Defending the Desert

A 501(c)(3) Non-profit organization



Basin and Range Watch is a 501(c)(3) non-profit working to conserve the deserts of Nevada and California and to educate the public about the diversity of life, culture, and history of the ecosystems and wild lands of the desert.

Come visit and experience the great beauty of spring wildflowers, vast open vistas, bird watching trails, and wildlife viewing.






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Draft Environmental Impact Statement Out for Gemini Solar Project


June 7, 2018 - The Environmental Impact Statement for the Gemini Solar Project on Bureau of Land Management lands in southern Nevada was released today. The project will potentially be ten square miles (7,100 acres) and nearly 300 Threatened desert tortoise will need too be excavated and moved. The project will be built on the Valley of Fire Entrance Road by the Muddy Mountains Wilderness Area. It will remove rare plant habitat and cover part of the Old Spanish Trail.

More >>here.

Owens Valley Pumped Hydro Project

^New renewable energy targets: Wheeler Ridge (to the right of Mt. Tom) at sunset near Tom's Place and above Bishop CA.

UPDATE June 7, 2019 -- The project application was thrown out by the Federal Energy Regulatory Project as being several "projects" that each needed a permit. The developer has now switched to a pumped hydro storage project east of Highway 395 in the White Mountains, Inyo County CA. Wyman Canyon and Birch Creek are now targets with reservoirs proposed at 8,000 to 10,000 feet elevation.

More on this next week.

May 13, 2019 - Eastern Sierra - A surprisingly badly-sited renewable energy project appeared in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) initial application process for a license. A series of dams on the scenic Owens River and in the Rock Creek area of the Sierra Nevada--including Wheeler Ridge where a herd of rare Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep (which is federally endangered and California state endangered)--and pipelines would hold a series of reservoirs in Owens Gorge and up on Wheeler Ridge. Excess energy produced by intermittent utility-scale wind projects and solar projects could be used to pump water uphill. Then when energy is needed the water would be released to flow down the east slope of the Sierra to lower reservoirs. Download the project proposal PDF.

Large-scale solar projects in the desert have a growing overgeneration problem during midday, and these kinds of projects will be proposed more and more to soak up some of that : the Eagle Mountain Pumped Storage Project, but it has not yet been built.

The project would be next to the boundary of the John Muir Wilderness Area. New large, long high-voltage transmission lines will be needed to serve Los Angeles.

(Images courtesy California Department of Fish and Wildlife)

According tto California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Wheeler Ridge is a population that was intially reestablished in 1982 with 15 ewes. Over the past 35 years the population has grown to over 100 individuals. The Wheeler herd was productive enough to provide source stock for a natural colonization of the Convict Creek herd to the north in about 2009 as well as 11 ewes for translocation to start the Cathedral herd in 2016.

See and

Enter Docket Number P-14984.

Basin and Range Watch will be opposing this horrendous project, and continuing to support better renewable energy alternatives involving Distributed Energy Resources in the built environment.

See the article in the San Francisco Chronicle:

Pahrump Valley Solar Project: Does Mitigation Work?

Pahrump Solar

May 9, 2019 - Pahrump NV - Is this a beautiful desert scene you would like to hike in? Does this landscape conserve habitat for biodiversity and rare plant and animal species? Would rooftops be the better option for these solar panels?

We took a hard look at one of the utility-scale solar projects that was built as the best "state-of-the-art" "smart from the start" "environmentally friendly" and mitigated projects out there. Environmental groups worked with Valley Electric Inc., the local utility, to try to mitigate desert tortoise habitat and avian-solar mortality issues (where the photovoltaic panels imitate lakes and birds smash into them and die). Many much larger solar projects (such as the Gemini Solar Project over 7,000 acres) will be looking to try to copy these designs, in the hopes of mitigating environmental impacts.

But we are not convinced. More >>here.

Desert Hydrology Block Diagram

March 31, 2019 - This classic block diagram by a Basin and Range Watch co-founder is going viral on social media. Pen and ink with colored pencil, this illustrates basic generalized hydrology of aquifers and springs in the Mojave Desert of California, Nevada, and Arizona. We have commented on hundreds of environmental review documents over the past 10 years where poorly-sited large-scale solar projects (especially concentrated solar thermal technologies) have proposed groundwater pumping that over the years will cause cones of depression. Large gold and lithium mines will cause groundwater impacts as well. And bad projects such as the Cadiz water storage project would also similarly impact desert aquifers.

