 2,000 acres might be covered in PV solar panels. (Photo: Craig Miller)

Westphal, whose agency is not directly involved in assessing the project, sees the valley as a rare microcosm for the once unspoiled habitat of the San Joaquin Valley, just over the hill. “What we really need to think hard about is do we want to risk ecosystems to get energy,” he told me, scanning the valley from Shotgun Pass at the north end.  “That’s what’s going on here in Panoche Valley is we’re making this equation: how much do we want to risk the continued endangerment or extinction of this ecosystem in order to get more energy? That’s the crux of this conflict here.”

In this video clip, BLM ecologist Michael Westphal gives Craig Miller an overview of the valley, looking south from Shotgun Pass.

Solargen is shelling out for a $1.3 million-dollar environmental impact report, which Peterson says does not include measures such as the two dozen biologists and a detachment of scat-sniffing dogs, trained to track down the droppings of other critters for DNA analysis. The results help determine what species are there. Peterson says the total tab in “preparing and preparing for the EIR” now tops $7 million.

In Part 2 of our Panoche Valley “case study,” Andrea Kissack will have a closer look at the wildlife issues. That report runs next Monday, June 28, on Quest Radio.

As for the Governor’s ambitious goal to have renewable energy sources account for one third of the state’s electrical generation by 2020, Peterson describes the process as “surprisingly harder than you would expect.” He says he ponders how to “get this done in a way that is able to meet the mandates, but also be a good steward to the environment, and try to make people happy. And we won’t be able to please everybody.”

He’s right about that. Dairyman Garthwaite says of the state’s quest for renewables: “Just because somebody in Sacramento says something, doesn’t mean that it can happen–or should happen. I mean there’s all kinds of political things involved in that, there’s lobbyists involved in that. People want to make money.”

Climate Watch intern Chris Penalosa mapped some of California’s larger solar projects in development, below.

View Utility Scale Solar Projects in California in a larger map

NASA Launches Arctic Sea Ice Expedition

Coast Guard Cutter Healy (Photo by Petty Officer Patrick Kelley, US Coast Guard)

Coast Guard Cutter Healy. Photo: Petty Officer Patrick Kelley, US Coast Guard

Next week, a NASA team of more than 40 scientists will take to the seas for a five-week expedition in the Arctic to study how changing conditions there are affecting ocean chemistry and ecosystems.  The voyage, NASA’s first dedicated oceanographic research mission, is named ICESCAPE, which stands for “Impacts of Climate on Ecosystems and Chemistry of the Arctic Pacific Environment.”  It will take place aboard the US Coast Guard Cutter Healy.

“We’re  trying to address what is the long term impact of climate variability and change, both natural and anthropogenic, on the biogeochemistry and ecology of the Arctic,” said Paula Bontempi, program manager for NASA’s ocean biology and biogeochemistry research program.

The expedition will give scientists a chance to make field observations about the ocean, sea ice, and the atmosphere in regions where researchers often must rely on remote sensing technology for their data.  One main focus of the research will be to observe how changes, such as a substantial decrease in sea ice, may be affecting the ocean’s ability to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and the consequent effects on ecosystems.

“The Arctic is in the midst of some substantial changes,” said ICESCAPE Chief Scientist Kevin Arrigo of Stanford.  “In the last 10 years, the ice-free season in the Arctic Ocean has increased by about 45 days.  And this has a big impact on organisms in the Arctic that are keyed to these events.”

Arrigo says that the sea ice retreats about 28 days sooner than it did just a decade ago, and advances about 17 days later. He says this change has shifted the timing of food production.  Phytoplankton, the base of the food chain in the Arctic Ocean, are now growing a month earlier than they did in the 1990s, says Arrigo, which could spell a problem for organisms such as the California gray whales, which time their migrations around peak food production.

“Over the years satellite imagery has shown a significant decline in the Arctic ice cover,” said Don Perovich, a research geophysicist at the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory in Hanover, NH, who is part of the ICESCAPE expedition. “But there’s really more to it than just the ice.  It’s important to remember that sea ice isn’t just some isolated component. It’s part of larger system.”

Sea ice, he said, serves as a barrier between the atmosphere and the ocean, limiting the exchange of heat, moisture and gases; acts as a reflector of sunlight; and is a habitat for a rich marine ecosystem.

“It’s an ecosystem where sea ice and biology are intricately intertwined,” said Perovich. “You can think of the ice and the biology as executing this intricate dance, but it’s a dance where one of the partners has started changing its steps. And that partner is the sea ice cover.”

The 2010 ICESCAPE expedition starts in Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands, will continue across the southern Chukchi Sea and into the Beaufort Sea along Alaska’s northern shelf.  A second expedition is planned for 2011.   NASA estimates the cost of the ICESCAPE project to be $10 million over four years.

The expedition blog has already launched, and will be updated daily once the expedition is underway, according to NASA spokesman Steve Cole.

I’ll be launching my own “Arctic expedition” next week.  Starting June 18th, I’ll be spending two weeks with climate scientists at the Toolik Field Station in northern Alaska, as part of the Logan Science Journalism Program, run by the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA.   Check back here for periodic dispatches about the science, the landscape, and the impacts of constant daylight on one journalist’s mental state.

