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Warming rivers in US West killing fish, imperiling industry

Warming rivers in US West killing fish, imperiling industry

SAN FRANCISCO — Baby salmon are dying by the thousands in one California river, and an entire run of endangered salmon could be wiped out in another. Fishermen who make their living off adult salmon, once they enter the Pacific Ocean, are sounding the alarm as blistering heat waves and extended drought in the U.S. West raise water temperatures and imperil fish from Idaho to California.Hundreds of thousands of young salmon are dying in Northern California’s Klamath River as low water levels brought about by drought allow a parasite to thrive, devastating a Native American tribe whose diet and traditions are tied to the fish. And wildlife officials said the Sacramento River is facing a “near-complete loss” of young Chinook salmon due to abnormally warm water.A crash in one year’s class of young salmon can have lasting effects on the total population and shorten or stop the fishing season, a growing concern as climate change continues to make the West hotter and drier. That could be devastating to the commercial salmon fishing industry, which in California alone is worth $1.4 billion.The plummeting catch already has led to skyrocketing retail prices for salmon, hurting customers who say they can no longer afford the $35 per pound of fish, said Mike Hudson, who has spent the last 25 years catching and selling salmon at farmers markets in Berkeley.Hudson said he has considered retiring and selling his 40-foot (12-meter) boat because “it’s going to get worse from here.”Winter-run Chinook salmon are born in the Sacramento River, traverse hundreds of miles to the Pacific, where they normally spend three years before returning to their birthplace to mate and lay their eggs between April and August. Unlike the fall-run Chinook that survives almost entirely due to hatchery breeding programs, the winter run is still largely reared in the wild.Federal fisheries officials predicted in May that more than 80% of baby salmon could die because of warmer water in the Sacramento River. Now, state wildlife officials say that number could be higher amid a rapidly depleting pool of cool water in Lake Shasta. California’s largest reservoir is filled to only about 35% capacity, federal water managers said this week.“The pain we’re going to feel is a few years from now, when there will be no naturally spawned salmon out in the ocean,” said John McManus, executive director of the Golden State Salmon Association, which represents the fishing industry.When Lake Shasta was formed in the 1940s, it blocked access to the cool mountain streams where fish traditionally spawned. To ensure their survival, the U.S. government is required to maintain river temperatures below 56 degrees Fahrenheit (13 Celsius) in spawning habitat because salmon eggs generally can’t withstand anything warmer.The warm water is starting to affect older fish, too. Scientists have seen some adult fish dying before they can lay their eggs.“An extreme set of cascading climate events is pushing us into this crisis situation,” said Jordan Traverso, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Wildlife and Fish.The West has been grappling with a historic drought and recent heat waves worsened by climate change, stressing waterways and reservoirs that sustain millions of people and wildlife.As a result, the state has been trucking millions of salmon raised at hatcheries to the ocean each year, bypassing the perilous downstream journey. State and federal hatcheries take other extraordinary measures to preserve the decimated salmon stocks, such as maintaining a genetic bank to prevent inbreeding at hatcheries and releasing them at critical life stages, when they can recognize and return to the water where they were born.Fishermen and environmental groups blame water agencies for diverting too much water too soon to farms, which could lead to severe salmon die-off and drive the species closer to extinction.“We know that climate change is going to make years like this more common, and what the agencies should be doing is managing for the worst-case scenario,” said Sam Mace, a director of Save Our Wild Salmon, a coalition working to restore wild salmon and steelhead in the Pacific Northwest.“We need some real changes in how rivers are managed if they’re going to survive,” she added.On the Klamath River near the Oregon state line, California wildlife officials decided not to release more than 1 million young Chinook salmon into the wild and instead drove them to hatcheries that could host them until river conditions improve.Much is riding on this class of salmon because it could be the first to return to the river if plans to remove four of six dams on the Klamath and restore fish access to the upper river go according to plan.Across the West, officials are struggling with the similar concerns over fish populations.In Idaho, officials recognized that endangered sockeye salmon wouldn’t make their upstream migration through hundreds of miles of warm water to their spawning habitat, so they flooded the Snake River with cool water, then trapped and trucked the fish to hatcheries.And environmentalists went to court this month in Portland, Oregon, to try to force dam operators on the Snake and Columbia rivers to release more water at dams blocking migrating salmon, arguing that the effects of climate change and a recent heat wave were further threatening fish already on the verge of extinction.Low water levels are also affecting recreational fishing. Officials in Wyoming, Colorado, Montana and California are asking anglers to fish during the coolest parts of the day to minimize the impact on fish stressed from low-oxygen levels in warm water.Scientists say the salmon population in California historically has rebounded after a drought because they have evolved to tolerate the Mediterranean-like climate and benefited from rainy, wet years. But an extended drought could lead to extinction of certain runs of salmon.“We’re at the point where I’m not sure drought is appropriate term to describe what’s happening,” said Andrew Rypel, a fish ecologist at the University of California, Davis. He said the West is transitioning to an increasingly water-scarce environment.Hudson, the fisherman, said he used to spend days at sea when the salmon season was longer and could catch 100 fish per day.This year, he said he was lucky to catch 80 to sell at the market.“Retiring would be the smart thing to do, but I can’t bring myself to do it because these fish have been so good to us for all these years,” Hudson said. “I can’t just walk away from it.”———Associated Press writer Gillian Flaccus in Portland, Oregon, and Jim Anderson in Denver contributed to this report.———See AP’s complete coverage of the drought: https://apnews.com/hub/droughts.

