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County upholds Coso Geo decision

July 25, 2011

County leaders upheld a decision by the County Planning Commission regarding Coso Operating Company’s plans to pump groundwater from its Hay Ranch property. The board and commission say the pumping plan will not significantly impact Little Lake (above). Photo by Darcy Ellis

County leaders decided Tuesday that the Coso Operating Company’s Hydrological Mitigation Monitoring Plan is adequate in addressing potential environmental impacts created by its pumping of water for use at its geothermal energy plant.
The Inyo County Board of Supervisors approved a Conditional Use Permit in 2009 to allow the Coso Operating Company to pump groundwater from two existing wells on its Hay Ranch in Rose Valley and transport it via pipeline to Coso’s geothermal plant at China Lake Naval Weapons Station.
The CUP included a condition that required Coso to develop a Hydrologic Mitigation Monitoring Plan that would provide a mechanism to monitor groundwater levels in the Rose Valley and regulate Coso’s pumping to ensure there are no significant impacts.
The CUP also required that information and observations from the first year of the project be incorporated into the groundwater model developed for the project and that the model be re-calibrated and used to revise the groundwater level triggers, pumping rate and duration of pumping set forth in the HMMP.
On April 1 of this year, the Inyo County Water Department issued an addendum to the HMMP describing the baseline groundwater levels and the changes to the groundwater level triggers, pumping rate and duration of pumping approved by the Water Department in light of the first year of data collection.
On April 12, Thomas Schneider, a member of Little Lake Ranch’s private hunting club, appealed on his own to the Planning Commission, asserting that the Water Department did not have adequate evidence to support its approval of the addendum. He said a new environmental document should be prepared to address what he calls additional impacts to Little Lake as a result of Coso’s pumping plan.
The Planning Commission held a public hearing June 1 to review Schneider’s allegations, and ultimately denied the appeal.
Schneider appealed the Planning Commission’s decision, taking his concerns to the Inyo County Board of Supervisors Tuesday.
The board unanimously supported the Planning Commission’s decision, with Second District Supervisor and Board Chair Susan Cash absent.
“We do believe there is a lack of evidence to support the Water Department’s approval of the addendum, we do believe there is a significant change to the original project and we do believe there is a lack of protection,” Schneider told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday.
Schneider said the HMMP amendment projects water loss at the Little Lake groundwater table at more than double the original projection.
“This is a severe change in the project that was approved,” Schneider said.
Inyo County Water Director Bob Harrington said a third party contractor studied the groundwater models, finding that the amended plan would not create the significant, 10 percent reduction in groundwater levels that was agreed upon in the original agreement.
Harrington explained that each well associated with the project has unique shut-off “triggers” established by the consultant that will ensure pumping stops before any significant impacts are recorded at Little Lake or Rose Valley.
Schneider argued that there is no interim well monitoring required in the agreement and, should the wells hit their triggers before the projected date, there will be no way of knowing.
“This is not the project you originally approved,” Schneider said.
Fourth District Supervisor Marty Fortney, the only board member to vote against the project in 2009, said he did not see enough evidence presented by Schneider to justify overturning the decisions made by the Water Department and Planning Commission. “I am confident the monitoring is working,” he said. “I can’t go along with this.”
“Today’s decision by the Inyo County Board of Supervisors is a testament to the continuing efforts of county staff to ensure our project continues to be operated in an environmentally responsible manner,” Coso Operating Company Site Manager Chris Ellis said. “In that regard, Coso Operating Company is very appreciative. We have a long track record as a producer of alternative energy and are equally committed to preserving our environment through the generation of renewable geothermal energy.”

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