Category Archives: Uncategorized



Water is a contentious issue in the Western US. Not until this year did California start regulating the usage of underground resources. The aquifers and surface water are the same systems. The point is there is far less water available than was previously thought. Four hard years of drought have frightened farmers in the Central Valley and caused rationing in many places in the State. The bulk of the water supplying Southern California comes from the Colorado River, just renegotiated, via the town of Needles input, which serves several states. This water is allocated by Paul Matuska, Water Conservation and Accounting Group – Manager, from Colorado, at the US Bureau of Reclamation.

Ground water is theoretically already allocated before it reaches underground. This spring, California’s water agency reported that half of the States’ local authorities were not complying with the law. California’s new groundwater legislation now does require local authorities to develop sustainable groundwater plans by 2020. The resistance was so fierce by the agriculture industry that it barred any State attempt to count the groundwater withdrawals. How can one manage what is not measured? Arizona is in more dire straits than California. Lake Mead is at it’s lowest level since the construction of Hoover Dam.

There are many ways now that the water source is mismanaged: farming subsidies for water intensive crops (almonds), leaky infrastructure and allowing individual farmers to draw, without regulations, from the underground sources on their own land. The two sources, above ground and underground need to be connected.


This is where climate change is so drastically affecting this resource. The warming temperatures do not allow for adequate snow-pack that provides water throughout the summer in a gradual method, feeding streams and reservoirs. The warming of the Pacific Ocean, this year four degrees above normal, has created a caldron of sorts. The frequent storms reaching powerfully damaging results, just recently in Mexico with Hurricane Patricia, the third strongest in history world-wide.


The Naysayers to this trend do not heed the science. The warm weather and dry climate have created a “Blob” (a large mass of warm water in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of North America) in the Pacific. This has disrupted the food web of marine life, pushing tropical fish up to Alaska and creating a algal sea blooms. The Blob has rendered shellfish toxic, shutting down fisheries in Washington, Oregon and California. And sadly, a closure of this writers’ favorite food, Dungeness crabs.

El Nino

The predicted El Nino affects weather world-wide, from droughts in Australia to Africa – their worst in forty years! The storms will become more potent over time. The combination of El Nino, The Blob and climate change has caused acidification and the bleaching of coral throughout the world, killing reefs and habitat for many marine species. Hawaii is the most affected. The oceans expand with heat; this will result in a growing level of local flooding, costing much more than the purported cost by many conservatives to “doing business as usual.”


The meteorologist who gave them name Blob, at NOAA’s cooperative institute at the University of Washington, Nicholas Bond, feels “that this will have monstrous implications. Hey… this is the consequence of messing around with the climate.”

Aftermath of Hurricane Patricia, Mexico

Aftermath of Hurricane Patricia, Mexico


The Urban forest that is New York City

Callery Pear trees in bloom

Callery Pear trees in bloom

I lived in that jungle for nineteen years.  During that period, I owned a home on Riverside Drive and 77th Street, on the Upper West side. During that period, a tree died in front of our Whitestone building.  I undertook the task of getting one tree replanted there.  I learned that there is only ONE man in charge of planting trees in Manhattan, the department that controls this is titled Manhattan Forest Department, and being the determined New Yorker, I hounded his voice mail until one was placed in front of my home. It took months!  I built a boxed-in wood frame to hold dirt and moister from four by fours, and watered it faithfully. The replacement tree was the renowned London Plain tree that adapts well to polluted environs, like London.  It flourished under my care, and lives to this day.

Jill Hubley's NYC Street Trees map shows off the 52 species of trees that grow along New York City's streets, map by Jill Hubley

Jill Hubley’s NYC Street Trees map shows off the 52 species of trees that grow along New York City’s streets, map by Jill Hubley

Starting in May 2015, the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation will begin a five to seven month-long street census to locate and identify the species of every street-side tree.  There are 592,130 street trees (52 species) in New York.  Queens has the  most trees, honey locusts, rarely found in the Northeast, are found in great numbers on the streets of Manhattan. Callery pears, a invasive species from China, are all over the region, particularly in Staten Island (but they smell like rotting fish, chlorine or semen).

New York now plants just 20 or 30 Callerys per year, while literally thousands are lost to attrition (from storm damage and such). Jeremy Barrick, the deputy chief of forestry, horticulture and natural resources at the Parks Department, expects the Callery to lose its number 3 spot in the 2015 census. He anticipates a total Callery count of roughly 30,000—a 50-percent decline from 2006.

The Callery pear is an invasive species that has taken over many of New York’s sidewalks, map by Jill Hubley

The Callery pear is an invasive species that has taken over many of New York’s sidewalks, map by Jill Hubley

Even when it comes to species you might expect to find in New York—such as oak, maple, and elm—the Parks Department chose to plant Asian cultivars instead of North American ones. “There’s only one oak species on the list that isn’t from Asia—and it’s an English oak, native to Europe,” says Doug Tallamy, a wildlife ecologist from the University of Delaware.

