Science

Friday, September 24, 2021

Lightning Could Spark more California Fires as World Warms

Posted By on Fri, Sep 24, 2021 at 11:35 AM

The lightning-caused Monument Fire jumped State Route 299 in several places near Del Loma. Started July 30, it is now 61 percent contained. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • The lightning-caused Monument Fire jumped State Route 299 in several places near Del Loma. Started July 30, it is now 61 percent contained.
Wildland firefighters don’t admit to fearing much, but lightning is one terror that even the most experienced veterans say they hope to never encounter.

The worry is not being struck by a bolt, although it can be deadly. Instead, their primary concern is that lightning, slashing down in remote areas, can trigger unseen fires that smolder for days before they flare up, bursting into a dangerous and difficult-to-fight wildfire.

In August 2020, a remarkable barrage of lightning in Central and Northern California spawned more than 15,000 strikes over a few days, igniting more than 600 fires and burning more than 2 million acres. Five simultaneous lightning-sparked fires destroyed thousands of homes and buildings and claimed the lives of at least seven people.

And this month, lightning ignited a nasty, uncontained fire that is still menacing groves of ancient sequoia trees in Sequoia-Kings National Park.

It’s starting to look like a preview of the future: As climate change continues to alter the landscape, particularly in the West, scientists warn that lightning strikes capable of igniting wildfires are expected to multiply.

One study predicts that lightning strikes nationwide will increase 12 percent for every degree Celsius of global warming and about 50 percent over the 21st century if people keep emitting planet-warming greenhouse gases at the current pace. Other studies over the past three decades have predicted similar effects of climate change.

“The evidence from looking at climate models is that we can expect that lightning will increase,” said David Romps, who directs the Berkeley Atmospheric Sciences Center and co-authored the study. “My best guess is that by the end of the century — if we continue to burn coal and fossil fuels — we anticipate an increase of the number of lightning strikes by 50 percent.”

One study predicts that lightning strikes nationwide will increase 12 percent for every degree Celsius of global warming.

Lightning plays an outsized role in wildfires: More than 40 percent of wildfires in the West, largely in places other than California, were caused by lightning, and those fires accounted for more than 70 percent of the acreage burned between 1992 and 2015, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

“Lightning is so dangerous, usually it stays pretty much on the east side of the state, but last year it was all over the place, including the Coast Range,” said David Carle, whose book, Introduction to Fire in California, is a primer on the subject. “I think we have learned that dry lightning storms are a real problem.”

The strangeness of last year’s lightning-sparked firesstriking in coastal ranges unaccustomed to electrical storms — was underscored by the absence of rain, meaning that powerful natural energy hit the ground precisely where overgrown, dry vegetation waited, with no rain to quench the sparks.

“Dry lightning — it’s what everybody fears,” said Paul Steblein, a fire science coordinator with the U.S. Geological Survey.

Lightning strikes difficult to model

There’s little debate that climate change is driving larger and more frequent fires. But so far, scientists have not yet seen an increase in lightning events.

“I’ve looked at lightning trends over the last 25 years, and there hasn’t been a noticeable increase in global lightning or U.S. lightning,”said Chris Vagasky, a meteorologist who monitors lightning for Vaisala, a Finnish company that operates a vast U.S. network of lightning sensors, providing research and real-time data to governmental agencies and private companies.

Because lightning is caused by hyper-local, highly transitory factors, such as winds, it’s difficult for scientists to tease out patterns or project the future. “Lightning itself is such a small process that it can’t be modeled explicitly at climate scales,” Vagasky said.

A helicopter drops water on the edge of the now 98-percent contained and lightning-caused McFarland Fire, which started July 29. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • A helicopter drops water on the edge of the now 98-percent contained and lightning-caused McFarland Fire, which started July 29.

Lightning is created by static electricity in clouds, as ice droplets bump into each other and cause friction, heating the air in the cloud to as high as 54,000 degrees. About 80% of the time, lightning explodes from cloud to cloud, crackling and snapping in the upper atmosphere in thunderclouds that can rise 10 miles.

Last year, some 170 million lightning strikes occurred across the country, about 22 percent below average; California was 51 percent below average with 283,000 strikes, despite the deadly August 2020 surge. This year, nationwide strikes are trending about 15-20 percent below average, Vagasky said.

California does not rank among the top ten for lightning strikes: Texas, Florida and Oklahoma, where warm, moist air spends the summer, are the leaders. While lightning can set grass fires in those states, the repercussions are nothing like California’s expansive, destructive and deadly wildfires.

Still, the Golden State has a history of catastrophic fires sparked by lightning storms. In the Siege of ’87, lightning assaulted the California-Oregon border for two weeks, setting off as many as 4,000 fires. Lightning-sparked fires in 1999 also merged in Big Sur into a massive conflagration, and more than 5,000 strikes over a day and a half set off about 1,000 fires in 2008.

Fighting unpredictable lightning fires

While less lightning in California over the past two years is good news for fire commanders, the scientists’ projections of an increase in coming decades are sobering: This year’s stubborn drought and record heat mean that lightning strikes are particularly dangerous.

“There are some lightning strikes in these conditions where you have immediate fire activity,” said Anthony Scardina, deputy regional forester for the U.S. Forest Service. “In other instances, the strike may not show a flame for 72 hours. It could hit a single tree, and in the right environment, it could flame up later and grow. The fire is out there, hiding.”