A large portion of that blue aquifer is actually "fossil water" -- water deposited tens of thousands of years ago during Ice Ages when conditions were much wetter in the Southwest deserts, and groundwater recharge was at a maximum.

Today groundwater recharge from rainfall is minimal, and we need to minimize pumping and groundwater depletion in our precious deserts.

This was meant as a simple illustration to educate kids on field trips to the desert from urban areas, organized by friends. But as one of our board members pointed out, simplifying science down to the kindergarten level can be highly benefifical to educating adults as well.

Art? Or Off-Roading in the Coachella Valley Desert

March 24, 2019 - Palm Desert - This special report by Ruth Nolan, long-time desert resident and professor at College of the Desert. See the full story with photos >>here.

Lithium Exploration in Panamint Valley

^Lithium extraction lakes in Clayton Valley, Nevada at Silver Peak. (Photo courtesy Wikipedia Commons)

March 16, 2019 - Panamint Valley, California Desert - As we have been expecting, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has released an Environmental Assessment (EA) for lithium exploration in Panamint Valley. While lithium exploration on playas is highly speculative, we can all agree that the idea of a huge lithium extraction project in Panamint Valley would be a very bad idea next to Death Valley National Park. But BLM is considering it. Comments due April 15th.

This is a designated National Conservation Land under the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP), with a 1% development cap. This equates to about 200 acres allowable for surface disturbance, far below what an operating lithium extraction process would need to be profitable--with wells pumping groundwater to evaporate vast acreages of salts in a playa pool to yeild lithuim in commercial quantities. And few playas in Nevada and California have produced lithium concentrations that make capital investments worthwhile. So this may be simply speculative test drilling. More >>here.

BREAKING: Sandstone Solar Power Tower Project Application Withdrawn

March 4, 2019 - Tonopah NV - We suspected something was up when Kevin Smith, CEO of SolarReserve resigned from the company he founded.

This, after years of cost overruns, bursting pipes and welding seams, and other porblems on the massive Crescent Dunes solar power tower that uses molten salt through its entire system: from tower reciever heated by solar energy, to the two molten salt tanks where this heat energy is transferred to conventional water-steam turbines to generate electricity for the gird.

SolarReserve had banked on infrastructure funding, or some other federal subsidy, to build it's proposed super-massive ten additional solar power towers on public land adjacent to the Crescent Dunes Solar Project. This was proposed as the Sandstone Solar Project.

Smith was an original power tower engineer from the 1980s. He jumped ship to work with the fossil fuel company BP's solar arm, Lightsource BP. Which developes photovoltaic solar projects--not a good recommendation for Concentrated Solar Thermal technology.

We have been closely tracking this project, to the point of sending in numerous Freedom of Information Act requests, since the existing project has been controversial in the number of bird kills due to its intense solar flux.

Today, after an inquiry, the Bureau of Land Management confirmed to us in an email that the Sandstone Solar Project had withdrawn its application. No details were provided.

This will have major implications for any future renewable energy portfolio standard and New Green Deal, as hopes pinned on storing energy generated from solar power on expensive and problem-ridden molten salt tanks built to larger scale have suffered a setback today.

We support renewable energy in the built environment, on rooftops, over parking lots, and using battery storage paired with photovoltaic panels. Not utility-cale energy sprawl on high-value public lands.

More >>here.

Gemini Solar Project Will Block Crucial Linkage Corridor for Tortoise

^Desert tortoise (Gopherus aggasizii) dining on beavertail cactus.

March 3, 2019 - California Wash, NV - A "good experiment"?

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is saying that the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Gemini Solar Project will be released at the end of this month. This will be a 7,000 acre (10 Square Mile) photovoltaic project located on the entrance road to Valley of Fire State Park in Southern Nevada. Aside from being a very scenic area (next to the Muddy Mountains Wilderness) they have estimated that over 260 desert tortoises will need to be excavated and relocated to make way for the project. There has never been a 100 percent success moving tortoises like this at this scale. There will be mortality. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has said this project along with other pressures will fragment a crucial linkage corridor connecting desert tortoise recovery units. But the same folks have told me that they will suggest "mowing vegetation" and allowing tortoises to enter the site. They are not opposing it, but actually told us that would be a "good experiment " The desert tortoise has declined by over 50 percent since 2008. Also found were 99 active kit fox burrows and 14 active burrowing owl burrows. More on the project here:

^Map of proposed Gemini Solar Project in high quality desert tortoise habitat.

