Surfing in the California desert? Developer’s plan sparks outrage over water use, drought
An Australian developer is asking the Federal Court what he is entitled to on a 99-year lease for a sprawling, 3,000-hectare spread of the northern Mojave Desert.
The developer wants to build a wind-farm-like project on the site after the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) denied a development permit in 2011.
Since that time he has spent $US80 million to upgrade the land that sits outside the boundaries of the Las Vegas Valley, on federal lands that have been in public hands since 1864.
An aerial view of the proposed wind farm planned for the northern Mojave Desert.
In 2013, he told the court that the land at the heart of his project was already “dwarfed in productive value” by nearby development.
But he is fighting the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals that has just struck out his claims that he should be the beneficiary of the public’s water rights and grazing privileges for the land around his proposed project.
It follows the Supreme Court decision that has been handed down in June 2013 which, through a unanimous decision by the majority of Justices, has confirmed that states can set up their own water rights, including in the desert.
In his case, the plaintiff-developer David Thomas of New South Wales is claiming that his property is in the United States and, therefore, entitled to equal treatment with land in the United States that is not developed for agriculture, and therefore not subject to the public’s water rights and grazing privileges for the land.
But the Obama administration’s Department of the Interior and its Bureau of Land Management have been arguing that the land which is to become the site of the wind-farm is outside the boundaries of the Mojave Desert and that therefore it is not subject to the public’s water rights and grazing privileges.
Mr Thomas’ legal challenge to the BLM’s decision that the land be subject to the public’s water rights and grazing privileges has been running since a decade.
The plan for the wind farm is still in the beginning stages of construction although it has attracted attention.
In 2013, the company behind it, Australian wind farm developer Energen, put its wind farms on hold.
The project was going ahead but, at the time, the wind farm developer said the project was in “imminent risk of bankruptcy.”