Heat wave blankets US West as fires rage in several states

Heat wave blankets US West as fires rage in several states

SAN FRANCISCO — Firefighters struggled to contain an exploding Northern California wildfire under blazing temperatures as another heat wave blanketed the West, prompting an excessive heat warning for inland and desert areas.Death Valley in southeastern California’s Mojave Desert reached 128 degrees Fahrenheit (53 Celsius) on Saturday, according to the National Weather Service’s reading at Furnace Creek. The shockingly high temperature was actually lower than the previous day, when the location reached 130 F (54 C).If confirmed as accurate, the 130-degree reading would be the hottest high recorded there since July 1913, when Furnace Creek desert hit 1,34 F (57 C), considered the highest measured temperature on Earth.About 300 miles (483 kilometers) northwest of the sizzling desert, the largest wildfire of the year in California was raging along the border with Nevada. The Beckwourth Complex Fire — a combination of two lightning-caused fires burning 45 miles (72 kilometers) north of Lake Tahoe — showed no sign of slowing its rush northeast from the Sierra Nevada forest region after doubling in size between Friday and Saturday.Late Saturday, flames jumped Interstate 395 and was threatening properties in Nevada’s Washoe County. “Take immediate steps to protect large animals and livestock,” the The Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District tweeted.The blaze, which was only 8% contained, increased dramatically to 86 square miles (222 square kilometers) as firefighters sweltered in 100-degree temperatures.It was one of several threatening homes across Western states that were expected to see triple-digit heat through the weekend as a high-pressure zone blankets the region.Pushed by strong winds, a wildfire in southern Oregon doubled in size to 120 square miles (311 square kilometers) Saturday as it raced through heavy timber in the Fremont-Winema National Forest near the Klamath County town of Sprague River.The National Weather Service warned the dangerous conditions could cause heat-related illnesses, while California’s power grid operator issued a statewide Flex Alert from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday to avoid disruptions and rolling blackouts.The California Independent System Operator warned of potential power shortage, not only because of mounting heat, but because a wildfire in southern Oregon was threatening transmission lines that carry imported power to California.Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an emergency proclamation on Friday suspending rules to allow for more power capacity, and the ISO requested emergency assistance from other states. On Saturday, Newsom issued another proclamation allowing the emergency use of auxiliary ship engines to relieve pressure on the electric grid.Palm Springs in Southern California hit a record high temperature of 120 F (49 C) Saturday. It was the fourth time temperatures have reached 120 degrees so far this year, the Desert Sun reported.In California’s agricultural Central Valley, 100-degree temperatures blanketed the region, with Fresno reaching 111 degrees F (44 C), just one degree short of the all-time high for the date,Las Vegas late Saturday afternoon tied the all-time record high of 117 F (47 C), the National Weather Service said. The city has recorded that record-high temperature four other times, most recently in June 2017.NV Energy, Nevada’s largest power provider, also urged customers to conserve electricity Saturday and Sunday evenings because of the heat wave and wildfires affecting transmission lines throughout the region.In Southern California, a brush fire sparked by a burning big rig in eastern San Diego County forced evacuations of two Native American reservations Saturday.In north-central Arizona, Yavapai County on Saturday lifted an evacuation warning for Black Canyon City, an unincorporated town 43 miles (66 kilometers) north of Phoenix, after a fire in nearby mountains no longer posed a threat. In Mohave County, Arizona, two firefighters died Saturday after a aircraft they were in to respond to a small wildfire crashed, local media reported.A wildfire in southeast Washington grew to almost 60 square miles (155 square kilometers) as it blackened grass and timber while it moved into the Umatilla National Forest.In Idaho, Gov. Brad Little declared a wildfire emergency Friday and mobilized the state’s National Guard to help fight fires sparked after lightning storms swept across the drought-stricken region.———Associated Press writers Bob Jablon in Los Angeles, Martha Bellisle in Seattle and Paul Davenport in Phoenix contributed to this story.

