Water Department investigates dry wells

wellrigIn a memo that takes a preliminary look at wells that dried up in West Bishop, Inyo Water Director Bob Harrington concluded at the end of December that “the recent declines in the water table are due to lack of recharge from surface water conveyances.”  (See memo: http://www.inyowater.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/W407-memo.pdf

That initial conclusion leads to concerns over dry years and how water is managed in the Bishop Creek drainage. A 1922 court decision called the Chandler Decree spells out flow requirements from the lakes. In the past, DWP, which operates under the court decree, has allowed variances from its flow requirements when asked by Southern California Edison. This past summer, DWP declined. The lakes nearly dried up and water ditches through West Bishop did dry up.

Harrington said he and Water Department staff will continue to investigate what has caused domestic wells to go dry. He said that Thursday he and others would look at monitoring Well 389 east of Barlow Lane and try to get a better picture as to why it dropped dramatically over the past few months.

When Harrington first received information that domestic wells on or near Highland Drive had become inoperable due to low groundwater levels, he contacted the Department of Water and Power and they temporarily shut of Well 407 in the area. That well provides irrigation and stock water to DWP lessees. The Inyo Water Department and DWP then monitored two nearby wells. Water in the one closest to Well 407 rose several feet in a few days. The other monitoring well, 389, showed very small recovery. It is this well which had dropped roughly from seven feet below the surface to seventeen feet down in the past few months. It is unknown if this water table drop is related to the West Bishop well problems.

Past patterns of Well 389 seem to show that summer recharge brings up the water table and lack of surface water in the fall and winter causes the groundwater to drop. Again, Harrington and his staff will continue to investigate.

Harrington’s preliminary conclusions say the groundwater levels in the South Barlow and Highland Drive area are at their lowest levels since the early 1970s. He also notes that this year Well 407 was operated for longer into the fall than is usual, but Harrington doesn’t believe this well caused the domestic well problems. Harrington also points to the fact that water ditches in the West Bishop area were cut off in mid-summer, which he says, “likely contributed to the recent decline in water table elevation in the area.”

For several years, Southern California Edison has asked DWP for variances to the Chandler Decree to allow regulation of the flow out of the lakes and down the creeks for better management. According to Edison, DWP had said yes until last year when they twice denied Edison’s requests.

It was at that time that South Lake and Lake Sabrina nearly dried up. Ditches and ponds through many properties in West Bishop did dry up. DWP Manager Jim Yannotta said that the Chandler Decree spells out flow requirements and does not allow DWP to modify them. But, according to Edison, DWP has allowed modification of the flows. Debbie Hess of Edison said it is her understanding that it has been a common practice for Edison to request and get a variance from DWP and only this past year were they denied by LA.

Meanwhile, many hope for snow, and some are literally going to pray for it. The Bishop Methodist Church has organized a prayer for snow and rain in the Eastern Sierra. They have asked citizens to join with others to pray at Bishop City Park, near the Gazebo on Sunday, January 12 at 3 pm. This informal time of prayer is open to the community and coordinated by Laura Smith and Pastor Kathleen Puntar of the Bishop United Methodist Church.



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13 Responses to Water Department investigates dry wells

  1. MJA January 9, 2014 at 9:40 am #

    With the dim outlook of little to no snow melt to recharge the ground water of the Owens Valley, how much water is DWP still pumping and exporting to LA? Are any pumps still running? And what about Crystal Geiser, how much water are they hauling away? =

  2. Joe January 9, 2014 at 9:42 am #


    Great article and follow-up of the issue(s).

  3. Mark January 9, 2014 at 11:17 am #

    “Harrington doesn’t believe this well caused the domestic well problems.”

    Want to back that up with some facts?

