LEAPS Takes Center Stage at LE Council Meeting, Information Shared not Accurate

Kim Harris photo

Lake Elsinore Deputy City Attorney David Mann gives a presentation about how pumped storage works and how the LEAPS project would affect the city during the April 9 Lake Elsinore City Council Meeting.

In front of a packed house, Lake Elsinore City Council went on record as opposing Nevada Hydro’s proposed Lake Elsinore Advanced Pump Storage project, or LEAPS, during its Tuesday, April 9, meeting in a unanimous vote with all council members present.

Following more than 60 minutes of public comments, the council acted on the staff recommendation to oppose LEAPS, but according to Nevada Hydro’s LEAPS Project Manager Kiersten Ross, the information shared at that meeting was not all accurate.

“At this stage they don’t seem to understand the basics,” Ross said, expressing her disappointment in those at city hall who have been involved with the project. “Perhaps that’s our fault, despite many discussions to date in not clarifying the FERC timeline and process and how this project application differs from its predecessor. There’s a lot of misinformation out there, and we’re hoping residents and officials keep an open mind until they have the facts to make an informed decision.”

Ross, who said she was surprised by the vote, said that she thought the project was on the agenda so they could have an open discussion regarding some of the questions brought up by the city.

“This caught us off guard,” she said. “It is so shocking because we’ve met with councillors and worked with staff over the past 16 months.”

Ross said that the city manager had contacted Nevada Hydro, told them they were on the agenda and encouraged them to attend.

“We literally thought this was an information session. We prepared answers to their three agenda items that I addressed briefly,” she said. “We weren’t afforded any rebuttal at all.”

The Lake Elsinore assistant city manager gave a presentation on the project to council, saying that advanced pump storage had been around for a long time.

“There are about 40 of them in the United States and the fundamental principles of advanced storage are surprisingly straightforward even though the projects are quite involved in terms of the technicalities of them,” Mann said.

According to Mann, projects such as LEAPS start with a lower body of water, usually a lake that is already there, and are typically near a mountain or ridgeline that can hold an upper reservoir. A tunnel is constructed between the reservoir and the body of water. At the bottom of the tunnel is a reversible turbine. In the instance of LEAPS, water from the top reservoir, which would be built in Decker Canyon, flows down and turns the turbine and goes into the bottom reservoir, which in this case would be Lake Elsinore. The powerhouse for the project would be about the size of a football field and located 300 feet underground near Grand Avenue and Santa Rosa Drive in the Lakeland Village area.

“I believe it is fair to say that those property owners over there are the ones who would be affected most by construction,” Mann said.

Mann said that once the project is up and running as proposed, it would create about 500 megawatts of electricity.

“That equates to enough electricity for between 400 and 500,000 homes,” he said, adding that the turbines could run about 12 hours at a time maximum.

To connect to the grid, the LEAPS project would have 32 miles of high-power transmission lines inside the boundaries of the Cleveland National Forest that connect to existing power transmission lines around the Lee Lake area or the Alberhill substation if approved by the California Public Utilities Commission to the north and by U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton to the south.

While Nevada Hydro said the information shared is basically correct, what was shared at the meeting was not an accurate representation of the project as it stands today.

After more than two dozen public comments, members of council spoke publicly on their impression of the project.

“There are some big challenges with that,” Councilwoman Natasha Johnson said. “The evaporation process going forward, we need to know what metric is being used for the evaporation rate. We have been told that 1,240 (feet in lake levels) is obtainable forever, but we don’t know a metric is, what that evaporation rate will happen.”

Nevada Hydro representative John Sparks said that the metric Johnson referred to is determined by Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District.

“Lake levels are the responsibility of the city and the EVMWD under a long-term legal agreement,” Sparks said. “The EVMWD currently puts about 5,000 acre-feet of reclaimed water in the lake annually and is on the record of wanting to grow that to 9,000. The LEAPS water would assist in helping maintain lake levels and also improving water quality.”

Johnson said that she read a research report prepared by Dr. Michael Anderson, which was more than 200 in-depth pages and that she understood it was favorable to the project, but that it did not address some big concerns.

“These concerns are something that we have talked about from the inception of this conversation,” Johnson said. “Turbidity, water quality, our fishery and ecology, shoreline changes and overall what happens to our lake in dissolved oxygen.”

According to Sparks, the issues mentioned by Johnson are the mandate of Lake Elsinore and San Jacinto Water Authority, where the city is represented.

“Dr. Anderson had previously researched and reported on these items for LESJWA,” he said. “As Councilor Johnson knows from the report, Dr. Anderson’s study responds to several of the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board questions. There will be more research done for LESJWA and as part of the CEQA 401 Water Quality Certification filing with the RWQCB. Nevada Hydro will update this information as it becomes available.”

