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Water flowing through the Walker River in August 2019. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Your Nevada environment newsletter. Please read, forward, and subscribe. 

Hope you had a good Thanksgiving. 

Before the break, we reported that a company submitted preliminary applications to study the feasibility of energy storage projects with new reservoirs above Walker Lake and Pyramid Lake.

The applications, filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, contemplate sending power to transmission lines that deliver energy to Los Angeles. They are two of four projects being proposed by the developer, Premium Energy Holdings.

Last week and after the story ran, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) offered comments on the proposals.

The large utility, with a long history in the Eastern Sierra mountains, said it had no involvement with the projects, despite suggestions in the applications that there was coordination with the company.

“LADWP seeks merely to clarify that it has not had any role in Premium Energy’s pursuit of the projects,” the utility wrote. “LADWP acknowledges that this clarification does not provide the basis for the commission to deny Premium Energy’s permit applications to study the [projects].” 

The comments were filed as the utility seeks to intervene in the federal regulatory agency’s preliminary review of the four projects. The other proposed projects would be located in Utah and in Inyo County in eastern California.

The two projects in the Northern Nevada watersheds could prove controversial. River diversions in the past have led to declines in lake levels and the degradation of important fish habitat. Both desert lakes have been the subject of extensive conservation efforts over the last few decades. 

The projects propose pumping lake water to the reservoirs using excess solar power, storing it as potential energy and releasing the water back to the lakes when power is needed. LADWP operates a similar storage project in California and has shown interest in exploring a project at the Hoover Dam, where there is already a series of cascading reservoirs on the Colorado River. 

In Nevada, commenters have raised questions about whether water is available for the projects without undermining efforts to restore the lakes and whether new reservoirs can be constructed without disrupting wildlife habitat or numerous cultural sites, particularly in the Wassuk Range. 

The developer, Premium Energy, has argued that it would acquire upstream water to offset any potential lake drawdown. But with existing demands, water rights are hard to come by. Rights to use water in both rivers are managed by federal decrees and have been extensively litigated. 

Here’s what else we’re watching:

Oil and gas: In November, the Bureau of Land Management announced a December auction selling oil and gas leases on about 468,000 acres of federal public land. But with a recent court case halting the Trump administration’s plan to dilute conservation plans for the Greater sage grouse, the agency is backtracking. In an updated release this week, land managers said they would defer about 200,000 acres from the December sale, in part because the areas targeted for potential oil and gas development conflicted with grouse habitat and an energy corridor.

RELATED: Outside Magazine on the BLM’s move out West. 

Speaking of federal land: The Las Vegas Sun wrapped up the trend of presidential hopefuls coming out against the military’s proposed expansion of the Nevada Test and Training Range. The proposal would take a big bite out of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge, a home for the iconic desert bighorn sheep and the largest wildlife refuge in the contiguous United States. 

Clark County’s climate: Last week, we wrote about efforts in Clark County to address climate change. These efforts coincide with a concerted push by state officials to develop a strategy to reduce emissions. With more than two-thirds of the state’s population, Clark County has a large role to play in addressing the issue.

But as I noted in the story, several environmental activists are worried the Clark County Lands Bill, in its current form, could undermine those efforts. The proposed legislation would allow Las Vegas to grow beyond its current boundaries, something that environmentalists worry could add carbon-emitting vehicles to the road and expand the urban footprint

Divided opinions: The Nevada Conservation League and the Conservation Lands Foundation argued in a Review-Journal op-ed that the bill is necessary and could actually provide a platform for addressing climate change. But the commentary does not really elaborate on what that looks like, nor does it give an opinion on the climate impacts that could result from the growth plan in the current bill draft.

Increasingly, efforts to curb climate change are being incorporated into urban planning. And the bill is about development and conservation, so it makes sense that groups would raise climate change as an issue. But the bill does not purport to be climate change legislation. From the perspective of many varied environmental groups, there are widespread concern about other environmental issues, including language in the proposed bill that some believe could undermine the Endangered Species Act.

NV Energy goes green: The Public Utilities Commission of Nevada voted Wednesday to approve NV Energy’s renewable push over the next five years. With the move, the utility would eventually increase its renewable portfolio to about 40 percent of its supply.  The utility hopes to add about 1,190 megawatts of solar power to the grid by 2025, coupled with 590 megawatts of battery storage. If this all sounds familiar, the utility rolled out the plan in June. But it required approval from state utility regulators. Their vote Wednesday was a big step that was applauded by several groups. In a statement, NV Energy President and CEO Doug Cannon said the decision “brings the environmental and price benefits of low-cost solar energy to our customers.”

Colorado River in Las Vegas: The annual conference of Colorado River users is coming to Las Vegas next week. I’m interested in hearing what’s next in resolving ongoing conflicts on the river. Learning from history: This book is sitting on my desk. I’m looking forward to reading it. 

Outdoor recreation snafu: The state is resuming its search for someone to lead the new Division of Outdoor Recreation after officials determined a sitting lawmaker was ineligible.

Clips from the news:

  • Nevada toxic mine neighbors may stop getting bottled water (AP)
  • Tiny Northern Nevada toad part of massive endangered species lawsuit (RGJ)
  • In Defense of Plants (one of my favorite podcasts for learning about botany) covered Tiehm’s buckwheat, a rare Nevada species threatened by proposed lithium mining.
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