In the 1960s and 70s, at issue was the smog-laden air in and around Los Angeles, and California’s use of emerging science to pioneer new regulatory controls. Today, the issue goes beyond the cleaner but still polluted air around Los Angeles and throughout the Central Valley — to greenhouse gases that exacerbate climate change. (Photo credit: Gene Daniels / EPA)

California’s resistance to federal plans loosening vehicle emissions standards is nothing new. Over the decades, the state has fought repeatedly to stay in the forefront of pollution controls.

By Felicity Barringer

California has been here before, more than half a century ago. As was true then, forces in Washington, D.C. want to loosen emission requirements and strip California of its ability to impose tough standards for vehicle emissions, and once again, California officials are fighting back.

The parallels are striking. In the 1960s and 70s, at issue was the smog-laden air in and around Los Angeles, and California’s use of emerging science to pioneer new regulatory controls. Today, the issue goes beyond the cleaner — but still polluted — air around Los Angeles and throughout the Central Valley…


Strawberries under cultivation — and under wraps — by the Pacific coast of Baja California Alan Harper via Flickr

By Felicity Barringer | … & the West Blog, Stanford University

For Americans, what probably matters most in this story are the strawberries. For most Mexicans in the northern Baja peninsula, what matters is the robust economy strawberries bring. For some, what matters most is the steady loss of the fresh groundwater that makes strawberries possible here.

The San Quintín valley, an arid region 180 miles south of Tijuana, is the crossroads where strawberries, economics, and groundwater meet. The average rainfall in northern Baja is less than three inches annually; there is a multi-year drought. For a century, groundwater irrigated…


From tests on metal bovines to electricity-generating manure pits, California is experiencing a radical transformation in the practices of the dairy industry. Taken together, the new initiatives amount to more than a crackdown on flatulent cows. They offer a model: how to reduce emissions while finding new sources of revenue.

Keeping Methane Under Wraps By putting a cover over manure pits, dairy farmers can capture methane and use it to generate electricity or make transportation fuel. (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

By Alessandro Hall

It’s no secret that the U.S. dairy industry has been struggling recently. As it faces depressed milk prices, concerns about water quality, fights over animal rights, and the rise of non-dairy alternatives — almond, soy, and rice “milk” — the dominant stature of milk in American culture is under siege.

So when the strictest rules in the country for curbing methane emissions took effect in California this year, the state’s 1,300 dairy farm families could have seen it as a devastating development. Methane is a natural product of bovine digestion, after all.

But for Paul Sousa, who…


In the federal government, wildfires have a lesser claim on disaster funds. As fires burn with greater magnitude and frequency, the cost of fighting them is increasingly borne by money earmarked for prevention.

All-Out Battle Three large aerial tankers make their last passes of the day to apply water or fire retardant slurry over the Nuns Fire outside of Napa, California in October 2017. USDA via via Flickr

By Felicity Barringer

Western wildfires are remembered by their names. These are never forgotten by those most affected, whether because an Interstate was closed, a beautiful landscape was shrouded in smoke, or a home or a neighborhood was lost, or they walked on cinders with the smell of cold ashes all around, or the worst — the fire killed people they knew.

Around Prescott, Arizona, they remember the Yarnell Hill Fire and the 19 firefighters it killed.


The Dam that Started it All Erected between 1934 and 37 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Bonneville Dam was the largest of its time, and the first in a series of federal impoundments of the Columbia River that electrified and irrigated the Pacific Northwest. BONNEVILLE POWER ADMINISTRATION VIA FLICKR

By Felicity Barringer

After the creation of states of the Pacific Northwest following a series of treaties with Native tribes in the mid-19th century, the area’s most dramatic transformation came with the arrival, in the late 1930’s, of large-scale, low-cost hydropower developed by the government from the muscular Columbia River system.

