Drought, heat and urbanization put the squeeze on lemons in Arizona and California

PHOENIX – Citrus production, one of Arizona’s founding “Five Cs,” predates statehood. But today, the industry is stuck – and for lemons, the market no longer can grow, thanks to drought and urbanization.

Harold Payne is manager of the 2,000-acre Fort McDowell Tribal Farm, which grows lemon trees on just one-tenth of that land, even though prices have been steadily rising.

“So lemons, they are actually the most profitable because a lemon tree will produce three times as much fruit as a navel (orange) tree,” Payne said. “And the prices are higher. So it doesn’t take a lot of math to figure out, if you have a choice, you’d be growing lemons.”

In addition, people are using more lemons in cooking, seasonings, flavorings and beverages. Worldwide demand for lemons is at an all-time high, but growers in Arizona are not producing more lemons to meet the rising demand.

“The problem is there is no more water,” Payne said. “All of the water is allocated, that is, in the rivers in Arizona. It’s actually overallocated.”

Harold Payne of Fort McDowell Tribal Farm shows an irrigation line underneath a lemon tree. He would like to grow more lemons, but “The problem is there is no more water.” (Photo by Heather van Blokland/KJZZ)

Cities and tribes have the highest priority in water rights. Farmers are last in line, which means a smaller lemon crop on limited land with limited water. Add drought, high heat and natural disasters and prices fluctuate even more, said Harold Edwards, CEO of Limoneira, one of the oldest and largest citrus growers in the U.S.

“And so that’s why you saw the price of lemons rise to very, very high prices toward the end of the summer,” he said, “because of the early season and the early harvest of lemons. Combined with the extreme heat in the latter part of the summer, there just wasn’t enough supply to meet the demand.”

Edwards’ groves in Southern California were damaged this year by high temperatures.

“And the lemons on the tree really had a hard time with that, and the trees had a hard time with that,” he said. “And so you had a lot of fruit that was not able to make it through that heat event and fell onto the ground.”

In early June, the average price of a lemon box was $36. By July, it was $55. By mid-September, $70.

Edwards said consumers “tend to be somewhat inelastic from the standpoint of, if you go to the grocery store and that lemon costs 30 cents or you go that same grocery store and it costs 90 cents, consumers typically buy lemons and don’t typically let that price differential influence their decision.”

There is no alternative for lemons when making things like lemonade or lemon meringue pie. Which prompts some people to take matters into their own hands, said Pamela Hamilton, publisher and editor of Edible Phoenix magazine.

“There are actually some people who go and see a tree that isn’t being used and go knock on a door and ask if it can be foraged,” she said, but other people don’t bother to ask for permission.

“I say (that) as someone whose lemon tree was stripped of lemons while she was on vacation last year,” said Hamilton, who bemoans the decline of agriculture in metro Phoenix.

“In the time that I’ve been here, the amount of farmland that’s been paved over and turned into housing developments is astonishing,” she said. “Any farm that’s still a farm, I’m happy to see that continuing.”

Harold Payne among Ft. McDowell Farm’s rows of lemon crops. (Photo by Heather van Blokland/KJZZ)

Urban encroachment is another reason the Arizona citrus industry is in decline.

“Because of urbanization, primarily in the Phoenix area, and a number of years of poor returns, the industry has shrunk to about 12,000 acres,” said Glenn Wright, a University of Arizona Extension horticulturist.

“At one point in the ’70s, the Arizona citrus industry – which wasn’t just lemons, it included oranges – was about 80 thousand acres. Quite a lot of it, maybe 40 percent or so in the Phoenix area, and another 60 percent in the Yuma area.”

Arizona lemons now grow on only 15 percent of the acreage they covered in the 1970s. Arizona’s lemon harvest for 2018 is expected to be its lowest in almost a decade, with production declining to less than half of what it was in 2011.

Renewable energy proposition electrifies supporters and opponents

PHOENIX – More than $40 million has been spent to fight for and against a ballot initiative that would change the future of Arizona’s energy mix. Proposition 127 has also been the subject of an Arizona Supreme Court lawsuit and a battle over claims that language from the Attorney General’s Office undermined the initiative.

If approved by voters Nov. 6, it would mandate the state’s regulated utility companies to get more of their energy from solar, wind and other renewable sources.

Supporters say it’s time to take advantage of one of the state’s most abundant resources: sunshine. Opponents say new energy mandates will result in higher costs for ratepayers.

In an interview with Fox News, Dr. Paul Bracken, a Yale University political science and management professor, said the state could be a testing ground for how other states deal with renewable energy standards.

“People who would like more sustainable energies are using the threat of a ballot initiative to put pressure on the state institutions of government and on the power companies themselves to change,” Bracken said. “I think one of the arguments in Arizona, is that for a state with its position in sustainable resources like solar it’s gone very, very slow in terms of particular solar but also wind—it hasn’t done as much as it should – so it could really influence Arizona Public Service and others to move in this direction.”

What the two sides say

Prop 127 would mandate that Arizona utility companies get 50 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030. The Arizona Corporation Commission sets the current standard at 15 percent by 2025; if the initiative passes, the mandate will be included in the state Constitution.

Arizona ranks second behind Nevada in solar energy potential. Yet in 2016, solar accounted for about 5 percent of the state’s net electricity generation, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Wind energy supplied less than 1 percent.

The group Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona collected hundreds of thousands of signatures to get Prop 127 on the ballot to change that mix.

However, Arizonans for Affordable Electricity filed suit in Maricopa County Superior Court in July, claiming a number of signature-gathering violations by Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona. Lawyers for the group also said the initiative’s language about “clean” energy was misleading to petition-signers.

Judge Daniel Kiley in August rejected arguments for removing Prop 127 from the ballot. The lawsuit was appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court, which also sided with the defendants, effectively keeping the initiative on the ballot and giving Arizona voters a say in the state’s renewable energy makeup.

“Most Arizonans understand that solar could be a really huge resource here,” said DJ Quinlan, a spokesman for Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona. “And right now, we’re just not doing it.”

