Since 2001, the LA Department of Water and Power and homeowners at 40 Acres near Rovana have been in an ongoing fight over water. Almost eight years later progress has been made. DWP admits 40 acres has some rights to water, but so far both sides have not come to an agreement.
In 2001 DWP built a new weir that controls the water that residents of 40 Acres use for fire protection, irrigation, stock, and landscaping. Since then residents report that on an almost daily basis DWP crews show up and turn the water down, and a resident has to go up the hill to turn the water back up.
To pool resources in order to regain control of their water, residents formed the 40 Acres Homeowners Water Association. The group has hired lawyers to push for their water rights but the association also organizes work days on the water system, and assigns volunteers to take turns adjusting the water flow after it gets turned down.
At the annual meeting of this local organization, President Frank Stewart explained to the members that after talks with Department staff, DWP now agrees that 40 acres does in fact have rights to the water. The question that remains in dispute is how much water the homeowners are entitled to.
Water Association research shows that water use goes back to the 1890s, when Paiute sheepherder Frank Wright homesteaded the property with his brother Jim. Frank Stewart explained that Wright and his brother had many leases throughout the Owens Valley, using the irrigated pasture on the 40 acres parcel (then 80 acres) to use as a base of operations. How much water the residents of 40 acres are entitled to, could come down to how much water the Wrights used on the property.
On the ground, residents of 40 acres continue to head back up to the weir when they notice the water has been turned down. In the legal world, the 40 Acres Homeowners Water Association has spent $12,000 in legal fees. A drop in the bucket as far a lawyers’ fees go. The price would be higher, but Stewart reports that a law clerk is doing some of the leg work pro bono.
Both sides now agree on the existence of a water right, but Stewart says that we are at a stalemate of sorts, adding that the fight over water rights is not a done deal.
More information is now available at 40 acreswater.org.