^Mojave Desert Tortoise habitat and linkages. The blue areas are crucial genetic connectivity corridors, and the Gemini Solar Project would block one connecting Recovery Units. From a February 27

^High quality desert tortoise habitat at the proposed Gemini Solar Project site in California Wash, with the Muddy Mountains Wilderness Area in the distance.

Moving Yellow Pine Solar Project to North Side of Tecopa Highway Will NOT Lessen Impacts to Desert Tortoise

^New map of the project, moved to the north side of the Tecopa Highway where we found a desert tortoise.

March 3, 2019 - Pahrump Valley NV - The Bureau of Land Management will release the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Yellow Pine Solar Project in mid-April. This will be a 3,000 acre photovoltaic project located in the South Pahrump Valley, Nevada on pristine, Mojave Desert habitat for rooftop friendly solar panels. It is very good desert tortoise habitat. Combined with the proposed Gemini Solar Project to the south, the BLM is about to approve the removal of 10,000 acres of desert tortoise habitat. The region is recovering from a drought, so the tortoise count is not as high as Gemini. They found 53 on the survey. But the US Fish and Wildlife Service has identified the site as one of the last important in tact desert tortoise connectivity sites in the Mojave Desert. A 4.6 square mile solar project will change this. The BLM tells us that all Joshua trees and Mojave yuccas on the site will be shredded and mulched. The original application was 9,000 acres. The project will be built right next to a new desert tortoise translocation area. This area was put aside to relocate tortoises from other development projects. The project will be built next to and be visible from the Old Spanish Trail. The BLM and one environmental organization are trying to spin this by saying the habitat is not as important on the NW side of Tecopa Road. Trust us - that is bullshit. More information here:

^Large healthy desert tortoise in its burrow on the north side of the Tecopa Highway, where several environmental organizations are accepting "mitigating" the project impacts by moving the solar field to this side. We are not all right with moving the solar project to the north side of the highway, as this desert tortoise will now have to be dug out of this burrow and transloacted somewhere else, risking mrotality from predation or hyperthermia.

^The richly biodiverse Mojave Desert scrub below the Spring Range, with Mojave yuccas. This is the north side of the Yellow Pine Project, where many stakeholders have agreed to move the project to "lessen impacts." We disagree that impacts will be lessened, and oppose any part of this desert being bulldozed.

San Bernardino County Votes to Uphold Utility-scale Solar Ban in Rural Deserts

^Desert dandelions near the Granite Mountains and Lucerne Valley.

February 28, 2019 - San Bernardino County CA - Great news! Local residents, voters, and tax-payers let their supervisors know loudly and clearly at a special hearing that they value the desert ecosystems, wildlands, wildflower fileds, Joshua tree woddlands, scenic vistas, and quality of life of their rural and local communities. Not industrial utility-scale solar projects which bulldoze thousands of acres.

Huge numbers of ocal residents spoke in support of the proposed ban, known as Renewable Energy Policy 4.10, which would have allowed large-scale solar developments to be built in rural county lands and unincorporated areas.

The policy is part of the broader Renewable Energy and Conservation Element (RECE) in the county’s General Plan. Policy 4.10 would minimize the impact on desert residents by prohibiting utility-scale renewable energy developments in zones designated as rural living, and the communities of Bloomington, Muscoy, Bear Valley, Crest Forest, Hilltop, Lake Arrowhead, Lytle Creek, Oak Glen, Homestead Valley, Joshua Tree, Lucerne Valley, Morongo Valley, Oak Hills and Phelan/Phelan Hills. Developers could still build on land previously used for mining or agriculture.

Unfortunately, more remote desert areas in Amboy, El Mirage, Hinkley, Kramer Junction and Trona do not get such a ban. Kramer Junction has high-value desert tortoise habitat, as well as a newly-discovered population of Mohave ground squirrels. Trona has scenic Pinnacles used in Hollywood movies. And allowing indutrial energy development around Hinckley, on top of groundwater pollution problems, is an Environmental Justice issue.

Yet developers told the supervisors this was "too restrictive."

Residents strongly supported rooftop solar and Distributed Energy Resources that do not harm the quality of life, nor create dust storms.

Supervisor Robert Lovingood said residents “spoke clearly about what they want to see."fv4rf 4vv!

Los Angeles Times:


The Sun:

See more >>here.

Wildfire Dangers of High-Voltage Transmission Lines

^High-voltage transmission lines near Jacumba in the eastern San Diego backcountry.

