Future of Huge California Water Project May Hang on the Next Few Weeks

California's biggest water project in decades appears to be in limbo after a key irrigation district voted not to help underwrite Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to build two giant tunnels that would re-engineer water transport in the state. For the last 75 years or so, we've tried to figure out how to move water from north to south. The no-vote at the Fresno-based Westlands Water District — the largest agricultural water supplier in the U.S. — puts the $17 billion project's funding on shaky ground. Will other water districts pick up the slack? Other large water agencies considering participating in the project are set to vote soon. Another key player, Los Angeles' Metropolitan Water District , will vote on October 10. The Santa Clara Valley Water District, based in San Jose, will weigh in a week later. But with the loss of Westland's support, some are left wondering if the controversial project is already doomed. KQED's Brian Watt spoke with Paul Rogers, managing editor for KQED's Science unit and the environment writer for the San Jose Mercury News, about the delta tunnels project and what may lie ahead. Brian Watt: This is a project that is touted as benefiting both the delta environment and water consumers. Remind us how these delta tunnels are supposed to work. Paul Rogers: When you talk about water in California, the big picture is that three-quarters of all the rain and the snow falls in the northern part of the state and three-quarters of the people live in the south. Twin tunnels, 40 feet in diameter, would shuttle water from the Sacramento River, through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, to farms and cities to the south. (KQED) So, for the last 75 years or so, we've tried to figure out how to move water from north to south. Right now, in the delta we have these giant pumps near Tracy. What happens is when we pump water south, they grind up and kill fish like salmon and smelt and as those species have gotten endangered, less water at certain times of the year. So, Jerry Brown's idea is let's build these two tunnels, 40-feet high, costing three times what the Bay Bridge costs, to take the water from farther north in the delta and rely on these pumps less, so people can get the water more reliably. Watt: The project has had some pretty vocal opponents.: some environmentalists, some members of the delta's congressional delegation. But why did a huge farm irrigation district, Westlands, pull its support when its customer were supposed to benefit from it? Rogers: It's a great question, you know, environmentalists have been against this thing all along. They argue that if you build these giant tunnels, it'll make it easier for big corporate interests in the Central Valley and Los Angeles to take northern California's water. But some of those farmers in the Westlands Water District near Fresno, their board voted recently, 7-to-1, to pull out of this plan. They were supposed to pay three billion of the 17 billion-dollar cost. They decided not to because, number one, it was a huge amount of money and it was going to raise what they paid for water. Number two, they weren't being guaranteed by the Brown administration they were going to get any more water. That no-vote sent shock waves across the California water world because it meant the other agencies that might want to participate were going to have to pay a lot more. Watt: So the Metropolitan Water District in L.A. has a big vote coming up on October 10. What do you think is going to happen? Rogers: Some of the folks down there on that board have been raising questions about the cost. I think if I had to handicap it, I'd say that there's probably about a 75 percent chance that they'll vote for it. So that'll be a big win for Governor Brown, but that doesn't mean the project is done because there are other water agencies, like the Santa Clara Valley Water District in San Jose that still have yet to vote. Brian Watt: So, where does this leave the project now? State water agencies and other big supporters say it's far from dead. Rogers: It's just fascinating. I think there have already been more than a dozen lawsuits filed against this project and even if water agencies approve it, it's probably going to be held up in court for years. The Santa Clara Valley Water District is sort of wobbling. I think they may want a smaller project. So, it's still hardly a sure thing. Jerry Brown leaves office in 15 months and his successors — his likely successors — are not huge supporters of this. They're not opponents, but they're not embracing it the way Brown does. So, I think in the next few weeks we're really going to see whether or not this thing has a chance of being built or whether the final stake is driven through its heart. Watt: What does Governor Brown think of this? Rogers: You know, it's worth remembering that Governor Brown has two giant legacy construction projects: high speed rail and this tunnels project. His dad built a lot of big things around California when he was governor in the '60s and this is Brown's attempt to do that.