    • philip anaya January 9, 2014 at 8:26 pm #


      I am unable to share Bob Harrington’s Dec 26,2013 Report because of my lack of technical skills. I have the pdf file, but I do not know how to create a link. There are facts ,numbers included in this report. As there has also been a couple replaced wells on Longview, Mr. Harrington has agreed to look at W408 another DWP production well in the West Bishop area. A water table that is subject to recharge and extraction is going to reflect the lack of recharge and the extraction activity as everyone knows. Whether this dire problem is caused by the dry ditches that resulted from the DWP fast and furious emptied South and Sabrina Lakes that did not get into the ditches to recharge the Aquifer or the dry ditches causing folks with deeper wells to irrigate from their wells extracting water from the aquifer or the greatest amount of extraction that has occurred in the Aquifer , the DWP production wells W407 and W408.
      At the Bishop Creek Water Ass. meeting Tuesday night Bob Harrington was in attendance and did address the issues in West Bishop. Supervisors Rick Pucci and Linda Arcularius were also there after spending the entire day at their BoS meeting in Independence. Inyo County is paying attention to this problem. The Bishop Creek Water Ass agreed to craft a correspondence ,lawyer approved to the DWP and Edison asking for South and Sabrina lakes to be allowed to recover as much as possible during the runoff and then have a adaptive management plan for releases that will hopefully provide a consistent flow in the ditches this next year and recharging the Aquifer and raising the water table elevation once again. I do not know what to say to my neighbors who have had to replace their wells but if it happens to me and it could especially if DWP continues last years management practices, it also going to be happening to others. The Long Term Water Agreement has protective language in it for domestic wells and it is in Bob Harrington’s report. There is also language regarding surface flows . I’m not sure how that applies but it is clear to me that DWP has responsibility for the water tables, the recharge and the extraction and as they are the managing party……………they obviously have gotten it wrong. This issue may only be at it’s beginning and hopefully it will be short lived. I am truly sorry to those out there who have not had access to their water, to their right. I’ve noticed how folks stick together in the Valley. I’ve noticed how DWP doesn’t abide by that behavior. It’s time DWP to step up, make these folks whole once again, step up and lead the recovery of the Lakes ,ditches and water tables not only in West Bishop but in the entire valley. It’s time to become a good neighbor to all living things in this Valley.

  4. Yaney LA MacIver January 9, 2014 at 9:42 pm #

    Hi Mark,

    Could you send the file to Bennett and she could create a link. Then we could all see it.

  5. Trouble January 9, 2014 at 10:24 pm #

    Even my dumb ass can tell DWP is pumping as much of our water as they can get away with. Wake up!

  6. Mongo The Idiot January 10, 2014 at 9:13 am #

    1-1 =0

  7. Indy Resident January 10, 2014 at 9:30 am #

    Ever since the pumps started running, we in the southern part of the Valley have felt the impacts of the decreases in the water table almost immediately. Those of you who are old enough to remember the yellow ribbons tied around our dying trees also know that those trees are now long gone. The water table decreased to the point that the street trees in our town have to be watered because they cannot reach the water table. Many of them are now dead or dying. Pictures of Independence before the second barrel of the aqueduct went online, and after, are dramatic. Artesian wells dried up and the Independence well field is no more.
    The effects of LADWP’s activities in the southern Owens Valley are dramatic. , LADWP is trying to rewrite history and label this area as having always been a dessicated dried up desert. Anybody with the desire to know the truth only has to read the descriptions of the early settlers or look at the old pictures. It is the same determined eradicating of history and reality as when the landscaping at the LADWP building in Bishop was removed and a xeriscape was put in! Less than a hundred years ago, that area on Mandich Street had such a high water table that it was a swamp.
    The gist of all of this is that some of us in the south County feel now maybe the Bishop area folks might start paying attention to what is happening to the rest of the Owens Valley. The population of Big Pine and south is significantly smaller, but the impacts from the activities of LADWP have been felt here for decades. The political will to hold DWP’s feet to the fire over issues that are impacting our valley has not been there. Most likely it stems from the fact that three of the Supervisors historically have been from the Bishop area.
    Please realize now how important is to not concrete in those ditches! The recharge only can happen if the water is allowed to percolate down through the earth. Did you know that here in the south County LADWP has been busy concreting in the ditches? That is because the most efficient way to get that water down to Los Angeles is to have it run through a concrete ditch to the aqueduct. However, ecosystems have been lost, and there is absolutely no ability to recharge the underground aquifer.
    I am very sorry for the issues happening in west Bishop with the lowering of the water table and hope that there is a satisfactory resolution in the coming year.

  8. Andrew C January 10, 2014 at 3:09 pm #

    I’m a Socal resident and have been practicing water conservation(not washing my car much and shortening shower time, etc.). I remember hearing about water conservation in the 70s. I try to remind people around here we live in a desert and this is a facade. Yes, I still have a few friends regardless.

    But can’t someone up there organize with the planning of these cities down here to ensure that development of businesses and residences, will be in stride with water supplies? I know a lot of damage has been done, but now it’s about damage control.

    Article about past anti-development sentiment in Orange County.


    • UPTHECREEK January 10, 2014 at 10:48 pm #

      It’s all about Money , Greed , Power, Corruption and Pensions

      LADWP Gone Wild..

      Just ask the resigning Department of Water and Power General Manager Ron Nichols.

      • Ken Warner January 11, 2014 at 11:04 am #

        I completely agree with you and that makes my head spin. But this time, you are exactly right.

  9. sickofwhiners January 11, 2014 at 1:03 pm #

    What well problems???? I still see homeowners in the Park West Tract, just east of Highland, that are still watering their lawns. Yea, watering a dormant, brown lawn that couldn’t grow in the winter no matter how much water is WASTED in it!!!! Somebody DO something about this!!!


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