Study Eyes Climate Impacts on Ocean Ecosystems

Farallone Islands (Photo: Jan Roletto, NOAA)

Farallon Islands. Photo: Jan Roletto, NOAA

The north-central California coast is likely to experience rising seas, more extreme weather events and coastal erosion, increased ocean acidity, and shifting marine habitats as a result of climate change, according to a new report released today from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The report, “Climate Change Impacts: Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuaries,” was developed in collaboration with 16 agencies and organizations and was released today at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.

“This report provides insight into how climate change will play out in our region, how the ocean environment in the Gulf of the Farallones and over Cordell Bank will change and how the organisms that live there will be impacted by it,” said the report’s lead author, oceanographer John Largier of the Bodega Marine Laboratory and UC Davis.

Largier was careful to explain that the report does not make predictions about the future, nor is it a complete assessment of current conditions.

“It’s a group of scientists getting together and making their best judgment of how things are changing, how things will change, and what are we most concerned about,” said Largier.

Topping the list of concerns, he said, are rising sea levels of approximately 1.5 meters by 2100, warming oceans, an increase in the variability of precipitation (drier dry years and wetter wet ones), and ocean acidification, which he called, “the other CO2 problem,” and stressed as both a global and regional concern.

“There are a lot of things we know that are happening.  The real question we have to figure out now is how much this could all this change the ecosystem,” said Largier.  “The system is so complex, it’s not totally clear how it’s going to evolve.  Some populations might do a lot better with climate change, and others are going to be hammered. ”


Image: NOAA

The report makes some recommendations for the sanctuaries, including a greater focus on public education, implementing policies that allow for flexibility and adaptation to change, and mitigating other factors that impact the ecosystem such as pollution, invasive species, fishing, and infrastructure development.

“We are just now getting to the state where we say what does climate change mean for us, for my community?” said Largier.  “It’s warming, sure, but what does it mean for ‘here’?  How is it going to play out? And what are the things that are going to happen that really matter at a regional and local level?  This is a huge scientific challenge that we are struggling with, but it’s an essential management and policy challenge.”

Bill Douros, the West Coast Regional Director of NOAA’s Marine Sanctuary program expressed the same sentiment in his opening remarks at the Cal Academy today.

“As we all know, the ocean is going to warm, it’s going to get more acidic, sea levels are going to rise, and those concepts are important, but what’s really important to someone who might be managing those marine protected areas is “How much?” and “By when are the sea levels going to rise and temp going to increase?”  And that’s what this report today provides to us.”

Key Issues highlighted in the report:
⇒ Observed increase in sea level (100-year record at mouth of San Francisco Bay)

⇒ Expected increase in coastal erosion associated with changes in sea level and storm waves

⇒ Observed decrease in spring runoff of freshwater through San Francisco Bay (decreased Sierra snowpack)

⇒ Observed increase in precipitation variability (drier dry years, wetter wet years)

⇒ Observed increase in surface ocean temperature off the continental shelf
(50 year record)

⇒ Observed increase in winds driving coastal upwelling of nutrient-rich waters and
associated observed decrease in surface ocean temperature over the continental
shelf (30 year record)

⇒ Observed increase in extreme weather events (winds, waves, storms)

⇒ Expected decrease in seawater pH, due to uptake of CO2 by the ocean

⇒ Observed northward shift of key species (including Humboldt squid, volcano
barnacle, gray whales, bottlenose dolphins)

⇒ Possible shift in dominant phytoplankton (from diatom to dinoflagellate blooms)

⇒ Potential for effects of climate change to be compounded by parallel
environmental changes associated with local human activities

Population: The “Other” Climate Debate

Recently I saw a startling graph, plotting world population from the Middle Ages to projections for 2050. The red line remains relatively flat for several centuries, starts ramping up around the time of the 19th century Industrial Revolution, and then takes off like a Roman candle right about the time of my own birth, in the mid-1950s. Granted, the steep rise was enhanced by the drawn-out time scale of that particular graph. As you shorten the time frame you’re looking at, the slope flattens out. But the numbers paint a sobering picture on their own.

A world population graph similar to the one I saw. Image: United Nations

World population from 1750 to 2020. Extending the curve leads to 9 billion people by 2050. Source: United Nations

I decided to plot some of my own family history against that curve. When my father entered the world on the eve of the Great Depression, there were barely two billion people populating the globe. By the time I came along, the number had nudged above three billion.  This was America’s legendary Baby Boom and the beginning of the Roman candle phase (an exponential growth trajectory which continues today). Should I be so fortunate (or unfortunate) to make it to my own century mark, demographers project that by then (2055), the Earth will be asked to support more than nine billion people. That’s a tripling of the world’s population just in my (theoretical) lifetime.

Population growth seldom takes center stage in discussions of climate change, though the connection is undeniable (heck, nine billion people just breathing is a lot of CO2).

