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Inyo County weighs rural residents' water needs against hunters' interests

The Planning Commission is expected to vote next week on whether to back a geothermal plant's request to pump water from an aquifer that also supplies a hunting club's scenic lake.

March 07, 2009|Louis Sahagun

The Inyo County Planning Commission is expected to vote Wednesday on whether to recommend approval of a permit that would allow a geothermal plant to pump water from an aquifer that is the lifeblood of a 50-year-old hunting club, Little Lake Ranch, and its wetlands along U.S. 395.

Coso Operating Co. said it needs an additional 4,800 acre-feet of water a year to keep operating what it calls environmentally friendly steam-driven turbines already providing about 250,000 homes in the region about 200 miles north of Los Angeles with electricity.

Attorneys for the club of mostly Southern California hunters have argued that the pumping would irreversibly damage their scenic lake, local wells and the surrounding environment within a few years. The Inyo County Water Commission agreed and recently recommended that the county reject the proposal.

However, in a letter delivered a week ago to the Planning Commission, Oxnard attorney Gary Arnold, who is representing the club in the matter, said Coso has warned that it may file for bankruptcy if its permit application is denied -- a move that could have serious consequences for rural Inyo County.

The plant generates about $12 million a year in tax revenues and royalties for the county, which has an annual budget of about $80 million.

In the middle of the debate is the Inyo County Board of Supervisors, which will take the Planning Commission's recommendation into consideration and then decide whether to grant Coso's application to build pipelines and pump water across nine miles of arid terrain from the aquifer to its power plant.

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louis.sahagun@latimes.com

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