However, Matthew Benson, a spokesman for Arizonans for Affordable Electricity – also known as No on Prop 127 – said Arizonans can expect a hefty increase in utility costs if the measure passes.

“For the typical Arizona family, that means a $1,000 or more in added utility costs over the course of the year,” he said, arguing that low income families and seniors living on fixed incomes would be hit the hardest.

In September, Prop 127 was again mired in controversy. Initiative supporters argued that language added by Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s office to the initiative’s explanation in the voter ballot guide, which the Secretary of State’s Office creates, could make the measure less likely to pass, according to azcentral.com.

The language involves the potential costs to consumers. The phrase “irrespective of cost” was added by the Attorney General’s Office regarding utilities meeting the new energy standards. One official from the Secretary of State’s Office called the added language “eyebrow raising,” according to the azcentral.com article, because that language is not part of the ballot measure itself.

Supporters of Prop 127 also contend Brnovich is in the pocket of Pinnacle West Capital Corp. – the Phoenix-based parent company of Arizona Public Service, the state’s largest utility – because the company donated $425,000 to use against Brnovich’s opponent in the 2014 elections. The money was donated to the Republican Attorneys General Association, which spent $1.8 million to attack Democrat Felecia Rotellini in that election cycle.

Opposing views

Millions of dollars for campaign signs and radio and television ads have been raised by the two groups – and the messages are polar opposite.

For example, Arizonans for Affordable Electricity contends that Prop 127 would force the closure of the nation’s largest nuclear power plant, Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station in Tonopah, just west of Phoenix. Palo Verde supplies at least 27 percent of Arizona’s electricity, according to the Energy Information Administration, and employs more than 2,500 people, according to APS, which is one of the operators of the facility.

“Closing current power plants, bringing online new resources and all of these costs get passed along to guess who? Ratepayers,” Benson said. “That’s the reason ratepayers will see their costs go up drastically if this becomes part of the Constitution.”

Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona refutes the idea that Palo Verde would shut down.

“Palo Verde, we believe, is here to stay for its whole life cycle, and we’re supportive of that,” Quinlan said. “Having 50 percent renewable energy sitting next to 30 percent clean energy is a very compatible and healthy thing for our state.”

Nuclear energy emits lower levels of greenhouse gas emissions, making it comparatively “cleaner” than such sources as coal or natural gas, according to Lincoln Davies, a law professor at the University of Utah who studies renewable energy policy in the U.S. and on a global scale.

The group also argues that new infrastructure would be needed to bring more renewable energy to the electrical grid, and that means jobs.

“What would happen is a pretty substantial and markable increase in our solar industry right away, which could really bring in a lot of good jobs and actually cut down on costs,” Quinlan said.

Where the money comes from

Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona has raised more than $18 million to support Prop 127, according to campaign finance reports. NextGen Climate Action, an environmental advocacy organization founded by California billionaire Tom Steyer, provided more than 99 percent of funds for the group.

Arizonans for Affordable Electricity is largely backed by Pinnacle West Capital Corp., and has raised more than $22 million to oppose Prop 127, according to campaign finance reports.

Davies said it’s not surprising to see large utility companies spending millions of dollars to oppose mandates like Prop 127.

“As the grid has started to evolve,” he said, “as solar has become a really powerful influence in terms of how electricity is getting produced in the United States, you’re starting to see pushback from a lot of utilities and other political constituencies in different states against some of these measures, especially as they become more stringent.”

Similar initiatives are on the ballot next month in Nevada and Washington. Twenty-nine states have renewable portfolio standards that mandate electric utilities generate a certain amount of total energy from renewable sources. California and Hawaii share the highest future requirements: 100 percent renewable energy by 2045. Arizona renewable energy standards are currently set at 15 percent by 2025.

“The idea of these laws was to drive down the cost of renewables over time so that they could be scaled up as technologies and be used across the grid,” Davies said.

The last day to mail in ballots is Oct. 31.

–Video by Rachel Carlton

Biologists scour Colorado River to help endangered species survive

Razorback suckers are endemic to the Colorado River Basin and have been listed as endangered since 1991. (Photo by Luke Runyon/KUNC)

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. – The temperature is hovering around 90 degrees as Dale Ryden and I float down the Colorado River near Grand Junction. The turbid water looks inviting, a blessed reprieve from the heat, but if either of us jumped in, we’d be electrocuted.

“It can actually probably be lethal to people if you get in there,” said Ryden, a fish biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Ryden’s co-workers cruise by in gray and blue inflatable rafts, their bows fitted with a rig that suspends metal spheres the size of disco balls from electric cables. When the balls are lowered into the river, a generator at the back of each raft sends current through the balls into the water. What lies beneath the surface is a mystery the biologists intend to explore.

“To get at the animal we’re studying, we have to actually find ways to capture them and take them out of their natural habitat,” Ryden said. “And so, one of the ways we can do that is electrofishing.”

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists take stock of non-native fish caught as part of an electrofishing trip down the Colorado River near Grand Junction, Colorado. (Photo by Luke Runyon/KUNC)

Fish that venture near the electrified rafts are momentarily stunned and pulled from the water with nets. Today’s mission is to remove non-native fish – such as smallmouth bass that feed on the fry of the four endangered species found in the river. The bass will be collected, measured, weighed, stored in bags and eventually sent to a landfill.

Any of the four endangered species – bonytail, razorback sucker, Colorado pikeminnow and humpback chub – we encounter will be treated with care and released back into the river.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Dale Ryden paddles down the Colorado River between Grand Junction and Fruita, Colorado. (Photo by Luke Runyon/KUNC)

Ryden has a tough, and some would say impossible, job. Every day, he tries to find ways to help fish that evolved to live only in this river system – one of the most engineered ecosystems in the world – survive.

Ancient species

Fish in the Colorado River are a product of harsh conditions.

Over millions of years, the rushing, sediment-laden water sculpted their bodies with characteristic ridges and bumps, making them well-equipped to handle its highs and lows. But human interference in the rivers they call home has pushed a few to the edge of extinction.

