California has had one weird winter this year: lots of snow and rain early, and almost none since January. It’s in years like this that it’s especially crucial to know just how much water to expect from melting Sierra snows — runoff that provides about a third of the state’s water supply. Current estimates combine patchy measurements with a kind of sophisticated guesswork. But that may be about to change with new technology that’s currently being tested.
There are more than 130 hydropower projects in California. They take advantage of steep terrain and gushing mountain rivers to churn out about fourteen percent of California’s electricity. It’s a delicate balance, dependent on heavy snow in the winter, and heavy runoff in the spring as the snow melts. But climate change threatens to throw that balance out of whack, a problem that federal regulators have chosen to ignore.
This week, California rolls out the heavy artillery in its attack on climate change with a program called “cap-and-trade.” It’s like a stock exchange for carbon emissions, where the state’s biggest polluters have to buy the right to emit greenhouse gases. It’s the most ambitious climate change policy in the country, but not everyone is happy with it.
So how does it all work? I teamed up with Lauren Sommer to explain it.
There are more than 1,400 dams in California. When the earliest of them was built, the goals were clear: store water, control floods and generate electricity. Since then, new priorities have been added, such as protecting endangered species, which makes relicensing the dams a very pricey and lengthy process.
Powerlines crisscross the Yuba River, just below the New Colgate Powerhouse.
This story aired on The California Reporton June 19, 2012, the last of a four-part series about the connection between water and energy in California. I also co-wrote two graphicillustrations explaining how they’re connected, and oversaw the production of the multimedia and interactive features for the series.
State and local officials are under increasing pressure to plan for the changes that California will see in the decades ahead with its shifting climate. They need answers about what those changes will look like and mean for the state. Scientists are searching for those answers on several fronts, from marshes to mountaintops, to the bottom of California’s oldest lake.
Hendy Woods State Park is in the rural Anderson Valley in Mendocino County.
The California Report’s series, “State Parks: On the Rocks,” visits a leafy corner of Mendocino County, known as Hendy Woods. To folks around there, it’s far more than just a pleasant spot for a picnic. It’s one of about eight state parks in Mendocino County still on the state’s list for closure. And locals are worried that will impinge on both their lifestyles and their livelihoods.
When Congress created the National Park Service nearly 100 years ago, the goal was to protect places with historic or natural value for future generations. But climate change is throwing a wrench into those plans. Sequoia National Park could be heading toward a future without its signature gigantic trees.