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California's nightmare summer: Massive wildfires could start as soon as this month

The Golden State needs water now, right now.

Why it matters: California reservoir water levels are so low that some hydroelectric power plants may be forced offline during the peak of summer wildfire season, AP reports.

  • The state's massive water storage system is vanishing faster than usual.
  • The state’s reservoirs are 50% lower than normal, according to Jay Lund of the University of California at Davis.
  • More water isn't coming: The mountain snowpack vanished two months ahead of schedule, and California doesn't enjoy rainy summers.

All of this is ahead of the summer heat waves.

The big picture: These drought cycles are tied to climate change and are expected to worsen as population growth drives more water demand in the region, notes Axios' Bryan Walsh.

In the case of Lake Oroville in California, the reduced water levels threaten catastrophic downstream effects, AP notes.

Data: National Integrated Drought Information System; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
  • Salmon need cold water from the bottom of the reservoirs to spawn, and San Francisco Bay needs fresh water from the reservoirs to keep out the salt water that harms freshwater fish.
  • Farmers need to irrigate fields that are far less productive without water. Some of those fields won't yield a crop without irrigation.
  • And those lakes supply electricity: If Lake Oroville falls below 640 feet, which it could do by late August, state officials would shut down a major power plant for just the second time ever because of low water levels.

The bottom line: The Southwest is drying out, and California's large wildfires could start as soon as this month.

  • Vegetation is at near-record dry levels for this time of year, wildfire expert Craig Clements told Axios' Andrew Freedman.

Why the startup world needs to ditch "unicorns" for "dragons"

When Aileen Lee originally coined the term "unicorn" in late 2013, she was describing the 39 "U.S.-based software companies started since 2003 and valued at over $1 billion by public or private market investors."

Flashback: It got redefined in early 2015 by yours truly and Erin Griffith, in a cover story for Fortune, as any privately-held startup valued at $1 billion or more. At the time, we counted 80 of them.

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Scoop: Facebook's new moves to lower News Feed's political volume

Facebook plans to announce that it will de-emphasize political posts and current events content in the News Feed based on negative user feedback, Axios has learned. It also plans to expand tests to limit the amount of political content that people see in their News Feeds to more countries outside of the U.S.

Why it matters: The changes could reduce traffic to some news publishers, particularly companies that post a lot of political content.

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Scoop: Amazon quietly getting into live audio business

Amazon is investing heavily in a new live audio feature that's similar to other live audio offerings like Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces and Spotify's new live audio platform, sources tell Axios.

Why it matters: As with Amazon's efforts in podcasting and music subscriptions, the company sees live audio as a way to bolster the types of content it can offer through its voice assistant, Alexa, and its smart speaker products.

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Hurricane Ida exposes America's precarious energy infrastructure

The powerful hurricane that plunged New Orleans into darkness for what could be weeks is the latest sign that U.S. power systems are not ready for a warmer, more volatile world.

The big picture: “Our current infrastructure is not adequate when it comes to these kinds of weather extremes,” Joshua Rhodes, a University of Texas energy expert, tells Axios.

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"We must go further": 70% of adults in European Union are fully vaccinated

About 70% of adults in the European Union are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said Tuesday.

Why it matters: The milestone makes the E.U. one of the world's leaders in inoculations, after an initially lagging vaccine campaign, the New York Times notes.

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What Elizabeth Holmes jurors will be asked ahead of fraud trial

Jury selection begins today in USA v. Elizabeth Holmes, with the actual jury trial to get underway on Sept. 8.

Why it matters: Theranos was the biggest fraud in Silicon Valley history, putting both hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of patients' health at risk.

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