“They’ve survived three explosions of the Yellowstone supervolcano,” Ryden said. “They were here when mastodons and woolly mammoths went extinct.”

However, the era of big dam building in the West fundamentally altered their river home over the past 100 years or so, Ryden said. Dams and diversions have made life close to impossible for these fish. Then people started adding toxic chemicals, pharmaceuticals and a range of invasive fish for sportsmen to catch.

“Call it the death by a thousand cuts,” Ryden said. “So they could survive any one of those problems probably fairly well. When you start throwing them all on top of them, then it becomes a lot more problematic.”

About an hour into our trip, there’s a flurry of activity on one of the rafts. Technician Andrew Disch dips his net and pulls out the river’s historic top predator – the Colorado pikeminnow. It has been listed as endangered for more than 50 years.

The fish is impressive, measuring about 3 feet long. But it pales compared to the pikeminnows that once hunted the river, Ryden said.

“Back in the day, these guys used to get 6 feet long and a hundred pounds.”

Biologist Dale Ryden places a Colorado pikeminnow back into the river after it was measured and scanned.  (Photo by Luke Runyon/KUNC)

The pikeminnow gulps down prey with a mouth so huge you could put your whole hand inside without touching the sides – something Ryden has tested personally. The torpedo-bodied fish is pale green on top with a white belly and pinkish tail.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Travis Francis scanned a microchip biologists inserted in the pikeminnow years ago.

“We haven’t we haven’t seen this fish since 2004,” he said, adding that biologists make dozens of passes over this section of river each summer. They’ve documented some pikeminnow migrating several hundred river miles from the San Juan River, down through Lake Powell and up to Grand Junction. Early settlers nicknamed the pikeminnow “the white salmon” for such behavior.

Ryden estimated 400 pikeminnow exist in the upper reaches of the Colorado River, and close to 800 in stretches of the Green River, a tributary of the Colorado. He likens the pikeminnow to a lioness on the Serengeti: Each is at the apex of its food chain. Now imagine you built a series of concrete walls around the lion, boxing her in, making it difficult to hunt. That’s what dams on the Colorado River have done to the pikeminnow, Ryden said.

After the fish was measured and scanned, Ryden gently picked it up and walked into the river.

“Come here, baby,” he whispered.

With both hands he lowers the minnow into the water. It disappears into the murk.

During this day on the river, Ryden repeatedly referred to the endangered species as “our fish.” He takes ownership of their protection. They’re something different and more special than the non-native fish that surround them.

“I’ve earned a lot of respect for them,” he said. “I think if you put that many issues in front of people that we had to adapt to in a very short amount of time, I think as a species we would have a very hard time existing in some of the world-changing conditions that these fish have.”

Technician MacKenzie Barnett sorts smallmouth bass on an electrofishing raft along the Colorado River. (Photo by Luke Runyon/KUNC)

Defining success in recovery

Since 1988, recovery programs for endangered Colorado River fish have cost hundreds of millions of dollars, funded by a mix of hydropower revenues and money from agencies within the Department of the Interior. Ryden said the effort is beginning to pay off.

Two species – the humpback chub and the razorback sucker – are on their way to being downgraded from endangered to threatened.

But deciding whether an endangered species is “recovered” is a subject for debate. Some environmental groups have questioned the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to downlist the two species. In the case of the razorback sucker, they contend, most of its population growth is the result of an intense breeding and stocking program, not reproduction in the wild. Going forward, it’s unclear how much government intervention will be necessary to keep the sucker from going extinct.

In its proposal to downlist the razorback, the Upper Colorado Endangered Fish Recovery Program recommends that Fish and Wildlife revise the program’s goals, and that its current goals for “recovery,” written in 2002, are inadequate and dated.

The program, a partnership of local, state and federal agencies, water and power interests, and environmental groups, is set to expire in 2023. Director Tom Chart said the partners are rethinking what recovery of means, and how best to achieve it. Current goals for the program don’t fully address the need for more coordinated management of flows from the Colorado River system’s reservoirs, removal of non-native fish and stocking of endangered species past 2023, he said.

“The Colorado River is one of the most altered ecosystems in the world,” said Tom Chart, director of the Upper Colorado Endangered Fish Recovery Program. (Photo by Luke Runyon/KUNC)

“The Colorado River is one of the most altered ecosystems in the world,” Chart said in an email. “The (Fish and Wildlife) Service should revise recovery goals for this species in these contexts and based on the experiences and information gathered.”

‘Some people even kiss them’

Although the Endangered Species Act of 1973 requires the government to save these fish, it can be tough convincing the public that they’re valuable and the effort isn’t in vain. A razorback sucker, Ryden noted, doesn’t have the charisma of other wildlife.

“Basically we’ve made the judgment through the Endangered Species Act that it (the endangered animal) is there for a reason and it has a right to exist,” he said. “And it doesn’t have to be a polar bear or an eagle.”

In our last few miles on the river, the biologists net a razorback sucker – the second of the day – and head toward the river bank to scan it. The grayish-green fish is notable for its pronounced hump, which looks like the keel of an overturned boat.

That’s when the Morton family from Houston – mom Kate and kids Simon and Claire – floated by on a raft. Ryden, seeing an opportunity to educate the public on the value of the razorback sucker, called them over. He pulled the sucker from the livewell of the raft and presented it to the Mortons.

“Go ahead, give it a pet,” Ryden suggested.

Simon gently rubbed his fingers along the fish’s scales. Claire tentatively placed an index finger on the razorback’s head.

“Isn’t that special?” her mother asked. “Wow, that is an awesome fish.”

When Ryden first started working on the Colorado River, razorbacks nearly had been wiped out. He didn’t see one during his first four years on the job. One day, a crew brought one into the hatchery for breeding. He remembers the biologists crowding around it, marveling at the novelty of seeing a wild razorback.

“Some people even kiss them if you’re really brave,” Ryden told Simon. “Just right on the cheek.”