Johnson said while Anderson’s report did discuss dissolved oxygen, it only talked about how it could possibly improve the lake.

“Dissolved oxygen, as anyone here from the lake knows, is how ecology works,” she said. “So, working with us and the statement you made, that’s a difficult statement.”

According to Sparks, the report concluded, which has not yet been verified by Valley News, that maintaining adequate dissolved oxygen in the lake is a key objective, which is why Nevada Hydro would install axial flow pumps and diffused aeration systems.

“While both systems provide mixing energy, they often struggle to maintain dissolved oxygen during periods of limited natural mixing and intense oxygen demand,” he said. “The study concluded that the design, installation and operation of LEAPS presents an opportunity to enhance lake water conditions through increased mixing, improved dissolved oxygen levels, reduced fish kills, lower recycling of phosphorus from bottom sediments and reduced chlorophyll concentrations.”

Sparks said that while not proposed as part of the license application for the project, Anderson predicted that augmenting dissolved oxygen levels in return flows to the lake – either via injection or the use of aerating turbines – would provide significant additional ongoing benefits to water quality beyond initial State Water Project water dilution.

“LEAPS is currently in contact with LESJWA to discuss modification of the project to include such elements,” he said.

According to Johnson, she and Mayor Steve Manos had met with Nevada Hydro to discuss the city’s concerns in 2018, and despite giving the corporation representatives a checklist of what was needed, those issues were not addressed.

“I would love to hear that you have addressed our concerns and are giving us meaningful answers in your statements as you said. But, unfortunately, that is not the case; that is definitely not the case,” Johnson said, adding that it had been a trying time to stay hopeful in conversation with Nevada Hydro and that the company would do the best thing for the city’s residents and hear the city’s concerns.

“We actually gave you a white paper of things you needed to do, and at that point, we were basically a ‘check the box’ item and you moved on,” Johnson said, adding that she was in full support of opposing the project.

The white paper, according to Sparks, had never come up in any of his conversations with Johnson but she had previously brought up the since-settled lawsuit between Nevada Hydro and EVMWD as well as a long-term sustainable lake management plan.

“She initially told us in early 2018 to settle our differences with EVMWD and engage with the community,” he said. “We’ve done both, but the latter will be better and expand as we work through the FERC process. The last time we met her as mayor, she requested a long-term sustainable lake management plan. While this is LESJWA’s mandate, we are happily working to contribute to that.”

Manos said there were a number of issues related to the project and that there was communication from FERC asking project proponents to amend the proposal so that it would operate at a water level of 1,235 feet, not the 1,240 feet which is the minimum water level for good water quality in Lake Elsinore.

Sparks said that FERC merely noted that the project could technically operate at 1,235 feet.

“We all know from last December what those levels are like, and our 15,000 acre-feet and make-up of associated evaporative losses should help with this issue,” Sparks said. “And I’m sure we all hope the EVMWD can make its target of 9,000 acre-feet per year of reclaimed water additions that they’ve committed to.”

Spark said that from Nevada Hydro’s standpoint, the project would maintain the 6,000 acre-feet in the Decker reservoir and will maintain the 9,000 acre-feet of SWP water in the lake “that we will acquire through EVMWD.”

“We will in no way be responsible or any drop in the lake levels because we are not relying on or using any lake water volumes we have not purchased,” Sparks said.

“There are impacts here that cannot be mitigated. There are dangers that are created here that cannot be mitigated that much is clear,” Manos said, adding that there was no way the project as proposed was supportable in “any way, shape or form.”

“As to the fire hazard, 500 kV lines have not been associated with wildfires, they will be de-energized during a fire event for the safety of firefighters,” Sparks said. “And aerial firefighting is done around de-energized lines. Nevada Hydro is not the expert, and it’s the experts at the Forest Service and Cal Fire who must respond. All required mitigation measures will be spelled out if a license is granted.”

Eminent domain was a concern for several residents who spoke during public comments, but at this time, Sparks said he didn’t know how many homes would need to be purchased or landowners would need to be compensated until Nevada Hydro had an approved transmission route and designs for the facilities were determined.

“We will pay fair market value. But even without those issues being settled, we know it will be a fraction of the rumors we’re hearing,” Sparks said.

Sparks said that Nevada Hydro has always made themselves available to council and staff and had met with all councilmembers with the exception of Mayor Pro Tem Brian Tisdale.

“We believed last Tuesday was to be an information exchange to clarify misinformation and answer what questions we could,” Sparks said. “We acknowledge that there is not enough information for council to make an informed final decision, and many answers will not be available until FERC accepts our application and until we are at the point where we can begin finalizing design options.


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My Valley News: LEAPS Takes Center Stage at LE Council Meeting, Information Share not Accurate, Nevada Hydro says