Lightning “could hit a single tree, and in the right environment, it could flame up later and grow. The fire is out there, hiding.”

Anthony Scardina, U.S. Forest Service

Such blazes are known as “holdover fires,” said Robyn Heffernan, a federal meteorologist working at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, the nerve center for U.S. wildland firefighting. “When there are thunderstorms and lightning events, we know that these small fires can be out there and we look for them.”

Another complicating issue with lightning-caused fires is the unpredictability of their location. Lightning can strike as far as 20 miles away from the thunderstorm that generated them. Human-caused fires, which account for about 95% of wildfires in California, tend to start near people or equipment, generally within reasonable reach of fire crews. But lightning’s caprice means fires can pop up virtually anywhere, in the backcountry or far from firefighters.

Brian Rhodes, the U.S. Forest Service’s deputy director for fire and aviation management, said it’s almost impossible to forecast lightning-sparked fires, calling them a “ wild card.”

“I’ve been working in California my entire career and our weather models really struggle to keep up with predicting these events,” he said.

Understanding weather patterns and lightning risk is a critical piece of fire strategy, so much so that large blazes are assigned fire weather officers who receive special training and certification from the National Weather Service.

This month’s lightning storms in the Bay Area and Southern California lasted less than 12 hours, compared to two days of strikes that triggered the August 2020 fire siege. That siege caught authorities off guard for an array of reasons: the number of strikes, the speed at which the fires spread and converged, and how broadly dispersed the lightning storms were.

The five major lightning-sparked fires all ignited within three days, beginning on Aug. 16, reaching from Monterey Bay north to the Oregon border. In the end, lightning storms had spawned California’s first “gigafire,” a single blaze that grew to more than a million acres.

One of the biggest fires — the CZU August Complex fire north of Santa Cruz — was sparked by lightning around 3 a.m on a Sunday, on Aug. 16. By noon, 22 fires were detected, 15 of them unstaffed with firefighters.

That same day, lightning sparked the LNU fires, racing through Sonoma, Napa, Lake, Solana and Yolo Counties. Thunderstorms west of Big Sur sparked the SCU Lightning Complex fire that spread over five counties. Then, over the next two days, Butte, Tehama and Glenn Counties were struck with multiple lightning fires that killed one firefighter, and the Sequoia National Forest blew up with a fire that burned nearly 170,000 acres.


Once these multiple fires caught, they moved at a furious rate. Fire authorities had to rush crews from one blaze to another, a deadly and frustrating game of whack-a-mole.

“Resources quickly became scarce,” the 2020 Cal Fire report says. “Requests outnumbered available resources as initial attack activity outpaced available resources. The lightning storm continued across the State into the Pacific Northwest and Great Basin. Demand for available resources across the nation was impacted by multiple major fires in the western United States.”

One of the biggest threats, Rhodes said, was where the lightning siege struck: “A lot of the areas were very remote,” he said, “and it was dry lightning, the worst we can get on fires.”

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Wednesday, September 8, 2021

California Can Keep Thirstiest Crops, State Ag Chief Tells ‘State of Mind’ Podcast

Posted By on Wed, Sep 8, 2021 at 11:57 AM

Almond trees begin to blossom in Shafter on Feb 16, 2021. Almonds come from the pits of drupes which is the fruit grown from almond trees. They are in the same classification as peach trees. - PHOTO BY SHAE HAMMOND FOR CAL MATTERS
  • Photo by Shae Hammond for Cal Matters
  • Almond trees begin to blossom in Shafter on Feb 16, 2021. Almonds come from the pits of drupes which is the fruit grown from almond trees. They are in the same classification as peach trees.
The head of California’s agriculture agency said on the California State of Mind podcast that even devastating drought doesn’t mean the state must uproot its thirstiest crops.

Instead says Karen Ross, head of state Department of Food and Agriculture, improvements in water usage among some of the state’s biggest water consumers will help solve the problem.

“Yes, we can continue to grow almonds and these other (water-intensive) crops,” Ross said on the podcast’s newest episode. “We need to do even more plant breeding to be able to increase the drought resiliency of the varietals we grow.”

When tomato growers switched to drip irrigation, they reduced water use by 40 percent while increasing productivity by 50 percent, Ross said. Industries like dairy have also reduced water use.

“We must do that,” Ross said. “These resources are precious. We have to make sure we’re using every drop as wisely as possible.”

Also up for discussion: Agricultural multinationals use 80 percent of California’s water for its crops, a number that has drawn attention to the state’s resource management amid a devastating drought.

Listen to the “California State of Mind” episode, co-hosted by Nigel Duara and guest co-host Randol White, on Apple podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen to your podcasts.

Follow @yourgoldenstate, @CalMatters and @CapRadioNews on Twitter to engage with our show every week and see the top California news of the day.

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Monday, August 23, 2021

Hospitals Stretched as Humboldt's COVID-19 Surge Continues

Posted By on Mon, Aug 23, 2021 at 2:53 PM

covid_graf.png
Humboldt County continues to see a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations fueled by the more contagious Delta variant, leading to “many critically ill” patients being flown out the area for treatment and the postponement of vital but non-emergency surgeries, according to an update from Health Officer Ian Hoffman.

In his written report to the county Board of Supervisors, Hoffman say there’s some “early” indications of a plateau in case rates for unvaccinated residents and a slight drop for the fully vaccinated, stating that for “first time in one month the case count per 100k has not continue to rise at dramatic rates week by week.”

