Nevada News Briefs |

Nevada News Briefs

Troy Wilde
Nevada News Service

A link between water use and earthquakes

Research from the University of Nevada, Reno has linked water extraction in California’s Central Valley to upward movement of the Sierra Nevada mountains and earthquakes on the San Andreas Fault.

Professor Geoff Blewitt with the UNR College of Science says his research shows that draining the aquifer beneath the Central Valley for farm irrigation causes the earth’s surface in that area to flex upward.

The 400-mile long Sierra Nevada range is lifting as much as three millimeters per year, he says.

“With that massive extraction of water, there’s less pressure on the Earth’s crust. And with less pressure, the Earth rebounds in an elastic way. It’s like a spring,” Blewitt explained.

The study is based on detailed Global Positioning System (GPS) measurements from California and Nevada, he said, adding that the real importance of the research is that it demonstrates a potential link between human activity and its impact on the “solid” Earth.

Blewitt said pumping trillions of gallon of water out of the aquifer over the past century and a half is also impacting the San Andreas Fault, by prompting movements that can cause earthquakes to happen faster.

“What’s stopping earthquakes from happening is this force that is pushing one side of the San Andreas fault against the other. It’s like friction. It’s reducing that force so it makes it easier for earthquakes to happen. So, it might precipitate earthquakes sooner than they would have occurred otherwise,” he said.

Blewitt said it’s unclear what effect draining the aquifer might have on bigger earthquakes, because they don’t happen often enough to make a determination.

Fishing catch limits lifted at 2 reservoirs

Severe drought has led to the lifting of catch limits for fishermen at two Northern Nevada reservoirs, state wildlife officials said.

Fishing limits are no longer in place at Wild Horse and Willow Creek reservoirs, said Chris Healy, public information officer for the state Department of Wildlife. Water levels are so low that it’s likely that many fish will die off this summer, he said.

“There’s a good chance we’ll lose the fisheries, or most of the fisheries, in both those bodies of water,” Healy said. “And so, in order to make sure that we give the sportsmen a chance to utilize the fishery, we’re going to ask them to go out and catch as many fish as possible and remove them from the fishery.”

Healy said the reservoirs, which trap rainwater and snowmelt from the mountains, are only at about 25 percent of capacity. By comparison, they’ve been at least two-thirds full during the past couple of years at this time. Many Nevada farmers downstream from the reservoirs also are dependent on the water to irrigate their crops.

The fish stock in these reservoirs is mostly trout and crappie. If it’s lost, Healy said, the state will have to restock if and when water volume returns to a healthy level. The state grows its own trout but buys other fish species from commercial vendors, Healy said, adding that restocking the fisheries is likely to be pricey because demand will be high when the drought ends.

“Probably pay a little premium to purchase those fish,” he said. “With a great demand for those fish, it may take longer to get hold of them.”

Healy estimated that up to 25,000 trout are in Wild Horse Reservoir at any one time.

New EPA rules could reduce air pollution

People living in the Southwest and other parts of the nation could breathe a little easier, advocates said, if new Environmental Protection Agency standards are put in place that would require oil companies to clean up the toxic pollution their refineries release into the atmosphere.

Some of the pollutants, particularly benzene, are believed to cause cancer.

Attorney Emma Cheuse with Earthjustice said the EPA is taking a step in the right direction.

“The first step to being able to protect our communities’ health,” she said, “is to at least know what’s going into the air from all different kinds of sources that can leak and put pollution out at oil refineries.”

The EPA is asking for public comments this summer, with final rules expected to be in place next spring. The newly proposed standards come after Earthjustice and the Environmental Integrity Project filed a lawsuit on behalf of groups in California, Texas and Louisiana.

Nevada has one oil refinery in Churchill County.

The proposed rules would require companies to monitor toxic air pollution on-site as it is emitted. Cheuse said she thinks it’s especially important for protecting children’s health.

“As Americans, none of us wants our kids to have to face extra cancer risk just because we happen to live near an industrial plant,” she said, “and EPA is taking a really important, common-sense step.”

The proposal calls for improved monitoring and combustion efficiency requirements when waste gas is burned. It says flaring is a key source of air pollution in the refining process.

The proposal is online at

EPA fines Nevada company

The Environmental Protection Agency has fined a Nevada company a record $13.75 million for PCB contamination.

Jared Blumenfeld, EPA regional administrator, said Titanium Metals Corporation also will have to clean up and remove about 84,000 pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls at its southern Nevada plant in Henderson. He said the fine is so big because the company failed to comply with cleanup orders dating back to 2005.

“This is one of those cases where there is such a large quantity of, in this case, PCB over such a large period of time that it really amounted to the largest penalty of its kind in U.S. history for a single facility under this statute,” he said.

Blumenfeld explained that the company was unknowingly creating PCBs while manufacturing titanium, which is used in jet engines and other products. He says Titanium Metals Corp. has been storing the toxic waste at its 108-acre facility in Henderson.

PCBs have been banned in the United States for about 30 years, and exposure is known to cause cancer and other serious health problems. Although Titanium Metals Corp. had been storing the PCBs in what the EPA says is an illegal manner, Blumenfeld adds there doesn’t appear to have been any adverse impact on human life.

“We don’t have knowledge of that material going off-site and damaging human health and the environment,” he says, “but certainly, there was a lot of risk.”

The settlement with Titanium Metals Corp. is expected to keep tens of thousands of pounds of contaminated waste out of the environment each year. Blumenfeld says the company has agreed to transport the waste to another facility that can properly dispose of it. He adds the EPA is monitoring the company’s cleanup, which is ongoing.