NPCA calls for help vs. Rep. Cook's move to support Eagle Crest Pumped Storage project
The National Parks Conservation Association's Director of California Desert and Wildlife Programs, David Lamfrom, has alerted Mojave Watch to a new move by Congressman Paul Cook that continues a major threat to Joshua Tree National Park.
"We just learned that Congressman Cook has introduced legislation to extend the construction period for the harmful Eagle Crest Pumped Storage project," Lamfrom said. "This would harm Joshua Tree National Park and is in direct opposition to the plan to expand the park by 20,000 acres."
Eagle Crest has had decades to try to make the business case for their project and is still without a power purchase agreement," Lamfrom continued. "Significant conflict exists related to this project, from local communities and from environmental groups due to the impact the project would have on Joshua Tree National Park and its water resources, wildlife, and cultural history including prehistoric sites."
Eagle Crest’s permit to begin construction expires on June 19, 2018," Lamfrom explained. "Despite having years to get their project off the ground, the termination of this permit would not foreclose Eagle Crest’s opportunities. It would however, provide a new opportunity for review that would include updated hydrology and market analysis about the need for the project. This information is critical to allowing the public and agencies to understand whether the project is needed, and what its full impacts would be."
Congressman Cook is moving the goalposts on this project since the company hasn’t been able to meet their deadlines," Lamfrom concluded. "He has introduced legislation to extend the project timeline, an advantage for one corporation."
This comes during a time of great concern about desert aquifers and water use, and the Eagle Crest hydroelectric project would operate by pumping water from the lower mine pit to the higher pit (reservoir) during the time of day when electrical power is plentiful, then the water would be released from the upper pit to flow through turbines in a tunnel, down to the bottom pit, generating power at times of peak demand.
But the Eagle Crest project would rely exclusively on groundwater from the nearby Chuckwalla Valley, with estimates placed at 100,000 acre-feet over the project's anticipated 40 year lifespan. This raises concerns for National Park Service officials in nearby Joshua Tree National Park. A 2012 research paper concluded groundwater recharge in the area may already be in overdraft, and levels of recharge may be far lower than originally thought.
Other concerns include the establishment of two artificial lakes on the border of the park, creating a new wetlands ecology in the midst of the desert. This could provide habitat for species like ravens and other predators, which could then prey on threatened baby desert tortoises and other wildlife in the area.
This adds one more threat to a park already coping with overtourism and increasing levels of development on its borders, endangering its ecological integrity by cutting the park off from wildlife corridors necessary to connect it with neighboring wildlands.
Eagle Mountain was previously the scene of a decades-long battle to prevent construction of the world's largest garbage dump on the borders of Joshua Tree National Park. That fight, led by Donna and Larry Charpied, organic jojoba farmers from nearby Desert Center, went all the way to the Supreme Court. But as soon as the dump project was stopped, the hydroelectric project appeared to take its place.
The Eagle Crest project, which is not in Cook's district, comes at a time when renewable power projects are taken off-line when the grid reaches capacity, and California is paying Arizona to accept excess power during times when the grid is at capacity.
Meanwhile, Lamfrom is calling for the public's help in halting Rep. Cook's effort to extend the time for Eagle Crest to begin construction on the project through HR 5817.
"We need our representatives to be aware of the strong opposition to this project. Please stand up for Joshua Tree National Park by contacting the following offices to express your opposition to HR 5817. Calls are best, but emails are also helpful. For organizations or businesses that want to sign on to a letter, Chris Clarke (firstname.lastname@example.org) will be organizing that immediately, please let either of us know!
Senator Feinstein: (202) 224-3841
Senator Harris: (202) 224-3553
Congressman Cook: (202) 225-5861
Congressman Ruiz: (202) 225-5330