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Environment & Science

California Drought News: Fewer cows, more fires, and desalination math



Water shortages are blamed for driving cattle out of state to places like Texas and Nebraska.
Water shortages are blamed for driving cattle out of state to places like Texas and Nebraska.
Randy Heinitz/Flickr

Feliz Cinco de Mayo! If Monday's drought news were a meal, the main course would be a wildfire dish.

And because of the increased risk of fires this year, Ellingson says they decided to buy fire-blocking gel. She goes behind the bar and comes back with a plastic gallon jug of pink liquid. "You basically hook it up to a system that propels it," she says, like an air compressor, which can then spray the fire retardant on the sides of a building and maybe keep it from igniting. Ellingson bought three cases of the stuff for $1,100. "It's cheaper than losing your place," she says. "You know, this is our life, this is our restaurant, where we live. You know, this is everything we have."
California remains the exception. The entire state is experiencing drought, and firefighters there have already responded to 1,100 fires, twice the usual number for this time of year. Raging wildfires can destroy suburban neighborhoods, weaken hillsides and pollute drinking water. They also send lung-choking smoke far across the country and block visitors from accessing national parks and forests.

The side dishes rounding out your news meal are stories about business impacts, water technology and incentives.

Cattle ranchers, intent on saving their livelihood and their herds are loading their heifers and steers onto trucks for the long drive to Nevada, Texas, Nebraska and other states with feedlots to take them. "If there's no water and no feed, you move the cows," said Gaylord Wright, 65, owner of California Fats and Feeders Inc. "You move them or they die."
The money won’t just be used to pay farmers along the river to fallow their fields, Entsminger said, but agriculture will play a major part in the effort because at least 75 percent of all the water diverted from the Colorado irrigates crops. Farms can cut water use by lining irrigation canals to eliminate leakage and using lasers to level their fields to reduce runoff. Power plants can retrofit their equipment to dramatically reduce the amount of cooling water they need.

Hungry for different subjects? Let us know in the comments below. We're not going to be able to get you very many limes.

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