The powers-that-be in Washington reportedly want the project done. The Forest Service and BLM signed off on ORMAT geothermal’s environmental document in a record 7 days. In the face of an apparent fast track, plans for geothermal expansion and up to 16 new groundwater wells have caused grave concerns about impacts on Mammoth’s town water supply. The Town Council voted this week to sign a letter of support for Mammoth Community Water District over this troubling issue. The letter will go to legislators and agencies.
The Water District appealed the federal environmental approvals of ORMAT’s expansion plans. The Forest Service denied the appeal and BLM is considering it. The Air Pollution Control District has not approved ORMAT’s EIR and has held out for a monitoring and mitigation plan. Water District Board member Tom Cage said while renewable energy like geothermal is a good thing, not at the expense of Mammoth’s underground water supply.
Cage said that ORMAT has had two new wells pumping since 2006 and there are measurable impacts. With 14 to 16 more new wells in the expansion plan, concerns are high. Cage emphasized that the District just wants a monitoring and mitigation plan to assure safe reliability of the water supply for years to come. He said without proper protection, the District will “fight this to the bitter end. We’re not going to be intimidated or bullied.” He called ORMAT less than a good neighbor and said they’re appealing their property tax assessments.
Cage also said ORMAT wants to take ten times the amount of water Mammoth uses in a year. He said the community’s water is in between ORMAT’s pumps and the surface. Water District Manager Patrick Hayes said ORMAT’s plans could pollute Mammoth’s water and puts the groundwater at risk. He said neither the Forest Service or BLM required monitoring or mitigation.
ORMAT’s wells and pipes would go around Shady Rest Park. Councilman Matthew Lehman said Mammoth had almost no say over the project that will mean a “pipe running through a recreation area.” John Wentworth of Mammoth Lakes Trails said while green energy needs to succeed, there is no mitigation for ORMAT’s recreational impacts. He said the company would send someone to a meeting of MLTPA April 24th. Wentworth said in Mammoth the door to being a good neighbor has never been closed.
Planning Commissioner Mickey Brown suggested calling ORMAT names, such as bully and plunderer, should be eliminated. Manager Hayes stood up for the seriousness of the issue. He said a BLM manager told him that from Washington “his bosses said they want the ORMAT project to go.” Hayes said, “Thankfully APCD Director Ted Schade is holding out for monitoring and mitigation.”
Planning Commissioner Dave Harvey said fear is being spread in town over this project and that he would like to see “people in the sand box play nice.” He faulted those who have denounced ORMAT for being a foreign company. “They have management in Reno,” he said. Harvey said the Water District should “raise the bar.” He supported work toward a geothermal heating district in town.
The Town Council stood firmly behind the Water District and its concerns. John Eastman said there are no solid answers about the dangers to Mammoth’s water. Said Eastman, “I’m not willing to risk the town water supply. Our local supply of drinking water is the single most important asset we have. I’m not willing to jeopardize it.” The Council voted unanimously to sign a letter of support.