By Deb Murphy
The Inyo County Board of Supervisors were set to send their representatives to the County/Los Angeles Standing Committee meeting with direction on agenda items. Only problem: the agenda hadn’t quite been worked out by County Water Department and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power staff.
The Standing Committee is scheduled to meet in Independence this Monday, February 8. The time was originally slated for 1 p.m., but with city representatives arriving via helicopter and the issue of shutting off the meeting in time to get them all safely back to the city during daylight hours, the time may change to 11 a.m.
But, the Supervisors heard presentations and public comment on three items presumed to be on that agenda. They also listened as frustrated audience members requested that updates on issues of Long Term Water Agreement water allocations not being met and land releases not released be included on the agenda.
On the top of the presumed agenda items is LADWP’s request for early discussion of potential water cutbacks to ranchers and mitigation projects. The sticking point was the wording of the proposed motion indicated the Standing Committee would vote on reductions but those reductions would be determined by the Technical Group made up of City and County staff. Aqueduct Manager Jim Yannotta stressed the importance of addressing the issue early, referring to last spring’s 48-hour notice of irrigation cut-offs. “We heard you loud and clear,” he said. “We want to be pro-active, to do a better job. We’re trying to get ahead of the curve.”
Board chair Jeff Griffiths and Supervisor Mark Tillemans reminded Yannotta that the County asked for early discussions last year, with no response. “The issue is the Tech Group making the decision,” Griffiths said. “We want a public process.”
The cooperative process of restoring irrigation water last year involved multiple Standing Committee meetings in a messy but very transparent process.
The consensus among the Supervisors and County Water Director Bob Harrington was that early was good but maybe it was premature to talk about “water reductions.” Supervisor Matt Kingsley wasn’t ready to allow for “reasonable reductions at this point. Where’s the trigger?” he asked. “I want information on what DWP is doing to manage the water.” Supervisor Rick Pucci would rather discuss water enhancements in the. Supervisor Dan Totheroh had no problem with an early discussion as long as the decision making was done according to procedure.
Irrigated leases were at roughly 80 percent of normal last year, in large part because of a variance from the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District on water use for dust mitigation on Owens Lake. LADWP was granted a late ramp up this past fall. Griffiths asked Yannotta if they were considering an early ramp down as a water savings measure. “Nothing has been discussed,” Yannotta said.
Water is spread on sections of the dry lake prior to the winter wind season. The late ramp ups and early ramp downs allow for that water use, just for a narrower time frame.
The second agenda item the County wanted to see on the Standing Committee agenda was keeping some of the water saved on Owens Lake in Owens Valley. At the last Committee meeting, the County was told that was outside the purview of the Standing Committee. County Administrative Officer Kevin Carunchio argued it was well within that purview. “We were told repeatedly (last year) that irrigation and mitigation project water use was tied to the variance for dust mitigation on the lake. All we’re asking is that some of that savings stays in the valley.”
Supervisor Mark Tillemans used the analogy of being asked to participate in a baseball game and LADWP shows up with a football.
The final item on the Standing Committee agenda will be a discussion of two County grant applications that would benefit significantly from LADWP support: the Big Pine Water Recycling project and the Owens River Trail.