He is scheduled to give a special presentation to the board at tomorrow's meeting.

The case rate for the nonvaccinated topped out at 73 per 100,000 for the week ending Aug. 14 compared to 18.9 per 100,000 for the fully vaccinated, according to a graph included with Hoffman’s report.

But he cautions that hospitalizations lag behind case counts by several weeks and local hospitals and their staff are already severely impacted, with ICU capacity near or at 100 percent for most of the last two weeks.

“This continues to be half or more COVID-19 patients and has thus resulted in cancellation of many needed procedures that were deemed not emergencies, but still very needed by member of our community,” Hoffman writes. “The types of care that become deferred by the hospital during a surge of this type include things such as heart surgeries, cancer surgeries, joint and back surgeries. Sometimes these are surgeries that were already put off by weeks or months due to previous COVID impacts on the healthcare system.”

Hoffman also notes there is a trend toward “younger and younger” patients being hospitalized, “likely since this is the group with the lowest vaccination rates in our county,” and emphasizes the continued need for masking, social distancing and avoiding large crowds, as well as for those who are eligible to get vaccinated, especially with schools going back into session.

“For now, we should remain vigilant until real decrease is seen in both cases and hospitalizations,” Hoffman says, noting vaccination is the best tool the community has for keeping schools and businesses open and reducing stress on the region’s already fragile healthcare system.

The health officer also states that plans to increase staffing at local hospitals have been in the works for weeks but “due to significant staffing shortages across the state and the US, so far, no increase in staffing has been secured as of the time of this report.”

According to a state database, there are currently 33 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Humboldt County, with nine receiving intensive care.

Hoffman says there has been a small increase in vaccinations over the last few weeks for the first time since the state moved to fully reopen June 15, with the majority being first doses, and “new requirements for vaccination in healthcare and education should start to increase vaccination rates even more in the coming weeks.”

The Food and Drug Administration today gave full approval to the Pfizer vaccine for individuals ages 16 and older, which will now be marketed as Comirnaty, with the emergency use authorization continuing for those 12 to 15 years old and the third dose now being recommended for “certain immunocompromised individuals,” according to an FDA release.

Hoffman says he does not foresee any impact to vaccine availability with the third dose, which currently applies to about 3 percent of the population, but with the FDA looking at expanding the recommendation to more people in the coming weeks, Public Health will be monitoring situation “so we can plan for any larger increase in demand by coordinating resources for delivery and supply of newly approved third doses.”

At this point, he says, COVID-19 vaccine approval for those under age 12 is not expected until later this year or early 2022 “unless significant changes are made to the current timeline for FDA approval in this age group.”

Meanwhile, with the Delta variant’s spread, testing ability in the county has been strained, Hoffman says, but there are signs “that testing capacity is improving with increased capacity at Optum fixed site in Eureka and return of the mobile Optum sites in Garberville, Arcata, McKinleyville, Fortuna and Hoopa.”

Hoffman also states that rapid testing is expected to increase in the coming weeks at businesses, schools and in healthcare but the results of rapid tests done at home are not reported to Public Health.

“COVID-19 has proven to be a formidable opponent, and it is safe to say everyone is exhausted. Everyone has suffered loses, whether directly or indirectly, over the past 18 months. What has been evident, however, is the community’s ability to pull together and quickly make new plans when COVID19 throws something new our way,” Hoffman states. “We at Public Health greatly appreciate the community’s ability to react quickly as things change quickly, and to offer to protect yourself and your community by doing the things needed to end this pandemic sooner. For now, until the end of this current surge, please continue to mask, avoid large gatherings, test, and get vaccinated.”
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Thursday, August 12, 2021

Humboldt State Foresees Significant Enrollment Increase as Cal Poly Humboldt

Posted By on Thu, Aug 12, 2021 at 1:21 PM

Humboldt State's Founders Hall. - FILE
  • FILE
  • Humboldt State's Founders Hall.
As Humboldt State University gears up to welcome the first wave of students back  on Saturday, the campus released its “near-final draft” of a self-study conducted as part of the process for becoming California’s third polytechnic campus, a final version of which is slated to go before the California State University Board of Trustees for consideration in January.

With the designation, HSU forecasts a rapid increase in enrollment over the next few years, growing from this fall's student class of about 5,500 to nearly 11,000 students by 2028. And it would bring a name change, with the current recommendation being California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt — or Cal Poly Humboldt, for short.

The 135-page document submitted to the Chancellor’s Office earlier this month states that HSU already has a strong foundation for becoming a polytechnic and currently serves the third highest number of number of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) students in the CSU system, only behind the two current polytechnic campuses: Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Cal Poly Pomona.

The study also notes those two programs are impacted and bringing HSU on board as a third option — and the only one located in the northern reaches of the California — would not only benefit the local community but fill a statewide need.

“We are a sound investment as a university already excelling in inclusive STEM education and research with a focus on economic, cultural, and environmental sustainability and a just global society,” the conclusion states. “As a polytechnic, HSU is a triple threat: adding unique degree programs aligned with the state of California’s goals regarding areas like climate resilience and wildfire mitigation, creating access to impacted degree programs in the CSU system that correlate with huge workforce games, and stimulating the Northern California economy and specifically the North Coast as HSU is the largest regional employer and an economic driver for the region.”

Earlier this year, the university announced plans to expand its curriculum to include more STEM-related degree programs as soon as fall of 2023 — including applied fire science and management, cannabis studies, data science, geospatial information science and technology and software engineering — as part of the campus’ polytechnic push, using $25 million in state funds.

