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California Fears El Nino’s Dark Side Will Bring More Trouble

El Nino may likely not end the state’s 4-year drought. Imagine instead a darker scenario, where the weather-changing phenomenon adds another year of dryness in the north while ravaging the south with floods. “What do you say when the governor asks you what to do? ‘You prepare for flood and drought because there is a possibility you can get both,”’ said Mike Anderson, state climatologist.

Sep 18, 2015 Brian K. Sullivan
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University of California Sells $200 Million Fossil Fuel Holdings

Students representing the university’s 10 campuses have protested and collected petitions urging the school to divest from fossil fuels that include coal and oil sands, a mix of sand, clay, water and a heavy oil called bitumen. Fossil Free UC, a coalition of students, faculty, staff and alumni has asked the university to adopt a five-year plan to freeze new fossil fuel investments.

Sep 15, 2015 Janet Lorin & Lauren Streib
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Are Californians absorbing the state’s water message?

The state’s top water cop on the challenges CA is up against

After years of drought and increasing government demands to cut water use and allow lawns to fade, the Golden State moniker is taking on new meaning. It has fallen to Felicia Marcus, Gov. Brown’s appointee to the head of the State Water Resources Board, to set the water-use rules for farmers, water districts, homeowners and everyone else. We sat down with the state’s top water cop to better understand the challenges she’s up against and the messages her office is communicating.

Sep 10, 2015 Rich Ehisen
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Power Grab

California’s record drought may be a boon to power companies

California is in the fourth year of an unprecedented drought, with rivers and reservoirs running dry. The energy needed to help grow crops, including about 2 billion pounds of almonds annually, may reach a record this year, and utilities are responding by building new transmission lines and substations to handle the additional electricity.

Sep 9, 2015 Jonathan N. Crawford & Kelly Gilblom
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A Tall Order

Tree maintenance is a must for property owners

The sickening, wooden crack of a falling tree can strike fear into the hearts of property owners. Maybe that’s true for anyone within a certain radius of the falling tree, but property owners have a more specific concern: They could be liable for thousands of dollars in damage to cars, or even lives. 

Aug 19, 2015 Robin Epley

Startup of the Month: Brown Lawn Green

In dry times, the grass can be greener with paint

Short on water for your grass? Just add paint, says Bill Schaffer, owner of Brown Lawn Green in Dixon. The idea for his business started as a joke. With California in the midst of a historic drought, Schaffer commented to his girlfriend that people would have to start painting their lawns if they wanted them to be green again. When the state introduced strict new rules concerning water use, he realized he might be onto something.

Aug 13, 2015 Russell Nichols
(Photo: Eiko James Photography)

Survival of the Fishes

California depends on hatcheries to maintain the state’s salmon population, but the cost is genetically inferior fish

Every spring and summer, Chinook salmon gather in vast schools along the central coast of California, fattening up on krill and small fish before their autumn spawning migration into the Central Valley. Fishermen in commercial boats, private skiffs and kayaks take to the water, and most summers, the fleet catches several hundred thousand Chinook weighing somewhere between five and 30 pounds. California’s bounty of salmon, however, does not reflect a thriving fish population.

Aug 11, 2015 Alastair Bland
(Photo: Alastair Bland)

The Flip-Side of Fish Hatcheries

Originally intended to preserve salmon, are hatcheries harming the species?

In 2009, fewer fall-run Chinook salmon returned to spawn in the Central Valley than have ever been recorded before. Just 50,000 adult fish spawned that autumn in the entire Sacramento-San Joaquin river system — a tenth of how many Chinook migrate inland in a good year. The event was an ecological and economic disaster that prompted officials to shut down California’s ocean fishing season for two years.

Aug 6, 2015 Alastair Bland

Go With the Grain

Elk Grove Milling pursues international markets, but the success rates are stacked against them

After a slow start piecing his way through El Salvador’s business regulations in 2008, Robert Lent began distributing Stable Mix throughout that country in 2012. Now the milling company — which employs 50 workers, makes $12 million in gross sales a year and, as Lent likes to say, feeds 17,000 horses a day — is poised to expand its distribution network in Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Mexico.

Aug 4, 2015 Anita Creamer
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Burn Notice

Biomass is coming under fire for polluting the air and threatening wild forests. But is the controversy warranted?

Much of the 8 million tons of woody debris that facilities burn each year is material that would probably burn in open fields if there wasn’t an energy-producing alternative. Since the smokestacks on a biomass plant include filtering apparatuses that can remove some pollutants from the emissions, the industry — which has helped to phase out open burning of agricultural waste — has been credited as an overall boon to California’s air quality.

Jul 23, 2015 Alastair Bland
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Big Bad Biomass

Just because it’s renewable doesn’t make it clean

As California looks for ways to reduce its carbon footprint and help curb climate change, environmental activists are questioning the integrity of the biomass industry, which burns millions of tons of woody plant matter each year to help power the state’s electric grid.   

Jul 16, 2015 Alastair Bland