Future of Huge California Water Project May Hang on the Next Few Weeks

40 Years With the Voyager Spacecraft: Earth's Most Distant Explorers Are Still Calling Home

https://www.kqed.org/.stream/anon/radio/science/2017/08/001292f6.mp3 When NASA's Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft left Earth in 1977, they had a mission that was possible only at that very moment in human history. The spacecraft were headed toward two of the outer planets of our solar system, and would use the gravity of one planet to swing themselves toward the next. It's the alignment of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune that make this gravity swing dance possible. This alignment happens only once every 176 years, and it happened just at the time when human space technology was ready to meet the challenge. When it comes to the Voyager mission, the numbers themselves are cosmic. Voyager 1 is 13 billion miles away from Earth, and counting. Voyager 1 and 2 discovered "The Great Dark Spot" on Neptune and the first active volcanoes on another planet — on Jupiter's moon, Io. In 2012, Voyager 1 passed across the far end of our solar system to give humanity its first taste of interstellar space. These were not among the outcomes Ed Stone could have imagined when he and his colleagues at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory prepped the two Voyagers for launch in 1977. Their mission was a four-year sortie to Jupiter and Saturn — which at the time seemed plenty ambitious. The moon landing was still a fresh memory. Now in his 80s, Professor Stone, a physicist and National Medal of Science recipient, continues to serve as chief scientist for the program he helped launch. He is also a full-time professor and researcher at Caltech. He spoke with KQED News host Devin Katayama on the occasion of Voyager's 40th anniversary. Katayama: Professor Stone, you were in your early forties when Voyager 1 and 2 launched into space. What was the original goal of that mission? Stone: The original goal was a four-year mission to Jupiter and Saturn and Titan, a moon of Saturn. And we had two spacecraft to give us a higher probability of having at least one making it on that four-year journey to Saturn. Katayama: So did you ever think the Voyager spacecrafts would last this long? Stone: None of us knew how long they would last. At the time the space age was only 20 years old. Katayama: So, 40 years later, what are some of the most important planetary discoveries to date, thanks to the Voyager mission? Stone: Well, we discovered that nature is much more diverse than we could have imagined. For instance, before Voyager, the only known active volcanoes were here on Earth. And then we found a moon of Jupiter called Io, about the size of our moon, which has ten times more volcanic activity than Earth. So time after time, we've discovered that our 'terracentric' view of planets and magnetic fields and moons and rings was much too limited. Katayama: People working in the field might not be surprised to discover how expansive space could be, but has it changed our understanding of the universe? Stone: We now understand that when bodies form, there are processes by which they can maintain a very active geological life, just as the Earth does. And the way that happens depends on the exact circumstances. So each moon seems to be quite distinct in character. Katayama: NASA put a message on Voyager for other civilizations in outer space that might one day find it — The Golden Record. What was the thinking behind that? Stone: It was a form of outreach. It was a declaration that we as a society here on Earth could actually send such a message, which would leave the sun, the solar system, and orbit the center of the Milky Way galaxy for billions of years, long after Earth itself may have ceased to exist. The Golden Record is carried on board the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecrafts. (NASA) Katayama: Can you share with us what that message was? Stone: There were several messages: greetings from different languages on Earth, messages from different cultures, images of various aspects of Earth. The whole idea was to make this a time capsule, or what I call a calling card: the ambassadors Earth has sent to the Milky Way galaxy. Katayama: I'm curious whether you had any say in what that messaging was. Stone: The messaging was really determined by Carl Sagan and a small group that he put together. They did this basically over a 6-month period before launch, and it was done independently of what we were all doing, getting ready for launch. Katayama: I'm curious whether there are any questions you were hoping would be answered by Voyager that have not been answered. Stone: I think what Voyager has done is inform us well enough to know what interesting questions to ask now. For instance, before Voyager, the only known liquid water was here on Earth, in the ocean. Then we flew by Europa, another moon of Jupiter, which has an icy crust on it which is cracked — very much like ice on an ocean. In fact, that's what a subsequent mission, Galileo, has shown. Katayama: The Voyager spacecraft are steadily losing power, and I saw a prediction that NASA will have to turn off all the equipment by 2030. What do you think should come next in terms of probing interstellar space? Stone: The next step is exploring the heliosphere itself, which is the huge bubble that Voyager left in August 2012. That is going to be done by a mission here on Earth which looks at neutral atoms coming from the outer edges of the heliosphere and from the interstellar medium beyond. That mission is now being launched in 2024. It would be the next stage in understanding the heliospheric bubble that protects all the planets in the solar system, and its interaction with the winds of the other stars as it occurs in interstellar space. Katayama: What are the biggest questions about the heliosphere that we need to understand? Stone: We need to understand the size of the heliosphere, because it breathes in and out with the 11-year solar cycle. But it will also change size as the material outside in interstellar space changes over a much longer time scale. So it's understanding how our solar bubble, which envelops the Earth, interacts and changes as what's in interstellar space also changes. Katayama: The technology required to keep the Voyager craft operational has to be really different from today's. How do you manage to keep them going? Stone: We're very fortunate in that we have a natural radioactive decay of plutonium-238 with an 88-year half-life; that creates heat, and the heat is converted into electricity with thermocouples. So we have a very robust, simple power supply. Each year, we have four watts less than we did the year before. So eventually we will no longer have enough power to even run the spacecraft itself. We expect to start turning off some heaters and instruments in 2020 or 2021. And 10 years from now, we'll have only enough to power the spacecraft itself. And that will last only a short time longer. Katayama: What does communication between us here on Earth and the Voyager spacecraft look like? Stone: We listen 24 hours a day; the spacecraft each have a 21-watt transmitter. We get a very slow data rate — it's 160 bits per second, which is the best we can get from 13 billion miles away. Katayama: What's it been like having a hand in such an important mission, and having spent most of your career with Voyager? Stone: It's been a remarkable journey. Science is about learning about nature — why it's there, why it is the way it is. And Voyager has been an overwhelming success in terms of scientific endeavor. But even more than that, the thing that's wonderful about Voyager is it's remarkably inspiring to many people, and that's of great value as well. It turned out to be a very effective way of involving the greater public in the journey, which is a scientific journey of discovery. This archival photo shows engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory working on the 10-sided central structure, or "bus," of the Voyager 2 spacecraft on February 24,1977. (NASA/JPL-Caltech) Want more Voyager action? Check out 'The Farthest,' a new full-length film from PBS. You can live-stream it here.

