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  1. Remote-sensing application for facilitating land resource assessment and monitoring for utility-scale solar energy development

    A monitoring plan that incorporates regional datasets and integrates cost-effective data collection methods is necessary to sustain the long-term environmental monitoring of utility-scale solar energy development in expansive, environmentally sensitive desert environments. Using very high spatial resolution (VHSR; 15 cm) multispectral imagery collected in November 2012 and January 2014, an image processing routine was developed to characterize ephemeral streams, vegetation, and land surface in the southwestern United States where increased utility-scale solar development is anticipated. In addition to knowledge about desert landscapes, the methodology integrates existing spectral indices and transformation (e.g., visible atmospherically resistant index and principal components); a newlymore » developed index, erosion resistance index (ERI); and digital terrain and surface models, all of which were derived from a common VHSR image. The methodology identified fine-scale ephemeral streams with greater detail than the National Hydrography Dataset and accurately estimated vegetation distribution and fractional cover of various surface types. The ERI classified surface types that have a range of erosive potentials. The remote-sensing methodology could ultimately reduce uncertainty and monitoring costs for all stakeholders by providing a cost-effective monitoring approach that accurately characterizes the land resources at potential development sites.« less
  2. Aquatic Nuisance Species in the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Basin—A Risk Assessment in Support of GLMRIS

    The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is conducting the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study (GLMRIS) to determine the aquatic nuisance species (ANS) currently established in either the Mississippi River Basin (MRB) or the Great Lakes Basin (GLB) that pose the greatest risk to the other basin. The GLRMIS study focuses specifically on ANS transfer through the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS), a multi-use waterway connecting the two basins. In support of GLMRIS, we conducted a qualitative risk assessment for 34 ANS in which we determined overall risk level for four time intervals over a 50-year period ofmore » analysis based on the probability of ANS establishing in a new basin and the environmental, economic, and sociopolitical consequences of their establishment. Probability of establishment and consequences of establishment were assigned qualitative ratings of high, medium, or low and establishment and consequence ratings were then combined into an overall risk rating. Over the 50-year period of analysis, seven species were characterized as posing a medium risk and two species as posing a high risk to the MRB. Three species were characterized as posing a medium risk to the GLB, but no high-risk species were identified for this basin. Based on the time frame in which these species were considered likely to establish in the new basin, risk increased over time for some ANS. Identifying and prioritizing ANS risk supported the development and evaluation of multiple control alternatives that could reduce the probability of interbasin ANS transfer. However, both species traits and the need to balance multiple uses of the CAWS make it difficult to design cost-efficient and socially acceptable controls to reduce the probability of ANS transfer between the two basins.« less
  3. Behavioral Responses Of Fish To A Current-Based Hydrokinetic Turbine Under Mutlipe Operational Conditions: Final Report

    There is significant interest in the interaction of aquatic organisms with current-based marine and hydrokinetic (MHK) technologies. Determining the potential impacts of MHK devices on fish behavior is critical to addressing the environmental concerns that could act as barriers to the permitting and deployment of MHK devices. To address these concerns, we use field monitoring and fish behavior models to characterize the behavioral responses of fish to MHK turbines and infer potential stimuli that may have elicited the observed behavioral changes.
  4. Erosion Resistance Index (ERI) to Assess Surface Stability in Desert Environments

    A new spectral index—erosion resistance index (ERI)—was developed to assess erosion risks in desert landscapes. The index was developed by applying trigonometry to the combination of the green/red band-ratio and the red/near infrared band-ratio from very high spatial resolution imagery. The resultant ERI maps showed spatially cohesive distributions of high and low index values across the study areas. High index values were observed over areas that were resistant to erosion (such as desert pavement and dense vegetation), while low index values overlapped with areas likely dominated by loose sandy soils, such as stream beds and access roads. Although further investigationmore » is warranted, this new index, ERI, shows promise for the assessment of erosion risks in desert regions.« less
  5. Understanding Emerging Impacts and Requirements Related to Utility-Scale Solar Development

    Utility-scale solar energy plays an important role in the nation’s strategy to address climate change threats through increased deployment of renewable energy technologies, and both the federal government and individual states have established specific goals for increased solar energy development. In order to achieve these goals, much attention is paid to making utility-scale solar energy cost-competitive with other conventional energy sources, while concurrently conducting solar development in an environmentally sound manner.
  6. Quantifying the sensitivity of ephemeral streams to land disturbance activities in arid ecosystems at the watershed scale

    Large areas of public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management and located in arid regions of the southwestern United States are being considered for the development of utility-scale solar energy facilities. Land-disturbing activities in these desert, alluvium-filled valleys have the potential to adversely affect the hydrologic and ecologic functions of ephemeral streams. Regulation and management of ephemeral streams typically falls under a spectrum of federal, state, and local programs, but scientifically based guidelines for protecting ephemeral streams with respect to land-development activities are largely nonexistent. This study developed an assessment approach for quantifying the sensitivity to land disturbancemore » of ephemeral stream reaches located in proposed solar energy zones (SEZs). The ephemeral stream assessment approach used publicly-available geospatial data on hydrology, topography, surficial geology, and soil characteristics, as well as highresolution aerial imagery. These datasets were used to inform a professional judgment-based score index of potential land disturbance impacts on selected critical functions of ephemeral streams, including flow and sediment conveyance, ecological habitat value, and groundwater recharge. The total sensitivity scores (sum of scores for the critical stream functions of flow and sediment conveyance, ecological habitats, and groundwater recharge) were used to identify highly sensitive stream reaches to inform decisions on developable areas in SEZs. Total sensitivity scores typically reflected the scores of the individual stream functions; some exceptions pertain to groundwater recharge and ecological habitats. The primary limitations of this assessment approach were the lack of high-resolution identification of ephemeral stream channels in the existing National Hydrography Dataset, and the lack of mechanistic processes describing potential impacts on ephemeral stream functions at the watershed scale.The primary strength of this assessment approach is that it allows watershed-scale planning for low-impact development in arid ecosystems; the qualitative scoring of potential impacts can also be adjusted to accommodate new geospatial data, and to allow for expert and stakeholder input into decisions regarding the identification and potential avoidance of highly sensitive stream reaches.« less
  7. Long-Term Monitoring of Utility-Scale Solar Energy Development and Application of Remote Sensing Technologies: Summary Report

    In anticipation of increased utility-scale solar energy development over the next 20 to 50 years, federal agencies and other organizations have identified a need to develop comprehensive long-term monitoring programs specific to solar energy development. Increasingly, stakeholders are requesting that federal agencies, such as the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management (BLM), develop rigorous and comprehensive long-term monitoring programs. Argonne National Laboratory (Argonne) is assisting the BLM in developing an effective long-term monitoring plan as required by the BLM Solar Energy Program to study the environmental effects of solar energy development. The monitoring data can be usedmore » to protect land resources from harmful development practices while at the same time reducing restrictions on utility-scale solar energy development that are determined to be unnecessary. The development of a long-term monitoring plan that incorporates regional datasets, prioritizes requirements in the context of landscape-scale conditions and trends, and integrates cost-effective data collection methods (such as remote sensing technologies) will translate into lower monitoring costs and increased certainty for solar developers regarding requirements for developing projects on public lands. This outcome will support U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Sunshot Program goals. For this reason, the DOE provided funding for the work presented in this report.« less

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