Another $433 million included in the state budget to assist HSU’s transformation into polytechnic university “would go toward improving technology and broadband support, which is vital to our rural campus, and toward infrastructure for mixed-use space for housing and other basic needs, academic instruction, and the support of students’ success,” the study states.

“Humboldt State University would expect to see enrollment increase 50 percent within three years and 100 percent within seven years, immediately adding highly educated and trained graduates to the California workforce. HSU would rapidly meet student demand for more programs and hands-on learning offered by polytechnic institutions,” the study states. “This would help California retain more students who are enrolling in STEM programs at universities within California and across the United States.”

The study does note the “limited off-campus” housing opportunities in the area but states HSU is launching plans to accommodate around 4,000 students in campus housing by 2028, beginning with around 800 beds via the Craftsman’s Mall project by 2024.

On the financial side, the study states HSU ”has made significant strides in righting itself from decades of structural budget challenges” and enters this academic year with a balanced budget, having “addressed the structural budget deficit of $20 million in less than three years.”

“We are gratified by the support shown by the chancellor and governor through the invitation to submit this proposal and the possible commitment of extensive state funds to jump start this transition if approved,” the conclusion states. “We are excited to partner in growing capacity within the CSU for the degree programs students seek and that California needs. Thank you for the impetus to dream big and plan for Cal Poly Humboldt.”

Read the HSU draft study here.

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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

CSU to Require COVID-19 Vax for Fall

Posted By on Tue, Jul 27, 2021 at 11:29 AM

Humboldt State's Founders Hall. - FILE
  • FILE
  • Humboldt State's Founders Hall.
The Calfiornia State University system, which includes Humboldt State, will require faculty, staff and students who are accessing campuses to be vaccinated for COVID-19.

Back in February, HSU announced the campus and others in the system would implement the requirement once the FDA granted full approval to one or more of the three current options, but today's release states the requirement is being announced now because of  "evolving circumstances" as Humboldt County, the state and the nation experience a rapid spike in cases and hospitalizations.

“The current surge in COVID cases due to the spread of the highly infectious Delta variant is an alarming new factor that we must consider as we look to maintain the health and well-being of students, employees and visitors to our campuses this fall,” CSU Chancellor Joseph I. Castro states in the release. “Receiving a COVID vaccine continues to be the best way to mitigate the spread of the virus. We urge all members of the CSU community to get vaccinated as soon as possible, and announcing this requirement now allows members of the CSU community to receive multiple doses of a vaccine as we head into the beginning of the fall term.”

Yesterday, Humboldt County Public Health reported 74 new COVID-19 cases and three new hospitalizations since Friday.

Those cases come on the heels of 169 confirmed last week and 84 confirmed the week before. According to a state database, 16 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 locally, including four under intensive care.

While dates will vary by site, vaccine certifications will be required at CSU campuses by Sept. 30, at the latest, the HSU news release states.

"The CSU’s COVID-19 vaccination policy will allow students and employees to seek medical and religious exemptions," the release states. "For represented employees the university’s requirement will take effect immediately upon implementation of the policy; however, represented employees will not be subject to disciplinary action while the CSU is in the meet and confer process with its labor unions."

HSU officials are expected to release more information in the coming days.

Read the full release below:

The California State University announced today that it will require faculty, staff and students who are accessing campus facilities at any university location to be immunized against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Because of evolving circumstances, the university is announcing the pending requirement now without waiting for any further action by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Dates by which faculty, staff and students must certify vaccination will vary by campus due to differences in academic calendars, but all certifications must be completed no later than September 30.

“The current surge in COVID cases due to the spread of the highly infectious Delta variant is an alarming new factor that we must consider as we look to maintain the health and well-being of students, employees and visitors to our campuses this fall,” said CSU Chancellor Joseph I. Castro. “Receiving a COVID vaccine continues to be the best way to mitigate the spread of the virus. We urge all members of the CSU community to get vaccinated as soon as possible, and announcing this requirement now allows members of the CSU community to receive multiple doses of a vaccine as we head into the beginning of the fall term.”

Several CSU campuses are serving as host facilities for vaccine distribution. CSU employees or students who wish to receive a COVID-19 vaccine should contact their campus for availability. For students who plan to continue their studies but do not wish to come to campus during the fall, it is expected that most campuses will have a more expansive offering of virtual courses as compared to before the pandemic, though resource limitations do not allow for a campus’s or even a program’s full offerings to be made available virtually.

The CSU’s COVID-19 vaccination policy will allow students and employees to seek medical and religious exemptions. For represented employees the university’s requirement will take effect immediately upon implementation of the policy; however, represented employees will not be subject to disciplinary action while the CSU is in the meet and confer process with its labor unions. The university will share a final policy in the coming days.
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Thursday, July 8, 2021

Airport Microgrid Project Breaks Ground

Posted By on Thu, Jul 8, 2021 at 6:05 PM

RCEA’s Executive Director Matthew Marshall and his daughter Alex celebrate groundbreaking on the RCAM project - HUMBOLDT STATE UNIVERSITY
  • Humboldt State University
  • RCEA’s Executive Director Matthew Marshall and his daughter Alex celebrate groundbreaking on the RCAM project
Construction is underway on a microgrid at the county’s regional airport in McKinleyville that will boast a number of firsts when it becomes operation later this year, according to a Redwood Coast Energy Authority news release.

