Hi-Desert Water District Seeks Comments on its Mitigated Negative Declaration

As part of its Sewer Collection System Project for Yucca Valley, the Hi-Desert Water District must file a Mitigated Negative Declaration describing what environmental disturbance will occur in Phases II and III of the project and how the consequences will be mitigated. Here is the Water District's Draft MND webpage that includes an overview of the process and all the relevant documents. Comments must be submitted by May 31, 2020.
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MBCA Signs on for Environmental Justice in Lucerne Valley

The latest solar energy project proposed for Lucerne Valley has generated a groundswell of concern and opposition. In a letter to the California State Lands Commission signed by MBCA and 16 other groups and more than 50 individuals, the case is built against Aurora Solar LLC, a 3600-acre utility scale development. According to the Lands Commission's own Environmental Justice Policy, the effects on this disadvantaged community with a significant population of older and health-compromised individuals would violate the agency's policy. The letter supports California's renewable energy goals, but provides detailed analysis and maps that illustrate why permitting the Aurora Solar project in Lucerne Valley would be damaging to the community.
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EBlast April 20, 2020

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Earth Day

50th Anniversary Commemorative book distribution

Desert Wise Living Landscape Tour 2020 postponed

MBCA and social media initiative

Ruth Denison Environmental Scholarship: 2020 recipient

OHV enforcement in the Basin: the Sheriff’s report

Protecting our dark night sky

Advancing protection for Joshua trees

Mountain lions to be considered for protection

Eagle Crest pumped storage update

Morongo Basin health care capability vs COVID-19

It’s Earth Day!
This is an Earth Day like no other. Not with the usual community gatherings and festivity, but at home giving us the opportunity to contemplate things like the condition of our planet Earth. This is time to think about our responsibility, impacts, and better ways moving forward to heal and regenerate.  What better way to commemorate Earth Day?!

While humans around the world are suffering, Mother Earth will be benefit from social distancing as we stick close to home, limit travel, and in the process significantly reduce pre-COVID-19 levels of our carbon footprint – if there is one, it’s a silver lining to this pandemic. I suggest an Earth Day resolution for 2020: work to keep that footprint closer to present levels as possible when we return to “normal.”

MBCA Directors have maintained the monthly Board meetings by conducting virtual gatherings since March. While it takes some getting used to, we’re pleased to know this reduces MBCA’s organizational carbon footprint. Considering the miles we put on our vehicles driving in from the ends of the Basin – Morongo Valley to 29 Palms and all the way to Lucerne Valley for new Director Brian Hammer –  we’re really saving on fossil fuel by virtual participation. As great as it is to see one another, carbon-saving by more frequent virtual meetings is a factor that we will consider when we “get to the other side” of this pandemic.

Our Board agenda remains full with issues focusing on the pending San Bernardino Countywide Plan, increasing air quality monitoring, renewable energy and other development projects impacting the environment including Cadiz, Eagle Mountain and others. Rest assured that we are not asleep at the wheel!

50th Anniversary Commemorative book
Copies of MBCA’s 50th Anniversary Commemorative book Celebrating the Past: Envisioning the Future were distributed to everyone attending MBCA’s Annual Meeting in January. We have also mailed copies to individuals who maintain an active MBCA membership, and are in the process of tracking down mailing addresses to get copies to those of you who have been active volunteers and otherwise contributed to MBCA’s mission.

Creating the content and design of this Commemorative book was a labor of love many were involved in. The valuable contributions of the MBCA organization, stories of individual Morongo Basin activists, and chronicles of the many campaigns are impressively documented. As MBCA often works behind the scenes, this book successfully demonstrates the breadth of effort and commitment to the MBCA mission over the past 50 years. Thanks to those who worked to produce this valuable record of achievement! We hope our members and supporters learn from it and find it as rewarding as we did in its creation. If you have not received the book and are not yet a MBCA member, we invite you to sign up for a membership and a copy will be on its way to you! You can join via MBCA’s membership page.

Desert Wise Living Landscape Tour 2020 postponed
Our signature event of the year since 2011 - the Desert-Wise Living Landscape Tour - was all but “ready to roll” when the need for COVID social distancing was realized. After months of careful planning, recruiting sites and hosts, and designing the brochure (luckily it didn’t go to the printer!), we realized the need to cancel the popular event. Hopefully most of the effort can be recouped at a later date. Thanks to the DWL Tour planning committee members and those who volunteered to host visitors at your site. We’ll call on you again when we can conduct it safely.

