Basin & Range Watch
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.
Crescent Dunes Solar Power Tower Still Offline
February 4, 2017 - Ramping up is taking a lot longer than expected for the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project near Tonopah NV, as a small leak in the hot salt tank was found in December 2016. The power plant is still off a few months later. The molten salt tanks are used for thermal storage. The unprecedented size of the plant might account for the difficulties in the construction of the pipes, welds, and other parts with the extreme heat of the molten salt as it is heated by the sun in the receiver tower, and flows down into the storage tanks. More >>here.
White House List of Potential Infrastructure Projects Could Impact the Desert
UPDATED January 26, 2017 - The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) web page has been removed from the White House website. Congress established the CEQ within the Executive Office of the President as part of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), during the Nixon administration. CEQ is mentioned in this Executive Order issued on January 24 by President Trump, on streamlining and expediting environmental review for transmission lines, pipelines, highways, and other "High Priority" infrastructure projects: https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/01/24/executive-order-expediting-environmental-reviews-and-approvals-high
The CEQ is still described on this Department of Energy web page (https://ceq.doe.gov):
NEPA established the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) within the Executive Office of the President to ensure that Federal agencies meet their obligations under NEPA. CEQ oversees NEPA implementation, principally through issuing guidance and interpreting regulations that implement NEPA's procedural requirements. CEQ also reviews and approves Federal agency NEPA procedures, approves alternative arrangements for compliance with NEPA for emergencies, and helps to resolve disputes between Federal agencies and with other governmental entities and members of the public.
We are troubled that the CEQ web page has been removed from the White House website. Will CEQ and environmental law be weakened and much less transparent to the public?
January 24, 2017 - The Cadiz Water Project may get funded in President Trump's push to use stimulus money for infrastructure projects. Also listed are large-scale energy storage and transmission projects, including the TransWest Express Transmission line from the massive Chokecherry wind project in Wyoming, through Utah and Nevada into California to load centers. The Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project itself is listed as a possible stimulus recipient, as is the Ft. Mojave Solar Project.
The Trump transition team had put together the priority list of “Emergency & National Security Projects,” and the National Governors Association circulated a similar list as a spreadsheet among state officials in December 2016.
The Cadiz Water Project is a controversial scheme to pump groundwater from the Cadiz area basin on private land (before it is "wasted in evaporation") and then construct a pipeline (through land managed by the Bureau of Land Management) to the Colorado River Aqueduct where it would be exported to Orange County and the Santa Margarita Water District. The trouble is, this desert groundwater is "fossil" water from wetter climatic periods such as the Ice Age 10,000 years ago. It does not recharge fast enough to replenish the area when pumped out. There is a danger pumping out this arid land aquifer could lower surrounding water tables in unknown ways. Calling this project "sustainable" is like calling the mining of gold a never-ending prospect for eternal wealth. Water is as good as gold in the West and in limited supply. Water conservation in the thirsty Southern California region is a much better alternative. The groundwater pumping scheme could negetaively impact the new Mojave Trails National Monument.
The Chokecherry-Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project may be the largest land-based wind project in the US if built, and is estimated to have the potential to kill 10-14 golden eagles annually for the duration of the project (30 years), requiring a US Fish and Wildlife Service Take permit (see https://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/wind/ChokecherrySierraMadre/documents/2016/FEIS/04_CCSM_FEIS_Chapter_3_AE_and_EC.pdf, page 3-267).
The TransWest Express Transition project is a controversial line that is approved but mired in litigation as it passes through numerous states, towns, private lands, and natural areas. California state agencies repsonsible for providing electricity to cities are in approval of the line to obtain "high-quality" wind energy in Wyoming to help balance the grid in Califiornia. That state is now experiencing an overgeneration of utility-scale solar energy and other forms of energy are needed to help balance the grid. See more on this crucial problem >>here.
Tortoise Translocations at Dry Lake Solar Energy Zone in Nevada
December 27, 2016 - Clark County NV - The second quarter 2016 desert tortoise report for the Playa Solar Project (1,760 acres) on the Dry Lake South Solar Energy Zone reveals that 77 tortoises have been moved, including 42 adults and 35 juveniles. The report was prepared for the Bureau of Land Management. Playa solar initiated translocation activities in September 2015. One adult tortoise suffered mortality during pre-construction activities. See maps and more photos >>here.
30-Year Eagle Take Permit Rule: "Sustainable Take"
December 15, 2016 - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) revised the regulations for eagle nonpurposeful take 5-year permits and eagle nest take permits on Wednesday, extending the maximum permit duration for eagle incidental take permit to 30 years. These permits would apply to any development impacting eagles, including wind projects and transmission lines carrying coal generated electricity.
While admitting golden eagles are declining in the western U. S., the Fish and Wildlife Service decided that such a thing as "Sustainable Take" is possible.