California tests off-the-grid solutions to power outages

California tests off-the-grid solutions to power outages

SAN FRANCISCO — When a wildfire tore through Briceburg nearly two years ago, the tiny community on the edge of Yosemite National Park lost the only power line connecting it to the electrical grid.Rather than rebuilding poles and wires over increasingly dry hillsides, which could raise the risk of equipment igniting catastrophic fires, the nation’s largest utility decided to give Briceburg a self-reliant power system.The stand-alone grid made of solar panels, batteries and a backup generator began operating this month. It’s the first of potentially hundreds of its kind as Pacific Gas & Electric works to prevent another deadly fire like the one that forced it to file for bankruptcy in 2019.The ramping up of this technology is among a number of strategies to improve energy resilience in California as a cycle of extreme heat, drought and wildfires hammers the U.S. West, triggering massive blackouts and threatening the power supply in the country’s most populous state. Other tactics include raising the cost of electricity during high-demand hours — when it’s most expensive to provide it — and offering cash and prizes to conserve energy when the grid is strained.“I don’t think anyone in the world anticipated how quickly the changes brought on by climate change would manifest. We’re all scrambling to deal with that,” said Peter Lehman, the founding director of the Schatz Energy Research Center, a clean energy institute in Arcata.The response follows widespread blackouts in California in the past two years that exposed the power grid’s vulnerability to weather. Fierce windstorms led utilities to deliberately shut off power to large swaths of the state to keep high-voltage transmission lines from sparking fire. Then last summer, an oppressive heat wave triggered the first rolling outages in 20 years. More than 800,000 homes and businesses lost power over two days in August.During both crises, a Native American reservation on California’s far northern coast kept the electricity flowing with the help of two microgrids that can disconnect from the larger electrical grid and switch to using solar energy generated and stored in battery banks near its hotel-casino.As most of rural Humboldt County sat in the dark during a planned shutoff in October 2019, the Blue Lake Rancheria became a lifeline for thousands of its neighbors: The gas station and convenience store provided fuel and supplies, the hotel housed patients who needed a place to plug in medical devices, the local newspaper used the conference room to put out the next day’s edition, and a hatchery continued pumping water to keep its fish alive.“We’ve had outages before, but they were not severe. This one lasted almost three days for us,” said Shad Overton, a manager at Mad River Hatchery. “The electricity from the microgrid pumped the diesel fuel we needed for our generator.”During a few hours of rolling blackouts last August, the reservation’s microgrids went into “island mode” to help ease stress on the state’s maxed-out grid.“We seemed to arrive just in time to handle these emergencies, but it’s about good governance over the last decades that paid attention to … what tribal elders were saying about how the conditions were changing, and taking that information and planning for it,” said Jana Ganion, the tribe’s director of sustainability.Energy experts said the tribe’s $8 million microgrids highlight the technology’s potential in providing reliable power to hospitals, fire stations and other small-scale operations that can provide emergency services during a disaster, and to remote communities vulnerable to power loss.“Anything that can give you a little bit of electricity, charge your phone or keep the fridge running when it’s dark is enormously valuable. Microgrids can play a huge part in that,” said Severin Borenstein, an energy economist at the University of California, Berkeley.The state’s energy commission has funded dozens of projects, serving as test beds for policies that might lead to commercialization of microgrids. Regulators are trying to resolve a longstanding rule that prohibits private microgrids from selling their excess electricity “over the fence” because they are not regulated by the state.In Briceburg, PG&E determined the cost of installing and maintaining the remote grid outweighed the long-term expense and risk of replacing power lines, utility spokesman Paul Doherty said. The five customers who draw power from it will pay the same rate as they did before.Meanwhile, the state’s grid managers are grappling with the same challenge they faced last year. California routinely buys electricity from neighboring states when it is short on power, but imports are hard to come by when other states are hit by the same heat wave.Bracing for another summer of heatwaves, utilities across the U.S. West have been signing contracts for more emergency power supplies and are trying to make sure they aren’t relying on the same suppliers as everyone else.The grid needs to be balanced at all times between electricity supply and demand. On hot days, it is stressed in the late afternoon and early evening, when solar power generation tails off after dark.The California Independent System Operator said there have been upgrades in power storage and transmission since last summer, including four times the amount of battery storage from the current 500 megawatts on its system to 2,000 megawatts by August. In all, there will be about 3,500 megawatts of capacity — enough to power some 2.6 million homes.There are setbacks too: An intensifying drought is weakening the state’s hydroelectric facilities.Officials warned power shortages could still happen this summer.“We just don’t know how hot it’s going to get and we don’t know how much demand will be,” said Borenstein, who also sits on ISO’s board of governors.To encourage utility customers to shift some energy use to times when renewable resources are most plentiful, utilities are moving customers to new rate plans where they pay less in the daytime and more during peak demand hours.One company is offering incentives, in the form of cash and gift cards, to people who reduce their household consumption at key times. OhmConnect, a regulated participant on the electricity market, said during a four-day period last summer when ISO issued “FlexAlerts” urging conservation, customers who agreed to let the company manage their smart thermostats and appliances helped take off almost 1 gigawatt-hour of energy — the equivalent of San Francisco’s typical hourly use.Cisco DeVries, CEO of the Oakland-based startup, joked that the opportunity to earn money by saving energy seems too good to be true so the company enlisted actress Kristen Bell to win over skeptics.“Blackouts feel like a thing that happens that you have no control over, when the reality is that if we work together we actually can prevent it,” DeVries said.