Power Plant Drains the Colorado

Residents of Mesa Verde, a small town 60 miles north of Mexico, recently won official recognition of their protest against the second power plant in their community.
Mesa Verde residents have been living with poor water quality for decades on an aquifer that recently began supporting a 520-megawatt gas-powered plant, Blythe I [See Terrain, Fall 2002]. Blythe II, to be constructed next to Blythe I, would increase the water needed to cool the plants’ turbines to over 5,000 gallons per minute, pumped from the aquifer.
It’s not just Mesa Verde residents who would feel the suck. The California Energy Commission (CEC) and other agencies say the aquifer under Mesa Verde is part of the Colorado River recharge system. According to a recent CEC staff report, further demands on that system would have a “significant adverse effect on the waters of the Colorado.”
But Bob Looper of Caithness Blythe, which is proposing Blythe II, calls the data inconclusive and says California does not clearly regulate groundwater. Should the state choose to do so, Looper says, a “voluntary water conservation offset plan” would include fallowing local agricultural ground to offset the plant’s water use. Most of the town’s 2,300 residents depend on jobs in neighboring citrus orchards.
The distinction between ground and surface water is academic: “It’s a desert area with three inches of rainfall a year,” says Jeff Addiego of the Bureau of Reclamation, “and you withdraw one million acre feet and say it’s not the Colorado River? Give me a break.” Take from the Colorado River is regulated federally, which catapults both Blythe projects deep into California water politics. The draw from the Blythe projects, says Addiego, “would impact the amount of water that could be pumped by MWD [the water district that feeds LA]. MWD has the junior water right on the system; they get water after everyone else gets theirs.”
The CEC had planned to publish its first assessment of the application for Blythe II late this summer. This process is “considerably behind schedule,” due to water concerns and other issues.
Meanwhile, a lawsuit filed on behalf of community members alleging that the environmental analysis under which Blythe I was approved was flawed, may finally be heard in Riverside Superior Court. The suit was originally thrown out on a technicality in May 2001.
Contact Roberta Mendonca at the CEC: <a href=mailto:pao@energy.state.ca.us>pao@energy.state.ca.us</a>

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