Endangered Toad Obstructs Nevada Geothermal Project


DIXIE VALLEY, Nevada (KOLO) -Dixie Valley is east of Fallon, between the Stillwater and Clan Alpine Ranges. At first glance, little sets it apart from others in the landscape of the Nevada Basin and Range.

There was once a small community here, even a post office. it’s long gone. the same goes for most ranches.

It now houses a training field for Naval Air Station Fallon and a geothermal power plant operated by Ormat Technologies. The company is building another plant several miles further south, next to an area called Dixie Meadows.

There are hot mineral springs in the heart of the land, the surrounding swamp is home to a resident who has been here longer than anyone, even though it was only recently discovered.

The Dixie Valley toad – Anaxyrus Williamsi – was only recognized a few years ago. Even more recently it has been determined to be a unique species and its only home on the entire planet is these few hundred acres of swamp.

A sign that reads “Protected Area, Sensitive Habitat, Do Not Disturb” pretty much describes the problem. On this side of a fence, humidity, marshes, an environment to which the toad has adapted. On the other, dry desert highlands. The toad has nowhere to go. In fact, it can be uniquely adapted to live here. Few toads bathe in heated water. This one does, though it moves with the season, finding the safe habitable zone between the 180 degree hot water from the spring and the colder areas that would kill it in winter.

To protect the toad and its unique habitat, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe filed suit against the Bureau of Land Management opposing construction of the plant.

In February, an appeals court lifted a temporary injunction and construction began. Earlier this month, the US Fish and Wildlife Service added the emergency toad to its endangered species list.

“This was the third time in 20 years that they’ve used this power they have to list an emergency species,” said Patrick Donnelly of the Center for Biological Diversity. “They reserve it for the most extreme circumstances.”

The Toad and its defenders had new ammunition in their fight to stop construction, but just how serious is the threat to the Dixie Valley Toad?

The concern, say conservationists, is not the construction of the plant itself. The biggest fear is what happens when the plant is operational. If the water leaves, the toad leaves with it.

Geothermal power plants generally do not directly use heated spring water. They pump the fluid to the geothermal layer in a closed system. But, Donnelly argues, that might not mean they wouldn’t affect the hot springs themselves. “There is a large body of peer-reviewed literature that shows geothermal power plants are drying up hot springs all the time to the point that the United States Geological Survey in a court case said it should be considered the rule rather than the rule. exception.”

In fact, in a valley just north of here, that’s apparently what happened. A geothermal well drilled in the Jersey Valley is said to have caused a hot spring there to dry up. An Ormat official we spoke with said Jersey Valley was a different situation.

The society declined an interview but released a statement that read: “Ormat has long recognized the importance of the conservation of the Dixie Valley Toad, regardless of its legal status, and has developed the Aquatic Resources Monitoring and Mitigation (ARMMP) with this in mind. In a process that spanned six years, our commitment to addressing the public’s social, economic and environmental concerns was demonstrated by thoughtful and transparent coordination with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) as well as the Bureau of Land Management. (BLM), the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) and the US Navy, Naval Air Station Fallon to develop the ARMMP.

Ormat is confident that the ARMMP adequately protects the Dixie Valley Toad regardless of its legal status, and we remain fully committed to the sustainable development of renewable energy projects in the State of Nevada and around the world. . Ormat will coordinate with the relevant agencies to ensure any additional required processes are followed as we continue our work on this important renewable energy project.

We are told that the mitigation plan includes regular monitoring of hot springs for flow and any possible contamination. Donnelly is not convinced.

“As many as four government agencies have publicly stated that the mitigation plan will not address concerns and fail to protect the toad.”

Meanwhile, the Bureau of Land Management says it will work with the Fish and Wildlife Service and Ormat “on an appropriate course of action consistent with law and policy based on USFWS findings.” while allowing construction to continue.

The Center for Biological Diversity is awaiting a final decision from the appeals court while preparing a new lawsuit challenging the toad’s endangered status.

But, says Donnelly, time is running out.

“I don’t know how long it will take to complete the construction. We still have a few months, maybe six months to save this toad from extinction before it’s too late.

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