40 Years With the Voyager Spacecraft: Earth's Most Distant Explorers Are Still Calling Home

Everything That Happened Monday During the Solar Eclipse

Just after 10 a.m. Monday morning off the coast of Oregon the temperature dropped, shadows sharpened and the morning eerily turned to night. The sky filled with stars and planets. An unusual sunset glowed from the horizon in every direction. The total solar eclipse awed onlookers as it swept across America. People within a narrow 70-mile wide band witnessed totality, while the entire country was treated to a partial eclipse. Clear skies in Oregon set into motion a nationwide viewing event that had millions of Americans erupting into cheers or falling into stunned silence as the moon slipped in front of the sun. Social media sites erupted with photos, videos and audio. Traffic crept along as people parked along highways and overflowed campgrounds and festivals. The Oregon Department of Transportation estimated 1 million visitors descended on the state. If eclipse mania stoked any newfound fans they won't have to wait too long for the next one. A total solar eclipse will travel from Texas to Maine on April 8, 2024. 3 p.m. If you were stuck inside or blocked by clouds today don't fret. You can watch NOVA's Eclipse Over America, tonight at 9 p.m. on KQED 9 and streaming online. NOVA investigates the storied history of solar eclipse science and joins both seasoned and citizen-scientists alike as they don their eclipse glasses and tune their telescopes for the eclipse over America. 2:35 p.m. The first people to see this morning's eclipse... NASA astronaut Michael Barratt had his camera ready on board Alaska Airlines Flight 9671 this morning . The aircraft was destined out over the Pacific Ocean for the first glimpse of the total solar eclipse. Along with 100 other passengers, he pointed his camera out a round window as the moon slid in front of the sun. He had crafted a filter using a Chex cereal box. KQED's Lindsey Hoshaw was on the same flight with journalists, scientists, eclipse chasers and contest winners who cheered and even swore aloud when the sky darkened. Totality, Hoshaw said, was magical from mid-air. "It felt like something out of a movie," she said. "It was really inspiring to be around people who were so excited, who traveled all the way across the country to see something for two minutes." Alaska Airlines Flight 9671 flew out over the Pacific Ocean to intercept the path of the total solar eclipse. (Lindsey Hoshaw) 1:15 p.m. 'The sky turned inside out' Those who have chased eclipses around the world often speak of the transformative experience of totality. But KQED's Danielle Venton says that researchers at the Lost River Field Station in Mackay, Idaho found today's solar eclipse particularly special. "Maybe because the sun was high in the sky and the air was pretty clear up there," Venton said. "The corona was strongly visible." There were three "filaments" of solar wind visible to the scientists, who will be combing through the data they collected for months to come. "Just with the naked eye we were able to see what looked like some coronal streamers, these long streaks of solar material coming away from the solar disk," said Joseph Hutton, a researcher from Wales. "And maybe a few prominences, which showed up bright pink against the disk of the moon." Even hours after what she called an astounding experience, Venton was exhilarated. "What was interesting was how the light changed," she said. "It kind of felt more like moonlight. Shadows were especially vivid. There was this general feeling of euphoria, this wave of 'Oh my god's' and gasps and cheering." She says that when totality blanketed the Lost River Field Station, the sky turned dark where it was once blue, while the horizon glowed. "It felt like the sky turned inside out," she says. 12:42 p.m. KQED's Lindsey Hoshaw captured the total solar eclipse from midair off the coast of Oregon on Alaska Airlines Flight 9671. A view of the eclipse from @AlaskaAir flight #9671, more than 38,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean #totaleclipse2017 #Eclipe2017 @KQEDscience pic.twitter.com/d0oOelZeTh — Lindsey Hoshaw (@lindseyhoshaw) August 21, 2017 And then there's this crew on Mt. Tamalpais: "So glad I went to see the eclipse on Mt. Tamalpais," says KQED designer Christina #Fogclipse #bayarealife #inthefield pic.twitter.com/QW4CcoeCOA — KQED (@KQED) August 21, 2017 11:55 a.m. The Casper Star-Tribune has a collection of the best photos from today's total solar eclipse here. 11:50 a.m. And just like that, totality has left American soil. Here's a view of the total solar eclipse from Charleston, South Carolina. WSBTV reports WATCH LIVE: Totality in Charleston, South Carolina where GlennBurnsWSB is: https://t.co/0O7I54z91u ... pic.twitter.com/gJoyOrxAAh — Channel 1 Atlanta (@channel1atlanta) August 21, 2017 11:20 a.m. This is what totality sounds like ... Some gasp, some cheer, some sigh. And some sit silently in stunned awe. Listen to the exact moment eclipse viewers in Mackay, Idaho watched the sun disappear behind the moon and the sky go dark. https://ww2.kqed.org/science/wp-content/uploads/sites/35/2017/08/eclipse-reax-lrfs.mp3 Update 10:40 a.m. This is totality. The Exploratorium just shared this capture of their telescope stream from Madras, Oregon. Up next: Casper, Wyoming. #LiveFromMadrasOR: #TOTALITY! Sun is now completely hidden, revealing the full glory of the solar corona. It'll last ~2 min #Eclipse2017 pic.twitter.com/W7y4R458AV — Exploratorium (@exploratorium) August 21, 2017 Update 10:40 a.m. Schedule alert 11:46 a.m Peak in Charleston, South Carolina Update 10:20 a.m. The 75 percent partial eclipse shone through wispy fog as it peaked in the Bay Area at 10:15 a.m. Update 9:45 a.m. KQED's Danielle Venton reports cheering and applause as the moon edges in front of the sun at the Lost River Field Station in Idaho. Eclipse enthusiasts greeted first contact (!) with cheers and applause at Lost River Field Station, ID. @KQEDscience #SolarEclispe2017 pic.twitter.com/eO5aNqXLDI — Danielle Venton (@DanielleVenton) August 21, 2017 Update 9:40 a.m. Bay Area social media is currently cursing @KarlTheFog as the sun peeks in and out of view in San Francisco. The skies could clear for the end of the eclipse, but the East Bay will be the best bet for the 10:15 partial solar eclipse peak. My view: Your view: ☁️☁️☁️☁️☁️☁️ — Karl the Fog ☁️ (@KarlTheFog) August 21, 2017 Update 9:30 a.m. Oregon officials have warned that parking on the side of the road is illegal. This is the view of U.S. Highway 97 north of Redmond at 9:21 a.m. Drivers pull over to the side of U.S. Highway 97 north of Redmond, Oregon on Monday morning. (Oregon Department of Transportation) Update 9 a.m. Madras, Oregon live stream begins San Francisco's Exploratorium scientists are standing by, ready to begin a live telescope stream of the solar eclipse in Madras, Oregon. The moon is about to start eclipsing the sun right now for West Coast viewers. Totality in Madras hits at 10:19 a.m. Watch it live here: Just fine tuning the telescopes until show time. Lookin' good pic.twitter.com/TK1jlPHUwY — Exploratorium (@exploratorium) August 21, 2017 Keep an eye on the NASA live stream, as well. Update 8:45 a.m. We've got you covered for last minute eclipse plans. Weather forecasts give the East Bay the best shot at clear skies for the peak of the partial eclipse. Museums and libraries around the Bay Area are offering public viewing events, and many are giving away coveted free eclipse glasses. Check out a list of local eclipse viewing events here. Update 8 a.m. How exactly do scientists practice for a solar eclipse? KQED's Danielle Venton has this report from a remote solar science outpost in Mackay Idaho. Also in this morning's newscast, KQED's Kat Snow catches up with Californians chasing the eclipse in Oregon. https://ww2.kqed.org/science/wp-content/uploads/sites/35/2017/08/2017-08-21-6-22AM-newscast.mp3 Traffic update, 7:45 a.m. The Oregon Department of Transportation is reporting heavy traffic north of Redmond on U.S. Highway 97. Delays could reach two hours. In Wyoming, Interstate 25 came to a halt early this morning and officials advise travelers to use alternates routes. Eclipse day traffic begins to stack up; skies clear in downtown Casper https://t.co/KdJJevqGMF — Casper Star-Tribune (@CSTribune) August 21, 2017 Update 7:35 a.m. Eclipse chasers spent the weekend packing into fields, festivals and campgrounds, anxiously awaiting this morning's totality. Update 7:20 a.m. Didn't get glasses in time? Don't be like this guy. Remember, DON'T look at the sun, except during totality, which the Bay Area will not experience. Check out this video on how to make a pinhole viewer from a cereal box. Update 7 a.m.: Welcome to our live coverage of the total solar eclipse. Stay tuned all morning for photos, reactions, news and updates from reporters in the path of totality. Solar eclipse chasers prepare for takeoff on an Alaska Airlines flight Monday morning. (Lindsey Hoshaw) Morning weather update: Skies are forecast to remain clear in the path of totality in Oregon, while Idaho and Wyoming may have some patchy haze, according to the National Weather Service. Some cloud cover is gathering around the eclipse path in Nebraska, Kansas, Illinois and Iowa. In the Bay Area, low cloud cover may obscure the beginning of the partial eclipse, but skies are expected to clear mid- morning around peak viewing time. For the first time in 99 years, a total solar eclipse will sweep across the United States from coast to coast. More than 200 million Americans live within driving distance of the path of the total eclipse, called the path of totality. From Oregon to South Carolina, cities and towns that lie within this narrow band are preparing for traffic jams and huge crowds, as millions gather to witness the phenomenon. Those outside the path of totality will see a partial eclipse. The Bay Area will experience a 75 percent partial solar eclipse, peaking at 10:15 a.m. HOW TO VIEW THE ECLIPSE SAFELY DON'T look directly at the partially eclipsed or uneclipsed sun without eclipse glasses. (Sunglasses are not enough!) DON'T look through camera, telescope or binocular lenses, even with eclipse glasses. DON'T remove your eclipse glasses during the eclipse – that's only safe during full totality, which California WON'T experience. DO make a pinhole viewer if you don't have eclipse glasses – or watch a high quality live stream online. Here are the most important things you need to know this morning: The entirety of the eclipse on American soil will last about two-and-a-half hours, with totality stretching from Oregon at 10:16 a.m. to Charleston, South Carolina at 11:47 a.m. PDT. Totality lasts about two minutes at each location. Solar eclipses occur when the moon passes between Earth and the sun, casting a shadow and blocking out the sun momentarily. Check out an animated view of an eclipse from outer space here. Looking at the partially eclipsed or uneclipsed sun even for a moment can permanently damage your eyes. Watch a video on how to safely watch the eclipse here. Solar eclipses aren't rare in general — they happen every 18 months somewhere in the world. But if you stayed in one place, you'd wait 300 years on average to see one. Keep an eye on the NASA live stream at the bottom of this page to watch the eclipse.

