The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is one of the biggest ecological train wrecks in the nation, the focal point of a tectonic smash-up between human needs and natural dynamics. In consequence, it also has become perhaps the most-studied and squabbled-over body of water in the West. The latest contributions to that voluminous body of work are the final report of a governor-appointed "Blue Ribbon Task Force," and a federal court ruling.
Green building strategies are being embraced by a growing number of local and state governments. In some cases, the trend is being driven by a desire to reduce water and electrical use in areas where those critical resources are in limited supply or costly to import. Some elected officials also seem motivated, however, by frustration over the Bush administration's foot-dragging in response to scientific warnings about global warming, and are determined to take steps on their own to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Cities and counties cannot regulate tailpipe emissions or, for the most part, coal-burning power plants. They can, however, regulate land use and building design, and that's where they are focusing.
Californians are relatively thrifty when it comes to electricity consumption, using less on a per-capita basis than residents of any other state. The average Californian consumed 7,032 kilowatt-hours of power in 2005, according to the California Energy Commission. That's not much more than half the U.S. average of 12,347 kilowatt-hours.
California's business community is accustomed to having its plans second-guessed by regulators seeking to determine whether a project or activity will harm birds, bugs, fish and plants. But a recent decision by the Coastal Commission appears to signal a dramatic shift in the state's regulatory environment, adding a global dimension to the list of potential impacts to be assessed.
Alameda Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch sent shock waves rippling through California's water community in late March when he ordered the giant pumps at the heart of the State Water Project (SWP) to shut down, potentially cutting off water to two-thirds of the state's population.
Auburn Dam is the public works equivalent of a Hollywood zombie, rivaling any Tinseltown creation in its ability to withstand repeated attempts to kill it. First proposed nearly a half-century ago for a site in the American River canyon near the Gold Rush town of Auburn, the dam has withstood attacks by U.S. presidents, member of Congress, state and federal agencies, environmentalists, tax watchdogs, scientists, engineers and even nature itself.
Urban sprawl has been blamed for everything from vanishing farmland and dwindling wildlife to Baby Boomer obesity. Central Valley air pollution regulators are blaming it now for much of the region's persistently dismal air quality, and they have embraced a radical fix never before tried.
The forests of the Sierra Nevada have long been a landscape of controversy, a battleground for conflict over logging, wildlife protection, water diversion, and the accelerating encroachment of vacation homes and subdivisions into flammable scenery.
Nearly seven years ago, state Sen. Byron Sher wrote what turned out to be a prophetic commentary for the San Francisco Examiner about the pending resolution of one of the most bitter, drawn-out and violent disputes over forest management in California history. "Look beyond the hype over the deal to save the Headwaters Forest," he wrote in June 1998, "and you'll see that taxpayers may not be getting their money's worth."
If you tried, you probably could not design a better candidate for extinction than the California tiger salamander. But government protection of the salamander was slow to arrive and now, while the state and federal governments dawdle, the salamander has become embroiled in the politics of growth control and Indian gaming.