being studied by biologists as an opportunity to restore connectivity for desert bighorn sheep. The Interstate has acted as a genetic barrier to the bighorn sheep since it was constructed, and has begun to isolate sheep populations to the north and south. Biologists are looking at ways that a wildlife overpass, artificial water sources, and modified culverts under the highway could re-connect sheep populations across the highway. But the solar project could threaten these opportunities.
During the Supervisor meeting today, the public also expressed concern that the project's groundwater use would impact wildlife. The Soda Mountain Solar project would require as much as 156.4 million gallons of groundwater during the 30 month construction period. Once built, the project would require as much as 10.7 million gallons of water each year for panel washing and dust suppression during regular operation and maintenance, according to the final environmental impact statement. This water use may jeopardize groundwater that also supplies natural springs used by a multitude of desert wildlife, including a rare desert fish and bighorn sheep.
The vote was an impressive reflection of persistent public demand for a smarter, more sustainable deployment of renewable energy. The vote was also a rejection of the fast-track environmental review process that often accepts unnecessary risks to wildlife and wildlands, catering to industry while ignoring more efficient alternatives, such as solar on already-disturbed lands, on rooftops, and over parking lots.
|Nearly 3 square miles of this intact desert habitat may now be spared after the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors rejected the environmental certification of the Soda Mountain Solar project. Photo by Michael E. Gordon.|