Not only will the Redwood Coast Airport Microgrid be the first 100 percent renewable grid with multi-customers but it will use a unique collaboration to get out the power and be the first microgrid to participate in the state’s wholesale electricity market, generating enough energy to power the equivalent of 500 homes, the release states.

According to RCEA, which will own the grid, the project will also provide backup resiliency for the California Redwood Coast – Humboldt County Airport and the Sector Humboldt Bay Air Station, with power being transmitted on PG&E lines.

In the event of an outage, the microgrid ”will typically be able to island and run independently for at least two weeks,” the release states, although some weather conditions — such as an extended winter storm — might limit capacity of the solar array.

Designed and developed by the Schatz Energy Research Center at Humboldt State University, which also help develop the Blue Lake Rancheria microgrid that provided a lifeline during the Public Safety Power Shutoffs — the project was funded by a $5 million grant from the California Energy Commission’s EPIC program and a $6.6 million loan from the USDA.

“The Redwood Coast Energy Authority seeks to follow the airport project with a network of community microgrids and renewable backup power systems that can help manage disruptions within the rural energy supply,” said RCEA’s Executive Director Matthew Marshall in the release.

A "takeoff" ceremony for the grid's groundbreaking was held on Wednesday.

Read the Redwood Coast Energy Authority release below:

The Redwood Coast Airport Microgrid’s (RCAM) community partners today announced construction activities on what will be the first 100 percent renewable, multi-customer microgrid in California.

The Redwood Coast Airport Microgrid has been designed and developed by the Schatz Energy Research Center at Humboldt State University. Located at Humboldt County’s regional airport, it will be owned by the Redwood Coast Energy Authority, and will run on power lines owned by PG&E. This interagency collaboration is the first of its kind in California.

RCAM will provide energy resilience for Humboldt County’s regional airport, including emergency services and medical life flights, as well as the neighboring U.S. Coast Guard Air Station. The Sector Humboldt Bay Air Station maintains search and rescue missions for 250 miles of remote, rugged coastline, and its team has saved 32 lives in the last year.

This innovative project is funded by a $5M grant from the California Energy Commission’s EPIC program — which invests in scientific and technological research to accelerate the transformation of the electricity sector to meet the state’s energy and climate goals — and a $6.6M loan from the USDA. The project’s design team has developed technology innovations and new partnership models to enable community microgrid opportunities across the state.

Resilient, renewable, and replicable

The microgrid’s solar arrays will generate enough electricity each year to power the equivalent of 500 households on the north coast. During power outages, emergencies, and shutoff events, RCAM will typically be able to island and run independently for at least two weeks. Under the worst solar conditions (e.g. an extended winter storm event), the microgrid can still provide up to 24 hours of backup power for the airport and Coast Guard.

RCAM will be the first microgrid to participate in the state’s wholesale electricity market — which not only helps make sure that solar energy will be deployed when it’s most useful, but also helps pay for the cost of the microgrid system itself. Over the last year, the Schatz Center worked closely with PG&E to write a technical guide for communities who want to build similar microgrid systems in California.

“We know how much our customers and communities need reliable energy, and microgrids play a key role in PG&E's ongoing efforts to harden our electrical system and enhance local grid resilience throughout Northern and Central California. The Redwood Coast Airport Renewable Energy Microgrid is a unique, collaborative effort on which PG&E intends to model future multi-customer microgrids developed through our recently launched Community Microgrid Enablement Program. We look forward to partnering with our customers and community stakeholders to identify, design and build customized resilience solutions that address local electric reliability needs for the long term,” said Ron Richardson, Vice President, North Coast Region, PG&E.

Building on regional microgrid expertise

In 2017, the Schatz Center launched its first grid-connected microgrid — a campus-wide, low-carbon system for the Blue Lake Rancheria, developed in collaboration with multiple partners. In 2019, they added a second demonstration system at the Rancheria to explore the capacity of small buildings such as gas stations and convenience stores to support neighborhood resiliency via solar+storage.

The Schatz Center, the Blue Lake Rancheria, and the Redwood Coast Energy Authority are currently exploring how energy demands within an interconnected microgrid system can respond intelligently to the needs of the primary utility grid. “The Redwood Coast Energy Authority seeks to follow the airport project with a network of community microgrids and renewable backup power systems that can help manage disruptions within the rural energy supply,” said RCEA’s Executive Director Matthew Marshall.

The Redwood Coast Airport Microgrid will be fully operational later this year.

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Friday, July 2, 2021

Breakthrough COVID is Rare in California

Posted By on Fri, Jul 2, 2021 at 11:07 AM

Medical assistant Letrice Smith fills syringes during a community COVID-19 vaccination clinic run by Ravenswood Family Health Network at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park on April 10, 2021. - PHOTO BY ANNE WERNIKOFF, CALMATTERS
  • Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters
  • Medical assistant Letrice Smith fills syringes during a community COVID-19 vaccination clinic run by Ravenswood Family Health Network at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park on April 10, 2021.

About 7,550 out of more than 19.5 million Californians who were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 have contracted the disease, a minuscule percentage that provides strong evidence of the vaccines’ effectiveness, according to state data.

The breakthrough infections through June 23 amount to 0.039 percent of vaccinated Californians — or one case out of every 2,583 vaccinated people.

Most of the infections were minor, but 62 vaccinated Californians died from COVID-19, according to California Department of Public Health data.

