Best of the West: Improving broadband connectivity in the region; tracking wildfire with remote cameras; wastewater treatment in California’s ‘salad bowl’

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on news of the West. Here are the top stories for the week starting March 9, 2020. Photo courtesy of The Durango Herald.

Broadband internet access is a vital component of any functioning economy. In many parts of the West, however, ubiquitous connectivity is not yet a reality.

For example, in San Jose, a tech hub in California’s Silicon Valley, it is estimated that up to 10% of residents lack access to broadband internet. Governing Magazine reports that, when surveyed, these residents expressed that price was the largest obstacle, with low-income households being disproportionately affected by service gaps.

To help remedy this problem, the San Jose City Council recently awarded a combined $1 million to 23 different organizations, including affordable housing developers and charter school networks.   

Nationally, the Federal Communications Commission estimates that approximately 21 million Americans are without internet access, 90% of whom live in rural communities. 

“This isn’t just a federal, state, or local challenge,” said Pew Charitable Trusts’ Kathryn de Wit. “There’s a role for every level of government in broadband expansion. States are actively engaging government officials, community leaders, service providers, experts, and others to ensure that any expansion plan serves the community’s needs.”

In New Mexico, Sacred Wind Communications has undertaken a first-of-its-kind project with the Navajo Housing Authority, providing broadband to 40 Navajo Nation homes, with hundreds more on the way.

In Wyoming, according to County 17, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is doling out grants ranging from $50,000 to $1 million to private and public sector entities, enabling them to upgrade their telecommunications infrastructure. The goal of the program is to make it easier for rural residents to digitally connect to education and healthcare services.

To address the challenge of bringing broadband to the West, WGA will be hosting two webinars in the coming weeks: Community Anchor Institution Connectivity this Tuesday (March 17), and Broadband Investments by Electric and Telephone Cooperatives on March 23. Previous broadband webinars can be viewed here as well.

Wildfire Cameras: A proposal to use remote cameras to detect, locate and monitor wildfires in real-time recently passed a key legislative hurdle in the Colorado House of Representatives, The Durango Herald reports. “Remote cameras can provide our firefighters with a live feed of the fires they are working to contain or extinguish, making their efforts safer and more effective,” said Rep. Barbara McLachlan (D-Durango). “These cameras could also lead to earlier detection of wildfires.” A similar system of more than 160 cameras spanning California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Idaho has been implemented by scientists from the University of California San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the University of Nevada, Reno.

Water Treatment: A new water treatment facility in Monterey, California will help recycle millions of gallons of water per day, injecting the equivalent of more than a billion gallons annually into the Seaside Basin, according to Governing Magazine. Monterey One Water, the company behind the project, has been recycling wastewater for years, using it to help irrigate the state’s “salad bowl,” where approximately two-thirds of America’s leaf lettuce is grown. In total, the project is expected to cost $124 million.

The Missing Link: The remnants of a 44 million-year-old, extinct bird discovered in eastern Utah is helping scientists fill a nearly 15 million-year gap in fossil records, according to Heritage Daily. The currently unnamed specimen belongs to a group called Paraortygidae, most closely related to modern Galliformes, which include chickens, turkeys and quail. “The new bird fills not only a time gap, but also helps us better understand the animal community at this time,” said Dr. Beth Townsend of Arizona’s Midwestern University. “The discovery of this new paraortygid shows us that small ground-dwelling birds were part of these ancient forests and may have competed with early mammals for resources.”

Battery Plant: Tesla, in conjunction with PG&E, has been approved to build its largest battery power plant to date in Moss Landing, California, Clean Technica reports. The new facility, expected to break ground next month, is planned to be 10 times larger than the company’s Hornsdale energy storage project in Australia, which at the time of its construction, was already three times larger than the next biggest facility. The Moss Landing facility will store energy using lithium-ion battery technology and transmit it to customers through existing lines.  

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