The solutions to this  linear planting scheme are actually quite easy to implement. Many of the Asian cultivars can be replaced with a North American counterpart—such as Chinese elms with American elms, or Japanese and Norway maples with sugar maples. Tallamy dismisses any grumblings that native species are too big or too difficult to grow as nonsense. “We have native species that are smaller that we can still grow—we just need to start planting them.”

Promenade in Bryant Park, London plane trees, platanus acerifolia, in midtown

Promenade in Bryant Park, London plane trees, platanus acerifolia, in midtown

Rich Hallett, an ecologist at the US Forest Service’s Northern Research Station, cites plans to integrate the data on a digital platform that can be updated in real time and act as a “living document.”

There are other factors impacting ‘greenification’ of our urban areas.  In San Francisco, the resident population in the ‘outer Sunset and Richmond’ (which is virtually treeless) do not favor trees, and have been reported to kill them with scalding water because they feel they are ‘dirty’ and need maintenance.

So it is not everyone who wishes to promote tree propagation in the US.

Special thanks to Neel V. Patel of Wired Magazine for his inspiring research.

NOTE: All maps in this post developed by Brooklyn web developer (and amazing artist) Jill Hubley

The West Without Water

Water Sortage Central Valley

Water Shortage, Central Valley, CA, photograph by Kim Steele

I have been concerned of the scarcity of water for many years. In fact, the images illustrating this posting were shot several years ago while trying to place an article in various publications about the handling of the limited water supply in the West.  To no avail.


Aquaducts, photograph by Kim Steele

Fisheries have also played a factor in the distribution of water to the Central Valley as well.

Sacramento Delta Water Controls

Sacramento Delta Water Controls, photograph by Kim Steele

The water crisis has become so acute that several entire counties in the Central Valley, the breadbasket of the United States, will receive NO water this entire year.

Harvesting Tomatoes Central Valley (Winters) CA

Harvesting Tomatoes Central Valley (Winters) CA, photograph by Kim Steele

Some farmers elect not to plant, but the nut trees needing water each year and are dying. California is one of the few states that does not monitor the underground water supply.

The aquifer of the central United states is sharply diminishing.  Places like Las Vegas are  a misguided effort to bring water to a desert.  Los Angeles started the trend at the turn of the Century.  Concerns were  expressed from the beginning, see this publication from the Department of Water and Power in the 1930’s.

Department of Water and Power, 1928 – Nature39 pages
Grand Coulee Dam

Grand Coulee Dam, photograph by Kim Steele

The West Without Water documents the tumultuous climate of the American West over 20 millennia, with tales of past droughts and deluges and predictions about the impacts of future climate change on water resources. Its authors ask the central questions of what is “normal” for the West, and whether the relatively benign climate of the past century will continue into the future. Their answers are derived by merging climate and paleoclimate research from a wide variety of sources. Although the  cycles of drought have been experienced for thousand of years, much to the aplomb of the nay-sayers climate change.  In fact, there was a monstrous drought for fifty years in the Medieval period.  1976 was also a very severe drought period. So there have been these fluctuations, but the consumption of the water we do have is about 10% above our annual supply. Unfortunately, the book does not address other contributing factors, like the acidification of the Pacific Ocean which  shapes our weather here in California and the United States, creating the La Nina, and El Nino which is due this winter.
More here.
B. Lynn Ingram, Professor, Earth & Planetary Science and Geography,
UC Berkeley; Co-author, The West Without Water
Frances Malamud-Roam, Senior Environmental Planner and Biologist, Caltrans; Co-author, The West Without Water
Shasta Dam, photograph by Kim Steele

Shasta Dam, photograph by Kim Steele

The Year of The River

The Elwah Dam

The Elwah Dam on the Olympic Peninsula, Washington. ©Kim Steele

“The biggest dam removal in history begins September 17, 2011 on Washington’s Elwha River. Removing the two dams on the Elwha will restore a free-flowing river, abundant salmon runs, and deliver significant cultural, economic, and recreation benefits to the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe and surrounding communities. American Rivers has dubbed 2011 “The Year of the River” because our country will reach the significant milestone of 1000 dams removed nationwide. The Elwha’s Glines Canyon Dam, at 210 feet tall, will be the tallest dam ever removed.”
Andy Maser


Read more about dam removal on the Lower Snake River at Save Our Wild Salmon.


An Insider’s View

The most frequently visited and familiar country in Africa is suffering tremendous, and potentially irreversible damage to its culture and fauna in the near future, unless the elements now in place are pressured by international forces to curb their encroachment.

It is these forces that I propose we document and interpret their individual impact.

Firstly and most importantly, the future of the elephant population is terribly at risk.  This subject is close to the writer’s heart. There are organizations monitoring the ivory trade that we intend to cover. Also, various efforts to protect the population, from raising elephant orphans to protecting grazing lands will be addressed.

