Reseeding photo

Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) has repeatedly stated to stakeholders that they will make the land “as good or better” than it was before pipeline construction, but it is hard to imagine, even with intensive restoration work, how that can be accomplished.

Desert soils are very sensitive to disturbance. Desert vegetation is fragile and extremely slow to recover. Experts who have studied desert ecology know that even with intensive restoration attempts, it may take 30-50 years or longer for the land to recover – long past the useful lifespan of the pipeline.

Ecologist David Bainbridge, who has studied desert ecosystems says, “Trenching associated with underground… pipelines destabilize soil crusts and rock surfaces, concentrating water runoff and erosion.” In a paper published in Environmental Management, David Bainbridge and Jeffrey E. Lovich wrote: “Recovery to predisturbance plant cover and biomass may take 50-300 years, while complete ecosystem recovery may require over 3000 years. Restorative intervention can be used to enhance the success and rate of recovery, but the costs are high and the probability for long-term success is low to moderate. Given the sensitivity of desert habitats to disturbance and the slow rate of natural recovery, the best management option is to limit the extent and intensity of impacts as much as possible.” [1]

At the last ETP townhall meeting in Alpine, Larry Gremminger stated there were no plans to irrigate after reseeding. According to Gremminger, the pipeline easement will be reseeded in conjunction with monsoon season. In the intervening time (from completion of construction to the onset of monsoon season), the implication was that the land would lay fallow. The monsoon season in the Chihuahuan Desert is highly variable in onset and intensity.

Note that the regional seasonal monsoon season is generally late June through late September. Note in the photograph that this section of the easement has been reseeded in early March – there will be little, and insufficient rainfall between March and the onset of the seasonal monsoon for any germination of native grass seed to occur – instead it will be lost to wind erosion.

Reseeding and other restoration efforts could take years. In the meantime, the land would be subject to erosion, invasive species, desertification, and other undesirable effects. “The important lesson from the many studies of desert recovery and restoration is to avoid damage rather than fix it. Natural recovery may take hundreds or thousands of years and even with intensive restoration work, recovery can take many years.” -David Bainbridge [2]

“Anthropogenic Degradation of the Southern California Desert Ecosystem and Prospects for Natural Recovery and
Restoration,” Environmental Management Vol.24, No.3, pp.309-326. “While our focus is specifically directed to
the problems of desert lands in California (most of our experience is in the Colorad Desert), we believe our review
will prove useful for desert management in other parts of the Southwest, northern Mexico, and in other drylands
around the world.”

[2] “New Study Underscored Fragility of Southern
California Deserts,” USGS News Release, October 22, 1999.

Photograph Courtesy of Chris Sweeny, Sunny Glen