MBCA and social media initiative
We continue to advance MBCA’s educational outreach and communications. While mbconservation.org remains the cornerstone of that effort, we have recently widened our reach to include social media platforms Facebook and Instagram. We are assisted in this with the talents of two Basin residents, Stacy Doolittle and Aimee Buyea. Please visit these sites for updates on MBCA activities and perhaps a bit of inspiration! Having a social media presence is intended to spread the word of our good work to a new audience and add to the number of members and supporters. We are excited to consider new ways to work in this new arena.

Ruth Denison Environmental Conservation Scholarship
We are delighted to announce the 2020-2021 recipient of MBCA’s Ruth Denison scholarship award, Anwyn “Annie” Hilderbrand, of Yucca Valley High School. After a record including Principals Honor Roll for four years and a stellar record of leadership at her high school and in the community, Annie plans to begin her studies at Copper Mountain College with a major in Environmental studies. After receiving a degree in Environmental Science, she plans to return to the Morongo Basin in a career to educate youth about the importance of being stewards of the environment. Congratulations Annie! We wish you great success and look forward to your contributions.

To learn more about Ruth Denison, whom we honor with this scholarship, and to see the previous years’ recipients, click to MBCA’s Ruth Denison Scholarship History page.

Supporting Basin Youth
MBCA has a history of providing financial support to Yucca Valley High School’s Ecology class. We recently made a contribution to instructor Cindy Zacks for the purchase of tents for her students’ camping field trips.

OHV enforcement in the Basin
We applaud the Basin Sheriff Department’s continued commitment to strengthen their off-highway-vehicle enforcement team. The recently appointed Morongo Basin Sheriff, Lucas Niles, reported that the OHV team made 300 contacts in the first weekend of April. Resources, staffing levels and the amount of work overall that goes into the program has increased “a lot over the last few years” with the receipt of grant money from the state of California. He expects the team to increase efforts soon to patrol illegal OHV hotspots. Niles encourages the public to continue working with the department to make reports: call (760) 366-4175 or email morongo@sbcsd.org. For more on recent OHV news, see our latest News Update on this topic.

Protecting our dark night sky
MBCA Board members on the Third District Dark Sky Committee have been working with the County of San Bernardino Land Use Services to craft an ordinance that will regulate exterior lighting and offer protection to our precious dark night sky. The draft of the ordinance requires that all exterior light sources be fully shielded to prohibit light trespass onto neighboring properties. Fully shielded light fixtures serve to minimize glare and to improve health and safety while conserving our dark night sky. We will keep you apprised of the status of this important measure.

Advancing protection for Joshua Trees
On April 13, 2020, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) recommended that the iconic Joshua tree move toward protection under the State of California’s Endangered Species Act. Joshua trees have been under threat from climate change, urban sprawl and other development within their range. Here is the Fish and Wildlife Staff summary of this issue. For more information, read MBCA’s recent News Update, which contains links to several media stories. MBCA will continue to follow this issue.

Mountain lions to be considered for protection
Another important decision by CDFW in their remote meeting of April 16, 2020 was the unanimous vote that listing of an evolutionarily significant unit of mountain lions may be warranted. This commences a one-year status review by the CDFW. MBCA sent a letter of support for this designation and we are very pleased to see this action by the Commission.

Eagle Crest pumped storage update
The proposal to utilize the now closed Eagle Mountain mine excavations as a site for a pumped storage electrical generating project is on hold after the California State legislature defeated SB-772 in 2019. This ill-conceived project would pump and poison 20,000 acre feet (!!!) of water from the desert aquifer to fill the pits of the former mine and subsequently utilize 1,500 acre feet/year during operation. MBCA is monitoring a proposed bill, AB-2255 (Susan Eggman, 13th district San Joaquin Valley) that will be used as a vehicle to enable this project. For more background, go to the links in MBCA’s March update on the Eagle Crest project.

Morongo Basin health care capability vs COVID-19
On March 23, 2020 MBCA signed onto an email to various elected officials, healthcare providers, school officials and others expressing concerns for the capacity of our healthcare system in the Morongo Basin to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. The Hi-Desert Medical Center, The Morongo Basin Healthcare District, and Third District San Bernardino County Supervisors have issued public statements regarding the Pandemic. As of this writing, we are pleased to see that the curve appears to be flattening!

We hope this e-blast finds you well and safe!