On a more worldwide platform, the Chinese are developing projects throughout Africa, with the local governments, in the interest of gaining access to minerals vital to the world’s development, as they have in their own country.  They are active in Kenya with the same motivations, while offering to provide some community services, e.g. bridges, schools etc, in exchange for mineral rights.

The Samburu people of Kenya are facing increasing challenges from the twin scourges of climate change and globalization. Can these tribal groups whose ethos of bare subsistence and knowledge of a millennia of stewardship survive the next decade? The tribe has exhibited a successful archetypal  relationship to the land, now being challenged by commercial interest.  They were strafed last year from the air in an attempt to contain their nomadic patterns.  In the same way that indigenous peoples have been rooted from their homeland thought the world, from Australia to the US, governments have no tolerance for groups that they cannot control.

The most physical invasion of Kenya’s culture and wildlife is the plan to construct a cross county highway that will bisect the migration of the abundant animal life and the nation’s largest source of revenue: tourism.  The world’s uprise to block it has met with local dismissal – how does the world know what Kenya needs?

We are in a unique position to cover this shifting landscape, due to our special access to individuals who are vital in these issues. This article will touch on issues that face many developing countries in the world.  The article will provide insight to internal politics, foreign exploitation and the stress on wildlife and agriculture, with powerful color photographs, as we experience the effects of globalization and climate change.

Respectfully submitted,

Kim Steele, Photographer

Cyril Christo, Writer

Local Food sources: Red California Abalone

The Abalone Farm, founded in the sixties, sits astride a spectacular Pacific coastline in Central California, a bit north of San Luis Obispo.  Producing roughly one million abalone a year, 100 tones live weight, from sperm and eggs to the mature specimen;  it takes four to five years to reach maturity.

The California State Water Quality Board purchases these California Red Abalone (Haliotis rufescens) for use  as a testing species for water quality of the Pacific Ocean.

The manager, Brad Buckley, wears many hats; from marketing and publicity to fulfilling ever order.  He loves his work! Here he is in the ‘spawning room’ where the eggs and sperm commingle after they are released by the adults, three to four times a year.  They remain in these buckets for a week.  Rumor has it the moon is very influential in this process.

From the ‘spawning room,’ they are moved to the ‘nursery’ after two months growing on seaweed and algae. After eight to ten months, they are moved to ‘baskets’ outdoors. In the ‘nursery’ they grow to the size of a fingernail.

Top: The Nursery, Above: The ‘Baskets’.

Here the Farm raises Dulse (Palmaria palmata), a variety of seaweed,  for feeding abalone as well as the kelp, which is harvested on  annually leased land from the State of California, paid for by weight.

The entire supply of water is taken directly from the sea, and returned there with rich nutrients for the local habitats.

After two years in the ‘baskets,’ they are moved to their permanent homes- the ‘grow-out’ tanks, where they will remain until harvesting, approximately three more years.

This bizarre head of the abalone is a mysterious surprise to the uninitiated.  Its monster-like appearance is hidden beneath the shell, sporting  antennae, eyes and its mouth. A face only a mother abalone could love.

Sorting the abalone by size for either sale (minimum 3.5 inches across at it’s widest measurement) or to be returned to growing sacks with like sizes for later harvesting.  Here the orders are fulfilled and shipped out daily.

Overview of a The Farm. Growout tanks with the  water pumping facilities in the foreground.

California’s Water

Protest sign.

A sign protests the Congress-enacted reduction of water brought to farmland from the delta.

California is in the midst of it’s most severe water shortage in decades. Brought on by a perfect storm of nature, politics, and just plain bad luck the drought has brought the once-fertile central valley to it’s knees. The numbers are staggering, the California Department of Water Resources estimates that by the end of 2009*:

  • Central Valley farm revenue loss is estimated to range between $325 million and $477 million.
  • Total income losses to those directly involved in crop production
    and to those in businesses related to crop production is estimated
    to range between $440 and $644 million.
  • The associated total employment loss is estimated to be between
    16,200 and 23,700 full-time equivalent jobs, with the majority of
    jobs lost in the lowest paying categories.
  • Groundwater pumping cost increases are expected to range between $153 million and $165 million.

Two political issues have only exacerbated the crisis; one is the curtailing of water being pumped from the San Joaquin-Sacramento Delta due to the process of the input pipes sucking in the endangered local Delta Smelt, a small silver fish. Until the problem is solved, and a way is found to bypass the Delta as water travels from it’s Shasta Lake source to the agricultural capitol of the United States, the pumping will remain on hold. The other political hangup is an ongoing debate in the state senate over a proposed $12 billion dollar bond measure for infrastructure improvements such as new dams along the Delta. Additionally, the Republican Party recent capitalized on this struggle, impacting most seriously the immigrant population working in the Central Valley, by appealing to their anti-environmental sentiment. The registered Republican voter numbers have skyrocketed.

As of this writing the debate continues, and the central valley continues to dry.

*-Source: California Dept. Water Resources/Department of Food and Agriculture Report to the Governor, March 30 2009.