Those who have witnessed past decades in the Owens Valley have seen trees die, orchards disappear, meadows turn to scrub brush, springs dry up, groundwater plummet, and the Owens Lake vanish. In spite of those facts, Department of Water and Power Aqueduct Manager Jim Yannotta told Sierra Wave Media that “essentially the Owens Valley looks the same as it did 100 years ago.”
Tuesday, November 5th marked the 100th anniversary of the Los Angeles Aqueduct; and when asked why he said nothing has changed here in 100 years, DWP Manager Jim Yannotta said his statement was “more in line with how DWP has preserved the Owens Valley.” Yannotta admitted that he does not have “all of the facts of 100 years ago.”
Yannotta said the Owens Valley is “preserved” and not developed. Not like Fresno or Lake Havasu, he said. The manager maintained that LA is working with Owens Valley on environmental issues. When asked about the number of disputes and disagreements over water and the environment, Yannotta said, “I don’t share those views. We do our obligations under the Water Agreement. We’ve done a good job of management,” he said, “and there is not adverse environmental damage.”
However, records show that Inyo County has disagreed with how LA sees things. DWP has not accounted for the obvious damage done between 1913 and 1987, which is the baseline year in the Long-Term Water Agreement. More recently, Inyo takes issue with how DWP has cut irrigation water for some lessees and other water uses on LA land with respect to the Water Agreement. The two sides are in dispute resolution over at least two wellfields. Inyo County maintains DWP’s pumps have damaged the environment of Black Rock and Sawmill.
DWP has also failed to successfully work with Inyo to come up with a pumping management plan. LA refuses to admit that how far the water table goes should determine when pumps are shut off. Both sides admit that the Water Agreement plan has failed. To make up for past environmental damage, DWP agreed to mitigation projects, some of which have not been completed since the 1991 agreement was signed.
Mr. Yannotta says water levels have recovered from LA’s over-pumping in the 80s. Water Department records say otherwise. The Water Agreement only calls for a return of groundwater to 1987 baseline levels which are far below original water tables. Yannotta admitted there are some mitigation projects unfinished and some disputes. He did say he would be open to DWP and Inyo working together on a revision of pumping management. Nothing along those lines was accomplished in the years before Yannotta arrived.
As for the earlier threat that LA might charge a lot more for water at the two Inyo golf courses, Yannotta said that issue is still in the works. He said the goal is to get the golf courses to use less water.
As for his inaccurate claim that nothing has changed in 100 years, Mr. Yannotta said he apologizes if this offended anyone.