Ryden leaned in, nearly touching his lips to the fish, and made a kiss sound.

Now, after years of stocking tens of thousands into some reaches of the river, Ryden says razorback suckers are plentiful enough that you can find one on any summer day and give it a kiss.

This story is part of a project covering the Colorado River, produced by KUNC and supported through a Walton Family Foundation grant. KUNC is solely responsible for its editorial content.

This story is part of Elemental: Covering Sustainability, a multimedia collaboration between Cronkite News, Arizona PBS, KJZZ, KPCC, Rocky Mountain PBS and PBS SoCal.

Coloradans increasingly identify as ‘conservationist,’ but will that drive them to the polls?

Kirk Klancke’s voting past makes him a unique political animal. It has nothing to do with his party affiliation as a longtime registered Republican in Grand County, Colorado. What’s different is that he has defined his politics based on water conservation and the environment.

“Keeping our environment healthy has to be one of the most important issues on the minds of our politicians,” said Klancke, who loves to fish in Ranch Creek near his home outside Tabernash. The stream feeds the Colorado River, which is at the crux of many water debates in the West.

Klancke heads a local chapter of Trout Unlimited in Grand County. Because water issues are so important, Klancke says he may break with his party to support Democratic candidate Jared Polis for governor.

“I’m a big fan,” he said.

Klancke is not a typical voter; the environment hasn’t historically been a priority at the polls. In 2016, just 2 percent of national voters volunteered anything related to the environment as a top priority. But that may be shifting in 2018 as voters worry about the Trump administration’s policies concerning pollution, mining, drilling and use of public lands.

“I think, personally, that the environment is the drive engine for this state. Our tourism base, all that money comes because the health of our environment,” he said while casting a dry fly for trout in a tributary of the Fraser River. “I would like to see people get elected just on the grounds that they will be backing environmental work.”

President Donald Trump “is probably the least environmentally friendly president we’ve had in my lifetime,” says Kirk Klancke, who loves to cast for trout in a tributary of the Fraser River near his home in Grand County. “I loved it when Obama took over the presidency. And I’m a registered Republican, for the record.” (Photo by Hart Van Denburg/CPR News)

In Colorado, the annual bipartisan Conservation in the West Survey shows a 10 percent jump to 75 percent of Republicans, Democrats and independents who identify with the term conservationist.

“Generally we have seen that how people identify themselves doesn’t tend change over the time,” said Lori Weigel, a partner with Public Opinion Strategies. “So it’s really been somewhat remarkable that we’ve seen a significant double digit shift.”

“If there’s something going on around you that you disagree with, or you’re not liking the direction that it’s headed, you either get involved in it, and you try to make changes, or you just shut up,” Cindy Wright says of the way her father raised his children. So Wright and her sister got involved in protecting wild horses in Sand Wash Basin. In the process, “We’ve learned how ill-informed some of our representatives are.” (Photo by Hart Van Denburg/CPR News)

You see that change in voters like Cindy Wright, a Moffat County resident who recently co-founded the nonprofit Wild Horse Warriors.

Standing on BLM land near the Utah line, Wright explained that public lands are integral to recreation. They’re also important spaces for wild horses to roam.

The hot and dry weather – and Wright’s affection for the federally managed Sand Wash Basin – motivated her to start a nonprofit to protect the animals.

“If we were treating our own wildlife or our own livestock at home to some extent the way our government treats our wild horses, the humane society would be on our cases,” added Wright.

Wright voted for Donald Trump in 2016 because health care was a primary political issue for her. But the real undecided question for environmental groups is how to harness the frustration of Wright and others into action at the polls.

Wright says she takes elections issue-by-issue. “I don’t vote Republican, Democrat, independent party lines. I vote on the policies being presented during the time of elections, and which ones at that point are important to me.”

Outdoor groups like Backcountry Hunters & Anglers are jumping into the fray. They’ve released questionnaires to inform voters on candidate’s environmental positions, including Colorado’s gubernatorial candidates. Because in some of today’s increasingly close political races, they say a conservation vote can make a difference. The Outdoor Industry Association launched a Vote the Outdoors effort earlier this year that includes scorecards.

Getting out the vote also means pro-environment rallies. That was the goal when about 1,400 people gathered in downtown Steamboat Springs in August to speak out against efforts to shrink Bears Ears and Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument.

State Rep. Dylan Roberts, a Democrat, Steamboat’s 1984 Winter Olympic gold medalist Deb Armstrong, Routt County officials, native American speakers, and others, took turns at the lectern.

In August 2018, horseback riders were among those protesting a visit to Steamboat Springs by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who was appearing at a private event sponsored by the conservative Steamboat Institute’s Freedom Conference. (Photo by Hart Van Denburg/CPR News)

Longtime Steamboat resident Sunny Duckels came to protest increases in drilling.

“I really want us to put our government behind looking for alternative methods for energy,” she said, holding a handmade protest sign.

Duckels added that in Steamboat Springs and other Western Slope towns, the environment is the economy. This summer’s drought hurt local fishing and tubing businesses. And climate change could hurt the nearby ski economy.

“I really believe that it’s not a Republican or Democrat issue in our community,” she said.

Event organizer Cody Perry added that there’s palpable frustration with the Trump administration in 2018. Especially about efforts to shrink public lands that went against overwhelming support for protections.

“The landscape is our identity and when we see that taken from us, it’s the same thing as someone coming into your house and taking that from you,” Perry said.

“I see it as a civil rights issue. I see him as marginalizing the sovereignty of tribes and I see it stealing from the American public.”

Intel promises to restore 100 percent of its water use. What does that mean?

PHOENIX – You may be familiar with carbon offsets, where companies or schools try to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in one area to make up for emissions elsewhere. More and more, corporations are also trying to offset the water they use.

Intel, for one, announced a water restoration goal last year: to restore a hundred percent of its direct global water use by 2025. They employ about 10,000 in the Phoenix area and have offices around the world.

The company said it already restores about 80 percent of the water they use , and it’s funding projects to make up for that final 20 percent.

