After close to 8 hours of talk, the Inyo Planning Commission unanimously approved a conditional use permit for Coso Geothermal, which allows the company to pump 4800 acre feet of water per year out of Rose Valley. Although, the first year, the company will be allowed to pump 3,000 acre feet.
The issue raised questions about water science, renewable energy, environmental trade-offs and tax dollars. In a special meeting of the Inyo Planning Commission that started Wednesday morning and kept on until early evening, consultants talked for 3 hours about their environmental impact report on Coso’s pumping plan. They spelled out the risks of damage but said with monitoring and mitigation, the plan should work.
The board room was packed with standing room only and close to 100 people, many of whom waited to voice opinions. They had a long wait. There were those who felt Inyo should not have to sacrifice its environment for the profit margin of Coso Geothermal. Others saw the water for the company as a way to secure healthy property taxes for years to come. Coso currently pays Inyo $12 million per year in taxes.
Under Inyo County’s Groundwater ordinance, Coso had to apply for a conditional use permit to transfer water from one basin to another. They proposed pumping the underground of their property in Rose Valley south of Haiwee Reservoir and transporting it through a pipeline to the geothermal plant 9 miles further south. That is now what will happen. Coso will inject the water into the ground to produce steam for their power generating plant. If private well owners in Rose Valley have water problems, they will take it up with the Inyo Water Department. Coso has vowed to mitigate private losses of well water.
The Inyo Water Commission had recommended against Coso’s plan. Three commissioners pointed to the large amount of pumped water – 4800 acre feet, which is nearly the same amount as the water inflow into the basin every year.
Coso has agreed to monitor the basin and stop pumps if water levels dropped too far. This amounts to the first major test of the county’s groundwater ordinance and its ability to protect the environment.
Those close to the situation do expect the Little Lake Ranch to appeal Coso’s permit to the Board of Supervisors.