Sincerely,

Steve Bardwell

Your MBCA Board:

Steve Bardwell, President

David Fick, Vice President

Laraine Turk, Secretary

Marina West, Treasurer  

Pat Flanagan, Director

Meg Foley, Director

Brian Hammer, Director

Janet Johnston, Director

Sarah Kennington, Director

Mike Lipsitz, Director

Arch McCulloch, Director

Ruth Rieman, Director

 

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Morongo Basin and JTNP OHV News

Two news stories about OHV patrolling related to the Morongo Basin appeared recently. The Hi Desert Star reported that Lucas Niles, recently promoted to Captain of the Morongo Basin Station of the San Bernardino County Sheriff's office, "plans to continue to strengthen the department's off-highway-vehicle enforcement team." Through grant funding they have added a vehicle focused on patrolling illegal OHV hotspots and have increased staffing levels.

The Desert Sun reported that Joshua Tree National Park has applied for $120,000 in grant funding from a new program of the California State Parks focused on OHV issues on public lands. For more details on this new state program, including a link for providing public feedback, see this Desert Sun article, which also elaborates on the King of the Hammers event and Riverside County OHV issues. (For an easier read of the lengthy online article, here is a text-only version.)
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Joshua Trees May Be Designated Threatened in California

Holey_Joshua_Tree.jpegLast fall the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned California to list the western Joshua tree as a threatened species under California's Endangered Species Act. On April 13 the state's Department of Fish and Wildlife agreed. The Department's Commissioners are scheduled to vote on the recommendation in June. You can find thorough coverage of the story on local radio KCDZ, on the Mojave Watch blog, and in the Desert Sun and Los Angeles Times online newspapers.
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MBCA Supports Stronger Mountain Lion Protection

MBCA has sent a letter to the California Fish and Game Commission recommending a review of the status of mountain lion populations in the Southern California and Central Coast mountain areas. There are genetic connections between those beleaguered populations and lions known to be in Joshua Tree National Park. Such a review should lead to listing those mountain lions as "threatened" under the California Endangered Species Act.
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MBCA comments on proposed changes to NEPA

The National Environmental Policy Act has been a critical tool in defending the health and welfare of our Mojave Desert and its residents. The current Administration has proposed changes to NEPA regulations that decimate these protections. MBCA has submitted a comment letter against these changes that references local experiences with NEPA and its relationship to our mission to "advocate for the healthy desert." In addition, MBCA has signed on to a letter representing 328 organizations and tribal nations that comprehensively defines the value of NEPA and reasons for rejection of the proposed changes.
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Pumped Storage at Eagle Mountain and Related Issues

A comprehensive article about the Eagle Mountain pumped storage project and similar projects in other areas of the country was published by the Los Angeles Times. MBCA has had continuing concerns about the use of the old Eagle Mountain mine for many years, especially as it relates to the environmental health of Joshua Tree National Park (which is noted in the article). To review past MBCA News Updates related to Eagle Mountain, go to MBCA's Search page and type in "Eagle" or "Eagle Mountain" and you'll find several dozen links to past relevant MBCA News and EBlasts. 
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Annual Meeting Video Now Available

A full video recording of MBCA's 2020 Annual Meeting focused on Sustainable Tourism is now available on YouTube. Below you will find a time stamp list for the major sections of the meeting. (Video by Bob Stephenson, Pro Video, Yucca Valley)

0:00:00    Opening

0:01:15    Blessing by Sean Milanovich, Vice President, Native American Land Conservancy (Cahuilla [Agua Caliente Band])

0:08:10    Opening remarks by MBCA President Steve Bardwell

0:27:25    Sustainable Tourism remarks by Joshua Tree National Park Superintendent David Smith

0:45:35    Sustainable Tourism remarks by Associate Director California Deserts for the National Parks Conservation Association Chris Clarke

0:57:35    Audience questions moderated by MBCA Secretary Laraine Turk

1:01:00    Presentation on efforts to designate Highway 247/Old Woman Springs Road as a State Scenic Highway by Sarah Kennington, MBCA Board member

1:52:10    Launch of MBCA's commemorative 50th anniversary book, Celebrating the Past: Envisioning the Future and acknowledgements

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MBCA Comments on Crimson Solar, Riverside County

MBCA has added its voice of opposition to the Crimson Solar project in Riverside County. A detailed analysis of and comment on the Draft Environmental Impact Report by our colleagues at Basin and Range Watch and Western Watersheds Project resulted in this conclusion:

"The BLM should select the No Action Alternative for the Crimson Solar Project. The project is not complete in planning. The BLM has not chosen or decided on adequate mitigation yet. The project's storage plan is full of flaws. California is overgenerating large-scale solar energy. It is not worth the risk to special status species, and to degrade so many resources on lands considered so sacred to Native Americans - especially when the project technology is so speculative."

Read the entire comment letter for all the details. 
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