Massive solar development projects in Southern California have strained local water availability, threatening desert ecosystems and angering residents who have been impacted by the strain on the water supply, according to an Inside Climate News report.
The small communities around Desert Center, California, depend on naturally-occurring underground water reserves, known as groundwater aquifers, but the water-intensive development process for large solar projects has caused groundwater levels to fall, according to Inside Climate News. Crucial local water wells have dried up and land beneath homes has sagged as a result of development activity, while desert ecosystems have been damaged as well, according to Inside Climate News.
Locals complain that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the corporations driving the developments in California’s Colorado Desert have not allowed them to provide sufficient input in the decision-making process for the developments, according to Inside Climate News. Despite the BLM’s assurances that “renewable energy development on BLM-managed public lands will continue to help communities across the country be part of the climate solution, while creating jobs and boosting local economies,” residents say that they have not reaped much benefit from the solar projects while the strain on their groundwater supply has intensified, according to Inside Climate News.
“No one took into consideration a community lived out here,” said Teresa Pierce, a resident of a nearby community who has helped to organize other locals to respond to the resource scarcity and solar developments, according to Inside Climate News.
Developers rely on the groundwater aquifer because there is no other feasible water supply in the area, rendering transport of water from other locations to the development sites prohibitively expensive, according to Inside Climate News. The development has depleted the water reserves for local communities like one trailer park which a property manager said would be “dead without water” if the local scarcity continues to worsen, according to Inside Climate News.
Joe Biden: "We're gonna be shutting these plants down all across America, and having wind and solar." pic.twitter.com/dkIu80sqZa
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Another local who has two palm trees and no house on his property saw his electricity bill go from $15 to $1,800 in just one month, as his electric irrigation pump that keeps the trees alive worked much harder to reach underground water reserves that have fallen due to the development’s extensive use of the groundwater supply, according to Inside Climate News. Drilling new, deeper water wells can cost up to $100,000, according to Inside Climate News.
The BLM was aware that its approved solar projects on public lands may have been using too much water from the area’s underground water reserves by its own standards, but the agency has advanced the projects nonetheless, according to former BLM employees cited by Inside Climate News.
Beyond the problems posed by the strain on the groundwater aquifer for humans, solar developments have overtaken many small bodies of water across the desert which formerly provided critical habitat space to the animals inhabiting the desert region, according to Inside Climate News.
The BLM has approved seven utility-scale developments in the region spanning about 19,000 acres already, with more projects under consideration, according to Inside Climate News. Another 120,000 acres are available for development in the region surrounding Desert Center, according to Inside Climate News.
The Biden administration has publicly touted its spending and regulatory efforts designed to protect 30% of America’s lands and waters from development by 2030. The administration also heavily promotes solar panels as part of its larger “green” energy agenda.
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