If it is true that Northern California is earthquake country, then the capital could
be the small community of Anderson Springs in southern Lake County.
On average the town experiences two jarring quakes a day. Just last week,
24 quakes shook Anderson Springs. The two largest registered a magnitude
2.6 and 2.4. What most upsets the residents of Anderson Springs is that
the earthquakes are manmade.
A huge geothermal plant borders Anderson Springs. The energy company
Calpine relies on underground steam to turn turbines to produce
electricity. Over the years, the steam has been depleted, so Calpine now
injects nearly 9 million gallons of treated sewer water daily to
reinvigorate the steam fields.
Since those injections began, residents in Anderson Springs say the
earthquakes have become more frequent and more violent. "Oh, I feel
them," said resident Allen Clay. "When the epicenter is less
than a half a mile from you, you get a pretty good jolt."
The quakes are more than merely annoying, they have also damaged houses,
leaving chimneys askew and cracking tile. Some homes are crumbling.
"You let a little woodpecker peck on the side of your house every
day for 10 minutes?" said Clay. "At the end of a year how much
house are you going to have left? Well, that's what they're doing to us
here because every day it shakes and twists."
For more than a decade, Calpine denied responsibility. In a 1993 letter,
Calpine's operations manager said the company's findings prove that
"Whatever the origin is of the seismic shaking felt in Anderson
Springs, it is not geothermal development in the southeast Geysers steam
Residents began doing their own research, and eventually got
seismologists from the U.S. Geological Survey involved. After a decade of
study, the experts agreed the residents were right.
Calpine now acknowledges its activities are causing earthquakes, but it
does not intend to stop injecting water below ground. Although Calpine
has promised to contribute $70,000 to a community fund that residents can
use as they please, the company does not admit it damaged the homes. With
many houses badly damaged, residents say the money is just a drop in the
News10's Dan Adams tried repeatedly to get a response from Calpine, but
the company did not return his calls. When he approached a Calpine manager
during a meeting in Lake County, the manager refused to comment.