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Note: A previous version of this story state that the Mono County Board of Supervisors would eventually have to vote on whether or not to approve the environmental analysis for the proposed test wells. The final decision is made by the U.S. Forest Service, Inyo National Forest. The Times regrets the error.
Mammoth Mountain Ski Area recently triggered the search for water for snowmaking on June Mountain Ski Area and the Inyo National Forest is now taking comments about the proposal, according to forest authorities.
Two winters ago, when MMSA CEO Rusty Gregory shut June Mountain down for the winter, he promised he would reopen the ski resort the following year and also begin the process to try to find enough water to build a snowmaking facility.
That promise is now in motion, the Inyo National Forest confirmed Wednesday, and “the forest has received a proposal from June Mountain Ski Area (JMSA) to drill three or four test wells at JMSA for snowmaking for ski trails,” according to a news release from the forest.
The wells are just test wells, to see if water is available, according to forest authorities. If enough water is found, a new proposal to develop permanent “production wells” will go before the public and scientists.
The Inyo is the land management agency that holds the special use permit with MMSA to operate June Mountain Ski Area. As such, they are managing the test well proposal.
“The purpose of this initial phase of the project is to drill test wells with the objective of locating groundwater in sufficient quantity to support additional snowmaking at mid-elevation and upper mountain ski trails,” according to the news release.
“Three of the test wells are located in the vicinity of the base of Chair 4 and Chair 7. A fourth test well would be located near the base area building and parking lot.
“NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) analysis for this proposal is expected to be a Categorical Exclusion,” the news release stated.
A Categorical Exclusion (CE) means that the test well process is considered to be relatively benign environmentally, thus allowing the test well process to move forward faster than if a full-blown environmental analysis had to be done.
That does not mean a full environmental analysis will not be done once the test well process is completed, however.
“If sufficient water is located to justify a production well, a separate NEPA analysis would be initiated and would include an additional opportunity to provide comments,” the news release stated. “That analysis would include a new hydrologic analysis to be contracted by the proponent.”
The NEPA process is known to be a long and involved process, with an average life span of about two years for most projects.
The full NEPA process involves extended comment periods, a draft environmental analysis, and a final environmental analysis and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) document.
The CE for the test well process is paid for by MMSA; however, scientists and consultants are chosen by the forest service and have no connection to MMSA, forest authorities said.