Mammoth Town Council supports MCWD over ORMAT plans

mltc4_16The 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.

MCWD Board member, Tom Cage

MCWD Board member, Tom Cage

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.


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19 Responses to Mammoth Town Council supports MCWD over ORMAT plans

  1. tom Cage April 23, 2014 at 12:01 am #

    tony, you have a lot of solid questions, please feel free to contact me with your additional questions and I will try to explain and if I can’t answer I will find someone who can. my number is 7609343399
    think about the possibility of a pressure change that could suck the water we use at 500 to 700 feet from heavy pumping below at 1600 feet. Ormat’s desire is to install wells in and around Shady rest which is much closer than their existing facility off 395.
    the MCWD pumps water from ground wells at most times of the year depending on the surface water flows and at different volumes. in a year like this there will be a great deal of water pumped from our wells and most likely pumped until next winter or until our surface run off improves.

  2. Tony Cumia April 19, 2014 at 10:30 pm #

    I know that. In the winter when the lakes are frozen is when they rely on groundwater.That still doesn’t answer the question. The town’s water is hundreds of feet higher in elevation. Water is constantly moving downward sub surface.Taking/using water down on hwy 395 wont affect supplies for the town. But It might piss off DWP. The whole area is a drainage.
    The expansion wont happen for at least a couple of years so the MCWD can pump all the ground water they need this year. And perhaps plan a little better for the future.
    Go out to the hot springs,the terminus of all the runoff of the Mammoth basin, nothing seems to be affected and hasn’t for the last 3 seasons regarding water levels. That is a lot of ground water drainage there. Like usual for TOML, and considering their history, I smell a rat.

    • Benett Kessler April 20, 2014 at 8:19 am #

      Contact MCWD to find out about the impacts. The District uses a percentage of groundwater every year. Officials say ORMAT’s 16 new pumps may very well deplete the groundwater used by the town. They see it as a very great risk to Mammoth.

  3. Tony Cumia April 19, 2014 at 6:55 pm #

    Can someone explain to me how upstream surface water [MCWD’s main supplier from the lakes ]from almost 1500 feet higher in elevation and 5 miles away would be affected….is gravity different in that part of the east side?As for ground water in the winter, same question.

    • Benett Kessler April 19, 2014 at 9:09 pm #

      It’s the groundwater that would be affected. This year, when snowpack is low, the town will rely heavily upon it’s groundwater pumps and does to some extent
      every year.
      Benett Kessler

  4. grover April 19, 2014 at 2:38 pm #

    There are two sub basins in Mammoth. Most of Town water comes from southerly basin, partly because the north has contaminants from the volcanics – uranium, arsenic, etc… Theoretically there shouldn’t be much influence from the drilling and extraction on the Mammoth supply, as the southerly basin has a different recharge source – lakes basin and Sherwins – BUT the interaction between the two basins, if any, is not well understood.
    If geothermal wells penetrate a deep aquifer that is confined, and confining layer is below base of MCWD wells, then “theoretically” influence should be minimal.

  5. grover April 18, 2014 at 2:40 pm #

    Coso and Mammoth operate off two different types of mechanical systems.Yes, the water supply to the Coso plant was depleted, hence the need for an alternative water source.Water is the carry mechanism for that heat. The Mammoth issue is a depletion of heat and not water that’s why they are going up-gradient closer to the southern end of the Mono-Inyo crater chain/ Hartley Springs fault zone. For their needs, heat has essentially been tapped out near the plant.

    • Ken Warner April 18, 2014 at 5:37 pm #

      Thanks for the reply. I had no idea that the heat source could be depleted. I imagine a large formation of really hot magma or rocks. We never hear about those kinds of issues. We should….

    • Desert Tortoise April 19, 2014 at 7:09 am #

      That is interesting. I had not heard that explanation before. However, how does this not take more water out of the aquifer and risk the water supply Mammoth Lakes relies on?

