Ninth Circuit Court Again

New Emphasis on Water

Medicine Lake Highlands and Aquifer Protection Campaign

by Michelle Berditschevsky, Founder / Senior Conservation Consultant

We’re again at a pivotal point, now in our 21st year of protecting this outstanding volcanic natural area that is a prime source of California’s waters and the site of a 113-square-mile Native American Traditional Cultural District.

On the legal front…

After two decades of administrative and legal challenges, and following over a year of settlement discussions, the Bureau of Land Management decided to pursue its appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of our successful District Court decision. In 2017, federal District Court in Sacramento denied the 40-year extensions of 26 geothermal leases covering over 60 square miles in the Medicine Lake Highlands. Stanford Environmental Law Clinic represents the Ecology Center, the Pit River Tribe, Native Coalition for Medicine Lake Highlands Defense, and Medicine Lake Citizens for Quality Environment in the legal case. The legal team is optimistic, since the Ninth Circuit Court has favorably ruled in our three previous cases involving the Medicine Lake Highlands.

Protecting high water sources…

Keeping pristine high mountain water sources pure and safeguarding the major recharge areas of our bioregion continues to be a primary goal of the Ecology Center. Watershed protection is at the heart of our large landscape projects involving Mount Shasta and the Medicine Lake Highlands, which hold major sources of California’s water supply.

Medicine Lake Volcano’s complex strata, lava tubes and ice caves collect, filter and store more water volume (36-40 million acre-feet) in this underground aquifer than all of California’s reservoirs combined! These high quality waters come through the state’s largest spring system, the Fall River Springs, as the headwaters of a world-class trout fishery, reliably making their way into the Sacramento River and millions of people downstream.

The risks to the aquifer from geothermal development are great, and relatively little is known of its complex structure and characteristics. Politically, agencies have thus far largely ignored its critical importance for California.

In the coming months, we will advocate strongly for protection of this prime water resource both with state agencies and the U.S. Forest Service.

What is at stake

Geothermal extraction would involve pollution, landscape fragmentation, and other industrial blight in this beautiful, pristine area. Drilling 9,000-10,000 feet into the earth through 800-1,000 feet of a huge fresh water aquifer risks contamination from toxic emissions, spills, well casing failures, blowouts, and “enhanced geothermal systems” that include hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking). This is particularly dangerous in the Medicine Lake Highlands, an area highly prone to seismic activity.

Medicine Lake Highlands and Mount Shasta stand together

The Save Medicine Lake Highlands project is our ongoing effort since 1997 to protect the wild and sacred Medicine Lake Volcano from devastating, polluting industrial geothermal development. The geothermal industry and BLM have identified an unrealistic potential for large-scale energy development in both the Medicine Lake Highlands (480 megawatts) based on limited data and on Mount Shasta (240 megawatts). After decades of exploratory testing, there is virtually no evidence that supports this corporate ploy of exaggerating the geothermal potential for what is still called “renewable” energy despite polluting and degrading activities that cannot be mitigated. While geothermal leases were denied on Mount Shasta in 2008, the equivalent of at least five power plants is still on the books and could be reopened. Medicine Lake is where we are holding ground against geothermal development.