Eclipse Scientists Probe the Mysteries of the Sun's Atmosphere

https://www.kqed.org/.stream/anon/radio/science/2017/08/ScienceEclipseScienceandSolarPowerVentonandSommer170814.mp3 The wait between total solar eclipses, if you're planning to stay in one particular location, is a very long time. On average, around 400 years. But, if you're willing to go anywhere on the planet, the wait is around 18 months. And if you're a scientist studying the sun, chances are you're happy to travel just about anywhere. "Asking what we're doing seeing another eclipse is like asking a cardiologist who looked at somebody's heart for two minutes, a year and a half ago, does he want to look at another patient," says Jay Pasachoff, chair of the International Astronomical Union's working group on solar eclipses. During a total eclipse, the moon gets between us and the sun, like an umbrella. Blue sky turns dark, revealing a sight that is normally hidden. In that darkened sky is the sun's atmosphere, the corona—a silvery, waving halo of hot, constantly changing gas. "Every time we look [at the corona] there's something different," says Pasachoff. Big storms in the corona—which are like burps of fiery plasma from the sun—can damage satellites, harm astronauts and disrupt power grids. The more scientists know about the corona, the better they can predict these big storms. And the only time researchers can see all of the corona really well is during a total eclipse. "It's amazing that the moon at this moment in our history is exactly the same size of the sun, apparently," says Alan Gould, former planetarium director (and current volunteer) at the Lawrence Berkeley Hall of Science. "And so it exactly blocks the disc of the sun." Total solar eclipse as seen over Svalbard, Norway in March 2015. The international Solar Wind Sherpas team, led by Shadia Habbal of the University of Hawaii at Manoa Institute for Astronomy, braved the arctic weather in order to study the sun's atmosphere. (Miloslav Druckmüller) Leaving the brilliant corona visible around the black circle of the moon. The sun is 400 times larger than the moon, but it's 400 times farther away from us, so it looks the same size in the sky. Millions of years ago, the moon was closer and covered up more of the sun. In the distant future it'll be farther away, and appear too small to see total eclipses. "We are living in such a fortunate time in that regard" says Gould, "so we get to see the entire corona in its glory." That's why astronomers are traveling from all over the world to see the eclipse on August 21st. And some of them will be studying one of the biggest mysteries about the sun; it has to do with temperature. "So the sun is about 10 million degrees (Celsius) at the center," Gould says. "Really, that's where all the action is. All the nuclear fusion is happening there." The surface is a lot cooler: about 5,538 degrees Celsius. It would make sense for the corona streaming off the surface to be cooler still. But it's not. It's a lot hotter. "In fact, it gets up to a million degrees" says Gould. "There are theories about why that is, but it's really not known." It's not for lack of trying. "I like to joke that the problem has been solved," Pasachoff says. "It's been solved by twelve different people in twelve different ways. In other words, we don't have a solution." One of the people working toward a solution on the day of the eclipse will be University of Hawaii astronomer Shadia Habbal. She leads an international team of scientists known as the "Solar Wind Sherpas" who travel the world in pursuit of solar science. This is a very special eclipse for her. "Usually most eclipse paths cover a lot of ocean, or they go over islands, " she says. "This one is like 3,000 miles of solid land." On the day of the eclipse Habbal will be overseeing five different observation sites within the "path of totality"—the band running across the U.S. where the sun will be entirely blocked out. By spreading out the equipment, Habbal's team will get the chance to see the corona's behavior over several hours. And if you want to be part of scientific history too, you can. The Eclipse Megamovie Project is a collaboration between Google and UC Berkeley to compile photographs from the public into a film. Scientists will be able to use the images for years to study dynamics of the corona. Other researchers will be use the eclipse to learn more about the Earth itself. "Having this dark shadow of the eclipse is really kind of a shocker to the atmosphere," says Angela Des Jardin, director of the Montana Space Grant Consortium. She's overseeing a project to launch high-altitude balloons that will live-stream the eclipse as well as collect weather data. During a test flight, Montana State University students Carter McIver, left, Katherine Lee, Darci Collins, and Keaton Harmon inflate high-altitude balloons. These balloons, launched from sites across the nation, will live-stream the eclipse on August 21. (Kelly Gorham/Montana State University) "So this is unprecedented opportunity for us to actually be able to collect all this data about how the atmosphere changes," Des Jardin says. In fact, August 21st could possibly become the single greatest scientific-data-collecting day in American history. You can be part of it by joining one of the many citizen science projects. Read more KQED eclipse coverage: You Know About This Summer's Spectacular Solar Eclipse, Right? Don't Be in the Dark: Answers To Your Burning Questions About the August Eclipse Help Make History: Eclipse Projects for Citizen Scientists Americans Prepare for First Coast-to-Coast Total Solar Eclipse in Century (KQED Forum)