Pakistan87712955_blogBiologist William Ryerson, President of the Washington-based Population Institute, says that population growth is “not an inconsequential impact on the climate crisis.” But breathing is not the problem; it’s consumption. Appearing on KQED’s Forum program with Michael Krasny, Ryerson said that were that prediction of nine billion people by 2050 to be realized, it would be “the climate equivalent of adding two United States to the planet.”

Ryerson, who also heads the Population Media Center in Vermont, says we’ll be lucky to make it to nine billion. Ryerson said that in his view, “the resources just aren’t there,” for a doubling of the current population. He cites research by Stanford biologist Peter Vitousek, indicating that humans are already appropriating half of the total global “products of photosynthesis, i.e. all green plants.”

It seems that after decades of being dismissed by mainstream economists, 18th-century philosopher Thomas Malthus is getting a fresh hearing. Malthus made his reputation as a doomsayer in 1798, when he wrote that “the power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man.”

As procreation and climate change accelerate in tandem, the two forces may place a double bind on basic resources like water (see also Gretchen Weber’s post on “peak water“). Ryerson, who recently visited Pakistan, says that nation currently has 20% of the water that they had 50 years ago, on a per-capita basis, and “they’re on a 30-year doubling time,” meaning 368 million people by 2040.

The entire Forum program is available online.

Rising Temps Taking a Toll on Lizards

The mesquite lizard is a member of the Sceloporus genus. Sinervo's study included 48 species of Sceloporus.

Sinervo's study included 48 species of the genus Sceloporus, of which the mesquite lizard (above) is a member.

A new study published this week in the journal Science finds that local lizard populations around the world are going extinct, likely due to climate change.  According to the research, conducted by a team of scientists including Barry Sinervo, a herpetologist at UC Santa Cruz, four percent of the world’s lizard populations have disappeared in the last 35 years, and another 20% of all lizard species could go extinct by 2080 if global temperatures continue to rise.

Using field observation and experiments, and computer modeling, Sinervo and his team determined that increased daytime temperatures in some areas have shortened the amount of time each day during which lizards can forage for food. The data–and that of collaborating scientists on five continents–indicates that higher temperatures and reduced feeding time correlates with the pattern of local extinctions among lizard species across the globe (the Science website has a slideshow explaining how the research was conducted).

Sinervo described his research today on the NPR program Science Friday as part of a panel discussing modern extinctions.  He was joined by UC Berkeley integrative biology professor Tony Barnosky and San Francisco State Biology professor Vance Vredenberg.  Christopher Joyce reported on the study’s findings yesterday on NPR’s All Things Considered.

Campus as Climate Microcosm

Felt Reservoir, Stanford University  (photo: Gretchen Weber)

Felt Reservoir, Stanford University. Photo: Gretchen Weber

On a recent weekend, a couple of dozen hearty souls hiked more than 20 miles across the sprawling lands of Stanford University, to learn about global warming and see first-hand how the changing climate is affecting the campus.  It was the fourth annual “Walk the Farm” outing, a trek organized by the Bill Lane Center for the American West and led by its Executive Director, Jon Christensen.  Each year, the hike takes a different route through Stanford’s more than 8,000 acres, and is designed to use the university as a microcosm for a different global theme.  This year’s was climate change.

Throughout the 12-hour day, Stanford researchers joined the hikers to talk about the effects of climate change on the campus and region, as well as the related research taking place at the university.   Biology professor Carol Boggs spoke about her research on the Bay checkerspot butterfly, its extirpation in the region, and plans for a possible future reintroduction of the species on campus.  Other presenters included climate scientists Chris Field and Steven Schneider, and biologist Scott Loarie.

Watch this six-minute video for an overview of this year’s Walk the Farm hike and highlights from some of the talks along the way:

Hear more from Carol Boggs about the Bay checkerspot butterfly:

Scott Loarie explains how a rapidly changing climate is posing challenges for species migration in the video below:

CA Power Plants Must Find New Cooling Methods

California’s electrical power generators will be scrambling for new ways to cool their turbines, now that state regulators have ordered a phase-out of  “once-through cooling.” The practice, which has been under study by regulators since at least 2005, requires sucking in billions of gallons of cold ocean or river water and then returning it at higher temperatures. Nineteen major power plants across the state, including California’s only two commercial nuclear plants, are currently using once-through cooling.

Sea water used for cooling at Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. Photo: Craig Miller

Sea water spews from an outlet after being used for cooling at PG&E's Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. Photo: Craig Miller

Prior to Tuesday’s vote by the Water Resources Control Board, the head of that body’s ocean unit testified that once-through cooling systems kill 2.6 million fish, 19 billion fish larvae and 57 seals, sea lions and sea turtles each year, Dow Jones reported.

According to the Board’s summary:

“The proposed policy establishes technology-based standards to implement federal Clean Water Act section 316(b) and reduce the harmful effects associated with cooling water intake structures on marine and estuarine life.”

The rules require that companies phase out the practice and install equipment that reduces impact on marine ecosystems within the next several years.  Some generators have warned that the high cost of complying with the regulations could force them to shut some plants down.

For more on the practice of “once through cooling” and its effects on marine life, listen to Amy Standen’s Quest radio report from Monday.