“The way we should think about these cases is that they’re very rare,” said  George Rutherford, a University of California, San Francisco epidemiologist.

The risks of the disease far outweigh the chance of a breakthrough case: More COVID-19 deaths have been reported in the past four days than the total number of vaccinated people who died from it over the past six months.

On Wednesday, state health officials reported 2,013 new infections among all Californians, including 24 deaths. They did not respond to a request for comment.

Nationally, out of 154 million fully vaccinated Americans, 4,115 people have been hospitalized or died after contracting COVID-19. That’s a rate of 0.0027 percent. More than three-quarters were 65 or older. Federal officials do not track total breakthrough infections because many involve minor or no symptoms.

In California, health officials matched data from the state’s immunization registry to a registry of confirmed COVID-19 cases to identify breakthrough cases.

There are some caveats to the data. While California’s public health agency reported 584 people were hospitalized after a breakthrough COVID-19 infection, hospitalization status wasn’t available for 46 percent of the post-vaccination cases. State officials also noted that some of them may have been hospitalized for an unrelated condition and tested positive for COVID-19 after being admitted to the hospital.

The three vaccines authorized in the United States – Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson – are considered highly effective in preventing severe disease and death. They also protect against the coronavirus variants now circulating, including the Delta variant, Rutherford said. Yet a small number of breakthrough infections are to be expected, the CDC says. The agency’s surveillance hasn’t turned up any unusual patterns.

Eugene Choi, a Los Angeles radiologist, contracted COVID-19 in early June, nearly six months after his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. Choi detailed his experience on his Instagram account, where the CrossFit enthusiast has nearly 40,000 followers.

He told CalMatters that his symptoms included fever, night sweats, chills and muscle pains.

At first, “I did not think of COVID,” said Choi, who as a physician was vaccinated earlier than many Californians. “I thought … okay, it must be that other flus and colds are coming out of the woodwork.” But as his fever continued, he decided to get a COVID-19 test.

Then his wife, also vaccinated, and their two-year-old son became infected, he said. Their cases were more mild.

“I’ve seen firsthand the devastation COVID causes,” he said.

“My experience should give people reason to go get vaccinated,” he said, recalling how cases at the hospital where he works plunged as more Californians were immunized.

Choi wonders if the vaccine protected him from serious, lingering symptoms that many people have experienced. He said he was miserable for days, but never sick enough to need hospital care. He has since resumed his intense workouts.

“It certainly could have been worse,” he said. “I’m still amazed at what the virus can do.”

This article first appeared on CalMatters Network and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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Tuesday, June 15, 2021

HSU Expanding Curriculum with Polytechnic Push

Posted By on Tue, Jun 15, 2021 at 11:55 AM

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As a way of prioritizing Humboldt State University's push to become polytechnic, the university is expanding its curriculum to include more STEM-related degree programs as soon as fall of 2023.

“This is what a 21st-century education looks like: programs where students build the skills to have meaningful careers and a nuanced understanding of society’s complex issues so they can make the world a better place,” says Jenn Capps, HSU provost and vice president of academic affairs.

According to the release, HSU will formally submit proposals to California State University to add applied fire science and management, cannabis studies, data science, energy systems engineering, engineering and community practice, geospatial information science and technology, marine biology, mechanical engineering and software engineering for the 2023 fall semester. The programs, along with other applied and social sciences slated for 2026 and 2029, must be approved by the CSU's Chancellor's Office, the CSU Board of Trustees and receive accreditation from various organizations.

“These programs are a win for HSU and the greater north state,” says Mary Oling-Sisay, vice provost and dean of undergraduate and graduate studies. “They bring to life what we do and what we’re known for and will augment our current offerings in a very significant way.”

Read the full press release below.

HSU Continues Polytech Push with Plans for Several New Programs

Drawing on its strengths in STEM, environmental and social responsibility, and experiential learning, Humboldt State University has submitted documentation of its intent to launch several new and innovative undergraduate and graduate degree programs as soon as Fall 2022 and Fall 2023.

HSU will formally submit proposals for the following programs to the California State University for consideration: Applied Fire Science & Management, Cannabis Studies, Data Science, Energy Systems Engineering, Engineering & Community Practice, Geospatial Information Science & Technology, Marine Biology, Mechanical Engineering, and Software Engineering for Fall 2023. (See descriptions below.)

“This is what a 21st century education looks like: programs where students build the skills to have meaningful careers and a nuanced understanding of society’s complex issues so they can make the world a better place,” says Jenn Capps, provost and vice president of academic affairs.

The programs are among those prioritized through the collaborative polytechnic planning process on campus. The fast-track timeline is highly dependent on additional state funding that has been proposed by the Governor and is being considered by the Legislature.

These programs, in addition to those in applied and social sciences slated for 2026 and 2029, are pending the necessary approvals by the CSU Chancellor’s Office, CSU Board of Trustees, plus accreditation from various organizations.

The announcement comes as HSU explores becoming the third polytechnic university in the CSU and the only one in Northern California. The new programs align with the University’s vision of becoming a polytechnic that builds on a strong liberal arts foundation and long-standing commitment to sustainability and social justice; and infuses traditional ecological knowledge, renewable energy, and more.

A polytechnic status would have broad implications for the region and state. It would help revitalize the economy of the North Coast (where HSU is the largest employer), provide educational opportunities to students across the state, and help meet California’s workforce needs.

