April 6, 2016
The Honorable Raul Ruiz, M.D.
United States House of Representatives
California’s 36th Congressional District
43875 Washington Street, Suite F
Palm Desert, CA 92211
Subject: Proposed Eagle Crest Pumped Storage Project
Dear Dr. Ruiz:
I am writing to you on behalf of over 1,100 members of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks (Coalition). The Coalition studies, educates, speaks, and acts for the preservation of America’s National Park System. Our membership is composed entirely of retired, former, or current salaried employees of the National Park Service (NPS) and includes former NPS directors, deputy directors, regional directors, superintendents, park rangers (law enforcement and interpretive), maintenance professionals, administrative professionals and an array of other career professionals. As a group, we collectively represent more than 30,000 years of national park management experience.
First, we thank you for your demonstrated commitment to the protection of Joshua Tree National Park (Park), a “crown jewel” of the California desert that attracted over 2 million visitors in 2015. We are writing to request your assistance in opposing the proposed Eagle Crest Pumped Storage Project, which constitutes a grave threat to the Park’s groundwater resources, bighorn sheep migration corridors, and the federally-protected desert tortoise.
As proposed, the Eagle Crest Pumped Storage Project would function, in essence, as a “storage battery” for renewable energy projects east of the park, filling two of the abandoned Kaiser Mine’s open pits with water to be pumped uphill during non-peak hours and downhill to create electricity during peak hours. However, the project would be a net energy loss, while potentially causing significant harm to the Park’s resources, and thus falls far short of any generally accepted definition of a true renewable energy project.
As you know, water is the foundation of all life in the desert. According to an October 27, 2015 editorial in The Desert Sun, “the [project] calls for 28,000 acre-feet of water – or about the same amount used by more than 40,000 homes in a year – to be drawn from the Chuckwalla Valley aquifer to supply the two-reservoir power generation system…Accounting for evaporation, officials say the project – which has a price tag of at least $1.5 billion – would need about 100,000 acre-feet of water over 50 years.” http://www.desertsun.com/story/opinion/editorials/2015/10/27/voice-eagle-mountain-ferc-ruling/74708160/
The fragile Chuckwalla Basin is hydraulically connected to aquifers underneath the Park, and this massive water withdrawal project will almost certainly result in adverse impacts to these important groundwater resources. Furthermore, the water-filled abandoned mine pits would artificially inflate the area’s population of ravens that prey on the federally-protected desert tortoise and would adversely impact the pristine desert tortoise habitat found in the Park. Finally, the construction and operation of the Eagle Crest Pumped Storage Project would constitute an impediment that would disrupt a significant bighorn sheep wildlife migration corridor between the Coxcomb and Eagle Mountains.
In 2015, the Department of Interior challenged the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) Environmental Impact Statement related to this project in a Request for Rehearing on the grounds that the data in the environmental documents were inaccurate and outdated. Despite this, the project has received a license to operate from FERC. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is currently evaluating a key project component: the transmission line corridor that would connect with power lines along the I-10 freeway. At the same time, the NPS has initiated a boundary adjustment study that examines the feasibility of returning the Eagle Mountain lands, which were once part of Joshua Tree National Monument but were removed in 1950 for mineral exploration, back to the Park due to their significant ecological, historical, and recreational resources and values.
In closing, the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks respectfully requests your active involvement in finding an alternative solution to this issue. Ideally, such a solution would avoid the development of the Eagle Crest Pumped Storage Project so close to Joshua Tree National Park and thus would better protect the park’s unique ecological, historical and recreational resources for the benefit and enjoyment of both current and future generations. We greatly appreciate your consideration of this request!
Maureen Finnerty, Chair
Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks