Environmental Management

, Volume 55, Issue 1, pp 244–256 | Cite as

Solar Energy Development and Aquatic Ecosystems in the Southwestern United States: Potential Impacts, Mitigation, and Research Needs

  • Mark GrippoEmail author
  • John W. Hayse
  • Ben L. O’Connor


The cumulative impacts of utility-scale solar energy facilities on aquatic ecosystems in the Southwestern United States are of concern, considering the many existing regional anthropogenic stressors. We review the potential impacts of solar energy development on aquatic habitat and biota. The greatest potential for impacts is related to the loss, fragmentation, or prolonged drying of ephemeral water bodies and drainage networks resulting from the loss of desert washes within the construction footprint of the facility. Groundwater-dependent aquatic habitat may also be affected by operational groundwater withdrawal in the case of water-intensive solar technologies. Solar panels have also been found to attract aquatic insects and waterbirds, potentially resulting in mortality. Avoiding construction activity near perennial and intermittent surface waters is the primary means of reducing impacts on aquatic habitats, followed by measures to minimize erosion, sedimentation, and contaminant inputs into waterways. Currently, significant data gaps make solar facility impact assessment and mitigation more difficult. Examples include the need for more regional and site-specific studies of surface–groundwater connectivity, more detailed maps of regional stream networks and riparian vegetation corridors, as well as surveys of the aquatic communities inhabiting ephemeral streams. In addition, because they often lack regulatory protection, there is also a need to develop valuation criteria for ephemeral waters based on their ecological and hydrologic function within the landscape. By addressing these research needs, we can achieve the goal of greater reliance on solar energy, while at the same time minimizing impacts on desert ecosystems.


Solar energy Aquatic ecology Renewable energy Environmental impacts Water use Watershed management 



Argonne National Laboratory’s Work was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) under contract DE-AC02-06CH11357, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI), under interagency agreement, through U.S. Department of Energy contract DE-AC02-06CH11357.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mark Grippo
    • 1
    Email author
  • John W. Hayse
    • 2
  • Ben L. O’Connor
    • 3
  1. 1.Environmental Science DivisionArgonne National LaboratoryArgonneUSA
  2. 2.Environmental Science DivisionArgonne National LaboratoryArgonneUSA
  3. 3.Department of Civil and Materials EngineeringUniversity of Illinois-ChicagoChicagoUSA

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