    • Chet April 24, 2014 at 6:08 am #

      Negatory, they are not looking to drill new wells due to thermal depletion; they are looking to drill new wells to expand and build an additional plant.

  6. Ken Warner April 18, 2014 at 11:16 am #

    Depletion of the groundwater is a serious issue. I’m surprised ORMAT has not addressed this obvious problem

    Geothermal generated electricity seems like a real win. The Earth is not going to cool — for all practical purposes — ever. And it’s a 24 hour a day — always on system. But using water to transfer the heat seems primitive. And discarding the water afterwards seems a great waste. I wonder if there is a different kind of heat transfer loop that uses another medium and is a closed loop system?

    Or is ORMAT locked into their current technology because they have invested so much time and money with the technology they use now?

    • Desert Tortoise April 19, 2014 at 7:13 am #

      There are gas transfer methods that need to be further developed. Instead using water heated to steam to turn a steam turbine which in turn operates a big AC alternator, you can use heated gas to turn the equivalent of the front end of a gas turbine (jet) engine, which in turn operates an AC alternator to generate your electricity. I think right now it is a matter of cost and the fact that the current method using water is well understood and the cost to build it is well known. There are no surprises. Gas transfer is still developmental and more costly at this point. Regardless I think it needs to be further developed.

      • Chet April 24, 2014 at 6:06 am #

        Wow, you guys are really behind the learning curve here. The Ormat, Mammoth plant has been using a binary ‘gas transfer’ plant since it was built. They do not flash the hot water into steam.

        • Ken Warner April 24, 2014 at 9:33 am #

          Chet: The ignorance comes from no way to learn the workings of the geothermal process.

          Education is one of the three pillars of this modern society. It is being neglected.

          Nobody wants to be ignorant, there is just no way to learn some things up here. I walked into the Ormat plant once. I wanted to ask some questions. They just showed me the door.

  7. Desert Tortoise April 18, 2014 at 7:34 am #

    The depletion of the aquifer under the Coso Geothermal Plant and their subsequent efforts to take water from Rose Valley or even the southern Owens Valley (Indian Wells Valley Water District owns a ranch in the valley with two wells but there is a conflict over whether the water district has appropriative rights to move that water off of their property and sell it to the Coso Geothermal Plant) is a cautionary example of how a geothermal project can deplete an aquifer that opponents of the expansion of ORMAT may wish to study in detail and cite as part of the grounds for their opposition.

    • Chet April 24, 2014 at 6:10 am #

      Coso flashes their hot water to steam and they lose some of that to atmosphere in the process. The Ormat plant keeps their hot water under pressure and pumps it back into the geothermal reservoir -no loss.

  8. tom cage April 18, 2014 at 7:27 am #

    at no time have I heard Ormat offering or considering a Geothermal Heating District for our town. Ormat would like to expand the Geothermal plant by pumping 29000 acre feet of hot water from wells located around Shady Rest Park. at no time have I heard Ormat offer anything to our community. we get no energy from the plant directly we get no discount on energy from the plant and to date we have received no hot water from the plant. please keep in mind that the plant has been in operation for 28 years.
    of course they would pay additional property taxes based on the value of improvements and that would benefit the school district and long valley fire and a very small amount to the town. however recently Ormat has appealed the county to re asses the value of the existing plant. the request for re assessment takes the value of the plant from its current 135m value to 46m. in simple terms if this is approved by the county it would take a 100 m investment to bring us back to even.
    there are lots of issues here and I encourage everyone to learn what the risks are to our water. if you have any questions I will attempt to answer or direct you to someone who can. my number is 9343399 thank you to all that have supported our efforts in protecting our water. tom cage

    • Desert Tortoise April 18, 2014 at 12:03 pm #

      Property taxes aside, the write down in the value of their property can give them a reason “excuse” to expense their “loss” over a period of years on their Federal taxes.

      • Chet April 24, 2014 at 6:03 am #

        They don’t offer you their water due to the fact that they are required to put it back in the ground.


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