"Federal officials have concluded that infrastructure for a proposed hydropower project — which would tap billions of gallons of groundwater in the California desert, just outside Joshua Tree National Park — wouldn't be especially harmful to the environment.
The Bureau of Land Management issued a "finding of no significant impact" Thursday for power lines and water pipelines that would enable Eagle Crest Energy Company to build a massive hydroelectric power plant in the Eagle Mountain area, which is surrounded on three sides by the national park. That finding clears the way for the agency to approve the project infrastructure in a few months, after a final protest period.
The decision drew strong objections from conservationists, who have fought Eagle Crest's proposal for years. They say Eagle Mountain, despite being the site of an abandoned iron mine, is prime habitat for bighorn sheep, golden eagles and desert tortoises. They also worry that tapping the Chuckwalla Valley aquifer to fill the hydropower project's reservoirs — the developer expects to pump 32.6 billion gallons over 50 years — would diminish neighboring groundwater basins beneath the national park, harming ecosystems in the park by sapping springs that are oases for wildlife."