January 28, 2019 - We have supported better Distributed Energy Resources and policy for ten years now, as the better alternative to bulldozing desert ecosystems and public lands wild areas.

Now, the Camp Fire has revealed some of the under-appreciated benefits of pairing residential and local solar systems with battery storage in local grid areas in load centers. Instead of long high-voltage transmission lines from remote power stations (such as those far out in the desert), crossing wildlands with forest and brush fuels.

The Los Angeles Times has detailed how potentially 2,000 wildfires have been ignited by utility transmission and electrical equipment in California.

Those claiming Distributed Generation (DG) such as rooftop solar is too expensive comp ared to remote utility-scale solar and wind projects, are not taking into account the benefits that should be priced in to DG that does not need expensive transmission lines stretching often hundreds of miles (and which ratepayers pay for).

PG&E, after claims of their transmission equipment sparking the Camp Fire last year--the most deadly wildfire in California history, says it cannot afford the insurance, liability, and litigation, and will undergo Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing supposedly this week. A U. S. District Court judge ordered the Investor Owned Utility to plan and fund a gigantic transmission inspection and vegetation clearing from around their transmission infrastructure--a plan which PG&E said it could not afford. High winds knocking tree branches onto wires is apparently a big problem.

The large northern and central California utility's bankruptcy calls into question existing Power Purchase Agreements, including Topax Solar Project in Carrizo Plain, and a unit of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System. We will be watching to see what happens.



Our Magazine of the Desert: El Paisano Continued!

El Paisano

December 23, 2018 -- It's finally here! Our newsletter of the desert. As an all-volunteer group we slowly developed this continuation of the venerable El Paisano, which dates back to 1955, as published by the Desert Protective Council (DPC). DPC gave us permission to continue to publish this newsletter.

Download the 6.5 MB PDF of El Paisano December 2018 (Vol.1 No. 1)

Here is a summary of El Paisano by Jim Styles in The Canyon Country Zephyr, 2014:

"The DPC began to publish the El Paisano in the Spring of 1955. In these fascinating 1950s quarterly volumes, the reader learns that the founders and members of the fledgling organization hit the ground running, immediately forming issues committees, informing themselves about issues related to their particular interest and taking action on controversial plans for the desert across Arizona, California, Nevada and Utah.

"There apparently was no scarcity of ill-advised proposals for the desert even in the 1950s. Early newsletters document the political savvy and lack of timidity of the early Board and advisory panel members. Some of the problems DPC tackled in the early years, such as the threat from uranium mining in Joshua Tree and the battle to save the Grand Canyon from a dam, have been solved, but a plethora of new threats to the desert have arisen that could not have been conceived of in the 1950s. The onslaught of bad ideas for the use of our deserts has increased with the growing human population of the southwest. Exploitation of the desert for minerals and desert ground water, military expansion, poaching, rampant resort development, industrialization by massive energy projects and transmission lines, new freeways and the proliferation of off-road vehicles continue to fragment desert habitats."

Stay tuned for more issues of El Paisano. We may make this a quarterly magazine, possibly with print and digital versions in the future. For now this will be a downloadable PDF digital magazine.

Thank you for your support to help us publish this! We are honored to continueEl Paisano.









Calendar of Comment Deadlines:

Panamint Valley Lithium Exploration EA comment deadline April 15, 2019, >>BLM

Fallon Naval Range Expansion: Contact your Senator and Representative and tell them not to fund this expansion over our public land! >>

Nevada Test and Training Range US Air Force expansion over Desert National Wildlife Refuge and BLM lands near Beatty -- no more comments will be taken, no protest period, Congress will vote yes or no -- Contact your Senator and Representative and tell them to vote NO! >>



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"In the first place you can't see anything from a car; you've got to get out of the goddamned contraption and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbush and cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail you'll see something, maybe."

--Edward Abbey, 1967, Desert Solitaire


"Polite conversationalists leave no mark, save the scar upon the earth that could have been prevented had they stood their ground."

--David Brower


"Only within the 20th Century has biological thought been focused on ecology, or the relation of the living creature to its environment. Awareness of ecological relationships is — or should be — the basis of modern conservation programs, for it is useless to attempt to preserve a living species unless the kind of land or water it requires is also preserved."

--Rachel Carson, Essay on the Biological Sciences, in, Good Reading (1958)





^Amargosa Valley view from near Longstreet, Nevada.








Text and photographs Copyright 2019 Basin and Range Watch unless otherwise stated. Basin and Range Watch is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.