One of those projects brought Intel to West Clear Creek, about two hours northeast of Phoenix.

On a warm morning this summer, Kimberly Schonek, Verde River Program Director at the environmental group Nature Conservancy, drove past farm fields bordered by a humming stream. “As you can see, West Clear Creek is flowing today,” she pointed out. “And the reason that it’s flowing is we’ve had lots of monsoons.”

The Nature Conservancy, with Intel and other money, is laying pipe to replace the earthen ditch that diverts creek water to nearby farm fields. A pipe will save the water that’s now seeping into the ground. The saved water can then remain in the creek and make its way to the Verde River.

“If you can put infrastructure in place that reduces [the farmers’] demand for how it gets from the river to their farm, then you’re saving water in that reach of the river,” Schonek explained.

This diversion ditch carries water from West Clear Creek, northeast of Phoenix, to nearby farm fields. Upon completion of a project partly funded by Intel, the Nature Conservancy will have replaced the unlined ditch with pipe. (Photo: Bret Jaspers, KJZZ)

Upon completion, Intel can apply some of the saved water towards its restoration goal. The company is trying to be “water neutral,” so to speak, and has hired an outside engineering firm to help calculate exact progress toward its restoration goal.

“For us, it’s part of our business strategy to make sure that we have access to water,” said Fawn Bergen, Global Sustainability Program Manager at Intel. “But it is broader than that. It’s also our commitment to sustainability and corporate responsibility. It’s not just like a transaction.”

Water is a rising concern for many companies, according to Cate Lamb, Director of Water Security at the environmental nonprofit CDP, which pushes for corporate data disclosure.

“We’re seeing certain organizations and many, many companies facing the reality that that stable supply of water that they need for their business can no longer be guaranteed in many regions,” Lamb said.

Lamb acknowledged, however, that there isn’t one universal standard for what a company is responsible for. Intel’s restoration goal is based on the water it directly uses at its sites. The company isn’t trying to restore the water used in its supply chain – at least not yet. The computer chip maker says it monitors suppliers in other ways to encourage good water practices.

That’s not an acceptable answer to Rick Hogeboom, the Executive Director of the Water Footprint Network. He describes the supply chain as “something that many companies are fully unaware of, and also don’t feel very responsible for.”

The Water Footprint Network, a non-profit, came up with a specific metric for calculating the water in a company’s “footprint.” It includes water taken from various sources as well as the water needed to dilute discharges safely into the environment. Hogeboom said without accounting for the water in the supply chain, you don’t get the whole picture of a product.

“I think it’s very important to have this one framework so that we know that we are on the same page, and not have these semantic discussions all the time,” he said.

And yet others caution not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. John Sabo, Director of Future H2O at Arizona State University, said standards by themselves will not change water practices.

“You need a leader like a Coca-Cola, like an Intel, who’s gonna go out [and] invest money outside their four walls,” said Sabo, who has worked as an unpaid consultant with Coca-Cola on water sustainability issues. He said leading companies can “influence other players who may have more money, like other companies and the public sector.”

Lamb agreed, but emphasized that the investors she works with do want real effort made to improve water security.

“At the moment, because there is this lack of standardized approaches and standard definitions of what this looks like, it’s hard to say,” she said. “It’s almost like that’s the next frontier that we’re exploring as a community.”

As water stress increases around the world, water use may move from the frontier of the conversation to the center.

China ups ante in trade war, imposes tariff that could doom U.S. paper recycling

PHOENIX – Most of the headlines from the trade war between China and the United States have focused on tariffs on aluminum and steel, but China also has placed a levy on recycled paper pulp. While not as well known, the tariff could bankrupt an already taxed recycling industry in the United States.

China’s latest round of retaliatory tariffs against the U.S., announced in August, includes something called “recovered fiber materials,” basically, the recycled paper, newspaper and cardboard that we put in the recycle bin. Trucks collect paper, bundle it at local centers and sell it as bales, mostly to China, to be incorporated into new products. It’s the cycle of recycling. And now there’s a potential tariff on those exports.

“This is a huge impact on the paper business in the United States,” said Baizhu Chen, a business professor at the University of Southern California. “By taking a unilateral position against other countries, imposing a tariff against other countries, the U.S. is causing huge damage on the global trading system.”

The tariff announcement hits a recycling industry already weakened by China’s announcement in January that it no longer would import most plastics and certain other recycled goods from the United States.

“Certainly, the impact has been considerable to us in the first quarter,” said Pete Keller, vice president of recycling and sustainability for Republic Services. “So, increased cost, decreased revenue, that doesn’t make for a winning equation in today’s marketplace.”

Since China’s import ban on most U.S. recycled products, municipal recycling programs have spent much of 2018 in crisis mode. And some U.S. cities can’t make it work. Phoenix, though, has had an edge, according to Rick Peters, deputy solid waste director for the city.

Phoenix Public Works Solid Waste Superintendent Chad Hardy oversees production at the 27th Avenue Transfer Station. Phoenix continues to export recycled paper to China. (File photo by Miles Metke/Cronkite News)

“Part of it is the dry climate from Phoenix really makes the materials being dry makes them easier to separate,” he said.

Phoenix has continued to export recycled paper to China during 2018, which has been key to keeping the program profitable. But that all changes with the tariff.

Chen says a tariff is negatively impacting both American and Chinese businesses.

“This will have a big impact in China on the paper industry. They are short of feedstock,” he said. “And all the businesses are thinking about where to get that feedstock and paper if they are short of paper pulp. And also have an impact on the recycling business in the United States.”

China is the top importer of U.S. recycled paper. China imported 2.73 million tons of U.S. cardboard during the first half of 2018 and 1.4 million tons of all other U.S.-sourced recovered fiber. And without China as the buyer of American recycled paper, the future of U.S. recycling is in doubt.

“China’s economy has been booming for so long,” Peters said, “that they developed a huge appetite for our recycled materials so they could turn it into new products and then ship them overseas to us in their shipping containers. And then the next thing you know, it was like 40 percent of U.S. recyclable paper was going to China. And this continued for many, many years.”