Self-Driving Cars Will Compel Changes on California Roads and Highways

https://www.kqed.org/.stream/anon/radio/science/2017/08/001294fa.mp3 We are moving rapidly down the road toward the age of self-driving cars. But as the cars change, the roads will have to change with them, and it will likely mean some adjustments, such as different signage and narrower lanes. 'It's been very difficult for us to fill all our potholes, and now we're talking about spending money and making investments on new technology.'Malcolm Dougherty, Caltrans Five years ago, when Governor Jerry Brown appointed Malcolm Dougherty to head Caltrans, autonomous cars seemed a lot farther off than they do now. With ridesharing and even car rental companies getting into the game — and more than a dozen regulatory bills before Congress — things are accelerating. As the car technology races toward him, Dougherty is keeping his eyes on the road. KQED Science Editor Craig Miller spoke with the top man at Caltrans about the future of California's highways. Miller: What are the challenges you face to adapt California's roads for self-driving cars? Dougherty: Well, some of the challenges are: Where do we start and when do we jump? To date, it's been very difficult for us to fill all our potholes, and now we're talking about spending money and making investments on new technology. There's going to be different technologies and technology is turning over at a very rapid pace. Who goes first? If you're talking about communications between infrastructure and vehicles, do I put the communication devices out there, first, before the vehicles have them? Do the vehicles start to install the communication devices before I put them out there? Who goes first? And whatever investment I make today is going to be passed up by greater levels of technology in three years, or four years. Caltrans director Malcolm Dougherty is on Twitter @MalcolmXdough. (Twitter) So we certainly want to jump into the new technology and be innovative, but we also have to be smart with taxpayers' dollars, and deploy things that are going to be utilized and not get turned over by technology very shortly. Miller: What sort of changes are we looking at? Dougherty: Well, there's a lot of opportunities. One thing that we do know is those autonomous vehicles are going to be looking very closely at the infrastructure, because there will be GPS in those vehicles, but they will still need to see their immediate surroundings. Whether or not it's lane lines, stop bars, different signs, and those types of things, they're going to have be very visual to a computer or an autonomous vehicle as well as a human-driven car. Can lanes start to get narrower because of autonomous vehicles? It depends. There's some reasons why lanes could be narrower now with human-driven cars, but depending on your setting, we have to thoughtful about the fact that there's going to be human-driven cars and autonomous vehicles before we start making the lanes a lot narrower. We have already taken the steps to update the standard that we use for lane delineation as we call it. But that's a two-fold purpose: one, to increase the visibility for the human driver, but at the same time, we were looking to the future, knowing that we were going to have autonomous technology emerging and taking that into consideration as we update our standards. Miller: And this has already begun? Dougherty: The one significant thing we're going to be doing is increasing the width of those lane lines from four inches to six inches, making them highly visible. Miller: These changes will obviously come at a cost and you've already said that keeping the potholes filled is a challenge. Do you see this technology leading to more privatization of roads? Dougherty: I don't know about the privatization of the roadways, but there definitely is an opportunity to partner with companies to be able to deploy new technologies. There's a lot of companies out there that are providing traveler information through private vendors and private apps, right? So there's a partnership synergy there between us as an owner-operator, and some of those private companies, who are both trying to improve mobility for the end user. We collect a lot of data, we don't package that data and necessarily market it to the end consumer, but we provide that data to those companies that are doing that. Those companies also have data that they're sharing with us, so we're sharing data again for the ultimate benefit of the end user. Miller: Some of the ideas being kicked around involve embedding technology into the roadways — like wireless charging of moving cars, or piezoelectric roads, that generate electricity from the pressure of traffic moving over them. Implementing any of these would involve huge sums of money. Where might that come from? Dougherty: In some of these experimental ideas that you just talked about, we would be looking to partner with some of those vendors. If you want to show us the value or you want pilot some of that new technology, show us that it works before we can scale it up. 'Getting into your car and having it take you to school to drop your child off and then take you to the supermarket and take you to work without paying attention to the driving — we're a long ways from that.'Malcolm Dougherty, Caltrans We may talk about solar roads, and putting down a surface that's actually collecting electricity — is that going to stand up to the wear and tear that we put on roads here in California with all the truck traffic? I don't know, but we'll pilot that in a very isolated area to see what its durability is before we put it on any kind of an interstate like I-80 or I-5. And specifically we'll be testing that in a roadside rest area, where if it doesn't perform and it fails, it's not a high consequence for the state of California or taxpayers. Miller: Meanwhile, how fast is the clock ticking, here, for Caltrans? Dougherty: Let's say one-two-three-four-five, years from now, we start to see some version and some level of that technology hitting the street — a vast majority of the other cars are still going to be human-driven cars. You fast forward out to 10-15-20 years, you're still going to have a mix. So before we start talking about making some significant geometric changes to the highway, we have to take into consideration that there's still going to be human-driven cars out there. I think in some respects, the autonomous technology is going to be sooner than a lot of people think. But getting into your car and having it take you to school to drop your child off and then take you to the supermarket and take you to work without paying attention to the driving — we're a long ways from that.

