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KUNR Today: Drought-Busting Rains Becoming Rarer, Water Officials Push For Ornamental Grass Ban

An image of a house with a grass lawn
Paradise Palms
CC BY 2.0
The Southern Nevada Water Authority urges state lawmakers to ban the use of ornamental grass, like grass lawns.

Here are your local news headlines for the morning of Wednesday, Apr. 7, 2021.

California Plans For Broad Pandemic Reopening In Mid-June
By The Associated Press

Gov. Gavin Newsom is setting a hopeful date for things to start getting back to a pre-pandemic normal in California. He says the nation's most populated state will lift most coronavirus restrictions on businesses and workplaces June 15 as long as enough people continue to be vaccinated and hospitalization rates stay low. Officials said Tuesday that they hope enough people will be vaccinated by mid-June to allow for many activities to resume. The Democratic governor says a statewide mask mandate will stay in place, while states nationwide have lifted those and other health restrictions. California has had some of the nation’s strictest pandemic rules.

FEMA Helps Launch Mobile COVID-19 Vaccination Clinics In Rural And Tribal Communities In Nevada
By Lucia Starbuck

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is using a mobile COVID-19 vaccination clinic to reach rural and tribal communities in Nevada. The clinics will offer the one-shot Janssen vaccine for people 18 and older on a first come, first served basis.

The clinic will next travel to the Washoe Tribe in Carson City, followed by Topaz Estates, Silver Springs, Gerlach, Lovelock, Winnemucca, Battle Mountain, and Carlin, before ending in West Wendover May 1.

More information is available at NVCOVIDFighter.org.

Lucia Starbuck is a corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project.

Snow Melting Earlier, Says New Study
By Madelyn Beck, Mountain West News Bureau

New research published in the journal Nature Climate Change finds that snow is melting earlier - often in the winter. That’s a bad sign for our region.

Researchers took an unprecedented look at more than 1,000 snow measurement stations from New Mexico up through Canada and Alaska. They found that over the last 40 years, about one-third of those stations recorded increasing winter melt.

Study lead Keith Musselman is with the University of Colorado Boulder. He said it’s a sign that snowpacks are being affected by climate change, even if their average depth has been relatively stable the last few decades.

"In some cases, it’s validation of our future projections that snow quality, snow quantity will be expected to continue to decline,” Musselman said.

Mountain snowpacks fend off summer drought in the West. Losing those could mean more wildfires and challenges for farmers.

Winter snowmelt is bad for other reasons, too. It means crustier snow for skiers and snowboarders, and more saturated ground during the winter. That increases flash flood risks and keeps microbes awake all winter, producing carbon emissions.

Study: Drought-Breaking Rains More Rare, Erratic In US West
By The Associated Press

Rainstorms grew more erratic and droughts much longer across most of the U.S. West over the past half-century as climate change warmed the planet. That's the conclusion of a sweeping government study released Tuesday that finds the situation for the region is worsening. The most dramatic changes have been seen in the desert Southwest, where the average dry period between storms increased from 30 days to 45 days since the 1970s. The consequences of intense dry periods pummeling areas of the West in recent years have been severe: more intense and dangerous wildfires, parched croplands and not enough vegetation on the landscape to support livestock and wildlife.

Vegas Water Agency Asks Lawmakers To Ban Ornamental Grass
By The Associated Press

Las Vegas water officials want state lawmakers to require the removal of thirsty grass landscaping that isn’t used for recreation. A Southern Nevada Water Authority lobbyist told lawmakers Monday that the Legislature should ban ornamental grass by the end of 2026 and create an advisory committee to guide the effort. The agency estimates that the grass uses roughly 55 billion gallons of water a year, which is about 15% of the region’s total nonrecycled consumption. The idea gained immediate backing from one environmental advocacy group. The Center for Biological Diversity pointed to drought in Southwest states that rely on the Colorado River.

California's Pacific Gas & Electric Charged In 2019 Wildfire
By The Associated Press

A California prosecutor has filed 33 criminal counts against troubled Pacific Gas & Electric for a 2019 fire officials blamed on the utility. The Sonoma County district attorney on Tuesday charged the utility in the October 2019 Kincade Fire north of San Francisco. The blaze burned more than 120 square miles and destroyed 374 buildings. The 33 charges include recklessly causing a fire with great bodily injury to six firefighters. It’s the latest in a series of similar problems for the utility, including a 2018 fire that is the deadliest and most destructive in California history. PG&E denied committing any crimes but accepted that it sparked the blaze.

Haaland Visits Mountain West, Focuses On Tribal Issues
By Savannah Maher, Mountain West News Bureau

Haaland spent Tuesday in Albuquerque meeting with the governors of nine Pueblo communities in New Mexico. She touted the unprecedented amount of funding - $20 billion - set aside for tribes in the coronavirus relief package, and she said the Biden administration is committed to restoring a nation-to-nation relationship with tribes.

That means every bureau and every office must think about our trust obligations to Indian tribes.

The governors brought a range of issues to the table, from water rights to challenges tribal police face in dealing with crime by non-native people on tribal land. Governor Craig Quanchallo of Picuris Pueblo asked Haaland to address the severe underfunding of the federal Indian Health Service.

"It’s time that we hold IHS responsible to provide us with equal healthcare as everybody else. I ask for your support in that," Quanchallo said.

On Thursday, Haaland will travel to Southeast Utah. She’ll meet with tribal leaders and local stakeholders about the future of national monuments at Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante.

Proposal For 300-Mile Trail System Through Northeastern California
By Lucia Starbuck

A non-profit trail preservation group is proposing a multi-county trail system to connect more than a dozen small communities in the Northern Sierra.

Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship says the 300 mile-long system would allow outdoor enthusiasts to connect with communities affected by the slow down of logging and mining. The proposal would connect “main streets” from Truckee to Susanville with the intent of bringing communities new sources of revenue from tourism.

Lucia Starbuck is an award-winning political journalist and the host of KUNR’s monthly show Purple Politics Nevada. She is passionate about reporting during election season, attending community events, and talking to people about the issues that matter most to them.
Madelyn Beck is a regional Illinois reporter, based in Galesburg. On top of her work for Harvest Public Media, she also contributes to WVIK, Tri-States Public Radio and the Illinois Newsroom collaborative.
Savannah comes to Wyoming Public Media from NPR’s midday show Here & Now, where her work explored everything from Native peoples’ fraught relationship with American elections to the erosion of press freedoms for tribal media outlets. A proud citizen of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, she’s excited to get to know the people of the Wind River reservation and dig into the stories that matter to them.
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