USFWS seems to have a twisted math version of conservation biology, where after doing a modeling study of eagle populations in the U.S. they admit that golden eagles are declining, and 56% of mortality is from human causes. But then they say in order to benefit the "regulated community" (i.e. companies), they have come up with the "Sustainable Take" concept. Which to us is an oxymoron since allowing take (killing, harming) is not recovering a declining species.
The USFWS says:
"Sustainable take (the number of eagles that can be removed from the population while still achieving a stable population compared to the 2009 baseline) of golden eagles under those conditions would be 2,000 individuals (20th quantile = 1,600). The available information suggests ongoing levels of human-caused mortality likely exceed this value, perhaps considerably. This information supports the finding from the population model that golden eagle populations may be declining to a new, lower level" (USFWS Eagle Permits revision, page 11).
How is that sustainable? They claim this will allow for more compensatory mitigation to be done, but American Bird Conservancy rightly commented that these mitigation measures are not guaranteed to work, and their success is questionable.
We can see the side of the agency in wanting to collect more data, encourage companies to apply for take permits, and try to build up a suite of mitigation measures. But the encouragement does little to ask developers to avoid dense eagle population areas. More >>here.
TransWest Express Transmission Project Approved
December 14, 2016 - Secretary Jewell approved the 600-kilovolt, direct current transmission line TransWest Express, a 728-mile line that crosses 442 miles of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) public land, would deliver up to 3,000 megawatts from southcentral Wyoming wind projects to southern Nevada. The approval came as part of a package of streamlining steps to build more utility-scale renewable energy and wheel it across western states.
Under a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) Secretary Jewell signed with California Governor Brown, the Interior Department and state agencies will work collaboratively on expanded and streamlined efforts to encourage the timely and responsible development of renewable energy projects on federal and state lands and offshore waters. A high priority is placed on processing applications for renewable energy projects in areas that minimize environmental effects, make efficient use of existing transmission systems and are consistent with ongoing cooperative planning efforts, such the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, Western Solar Plan, and the Renewable Energy Transmission Initiative, the Interior press release said.
But using rooftop solar, microgrids, and local battery storage in urban load centers would be a much less costly and more environmentally friendly way to increase renewable energy. More >>here.
BLM's Sagebrush Ecosystem Management Project--Not Ecological
^Pinyon-juniper woodlands in the Kawich Range, Nye County, Nevada.
December 2, 2016 - Central Nevada - Basin & Range Watch sent comments to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) opposing their Proposed Action for Sagebrush Ecosystem Management Project. The proposed programmatic action would be District-wide in the Battle Mountain District of central Nevada and include portions of Lander, Eureka, Nye, and Esmeralda Counties.
BLM says the goals for this project include "decreasing the severity and intensity of future wildland fires by reducing hazardous fuel loads, sustaining and improving sagebrush plant communities, and managing Phase I and targeted Phase II pinyon-juniper stands in wildlife habitat."
Improving sagebrush habitats by removing native old-growth pinyon-juniper woodlands is not supported by science. A better way to improve sagebrush communities would be to stop removing and degrading them, and fragmenting them with fracking wells and roads, transmission lines, and other developments. More >>here.
What's in Store for the Desert with a Trump Administration?
November 15, 2016 - According to Roll Call, Republican House committee chairman Kevin McCarthy sent a letter yesterday to all government agencies requesting that no new regulations move forward in the remaining months of the Obama administration.
November 10, 2016 - Now that we have a new President, Basin & Range Watch will be strategizing for how our public lands, desert ecosystems, local communities, and environmental laws may be impacted. The largescale renewable energy push into desert wildlands may slow, but we will continue to push for better Distributed Energy Resource policies, such as rooftop solar, to bring CO2 emissions down. We will also be vigilant about preserving our public lands from privitization or land transfers. Government accountability and transparency will remain a focus for us, as it has in the past. Preserving our new national monuments will also be someting we will strive for.
We are well-positioned in this new era since we have worked hard to build a coalition of people from all political views who want to keep our desert free from industrialization, fragmentation, and closed access.
Stay tuned for our renewed push to protect our desert wildlands and wildlife. We are gradually redesigning our website to follow the latest trends in resource management, conservation issues, and threats. New look, new trends.
^Desert near the town of Ocotillo CA, west side of the Imperial Valley.
Basin and Range Watch is honored to be able to continue the mission and many of the projects of the Desert Protective Council, as it dissolves in 2017. We are saddened to see this great desert group, founded in 1954, leave the scene. DPC members voted to formally dissolve the organization into Basin and Range Watch, and we will work hard to continue the excellent educational programs and tradition of desert conservation of the Desert Protective Council. We will of course continue publication of El Paisano, the magazine of news and education in the desert.
Calendar of Comment Deadlines:
Stay tuned for how to comment to your Congress people on how to stop military expansions in Nevada, as well as save our public lands and environmental laws.
"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."
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|Text and photographs Copyright 2016 Basin and Range Watch unless otherwise stated. Basin and Range Watch is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.|