Trade between the two countries is not even. Last year, China’s exports of goods and services to the United States totaled about $500 billion, which dwarfs China’s imports from the U.S., which totaled about $150 billion.

“In time, it’s going to take time, probably maybe several years, if China does not go back to buying, it’s going to take several years for demand and supply to get matched back up again to where the price of mixed paper and newspaper goes back up,” Peters said.

Some businesses are not waiting for Beijing and Washington, D.C., to resolve the dispute. China’s largest paper manufacturer has begun buying up U.S. paper mills, which allows it to not only sell directly within the U.S. but also ship paper remanufactured in the U.S. back to China without paying a tariff.

Chen said Nine Dragons probably is the largest paper company in China. It has been importing waste paper from the United States and was considering investing in the United States “to extract pulp from the papers and then sell the pulp into China, which is not in the ban, but now there’s a tariff.”

In May, Nine Dragons bought two pulp and paper mills in Maine and Wisconsin from Catalyst Paper Holdings, a Canadian company that now owns a closed paper mill in Snowflake in northern Arizona. In August, China’s third-largest recycled paper producer signed a deal to acquire a mill in Kentucky.

Both Catalyst and Nine Dragons declined comment on this report.

“So the strategy is coming to invest in the United States, instead of exporting the waste paper directly … they buy the paper mill to process the waste paper and to turn it into the paper pulp. So, theoretically, these are much cleaner, these are not classified as recycled products.”

Arguably, as Chen says, if the new product is not classified as recycled paper, it would avoid a potential tariff.

“So now, instead of processing that in China, and Nine Dragons, for example, those companies, they process the waste paper in the United States,” he said.

And it will be manufactured in a paper mill now owned by a Chinese company, not a U.S one, leaving questions about the future of the U.S. recycling business.

This story is part of Elemental: Covering Sustainability, a new multimedia collaboration between Cronkite News, Arizona PBS, KJZZ, KPCC, Rocky Mountain PBS and PBS SoCal.

Traffic continues to be huge air polluter – but local politics makes it hard to say no to new roads.

LOS ANGELES – Based on the annual 2018 “State of the Air” report from The American Lung Association, Los Angeles was ranked the top city spot for high ozone days out of 227 metropolitan locations.

Arizonans should be concerned too as the Grand Canyon state ranked eighth in the same category. And during the summer of 2018, Arizona exceded recommended ozone 49 times.levels and had a record 49 days of dangerous air.

Traffic combined with heat can create unsafe air and in many big cities in the west, air pollution and traffic combined are two of the biggest problems facing those areas. The problem is made worse by rapid growth, suburban sprawl and the “inversion affect,” which traps polluted area in cities near mountains.

The crux of the problem is alleviating the headache of heavy traffic while simultaneously preserving open space and endangered species.

Based on yearly transportation studies, Los Angeles is the most congested city in the country. Orange County, home to 3 million residents, connects to L.A. county and contributes to the load of traffic in the area.

With congested traffic as a main concern for most drivers in Southern California, the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) has established a project involving a route from Orange County, south of LA, to San Clemente, 60 miles south of LA. Orange County is one of the largest counties in the country, home to 3 million people.

Approximately 25 million people live in Southern California, an area where most destinations are not within walking distance.

To combat the escalating population in the 1980s, state transportation officials created four new highways in the Orange County region. The purpose was to create alternative routes to Interstate 5, one of the country’s busiest highways.

Today, the state owns 51 miles of highway throughout the county The plan TSA had in mind was to connect the 241 state highway in the south portion of the O.C. to Interstate 5 freeway. It would eventually merge in San Clemente.

The plan faced several obstacles over the years, most notable lawsuits from the San Onofre coalition, comprised of organizations including the state of California.

Phoenix, ranked lower than L.A., is the fifteenth most congested state in America, based on a 2017 report from the transportation analytics company Inrix. It revealed the city has over three thousand hotspots and the 2026 cost of congestion will be $9.5 billion.

The state is also working on expansion, adding 22 miles to the South Mountain Freeway. According to the Arizona Department of Transportation, the construction is projected to be finished by the end of 2019.

From injured turtles to sustainable clothing: finding inspiration in unexpected places

LOS ANGELES — Like many accomplished football players, Glenn Love Jr. never worried much about life after the game. When he started playing professionally, however, the uncertainty set in.

That changed after a visit to the Turtle Rescue conservation program at the OdySea Aquarium in Scottsdale.

“They were like missing some limbs and I was like, ‘What happened? Why are they missing limbs’? ” said Love, a former Chandler Hamilton High School standout who plays linebacker for the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League.

Love learned the turtles had been injured by plastic debris, including plastic water bottles in the ocean. The aquarium had to remove their limbs in order to save the turtles from dying.

Around that same time, in May of 2017, Love launched IInner Vision Apparel company, a sustainable clothing line. He wanted a business that could also make a social impact. Inspired in part by the turtles, the apparel is made from 95 percent recycled material, and shirts specifically are constructed from five to 10 plastic bottles, recycled cotton and eco-friendly water-based ink.

Plastic that is not recycled often ends up in a landfill or ocean. According to a study by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, plastic takes about 450 years to decompose into the earth. If it lands in the ocean, it can potentially add to an island of trash debris in the Pacific that has grown up to 600,000 square miles, according to a study in the Nature the International Journal of Science, which is twice the size of the Texas.

Glenn Love Jr. plays linebacker in the Canadian Football League. He was a standout at Hamilton High. (Photo courtesy Glenn Love Jr.)

In addition to the harmful effects of plastic, the fashion industry has a significant impact on the environment, experts say. Whether it is the practices used overseas to grow cotton or the transportation used, the apparel industry leaves a substantial carbon footprint. That motivated Love to focus on recycled cotton.

“The carbon footprint is seen in transportation and where it’s grown and how it’s grown. Most fibers are being grown with pesticides,” said Nicole Darnall, a professor of management and public policy at Arizona State’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability. “They are chemically grown. And most synthetics fibers are derived from petroleum.”