Self-Driving Cars Will Compel Changes on California Roads and Highways

How Much Drinking Water Has California Lost to Oil Industry Waste? No One Knows

California survived its historic drought, in large part by using groundwater. It was a lifeline in the Central Valley, where it was the only source of water for many farmers. California regulators are charged with protecting that groundwater, but for years they failed to do so. Through a series of mistakes and miscommunication, they allowed oil companies to put wastewater into drinking water aquifers that were supposed to be safeguarded. Now, a KQED investigation reveals that regulators still know little about the actual impact on the state's groundwater reserves. One of those errors was discovered by an unlikely person: Bill Samarin, a farmer in California's San Joaquin Valley. Oil and agriculture are the big employers in Tulare County, where Samarin lives. Among the citrus and almond orchards, you see steel pumpjacks bobbing above the treetops. So criticizing either of those industries doesn't make you popular. "That doesn't set well with people around here," Samarin said. "You're some kind of environmentalist, which isn't a very accepted thing to be if you're a farmer out in this area." Samarin is not an environmentalist. He describes himself as a "pretty conservative guy." So what he discovered about the oil industry put him in unfamiliar territory, straining relationships in this tight-knit community. The Biggest Issue It started with the oil field not far from his orchard. 'Is this even possible that they could be taking wastewater and injecting it into drinking water?'Bill Samarin, farmer "From our house, we could look across and it's probably about three-quarters of a mile," he said. County officials had received an application to expand that oil field and allow more drilling. Given how close it was to his property, Samarin started doing some homework. "When I looked into it further, I found out actually that the biggest issue out here isn't the things you see on top of the ground," he said. "The biggest issue out here is the wastewater and how they're getting rid of it." Oil companies in California produce tons of wastewater. On average, for every barrel of oil, a California oil well produces 19 barrels of water, often laden with salts, trace metals and chemicals like benzene. "They have to get rid of it somehow and in this area here, they pump it into the ground," he said. It's the standard way in which oil companies dispose of wastewater in California: using injection wells, which are not much more than a pipe going into the ground with a gauge to monitor water pressure. Generally, the wastewater is deposited pretty deep, below the usable groundwater, into aquifers that are already too salty to be drinkable. Samarin decided to look up all the wells near his orchard, to see where the wastewater was going. He couldn't believe what he found. "I was just stunned, stunned by how close it was to groundwater," Samarin said. He uses groundwater on his crops, along with a lot of other farmers in the area. "I just drilled a well here," he said. "We drilled down to 740 feet. The injection wells in this area are injecting at similar depths." Alarmed, Samarin went to the local water regulators, the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board. They told him how a water law, known as the Safe Drinking Water Act, works. Groundwater that's potentially drinkable is automatically off limits for oil companies for wastewater disposal. But if groundwater quality is already tainted by oil or salts, then companies can get permission from state agencies and the federal Environmental Protection Agency to put wastewater there. The regulators gave Samarin a map of the land around his orchard that had been approved for wastewater disposal, as well as the areas that were protected. Most people probably would have stopped there, but not Samarin. He wanted to know how close those injection wells were to his protected aquifer. Digging Through the Maps Samarin didn't have to turn very far for help. His son, Alex, works with maps for a living. "I think we're both curious people," said the younger Samarin. "Once the question is asked, we want to see what the answer is." He plotted coordinates for all the wastewater wells on top of the land approved for wastewater. "Six out of the seven did fall within the allowable aquifer," he said. "One was completely outside of it." That meant an oil company was putting its wastewater into a protected aquifer that was supposed to be off-limits. "We were just stunned," recalls Bill. "It was like: is this even possible that they could be taking wastewater and injecting it into drinking water? Can you imagine that that actually occurs in California in this day and age?" A wastewater injection well in San Joaquin County. (Lauren Sommer/KQED) He decided to take it to county officials. In 2014, Tulare County held hearings about whether to allow the oil operation near Samarin's orchard to expand, and he filed an appeal against it. He wanted the county to know about the mistake: that regulators with the state's Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources had permitted a wastewater well that it shouldn't have. Over a decade, it had pumped 80 million gallons of wastewater into the aquifer. At the hearing, Samarin presented his report, going over everything he and his son had found. "Produced water associated with oil production can contain many constituents that may endanger the environment or the public health," he testified. When the meeting was opened for comments, Burton Ellison, a recently-retired regulator with DOGGR, challenged Samarin's findings, calling them untrue. "Every one of those wells went through a rigorous review," Ellison told the hearing. "As a matter of fact, I reviewed some of them back in 2008." In the end, county supervisors denied Samarin's appeal, stating that regulating wastewater was the state's job, not theirs. Samarin let it drop for the time being. "I left it to other contacts," he said. "The state water board knew about it." 'It looks like a completely broken system.'Briana Mordick, Natural Resources Defense Council Six months later, those state water regulators reviewing wastewater wells discovered that Samarin had been right. They ordered the errant injection well that Samarin had found be shut down. The oil company, Modus, Inc., responded that its wastewater didn't contaminate the aquifer because it had the same salt level as the aquifer it was going into. What Samarin didn't know was that his wasn't an isolated case. It was happening all over California. "Broken System" "There are thousands of wells spread all across the state that are potentially impacting clean drinking water," says Briana Mordick of the Natural Resources Defense Council. State oil regulators grant permits for wastewater injection wells, so knowing the boundaries between protected and unprotected aquifers is crucial. But for decades, Mordick says, state regulators confused those boundaries. "It's just a pretty shocking state of affairs," says Mordick. "Just poor communication, poor record-keeping. It looks like a completely broken system." "Our records weren't solid," admits Teresa Schilling, a spokesperson for the division of oil and gas. "They were missing in many cases and it's essential that we have accurate records." https://www.kqed.org/.stream/anon/radio/science/2017/08/ScienceOilWastewaterISommer170802.mp3 In some cases, the aquifer maps were decades old with fuzzy boundaries. In other cases, the records regulators used to make decisions were mixed up 30 years ago. The Environmental Protection Agency had a complete list of the protected aquifers, but for unknown reasons, California oil regulators were working from an incomplete list that didn't include 11 protected aquifers. "We understand that the public has concern about what's at stake with their drinking water," says Schilling. "We all know we have a right to clean drinking water and we have a right to expect that our government will take care of that for us." What regulators are doing now, Schilling says, is reviewing records for thousands of wastewater injection wells, looking for mistakes. So far, about 175 wells have been shut down. But six years after the problems emerged, there are still hundreds of wastewater wells operating in protected aquifers, mostly in Kern and Tulare counties. Schilling says these aquifers aren't drinking-water quality and the state is going through the process of approving them for wastewater disposal. That was supposed to happen by February, but the process is still unfinished. "It's very hard as a government entity to move fast but this has been a top priority at the Department of Conservation," she says. Minimal Testing Still not fully understood is what impact all this has had on the quality of California's drinking-water aquifers. "The testing that has been performed has been minimal, I would say," says John Borkovich of the State Water Resources Control Board. The agency has tested some of the drinking water wells within a mile of the wastewater wells that were wrongly permitted. The tests looked at the quality of the drinking water. Borkovich says officials have found no correlation between wastewater injection and "anything we're finding in the water supply wells." So far. "Just because we haven't seen anything, doesn't mean there isn't an issue out there," he said. The next, bigger challenge is determining what the long-term impact of wastewater has been on the larger aquifers. Some wastewater wells have been operating for decades. https://www.kqed.org/.stream/anon/radio/science/2017/08/oilwastewaterpt2.mp3 KQED asked oil regulators for records showing contamination levels of the wastewater that oil companies put into the cleanest aquifers. Officials say they can't produce those records for KQED, because the information is in stacks of paperwork, spread across several regional offices. They also say the division of oil and gas isn't looking at that question. Given how far back the permitting problems go, it could be a challenge for the state to reconstruct what's happened underground. "We don't necessarily have good records of what the quality of that water would have been 20 years ago when they started doing this," said NRDC's Mordick. "So trying to figure out whether their actions have impacted the water is really difficult at this point." Mordick adds that the state may be overlooking certain chemicals in their testing. "One of the complicating things is that the state doesn't require disclosure of most of the stuff that oil and gas operators use," Mordick says. "Things like drilling fluids, or maintenance fluids, enhanced oil recovery operations, so really, we wouldn't know what to test for." The aquifers in question may not contain groundwater that California needs right now, but future droughts are inevitable. "Those resources are becoming more and more valuable over time," says Mordick. "Protecting our groundwater is really important. They need to follow the rules and California needs to step up and take this seriously because they haven't been for a long time." State water regulators say they hope to figure out what the larger impacts have been in the years ahead, but have no set timeline. The risk is that they've allowed oil companies to contaminate drinking water aquifers to such an extent that Californians may have permanently lost those sources of fresh water.

How Much Drinking Water Has California Lost to Oil Industry Waste? No One Knows

Want to Cut Your Carbon Footprint? Get Liquefied When You're Dead

You may not equate death with climate change, but disposing of human remains leaves a fairly hefty carbon footprint. Supporters of a California bill allowing dead bodies to be dissolved in a hot chemical bath are hoping to overcome the 'ick factor.' "Cremation is really what people hold Read More ...