“These programs are a win for HSU and the greater north state,” says Mary Oling-Sisay, vice provost and dean of undergraduate and graduate studies. “They bring to life what we do and what we’re known for and will augment our current offerings in a very significant way.”

New HSU Degree Programs

Applied Fire Science & Management, Bachelor of Science, will develop the practical knowledge and skills to become fire science or management professionals. Created in collaboration with HSU’s respected Forestry & Wildland Resources and Native American Studies programs, the Applied Fire Science & Management major will also include a breadth of perspectives and knowledge systems (e.g., traditional ecological knowledge), with an emphasis on incorporating indigenous practices.

Cannabis Studies, Bachelor of Art, engages a curriculum that centers place with people, planet, and prosperity as related focal areas. These areas encompass environmental, life and physical sciences as well as geography; sociology, anthropology, psychology, history, politics, social work, Native American Studies, child development, kinesiology, and criminology and justice studies; and economics, business, and recreation management.

Data Science, Bachelor of Science, develops the skills to synthesize knowledge and apply contemporary statistics, data analysis, and computational science methods to solve social and environmental problems.

Energy Systems Engineering, Bachelor of Science, incorporates elements commonly included in Civil, Environmental, Mechanical, and Electrical engineering disciplines. It is designed to prepare students for careers in developing, designing, operating, and analyzing clean energy systems.

Geospatial Information Science & Technology, Bachelor of Science, prepares students for careers as Geographic Information System (GIS) analysts and specialists, remote sensing analysts, cartographers, photogrammetrists, and geographers.

Engineering & Community Practice, Master of Science, develops future engineering leaders who will sustain, restore, and protect our natural resources and the environment.

Marine Biology, Bachelor of Science, explores the diversity of marine life, its evolutionary history, the importance to our planet, and how it is impacted by human activities.

Mechanical Engineering, Bachelor of Science, explores a range of integrated engineering systems that include thermal and electromechanical elements.

Software Engineering, Bachelor of Science, applies engineering concepts to software development. It encompasses the development, operation, and maintenance of programs.
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Monday, June 7, 2021

HumCo Records 46th COVID Death, 29 New Cases Since Friday

Posted By on Mon, Jun 7, 2021 at 5:05 PM

Humboldt County Public Health confirmed the county's 46th COVID-19-related death today and 29 new cases since Friday. The resident who died was in their 50s.

Public Health also reported that a positive COVID-19 case was removed from the local case count after it was determined to be from another jurisdiction and removed a previously reported hospitalization that was determined to be unrelated to the virus. 

Public Health is continuing to urge residents to get vaccinated, with clinics scheduled this week at Cuddeback Elementary in Carlotta on Tuesday, June 8, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., at the Mattole Grange in Petrolia on Wednesday, June 9, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and at College of the Redwoods in Eureka on Thursday, June 10, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Although walk-ins are welcome at Public Health clinics, appointments are highly encouraged. To make an appointment go to www.MyTurn.ca.gov.

To date, Humboldt County has confirmed 4,382 cases, with 190 hospitalizations and 46 confirmed COVID-19 related deaths.

Today's numbers results came after the processing 392 samples.

The county dashboard lists 4,222 people as having "recovered" from the virus locally, though that just means they are no longer contagious and does not account for long-term health impacts, which local healthcare workers have told the Journal can be substantial, even in previously healthy patients.

The county’s test positivity rate has gone from 3.6 percent in November, to 7.3 percent in December and 9.9 percent in January, before dropping to 6.5 percent in February. In March, it dropped to 4.5 percent before inching back up to 5.9 percent in April. In May, it jumped to 8.3 percent.

Nationwide, more than 33 million COVID-19 cases have been confirmed, with 594,802 related deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In California, more than 3.6 million cases have been confirmed with 62,473 deaths, according to the Department of Public Health.

Meanwhile, the county's Joint Information Center is urging locals to get tested, calling it "one of the most helpful things county residents can do for the community at large," because it allows Public Health to catch cases early and limit spread. The state-run OptumServe testing site at Redwood Acres Fairgrounds in Eureka is open seven days a week and no-cost appointments can be made by clicking here or calling (888) 634-1123 and other newly opened screening site information can be found here

The Humboldt County Data Dashboard includes hospitalization rates by age group, death rates by age group and case totals by ZIP code, the latter of which are reported in "a range of 0 to 5 for case count until the area surpasses 5 total cases," according to the county. After that threshold has been reached in a ZIP code, the exact number will be included.

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Friday, May 28, 2021

Blue-green Algae Makes an Early Appearance

Posted By on Fri, May 28, 2021 at 4:32 PM

The Blue Lake Rancheria Tribe’s Environmental Scientist Jacob Pounds samples the algae mats for analysis. - BLUE LAKE RANCHERIA
  • Blue Lake Rancheria
  • The Blue Lake Rancheria Tribe’s Environmental Scientist Jacob Pounds samples the algae mats for analysis.
Anyone visiting lakes or rivers in the region is being cautioned to look out for blue-green algae after the Blue Lake Rancheria confirmed levels of cyanobacteria at two sample sites on the Mad River this week.

The samples were collected at a popular swimming location known as Pump Station 4 and downstream of the city of Blue Lake's sewer ponds.

“Cyanobacteria can be present in any fresh water body, and looks like dark green, blue-green, black, orange or brown scum, foam or mats on the riverbed or floating on the water,” a news release from the Department of Health and Human Services states. “Cyanobacteria can produce harmful compounds, such as toxins and taste and odor compounds, that cause health risks to humans and animals.”

