Former Air Pollution Control Officer takes victory lap.
As The Sheet reported last week, Mono County Judge Stan Eller came to a decision regarding Mammoth Community Water District’s (MCWD) lawsuit against Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District (Great Basin) over Great Basin’s certification of the Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) for Ormat’s Casa Diablo IV project.
The Casa Diablo IV project will have a net capacity of 33 megawatts, and will require the construction of up to 16 new geothermal wells (both production and injection) and conveyance pipelines near the existing geothermal facility off Route 395.
MCWD announced in August, 2014 that it would sue Great Basin over its approval of the Casa Diablo IV project, asserting that the project’s FEIR was inadequate and violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). At the time, the Water District contended that the FEIR came to the false conclusion that Casa Diablo IV would have no adverse impact on Mammoth’s groundwater, and that it failed “to disclose critical documents concerning the hydrological connection between Mammoth’s groundwater and the geothermal zones.”
MCWD’s concern was that the Casa Diablo IV project could introduce geothermal water to the coldwater zone from which the Water District takes its groundwater, thereby jeopardizing a water supply Mammoth relies on, particularly during drought years. MCWD believed the project needed a more thorough monitoring and mitigation plan in place to prevent any contamination.
However, Judge Stan Eller found no substantial evidence supporting any of MCWD’s six contentions regarding Great Basin’s FEIR certification.
His decision states that “a careful review … of the FEIR clearly demonstrates that there is substantial evidence for the Air District’s findings of no impact on MCWD’s groundwater aquifer. Despite MCWD’s contentions to the contrary, the administrative record demonstrates a thorough and exhaustive study by various experts based on complete data from the past decades to the present.”
Eller’s decision also states that while MCWD contended that reports and studies considered by Great Basin were compromised because Ormat paid for them, “this procedure is, of course, common in the development of environmental impact reports.”
Eller’s decision concludes that “The science-based conclusions within the FEIR, the experts’ opinions, the opinions of the consultants retained by the agencies, and the conclusions of the agencies themselves are consistent in establishing that there is no connectivity between the deep geothermal reservoir and MCWD’s groundwater aquifer.”
The decision also contends that “It is logical to assume that such a project would not be allowed to proceed if there was evidence of connectivity as this would greatly devalue if not terminate the project outright,” as cold water entering the geothermal zone would cool the geothermal brine, “thus eliminating or greatly reducing the energy-producing ability of the geothermal reservoir.”
While MCWD has not come out with a formal response to the lawsuit decision, other than MCWD Executive Director Pat Hayes expressing his disappointment at the July 1 Town Council meeting, former Great Basin Air Pollution Control Officer Ted Schade had plenty to say.
“I’m obviously very pleased,” he said of Judge Eller’s decision. “I told the Water District and the community of Mammoth when the lawsuit started that Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District doesn’t lose lawsuits. I was correct. I leave Great Basin with an unblemished record at winning lawsuits and administrative appeals. Pat Hayes didn’t stand a chance.”
Schade claimed he talked to the Water District multiple times and encouraged the District to drop the lawsuit.
“I thought the Water District would behave more reasonably, and I’m disappointed that they didn’t,” he said.
Schade also alluded to the expense of MCWD’s lawsuit as an unnecessary use of ratepayers’ money. He contended that MCWD not only retained a $125,000 public relations firm, Fiona-Hutton, during the lawsuit, but also spent perhaps hundreds of thousands of ratepayers’ money on the lawsuit itself. MCWD did not respond to a Freedom of Information Act request for the exact figure in time for Thursday’s deadline.
“Basically, the Water District and unions”—LiUNA and CURE, “greenmailers” that filed separate lawsuits against Great Basin—“got their asses kicked,” Schade concluded. “They did not prevail on a single issue. Pat Hayes said he was disappointed … well, the people of Mammoth should be disappointed the Water District wasted their money.”