Dixie Valley is located 45 miles northeast of Fallon. It is between the Stillwater and Clan Alpine Ranges. Only hot mineral springs and hundreds of acres of marshland provide relief to the dry high desert landscape.
Several ranches once stood in Dixie Meadows. It even had its own post office. Today, its skies serve as a training ground for jets from the Fallon Naval Station. It is a geothermal plant that extracts energy from beneath the ground. The marsh and springs are home to pronghorn antelope and bighorn sheep, as well as a tiny, one-of-a-kind toad. In fact, this is its only home on the planet. Some are concerned that it and the toad will soon be extinct.
Ormat Nevada operates a geothermal plant several miles north. It is currently constructing another near the spring.
According to Patrick Donnelly, the Center for Biological Diversity’s Great Basin Director, it is a direct threat to the spring and the Dixie Valley toad.
“Literature, academic literature, and scientific literature show that geothermal plants almost always result in the drying up of hot springs.”
The Center, joined by the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe claims Dixie Meadows as sacred land. It has filed a lawsuit to halt construction of the plant. They won emergency protection for the toad in June, and now, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has made it permanent and official. They declared the Dixie Valley Toad an endangered species, with all the protection that entails.
“This is certainly the most powerful tool we have in our tool kit to prevent the extinction of species. So, we’re going to use that tool to its fullest potential. If that means stopping the geothermal power plant from ever being operated, then that’s what we’re going to do,” Donnelly says.
Ormat has yet to respond, despite the fact that it has previously stated that it values the toad and has plans in place to protect it.
The conflict is dripping with irony. One noble environmental goal vs. another Donnelly acknowledges that the development of renewable energy is an important goal.
“We need to pick the right places to do geothermal energy. We have to be open to the fact that some places are just not suitable for industrial-scale energy production, and Dixie Meadows is one of them,” Donnelly says.