Effects of Utility Scale Solar Energy on Aquatic Ecosystems in the Southwest


by Melanie Paty

In a recent Environmental Management article, Grippo, Hayse, and O’Connor (2015) speculate on the potential detriments solar farm development imposes on temporary bodies of water and the wildlife that depend on them. The authors’ locational focus is the Southwestern United States, where there are more than 40 pending or approved solar development permits. Temporary bodies of water, either intermittent, “seasonally dry stream, especially during times of low rainfall or high heat,” or ephemeral, “defined as those that do not receive groundwater inputs and contain water only briefly and in direct response to precipitation,” play an important role in desert ecosystems: they connect the landscape, transport water and nutrients downstream, serve as the short-term habitat for animals with aquatic life stages and the reproductive site for various animals, and give rise to riparian corridors that provide a variety of benefits to local animal species. However, unlike permanent bodies of water, temporary water is not protected under the Clean Water Act, unless it is significantly connected to a permanent body of water. Continue reading