BrightSource Solar Project Will Endanger Water Supply in Inyo and Nye Counties

BrightSource Energy's proposed Hidden Hills Solar Electric Generating System (HHSEGS) is expected to significantly draw down local aquifers in California and Nevada, according to the California Energy Commission, unless the company can buy out local water users.   The solar project would be built on 5 square miles of privately owned land in California's Inyo County, right next to the border with Nye County, Nevada.  The facility would use nearly 45.6 million gallons of water each year for mirror washing and other services during operation, and up to 227.1 million gallons of water during the 29 month construction period.   The CEC's draft certifications would require the company to conduct well monitoring and offset its water draw by purchasing over 53 million gallons each year to restore the Pahrump Valley Groundwater Basin.

The facility's water draw could affect desert springs along the historic Old Spanish Trail that used to provide relief to weary desert travelers and a reliable source of water for wildlife.  Nearby Stump Spring in Nevada still supports season pools 30 to 70 feet long and 1 to 2 feet deep, and has "significant wildlife value," according to the CEC, while other springs are believed to be largely dry due to heavy agricultural pumping. The CEC staff assesses that HHSEGS "would not be expected to have a measurable impact to the Amargosa River or its tributaries," although the preliminary assessment also acknowledges a lack of data needed to make a more confident determination. 

A view of the project site in the distance, with the Spring Mountains across the Nevada border in the background.
Inyo County has expressed concern regarding the project's financial burden on the area, since providing emergency and other services to the remote site is expected to cost Inyo County 11 million dollars during construction, and 1.7 million dollars annually during operation, according to documents submitted to the CEC.

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