This letter is to provide accurate information about the levels of South Lake and Lake Sabrina, as well as about the operation of a well and ditches in the West Bishop area. Without a doubt, the single biggest and primary cause of low lake levels, low groundwater levels supplying wells, and low flows in creeks and ditches, is the past two successive extremely dry years in the Eastern Sierra. It is a matter of public record that 2013 was the driest year on record for the State of California, and as of today’s date, 2014 is not looking any better. Eastern Sierra precipitation levels are at about 20 percent of normal. Even if we receive normal precipitation from today until April 1 which is considered the beginning of the 2014 runoff year, the Eastern Sierra will experience below normal runoff during the 2014 spring and summer.
South Lake and Lake Sabrina
The levels of South Lake and Lake Sabrina are not managed by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP). Southern California Edison (SCE) stores water in the two lakes and controls their operation. The 1922 Court-ordered Chandler Decree prescribes flow requirements for Bishop Creek that must be adhered to by SCE and which can have an impact on the lake levels particularly in extremely low snowpack runoff years such as the Eastern Sierra has experienced the past two years, and during the current very dry year. The Chandler Decree does not provide authority to LADWP to modify the provisions of the Court order. While LADWP has allowed SCE to store a portion of the City of Los Angeles’ (City) water rights in South Lake and Lake Sabrina in the past, this does not modify the provisions of the Chandler Decree. What LADWP has previously allowed is for SCE to hold back some of the City’s water rights in South Lake and/or Lake Sabrina when sufficient water was available in excess of that needed to meet the flow requirements mandated by the Chandler Decree, along with LADWP’s water obligations. During the 2013 runoff year, there simply wasn’t enough water available to allow SCE to meet the provisions of the Chandler Decree and hold back the City’s water rights.
West Bishop Wells
On December 7, 2013, the Inyo County Water Department (ICWD) expressed concern that LADWP well W407 may be affecting some private wells. In the West Bishop area, LADWP had been running one well, W407, to provide stock water to a number of its lessees on the Bishop Cone. While LADWP did not believe that this well was affecting other private wells in the area, LADWP was amenable to shutting it off in order to confirm whether or not the well was affecting private wells. After LADWP’s lessees were given time to make other arrangements for stock water, LADWP shut off well W407 on December 11, 2013, and the groundwater response was monitored by both the ICWD and LADWP. By December 13, 2013, it was clear that the groundwater table in the area of private wells in the West Bishop area was not being affected by well W407. In a December 13 email the ICWD informed LADWP, “It does not appear that W407 is affecting water levels…or is the cause of the recent drop in the water level (in the Highland Drive area). The Water Department (ICWD) does not object to resuming operation of W407 to supply stockwater to lessees and use permit holders.”
However, because other arrangements had been made for stock water, LADWP did not resume the operation of well W407 and the well has remained off. LADWP continues to monitor water levels in the area that are of concern in West Bishop. The water table in the area has shown no reaction to the operation of well W407 which confirms well W407 had no effect on the water table in the area of the West Bishop private wells.
West Bishop Ditches
The significantly below normal snowpack runoff the Eastern Sierra has experienced over the last two years and thus far this year has resulted in very low and in some cases a lack of flow in streams and in ditches in the West Bishop area. There are many priorities for delivering flows. As best as possible, flows must be maintained in streams to keep fish in good condition, in ditches to satisfy LADWP obligations to the Bishop tribe, and for stockwater, irrigation, and other operational needs. However, this year there has not been sufficient water available to provide and sustain water in all ditches.
LADWP is committed to achieving all of its obligations in the Owens Valley. Unfortunately, the impact of successive years of significantly below normal precipitation, for which no one has control, has adversely affected what water is available to both the Owens Valley and Los Angeles.
James G. Yannotta
Manager of Aqueduct
Los Angeles Department of Water and Power