The power gained by harnessing the Columbia River paved the way for industrial development and widespread farmland irrigation. But what if, private firms seeking profits had developed the power? …


Endless Attractions Beyond the otherworldly landscapes of the national parks at Arches and Canyonlands, the public lands around Moab in southeastern Utah contain spectacular vistas like those visible from Dead Horse Point State Park above the Colorado River, left. Extractive industries, embodied by the “Potash Local” train taking minerals to market, upper right, also are part of the region. Lower right, canyoneers outside of Moab. CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: NICK GILBERT VIA FLICKR; JERRY HUDDLESTON VIA FLICKR; TOM KELLY VIA FLICKR

By Josh Lappen

Flinging down the gauntlet to environmental groups in the Southwest nine years ago, the outgoing Bush administration leased 77 tracts of public land across eastern Utah for oil and gas extraction. Many of those leases followed the curve of the Green River as it ran down the length of the state. Others clustered in patches at the edges of Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, and Dinosaur National Monument.

The leases were eventually canceled by the Bureau of Land Management after a barrage of lawsuits resulted in federal court rulings that the leasing process had disregarded federal law.


Between the mountains and the sea Ventura county is an oasis of agriculture nestled on the coast between the sprawl of Los Angeles and the high-end parts of Santa Barbara. DOC SEARLS VIA FLICKR

By Felicity Barringer

The formal birth of new agencies to keep California’s groundwater basins sustainable took place all over the state this summer. Like infants anywhere, dozens of new groundwater sustainability agencies present a range of appearances. Some are placid, some squall. Some have everything they need in order to develop. Some don’t.

How will they develop? That depends on how well pumpers, who rely on groundwater, accept the inevitable restrictions needed under the law requiring sustainable management. Some, particularly farmers, will lose automatic access to the water they want. …


Welcome to the world of community health workers. The job, part medical aide and part social worker, is a tradition in poor and rural communities around New Mexico and well established elsewhere around the country. But institutional recognition has come slowly.

Margarita Perez Pulida and Jorge Montoya Sosa, who work in an immigrant-heavy area of Albuquerque. FELICITY BARRINGER

By Felicity Barringer

Lidia Regina was just starting a new job at the University of New Mexico Health Center in Albuquerque a decade ago when the full weight of the unfamiliar work fell on her, hard. The new job was to check in with poorer patients, find out about the problems they faced every day, and ensure that poverty, unemployment or family obstacles did not prevent them from keeping pace with the health regimen their doctors prescribed.

Her first assignment was monitoring care of clients’ new babies. “The first case I get, I’m just going to see if she wants…


California’s ambitious energy goals may lead the state toward an economy far less reliant on carbon-based fuels than ever before. But how quickly?

Light House The natural-gas fired Moss Landing Power Station on Monterey Bay is the state’s largest power plant, producing 2.5 gigawatts of electricity. HUGO SIMMELINK VIA FLICKR

By Natasha Mmonatau

Prompted by the Arab oil embargo in the early 1970s, California pushed its state’s energy commission to discuss prospective new power sources that could handle a rising annual load.

“In 1973, we were pell-mell into large-scale linear extrapolation of nuclear, coal, and gasoline consumption,” said Hal Harvey, CEO of the policy and technology company Energy Innovation in San Francisco. The embargo prompted renewed interest in alternatives, and in 1978, the Energy Tax Act provided economic incentives for large-scale solar power companies to build new facilities.

Today, renewable energy sources have gained far more traction than anyone imagined…


Lake Mead on the Colorado River has become an hourglass of shrinking water supplies. Can lower-basin states turn back the clock?

What a difference 135 feet makes Satellite images taken in 1984 and 2016 show a dramatic change in the perimeter of Lake Mead, the major Colorado River reservoir. Drag the slider near the center of the image to view the difference over time. IMAGES BY JOSHUA STEVENS/NASA EARTH OBSERVATORY, USING LANDSAT DATA FROM THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY

By Felicity Barringer

Hoover dam and the reservoir it created have had one public purpose since the 1930s, when they first tamed the Colorado River. …

Stanford West Center

The Bill Lane Center for the American West is dedicated to teaching, research, and journalism on the past, present, and future of the North American West.

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