On the Fourth of July 20 Years Ago, NASA Landed the First Rover on Mars

On July 4th, 1997 as Americans were stoking their barbecues, a NASA spacecraft touched down on Mars and bounced like a beach ball. The Pathfinder mission was an unlikely and stunning success that marked the beginning of a roaming robotic presence on the red planet. The successful feat surprised everyone—including the team behind the mission, a mission that didn't have the best reputation in the beginning. Jennifer Trosper applied to work at NASA in the nineties. "And I got a phone call," Trosper says. "He [the recruiter] said, 'Well, we got this project out here. Nobody really wants to work on it, because nobody thinks it's going to work.'" https://www.kqed.org/.stream/anon/radio/science/2017/07/ScienceMarsRover.mp3 NASA was trying something new: space travel for a bargain price. Pathfinder's mantra was cheaper, faster, better. The goal was to cut down on red tape and dream of solutions no one had else had thought of. "Be crazy and bold and innovative," says Pathfinder's chief engineer Rob Manning. 'Cheaper, Faster, Better' When Trosper arrived in Los Angeles, she joined a team of scrappy aerospace engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) willing to work on a lean budget and try something revolutionary. "We didn't follow all the rules. We had some good leadership, but it was a very small team," Trosper says, "And we were landing on the surface of Mars with air bags!" The airbags were designed to cushion Pathfinder's landing. Touching down on Mars can be tricky because the atmosphere is so thin. That's one reason no other country had had a successful landing for twenty years. NASA's last success was the Viking 1 and Viking 2 orbiter-lander in 1975. Low Budget Inspires Innovation Manning says the team settled on a parachute to slow the spacecraft down as it hurtled through the Martian atmosphere. The engineers also wrapped the machine in a cocoon to protect it when it touched down on the rocky landscape—kind of like a beach ball. Manning says the idea was that the ball "would bounce and roll on the surface. And finally open up like a flower and have a little rover drive off." If successful, the tiny rover—about the size of a microwave—would become the first wheeled vehicle to explore the surface of another planet. NASA named it Sojourner. Seven months after the launch, NASA engineers monitored the spacecraft's status as it neared its icy destination. A nervous tension filled the control room at JPL. And then at the exact moment Pathfinder was expected to bounce down, a faint signal sounded, back on Earth. The room erupted with loud applause and cheering. "By late afternoon for us we were getting our first picture," Manning says, smiling. Miraculously, Pathfinder had traveled millions of miles and landed upright on the red planet. The Sojourner Rover at the Yogi rock on Mars. (Mars Pathfinder Project ) NASA uploaded the images to a new realm known as the World Wide Web. Jon Brooks, a science editor at KQED, remembers the moment vividly. "You could see a little more, a little more, a little more," Brooks says, "and the anticipation was truly great because you were going to catch a glimpse of Mars for the first time. You actually saw the barren landscape and the red color." The Most Important Question Sojourner was expected to take pictures for one week before its batteries died. Instead, the little spacecraft weathered the frigid climate for nearly three months. Pathfinder beamed thousands of pictures back to Earth, says Manning, to help his team answer one central question: "Was Mars at some point in its past a place with lakes and an atmosphere and places where presumably life could actually get started?" The quest to find an answer has inspired three more NASA rovers after Pathfinder. The latest, Curiosity, is the size of an SUV and has been driving around Mars for nearly five years looking for clues about how and when the red planet went from warm and wet to cold and dry. Astronomers are still searching for signs of life, but they have confirmed the presence of water. Observations suggest that habitable lakes and streams likely existed in the ancient past. "Doesn't say anything about whether there was life there," Manning says. "But it does say this planet is much more interesting than we ever dreamed." Mars is the only planet inhabited solely by robots (as far as we know). Next year the U.S. will send the InSight lander to Mars, and the Mars 2020 will follow. NASA hopes to land a human on the red planet within the next twenty years.

On the Fourth of July 20 Years Ago, NASA Landed the First Rover on Mars

Californians Will Ski on the Fourth of July

You can celebrate America's birthday in the surf or the snow this year. Two California ski resorts are still open. It is the fourth time Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows has had enough snow for Fourth of July turns since the resort opened in 1949. Mammoth Mountain predicts there may be enough snow to stay open through August. 'It's a little like water skiing. But it's great coverage so you can't complain.'Michael Visconti On a recent 80-degree Sunday, a stream of skiers and snowboarders in board shorts and tank tops tumbled out of the gondola at Squaw Valley. Nearby, a waterfall poured through a gap in the cliffs as the hot skies penetrated the snow. Clearly the bluebird skies are the highlight rather than the conditions. Skiers say the wet snow feels like gooey oatmeal, mashed potatoes or ice cream. As San Francisco resident Michael Visconti carved turns in the slush, a fan of water sprayed out from underneath his skis. "It's a little like water skiing. But it's great coverage so you can't complain." Bikinis and Costumes Peopled posed for photos on the slopes with Lake Tahoe's turquoise waters glimmering in the distance. Women were dressed in slinky bikinis, black lingerie and red booty shorts, yet it was Visconti's outfit that stole the show. Michael (L) and Katherine Visconti are skiing as many days as possible this summer. (Lesley McClurg/KQED) "I've got my signature zebra pants," said Visconti. "I've got this monster hat with light up eyes and pink fur. It seems to be incredibly popular with the five-year-old crowd who want to know what kind of monster I am." Dangerous Waters All the liquid running off the mountain has lifted water levels in Lake Tahoe to capacity. Water managers are releasing as much runoff as possible through the Lake Tahoe Dam at the mouth of the Truckee River. Usually the upper river is knee-deep flat water that families raft in inner tubes, but it's currently a frothy beast closed for swimming. "It's too high to be rafting right now," said local raft guide Richard Saffo. "The bridges, you can't go under them. So it's very dangerous. Whether it's decapitation or a gnarly concussion — either will definitely ruin your vacation." https://www.kqed.org/.stream/anon/radio/science/2017/06/McClurgFourthSkiing2.mp3 Tributary Waters, the company Saffo works for, offers trips down a safer section of the Truckee River closer to Reno. This year Saffo warns his clients to hold on tight because if they fall in they could spend a long time in the icy waters. "Those rapids come alive," said Saffo. "The water is so high and swift you might swim for two miles." In fact it could be lethal. The Associated Press is reporting that western rivers have claimed at least 14 lives so far this year. From the Mountain to the Sea Fresh water from the Sierra is rushing all the way across the Central Valley and pouring into the San Francisco Bay. The runoff is so powerful, it's pushing back the salty ocean water all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge, which is much different than what happened during California's recent drought when runoff barely trickled into the Bay. Even though the snowpack on April first was 164 percent of normal and the winter was one of the state's wettest on record, it wasn't as cold as previous generations. Jeffrey Mount, a water expert for the Public Policy Institute of California, says that's a sign of climate change. "What we forget is this year is still part of our long term trend that started back in the early 1980's — warmer than average winters," said Mount. "So as we continue to warm, there's a lot of consequences." Warmer temperatures mean melting snow evaporates quicker, trees bloom earlier and soils dry up faster. Though Mount says that doesn't add up to another drought — at least not in the near term. He cautiously predicts California is likely to have another snowy winter because wet years tend to cluster together. Though he says he wouldn't put money on it.

You Know About This Summer's Spectacular Solar Eclipse, Right?