Before Love had a passion for sustainable fashion, he was a football standout at Hamilton High. He lettered in four sports at the varsity level and holds the school record for most interceptions in a season (10). He also secured a 5A MVP title and a state championship.

After graduating from Hamilton, he played four seasons at UCLA where he was converted from defensive back to linebacker. He is playing his seventh season in the Canadian Football League.

Once Love started his professional career, he said he felt it was his duty to show that athletes can make a positive impact on society.

“I wanted to make sure that it wasn’t just me that (my future) was affecting but it was affecting other people, too, in a positive way,” Love said.

A visit to an aquarium gave him direction.

“Seeing those things swim sideways because it had one arm, that’s because of us not because of them. They didn’t do anything wrong,” Love said. “It is because of us. Millions of sea creatures and sea life dies because of us. That really changed things.”

Love was looking for a manufacturer to produce his clothing line around the same time he visited the aquarium and found Brett Matheson, the owner of Yoganastix, a company in Arizona that produces clothing material from recycled plastic bottles.

Glenn Love. Jr. works out in clothing made from IInner Vision Apparel, the sustainable clothing company he owns. (Phot courtesy Glenn Love Jr.)

“He (Matheson) really showed me some materials … polyester, cotton, the blends and all that kind of stuff. Last one he showed me was like recycled bottles so I am like, ‘what’? ” Love said.

In that moment Love knew what he was going to do.

“When you see those turtles and me seeing this material, it was meant to be,” he said.

Although it is a good start to becoming more sustainable, it does have unintended consequences, said George Basile, a senior sustainability scientist at the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability. Microfiber pollution, which is the shedding of microplastics from synthetic fabrics used to make clothing, can occur.

“It’s not a bad step. You’re building a business on the idea of cycling, and cycles and surfaces and recycling. … That may position you better for using other materials that need to be recycled that are OK that leak into nature,” Basile said. “I think overall it’s a good step toward where you want to go but it’s incomplete. We want business that are interested in heading toward completeness but also are not trapped by having to be perfect.”

More than a year has passed since Love launched IInner Vision Apparel. The company has expanded from being online only to being included in Kalloni’s Closet Boutique in Gilbert.

“Immediately, he reminds me so much of myself just from his personality. Just like out how he operates,” owner Keller Ziegler said. “This is absolutely going to work out.”

The lack of a business background and fashion acumen created a few setbacks for Love, who has struggled to adjust to unexpected obstacles.

Glenn Love Jr. wears items from his clothing line. Recycled plastic bottles are used to make his shirts. (Photo courtesy Glenn Love Jr.)

“Now I’ve got to learn how to deal with people overseas, that when I was going to bed they were getting up,” he said. “So I was getting up at 3 in the morning. You cannot speak the same language and you might say one thing to someone from here and they might interpret it as something else.”

This has not deterred Love, who hopes to one day have his own brick and mortar storefront for IInner Vision, as well as be a distributor for other apparel companies looking to use sustainable materials for their clothing. He is looking to develop a business relationship with fitness brand SoulCycle and to expand into Canada.

“Maybe have a store where its all eco-friendly brands. Might be local. Might be from Zimbabwe,” Love said. “It doesn’t matter.”

“I want to have eco-friendly clothes so everyone can see that we can compete with the rest of the world with making good quality clothes.”

Formation of Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Park offers lessons for dealing with drought

DENVER – Eighty percent of Colorado is experiencing some form of drought or dryness, which means dry river basins, hungry wildfires and parched farmland across the state. Some have already started comparing conditions with the 2002 drought, which climatologists say was the worst since the late 1600s.

The drought also is spurring a closer look by historians into how communities have survived and triumphed over water scarcity — instead of adhering to the Old West canard that “Water is for fighting.”

In 1999, some of Colorado’s most powerful politicians stood on top of the windswept sandy hills of Great Sand Dunes National Monument, which would soon become Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve. It was an attempt to conserve not only the land, which includes the tallest dunes in the U.S., but the aquifer and waterways, including the seasonal Medano Creek.

“I think the feeling was, ‘If we’re going to save this resource, the time is now. We’ve got to act,’” said historian Michael Geary, who wrote “Sea of Sand: A History of Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.”

The Summit on the Sand at Great Sand Dunes National Monument took place Dec. 18, 1999. Attending were (from left) Rep. Scott McInnis, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, Sen. Wayne Allard, Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell and Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar.
Photo: Fred Bunch, Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Just the year before, voters had defeated Amendments 15 and 16, which would have allowed water to be exported from the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado, where the dunes are found. A famous photo was taken when state and federal lawmakers shooed away the news media and park employees to discuss formation of the park. Rep. Scott McInnis, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar, Sens. Wayne Allard and Ben Nighthorse Campbell spoke out in the open for more than half an hour.

The Summit on the Sand led to Allard’s legislation to expand the national monument to a national park. It was the culmination of cooperation by Republicans, Democrats, ranchers and such environmental groups as the Nature Conservancy.

“There was a great sense of relief that they got this through when they did. And that they did something that was very worthwhile,” Geary said.

Historians at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Center of the American West want to know why some communities rally to protect water resources and others fail. In the San Luis Valley, the community first fought over water, then banded to save it. Patty Limerick, director of the center, said inevitable fights over water leave people beaten down.

“But water also causes some people in some circumstances to say, ‘We’ve got to pull it together,’” she said.

The Center of the American West has looked at examples of cooperation tracking back to the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s. They’ve also looked at more recent cooperative agreements in the Colorado River basin since 1999.

Roger Pulwarty, a senior advisor and drought expert for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said that in many cases, reaching a crisis point “actually allowed us to create systems to be more efficient, to protect our watersheds, has actually led us to produce very positive outcomes.”

Crises don’t always force people to work together. In Oregon nearly 20 years ago, conflict arose when the federal government stopped farmers from pumping water to protect endangered fish. After years of fighting, a diverse group of tribes, ranchers, farmers, environmental groups and state governments came together to sign the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement in 2010.

