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NASA seeks 23K acres in Nye County for research

NASA has proposed to withhold roughly 23,000 acres of land in Railroad Valley, Nevada. This is a dried up lake bed that is still home to many springs in the northeastern part of Nye County.

Originally proposed last year, Nye County commissioners responded to the proposal with a letter sent to the Nevada state director of the Bureau of Land Management Jon Raby, the state’s representatives, and the governor’s office.

In NASA’s proposal, it took a look at its socioeconomic impact in its proposed action that took into account the population, economy, employment, and environmental justice, and the region of influence for this resource is Nye County.

According to the proposal, in 2020, the county received $7.2 million in payments from net proceeds of minerals and royalties from less than 200 active operations. Taxes are coming from the production of minerals from all operating mines, oil and gas wells, and geothermal operations within the county.

The mining industry is a staple to Nye County’s economy, with some of the highest annual incomes in the county, with over $116,000 as an average salary, according to NASA’s proposal.

There have been many companies jumping at the opportunity to mine for lithium in Railroad Valley’s salt bed as they believe it has great potential to mine lithium from the lake bed.

‘A blessing in disguise’

This is an 11,000-year-old lake that dried up and what remains in the area are aquifers and springs. There are a few farms and ranches that rely only on the remaining water.

Jeanne Howerton is a Nevada author who has lived on Blue Eagle Ranch, which is a few miles north of the Railroad Valley salt bed, for roughly 75 years.

When she first heard of NASA’s proposal, she was opposed to the withdrawal of the land. As far back as she could remember, the area has been used for military testing and a few unsuccessful mining projects. With all the government testing in the area, Howerton didn’t want NASA to take the land.

But after the new proposal from NASA, she saw that the salt bed would be used for lithium mining, which is a water-intensive process. The pull of lithium would result only in draining the springs and aquifers in the area.

“This could be a blessing in disguise,” Howerton said. “These ranchers will have their water levels dried up.”

When there were mining operations in the area, they pumped water all day from a spring nearby the ranch and she remembered that the well she had went down by a foot.

In the proposal, NASA has indicated that they are only using the land for satellite calibration research, which has been going on since 1993. Howerton had no idea they were even there all those years and how little of an impact it’s had on the land.

And NASA would continue to not dig up the lake bed. They actually need it to have as little changes as possible, meaning NASA isn’t blocking off the area to mine the lithium for itself.

Those living in the area would be able to continue to go about their lives and turn the land into a desert.

This reminded her of the controversial mining that happened at Pascua Lama, in Chile where “they are turning their areas into deserts from overpumping and pulling water at a huge rate.”

Contact Jimmy Romo at jromo@reviewjournal.com. Follow @jimi_writes on Twitter.

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