Save the date: August 21st. On that Monday, across the United States, millions of people will be granted a rare chance to see a total solar eclipse. The last time a total solar eclipse crossed the contiguous U.S., Jimmy Carter was president (1979). It has been nearly a century since an eclipse swept the country from coast to coast (1918). "It's not often that celestial events favor our own country in such a way," says Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the SETI Institute. "And this gives the opportunity to a lot of people to see something that really shouldn't be missed." The eclipse will first be visible by land at Lincoln Beach, Oregon. At 8:04 a.m. the moon will begin to edge in on the sun, taking a tiny chip out of it. Eclipses are possible thanks to a happy coincidence: The Sun is 400 times the diameter of the moon, while also being 400 times farther away from Earth. To us, both the moon and the Sun appear to be the same size allowing the moon to block light from the sun during solar eclipses. As the 70 million million million metric tons of rock that we know as our moon slide across the solar disc, darkness will descend, sweeping in from the west. The temperature will drop. Birds may cease singing, squirrels may give up their foraging. The stars will come out. Observers of past eclipses say life seems suspended in animation, as the shadow of the moon sweeps over them. Looking up they see a "hole in the sky" surrounded by flowing flames. Or, "a black sunflower with the most delicate of silver petals," as Frank Close writes in Eclipse: Journeys to the Dark Side of the Moon. These 'petals' are the sun's corona. Curiously, this outer atmosphere of the sun is far, far hotter (up to 450 times hotter) than the surface of the sun. But why this is so is still a mystery. The stage where the corona is visible to the naked eye is the moment of total eclipse, called "totality." You will see the total eclipse only if you are inside the 50-mile wide band marked out on the map below, a path that will sweep across the country stretching from just west of Salem, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina. (Check out the Eclipse Megamovie Project, a joint project of Google and UC Berkeley. Type a location into their simulator to see what the eclipse will look like from there.) A word on safety: Don't look directly at the sun. Ever. For the first hour of the eclipse, the moon with be sliding over the disc of the sun taking, as Shostak says, "bigger and bigger cookie bites." Even if it is partially blocked, if you look into the sun it may be the last thing you'll ever see. You can, however, watch with eclipse glasses, which are equipped with protective film. Or, cut a hole in a piece of paper or cardboard and project the eclipse onto a surface, such as the ground or a wall. Once the moon has completely blocked out the sun (during totality) it is okay to look up. In fact, don't miss looking up! You can even take a peek through your binoculars or telescope. https://dts.podtrac.com/redirect.mp3/www.kqed.org/.stream/mp3splice/radio/science/2017/06/Eclipse_170619.mp3 Shostak recommends Oregon as the most practical locale for Californians to view the eclipse, if they're willing to travel. "You might think 'Gosh! That's a long trip for two minutes of celestial fireworks,'" says Shostak. "But I can assure you, seeing the moon get in front of the sun is something you will always remember." Read more KQED eclipse coverage: Americans Prepare for First Coast-to-Coast Total Solar Eclipse in Century (KQED Forum) Don't Be in the Dark: Answers To Your Burning Questions About the August Eclipse Help Make History: Eclipse Projects for Citizen Scientists

4 Things You Should Know About California's Biggest Reservoir

1. It's Probably Not the One You're Thinking Of Nope, not Shasta Lake. That's California's largest surface reservoir, which is currently bulging with more than 4 million acre-feet of water (Californians use about 40 million acre-feet in a year). You're not likely to find the biggest "reservoir" on a map—but you might be standing on it. It's underground, in the vast aquifers that lie beneath sections of the state, the Central Valley in particular. "I don't think anybody's tried to calculate the complete volume," says Claudia Faunt, a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in San Diego. But we know it's big. 'It's huge. But that doesn't mean that we can extract everything that's down there.'Thomas Harter, UC Davis People sometimes refer to the Sierra snowpack as the state's largest reservoir. Even though it supplies about a third of the water that Californians use annually, it's a "drop in the bucket" compared to the state's mother lode of groundwater. If you imagine a single bucket of water representing all the water contained in Sierra snowpack in a typical year (granted, this year is hardly typical), you would need 60-to-70 buckets to visualize all the water beneath our feet, contained in various groundwater basins. 2. It's Big, But There's a Catch "It's huge," says Thomas Harter, a hydrologist and groundwater specialist at UC Davis. "But that doesn't mean that we can extract everything that's down there." Nor would that be an especially fruitful exercise, since much of the water that's down there is not fit for drinking or even irrigation of crops in some cases. And the deeper the aquifer, the more expensive it is to pump it—hundreds or even thousands of feet—to the surface. "Part of it is so deep that it just gets more and more expensive to extract the water," says Faunt. California's Stressed Aquifers Zoom in and click on individual wells to see how far the water table has receded in that area between Fall 2011 to Fall 2016. SOURCE: CA Dept. of Water Resources 3. It's in Trouble A team of researchers at UCLA recently estimated that during the recent five-year drought, groundwater was pumped out of the Central Valley at twice the rate of the previous drought (2007-09), eventually taking out enough to fill Lake Mead, the nation's largest man-made reservoir. But even in "normal" years, scientists say many farmers and water agencies around the state have been pumping groundwater at an unsustainable rate. "Basically we're taxing the system beyond what it can take," warns Faunt. "We've been using water at a rate much higher than water's being recharged to these areas, so you've got a loss of storage." Over the course of the drought, at least 3,500 wells went dry and Harter reckons that most of those remain dry, despite the record-setting precipitation over the winter. According to state regulators, there are still communities receiving emergency supplies of bottled water after local wells dried up. 4. It's Not a Lost Cause Scientists and water planners think the state's aquifers can be made sustainable, but it will take time and commitment. New strategies are taking hold to recharge groundwater basins. Since we reported on one of the earliest pilot projects in 2013, farm recharge programs have gained substantial momentum, flooding fields with some of the high river flows in years like this, and using those fields as recharge basins, allowing the water to sink in and replenish aquifers below. In Orange County, water managers recycle urban water to recharge local aquifers. In 2014, state legislators passed the landmark Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which will, for the first time, require users of groundwater to track and report how much they're using, and devise plans to do so in a way that doesn't further deplete supplies. Prior to SGMA, it was essentially open season on groundwater. As NASA scientist Jay Famiglietti has put it, "It's not unlike your having several straws in a glass and everyone drinking at the same time and no one really watching the level." The first management plans are due in 2020, and full implementation of the law — which could ultimately place some restrictions on pumping — won't happen for another decade at least. But as the law's sponsor, Sen. Lois Wolk (D-Davis) told Water Deeply, "When you're digging yourself into a hole, the first solution is to stop digging."

A California Regulator's Curious Crusade to Remake the Clean Air Act

In California's polluted San Joaquin Valley, a regulator is under fire for allying with members of Congress who want to weaken the venerable law: a joint investigation from the Center for Public Integrity and The California Report. FRESNO — The 250-mile-long San Joaquin Valley is an economic powerhouse, producing everything Read More ... Source:: Newsfix – Science