MCWD makes its case for Casa Diablo IV appeal to Air Pollution Control District Board
On Monday, Sept. 16 the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District (GBUAPCD) Governing Board met in Mammoth Lakes. On the agenda was a discussion of the Mammoth Community Water District’s appeal of the two Records of Decision made by the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service to approve the Final EIS/EIR for Ormat’s Casa Diablo IV project.
MCWD requested that the Board refrain from its recommendation of certification for the project’s environmental document until a monitoring plan could be put into place to study whether or not the new geothermal plant would affect Mammoth’s groundwater supply.
According to MCWD, it had voiced its concerns about the potential effect of pumping so much water from the geothermal aquifer beneath the coldwater aquifer during the comment period on the project’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Environmental Impact Report (EIR). MCWD currently extracts about 2,000 acre-feet of groundwater per year from the coldwater aquifer above the geothermal aquifer, which is enough to supply more than 70% of daily water use in Mammoth. MCWD is concerned that extracting geothermal water below the coldwater could have a detrimental effect on coldwater supply.
The Final EIR/EIS concluded, however, that there would be no impact to the shallow groundwater system. However, according to MCWD, geothermal well simulations included in the EIS/EIR did not include coldwater.
“They [Ormat] are assuming there is no impact but there is no science here,” said Mark Wildermuth of Wildermuth Environmental Inc., a specialized water resources consulting firm working for MCWD.
However, local resident Dave Harvey took a different stance. “I hear repeatedly that the water district doesn’t understand its geology,” he said. “Fear being put into this puts me off. The hot/cold connection can be argued on either side until you have empirical evidence. We need scientific evidence.”
Harvey commented that the wells that Ormat had already drilled in the Shady Rest Park area had not indicated any impact for the seven years they have been in place.
“Empirical evidence is exactly what we’re looking for,” argued MCWD District Engineer John Pedersen. “We haven’t received any production information [for the wells] in seven years. We were told it’s considered proprietary information.”
Even though MCWD and Ormat are currently talking to see if they can arrive at a solution, MCWD was concerned that if GBUAPCD gave its approval for certification of the EIR/EIS they would no longer have any traction in negotiations.
“If you let the cattle out of the barn, make sure you have the fences in place,” MCWD General Manager, Patrick Hayes said. “That’s what we’re trying to do.
“It’s fine across the highway,” he continued, referring to the geothermal plant currently in place, “but when they come into our backyard, it’s too close for comfort.”
Charlene Wardlow, representing Ormat, said that the environmental document should be recommended for certification.
“The Forest Service had 21 specialists [studying the project for the EIR/EIS], including hydrologists,” Wardlow said. “It’s unfortunate that MCWD doesn’t believe the experts, but the issues were resolved. Great Basin [GBUAPCD] asked for a monitoring plan in July and we are working on it”
In response to the well information, Wardlow added, “The information was sent to the District three weeks ago. Previously, MCWD wouldn’t sign a non-disclosure, which is why they were not given the information.”
She also added that the wells being used for seven years served as the “stress test” that Ormat was being asked to perform.
Three members of the seven-member GBUAPCD Board live in Mammoth Lakes and were not comfortable moving forward with a recommendation to certify the EIR/EIS.
“We need a mutual agreement of all parties involved with the monitoring plan,” said Board Chair, John Eastman. “Only then do I support the project.”
“If the water district is not satisfied then the project should not go forward,” added Board member Larry Johnston.
Other members of the Board admitted that they had different views because it was not their water supply.
“The environmental document is complete,” said Board member Matt Kingsley, who lives in Inyo County. “The water issue is separate. We should certify the EIR but still require a monitoring plan.”
Since MCWD and Ormat planned to meet on Sept. 25, Air Pollution Control Officer Ted Schade suggested that the GBUAPCD “await the successful completion of next week’s meeting” in an effort to determine if a monitoring plan relates to the EIR. Schade will make his determination on certification then.
(Sheet reporter Katie Vane contributed to this story.)