“It was quite remarkable that people were able to find common ground and come together,” said Brian Cannon, history professor at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

As with the establishment of Great Sand Dunes National Park, congressional approval was needed. But Republicans became wary of a deal to remove dams from the river. Cannon said there were misunderstandings among stakeholders. The agreement unraveled in 2015 and Congress never approved it.

“One of the things we can learn is that the negotiations took place behind closed doors,” said Cannon, blaming proprietary business issues for the lack of transparency. “So that’s one thing we can learn is the value, where it’s possible, of transparency in negotiations.”

A revised version of the Klamath restoration plan has been proposed. A corporation has proposed removal of the dams. But this provides little help to irrigators who have struggled with water supply in the past because of the presence of endangered fish.

Geary, the historian, said Colorado’s San Luis Valley is gearing up for another water fight. The Bureau of Land Management has delayed a plan that could expand oil and gas drilling within 1 mile of the park, which has some worried about disruption of water supplies. The BLM has agreed to consult with the Navajo Nation, which is a local landowner, before making a final decision.

“It’s very easy (to think) black and white, us versus them,” Geary said. “But that really doesn’t get anybody anywhere. What gets people somewhere, and hopefully it’s a place they want to be, is dialogue.”

There’s still work to be done on the agreements that helped create Great Sand Dunes National Park. This is the final year of a study to determine the park’s rights to conserve its underground water. If approved, the water right would exist in perpetuity.

Mowers in sheep’s clothing: Flock works at solar panel farm

WILLCOX, Arizona – It was time to bring the sheep in for a drink.

“Go to water, go to water!” shouts Rusty Cocke, who owns about 200 head of sheep that act as living lawn mowers on a solar farm about 20 miles west of Willcox, Arizona.

The sheep have spent the morning munching through mesquite saplings and tall grass. They come in slowly, stepping among rows of solar panels that are harvesting the sun’s energy to power 20,000 Arizona homes.

Rusty Cocke herds his sheep to water after a day of munching grass around solar panels. (Photo by Tayler Brown/Cronkite News)

Once their water break is over, the sheep go back to work on the Red Horse II solar and wind farm, eating vegetation that could grow as high as 7 feet and cast shadows over the solar panels, decreasing their efficiency. The sheep essentially work for food and a place to stay.

Sheep, cows and goats are being used to clean up invasive vegetation on lands in Arizona and other states because, supporters say, it’s cheaper and environmentally friendlier than using machines. Cocke estimated his four-legged landscape operation is 30 percent cheaper than professional landscapers, which can cost $70,000 to $100,000.

Shepherd Rusty Cocke rents out his sheep to clear vegetation growing around solar panels at Red Horse II solar and wind farm. (Photo by Tayler Brown/Cronkite News)

Goats have grazed the grassy areas along Loop 202 in the southeast Valley, according to the East Valley Tribune. In Idaho, the federal Bureau of Land Management is researching whether cattle can graze in areas susceptible to wildfires. And there’s an Arizona website devoted to wildlife landscapers that touts the small carbon footprint of goats and the benefits of turning cattle into “weed managers.”

Machines, goats won’t work

The solar farm tried using people to mow the grass, said Eric Heim, who manages the Red Horse II and other solar and wind farms in the Southwest. But humans and their machines proved to be problematic.

The landscaping equipment was clunky and difficult to maneuver between the rows of solar panels, and it kicked up rocks and debris that could damage the solar arrays. The time investment was another issue.

“Before, it would take someone over 250 hours to mow the plants in between the panels every couple of months,” Heim said.

He considered using goats, but because goats will eat just about anything, they likely would chew the wires hanging underneath the solar panels. And cows are so big they’d rub against the panels.

Sheep solved the problem.

Cocke, the shepherd of the solar-farm herd, said sheep can handle most plants that nature provides. At the solar farm, Johnson grass, tumbleweed and mesquite trees can shade or overgrow panels if they’re not controlled.

At Red Horse II, which is owned and operated by a Houston company and contracts with Tucson Electric Power to provide renewable energy, the land tells the story of where the sheep have grazed. Red dirt is exposed, dotted with clumps of green near the panels. Elsewhere, golden sweeps of Johnson grass create a sea beneath some solar panels, awaiting hungry sheep.

“The sheep work perfectly symbiotic with the solar panels,” Cocke said. “They cruise through. They eat all the grass. I’ve had so much good luck with them right here.”

Johnson grass can grow 7 feet tall and impede solar-energy harvesting. (Photo by Tayler Brown/Cronkite News)

Cocke raises his sheep off the vegetation they eat at the farm and sells the sheep’s wool and meat for added profits. He would not say how much he was paid for the annual contract at Red Horse II.

Cocke wants to expand his sheep project into other ventures, perhaps even partnering with vineyards in southeastern Arizona.

Cattle prevent forest fires

Kathy Voth of Tucson, who runs the website Livestock for Landscapes and edits a weekly online magazine about agriculture practices, said livestock landscaping has been around for at least a decade. There’s little data on the practice, but she says it’s growing.

“Every year I get more and more emails about people interested in using animals for landscaping,” said Voth, who put together a handbook on CD, now out of print, with a cover photo of a goat clad in firefighting gear.
In Boise, Idaho, the Bureau of Land Management is researching the use of cattle for “targeted grazing” to reduce the severity and destruction of wildfires in the state, BLM spokesman David Walsh said.

The bureau considered cattle rather than sheep or goats because it feared those animals would spread disease to the vulnerable bighorn sheep population in the area, said Lake Okeson, the acting BLM field manager for the targeted-grazing project.

“This is the kind of stuff BLM should be doing all the time,” Okeson said.

The partnership is fantastic for local cattle owners to fulfill a need within the community and access extra grazing land, he said.

Voth said other commercial landscaping operations, such as Eco-Goats, which rents goats for landscaping in Maryland, have become more popular.

Voth’s website includes a database to connect people interested in goat landscaping with local shepherds who can provide the service.