5/8/2009 Supervisors uphold permit for groundwater export project
INDEPENDENCE--The Inyo County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 this Wednesday to uphold a permit for Coso Operating Company to pump and export groundwater from Rose Valley on the east side of the Sierra Nevada, in spite of concerns that pumping the valley's entire estimated annual average recharge would cause environmental problems similar to those experienced in the Owens Valley from groundwater mining.

The Conditional Use Permit for the project would allow Coso Operating Company to pump approximately 4,800 acre feet of water per year (approximately 3,000 gallons per minute) from the Hay Ranch in Rose Valley and to export the water for use in cooling its geothermal facility approximately nine miles away. Although the Inyo County Water Commission voted against approval of the project in January, Coso Operating Company announced soon after that Inyo County's tax revenues might be severely impacted due to a decrease in production if the company did not receive permission to proceed with the groundwater export project. The Inyo County Planning Commission voted to approve the project during a meeting this March.

The decision was immediately appealed by local residents and by proponents of Little Lake Ranch, a nearby hunting club and wildlife refuge, in part, they argued, because authors of the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the pumping project defined up to a ten percent loss in water supply to Little Lake Ranch as insignificant, but did not thoroughly examine the effects that such a loss would have on the ranch's groundwater-fed lake, springs, and wetlands or on the wildlife that depends on that habitat. Those who argued against the project also pointed out, among other objections, that other more sustainable alternatives to cooling the facility with pumped water had not been examined adequately, that analyses of the effects of the project assumed normal or ideal water conditions but did not examine what might happen in an extended drought, and that, although the project would last only a maximum of thirty years, its effects on water tables were expected to last more than one hundred years.

The Board of Supervisors met Wednesday, May 6, 2009, to discuss the project, to allow public comment, and to make a final decision on whether or not to approve the permit for the project. The meeting began at 9 a.m. and ended at midnight with the Supervisors' 4-1 vote to uphold the permit.

Commenting on the Board's decision after the hearing, Gary Arnold, attorney for Little Lake Ranch, said that even if a monitoring and mitigation plan suggested by Inyo County is enforced, "Little Lake will still lose at least ten percent of its water inflows, which we believe will have a dramatic effect on the habitat and wildlife at Little Lake."

If you would like to learn more about this issue, the Owens Valley Committee has posted a list of links and documents regarding this project on the lower third of our reading room page at

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