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Every week we scour dozens of sources to bring you the latest environmental news for the Desert Southwest. Click a date above to read that day's edition. Want your news included? Email us.

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Quechan Tribe Sues To Stop Imperial Solar Two

The Quechan Tribe has filed suit in an attempt to prevent construction of the Imperial Solar Two site near Ocotillo. The project has already won approval from the California Energy Commission and the BLM.

In the words of the the Tribe’s complaint,

“The public lands that are the subject of the Imperial Valley ROD are within the traditional territory of the Quechan Indian Tribe and contain cultural and biological resources of significance to the tribe, its government, and its members…. The tribe and its members also have an interest in preserving the quality of the land, water, air, fauna, and flora within the tribe’s traditional territory, within and outside the reservation. Specifically, the tribe is concerned with impacts to the habitat of Flat Tailed Horned lizards on lands proposed for development, as the lizard is a central part of the tribe’s creation story.”

Tessera’s project, with a nameplate capacity of 709 megawatts, would put more than 28,000 Stirling-engine-based “SunCatcher” dishes on 6,360 acres of public land. The Suncatchers, also proposed for the Calico project near Ludlow in the Mojave Desert, are an untested technology involving dozens of moving parts that would be exposed to near-continuous abrasion and corrosion from the desert elements. At Tessera’s Arizona proving ground the company reportedly maintains two spare engines in readiness for each working Suncatcher, as the “mean time between failures” of the technology is embarrassingly low.

DPC visited the Solar Two site in April and reported on that visit here. In addition to the flat-tailed horned lizard, the site is also host to ancient creosote and smoke tree groves, as well as some of the largest big galleta grass meadows in the Colorado Desert.

The 3,500-member Quechan Tribe, many of whom live in the Yuma area, filed suit against the BLM in San Diego on Friday, October 29, seeking permanent injunctions barring any granting of a right-of-way to Tessera for the project, as well as preventing any amendment of the California Desert Conservation Act to allow the project.

You can download and read a copy of the full complaint here. An especially informative part of the complaint is excerpted below.

By Executive Order of January 9, 1884, President Arthur set aside approximately 45,000 acres of traditional land of the Quechan Tribe within the state of California as a Reservation for the Quechan Indian Tribe. Such land is located along the Colorado River adjacent to present-day Yuma, Arizona. As a result of changes in the channel of the Colorado River, a portion of the Fort Yuma Reservation now lies within the state of Arizona. The Reservation borders Baja California, Mexico to the south. There are approximately 3,500 members of the Quechan Tribe, many of whom live on the Fort Yuma Reservation or in the town of Winterhaven, California and the city of Yuma, Arizona, both of which are contiguous to the Reservation boundaries.

The Tribe is unique because it is still located within its adjudicated traditional territory. The Tribe was not moved or conquered by Spain, Mexico, early Yuma settlers, or the United States, although the Tribe’s original land base has been significantly diminished.  26. The Tribe’s traditional territory extends beyond the Reservation’s exterior boundaries, encompassing lands that are the subject of this action. The western traditional territory of the Tribe extended to the area surrounding California’s Cahuilla mountains.

Interior has acknowledged the traditional use of the IVS Project area by Quechan ancestors. See Draft EIS (re IVS Project), C.2-40 through C.2-45.

Protection of the Tribe’s cultural heritage is of significant importance to the Tribe. The Tribal Council established the Quechan Cultural Committee to promote, protect,  and preserve Quechan culture, language, religion, history, and ancient sites and artifacts and to advise the Tribe on matters relating to such things. The Committee includes tribal elders selected to protect Quechan history, identity, and spiritual practices. The Committee works closely with the Tribe’s Historic Preservation Officer and the Tribal Council to ensure protection and preservation of cultural resources of significance to the Tribe, whether located within or outside Reservation boundaries.

The Tribe’s cultural resources are historically and culturally interrelated and interconnected over many miles of desert land within the Tribe’s traditional territory, within and outside the exterior Reservation boundaries.

Cultural resources of significance to the Tribe are located on the lands that are the subject of this action and adjacent lands.

Destruction or damage to anyone cultural resource contributes to destruction of the Tribe’s culture, history, and religion. Injury to the Tribe’s cultural resources causes injury to the Tribe and its people.

The Tribe has repeatedly expressed its concern to Interior with regard to protection and preservation of the resources located within the IVS Project area. 

The Tribe, at the direction of the Tribal Council and support of the Cultural Committee, has participated in the administrative process relating to the IVS Project to identify the importance of the Project area and to advocate for preservation of the Project area in a manner consistent with FLPMA, the CDCA Plan, the NHPA, and other federal cultural resource protection laws, regulations, and policies.

The Tribe’s interest in this action is not limited to cultural resources. The Tribe and its members also have an interest in preserving the quality of the land, water, air, fauna,  and flora within the Tribe’s traditional territory, within and outside the Reservation.  Specifically, the Tribe is concerned with impacts to the habitat of Flat Tailed Horned Lizards on lands proposed for development, as the lizard is a central part of the Tribe’s creation story.