Conservationists are not out of the woods (or watershed) yet, but they believe victory is near in a long battle to stop a dam and hydroelectric project proposed in Cleveland National Forest.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) last week dismissed the Lake Elsinore Advanced Pumped Storage Project (LEAPS), which would pump water from the lake to a new dam and dot powerlines across rural communities and roadless wildlands in the Santa Ana Mountains.
Applicants the Nevada Hydro Company and the Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District have 30 days to appeal the July 12 FERC decision, but conservation and environmental groups are hoping they'll just drop the project that has been beset with financial difficulties, regulatory pressure and advocate opposition for 15 years
"This dam project was an ecological and economic catastrophe waiting to happen," says Jonathan Evans of the Center for Biological Diversity in a statement from the nonprofit conservation organization. "Hopefully today's decision dismissing the application will be the final nail in its coffin."
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"We can't relax yet, but after 15 years of fighting we can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, signaling relief from the threat of this monstrosity," Gene Frick of the Sierra Club's Santa Ana Mountains Task Force says in the same statement.
The project would pump water from Lake Elsinore at night to a new dam on the crest of the Cleveland National Forest. The dam would then release the water during the day to power turbines to generate electricity. But opponents, who also included Inland Empire Waterkeeper, claim LEAPS would have wide-ranging impacts on wildlife, water quality, rural character and wildfire.
The State Water Resources Control Board earlier denied the LEAPS water-quality certificate, which led to a lawsuit still in San Diego Superior Court. A 2009 grand jury investigation found the project was "not economically viable."
It will now be up to applicants to decide whether they are just chasing good money after bad. The permitting process has reportedly cost Elsinore Valley's water district and its ratepayers more than $4 million so far.