The positive tests point to an early arrival of the blue-green algae that usual appears between late July and early August, which is considered to be due to drought conditions.

"Low levels of toxins have been detected in algae mat samples from the Mad River, collected by the Blue Lake Rancheria Tribe's Environmental Department at two locations where potential algae blooms had been observed," a release from the Rancheria states. "The presence of these toxins, even at low levels, triggers a 'CAUTION' posting by Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services for these locations in preparation for the Memorial Day holiday weekend.   
"A caution level posting means that toxins are present, but currently in low concentrations. Users of the Mad River are advised to avoid all visible algal blooms and scum, especially the mats at the margin of the river. It is advised to keep pets out of the water at these sites."

Sampling done by the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board at Big Lagoon and Stone Lagoon found no signs of blue-green algae or toxins

Dogs and small children are the most likely to be affected by the algae, according to DHHS, which offered the following tips:

  • Keep children, pets and livestock from swimming in or drinking water containing algal scums or mats.
  • Adults should also avoid wading and swimming in water containing algal blooms. Try not to swallow or inhale water spray in an algal bloom area.
  • If no algal scums or mats are visible, you should still carefully watch young children and warn them not to swallow any water.
  • Fish should be consumed only after removing the guts and liver and rinsing fillets in tap water.
  • Never drink, cook with or wash dishes with water from rivers, streams or lakes.
  • Get medical attention immediately if you think that you, your pet or livestock might have been poisoned by cyanobacteria toxins. Be sure to tell the doctor or veterinarian about possible contact with cyanobacteria or algal blooms.
  • Join or support one of the many watershed and river organizations.

To learn more about cyanobacteria and harmful algal blooms, visit the state of California’s website at www.mywaterquality.ca.gov/habs/index.html.

To report a bloom, e-mail CyanoHAB.Reports@waterboards.ca.gov or call 844-729-6466 (toll free). Blooms can also be reported via the “bloomWatch” app, which is available for free download on iTunes or Google play.

For information on conditions occurring within Humboldt County, contact the Division of Environmental Health at 707-445-6215 or 800-963-9241. Photos of suspected blooms can also be emailed to envhealth@co.humboldt.ca.us.

Read the DHHS release below:

Public Health officials are reminding residents to keep an eye out for cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, while recreating at local rivers and lakes after samples with the toxin were collected at two locations on the Mad River.

The Blue Lake Rancheria Tribe confirmed Thursday that its Environmental Department collected the samples with cyanobacteria at a popular recreational location known as Pump Station 4 and just west of the Blue Lake Rancheria past the sewer ponds. The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board sampled Big Lagoon and Stone Lagoon where no cyanobacteria or toxins were detected, and no other locations have been sampled to date.

Typically, cyanobacteria warnings come out between late July and early August, coinciding with low flows and sustained high temperatures in the inland areas which may contribute to cyanobacteria growth in the river. However, this year’s low level of rainfall and low river levels appears to be leading to an early season and increase in algal blooms in some locations.

Cyanobacteria can be present in any fresh water body, and looks like dark green, blue-green, black, orange or brown scum, foam or mats on the riverbed or floating on the water. Cyanobacteria can produce harmful compounds, such as toxins and taste and odor compounds, that cause health risks to humans and animals. Warm water and abundant nutrients can cause cyanobacteria to grow more rapidly than usual causing “blooms.” These blooms are termed “harmful algal blooms.”

In previous years, cyanobacteria was confirmed in some water bodies within Humboldt and surrounding counties, including the Mad River, South Fork Eel River, Van Duzen River, Trinity River, Big Lagoon, Stone Lagoon, Clear Lake and Lake Pillsbury. It is difficult to test and monitor the many lakes and miles of our local rivers. Most blooms in California contain harmless green algae, but it is important to stay safe and avoid contact.

While most cyanobacteria do not affect animals or people, some are capable of producing toxins that can be harmful to animals and humans. Dogs and children are most likely to be affected because of their smaller body size and tendency to stay in the water for longer periods of time.

Officials recommend the following guidelines for recreational users of freshwater areas:

Keep children, pets and livestock from swimming in or drinking water containing algal scums or mats.

Adults should also avoid wading and swimming in water containing algal blooms. Try not to swallow or inhale water spray in an algal bloom area.

If no algal scums or mats are visible, you should still carefully watch young children and warn them not to swallow any water.

Fish should be consumed only after removing the guts and liver and rinsing fillets in tap water.

Never drink, cook with or wash dishes with water from rivers, streams or lakes.

Get medical attention immediately if you think that you, your pet or livestock might have been poisoned by cyanobacteria toxins. Be sure to tell the doctor or veterinarian about possible contact with cyanobacteria or algal blooms.

Join or support one of the many watershed and river organizations.

To learn more about cyanobacteria and harmful algal blooms, visit the state of California’s website at www.mywaterquality.ca.gov/habs/index.html.

To learn more about cyanobacteria and algae on the South Fork Eel River, visit www.eelriverrecovery.org/algae.

To report a bloom, e-mail CyanoHAB.Reports@waterboards.ca.gov or call 844-729-6466 (toll free). Blooms can also be reported via the “bloomWatch” app which is available for free download on iTunes or Google play.

For information on conditions occurring within Humboldt County, contact the Division of Environmental Health at 707-445-6215 or 800-963-9241. Photos of suspected blooms can also be emailed to envhealth@co.humboldt.ca.us.

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