Officials of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power denied last year that their philosophy is to get all the water they can get. The Owens Valley knew that was a thin denial. Now, so does Mammoth Lakes. LADWP filed a suit that claims Mammoth Lakes has no water rights to Mammoth Creek, the major town water supply. The City says it’s all their water.
In a three-page press release DWP claims Mammoth’s water rights are temporary and subordinate to water rights held by the City of Los Angeles. Mammoth Community Water District Manager Greg Norby disagrees. He said Mammoth established water rights from Mammoth Creek starting in 1947 through the present. Norby said the California Water Code does not address “temporary water rights” that LA has used to describe Mammoth’s rights.
LADWP’s attack on Mammoth’s water stems from the completion of a 15-year environmental review of Mammoth Creek flows to protect the downstream fishery. Mammoth Community Water District worked with Fish and Game and Caltrout to establish flows. The water board certified the Environmental Impact Report on this issue in early December. The first week of January, LADWP filed their legal challenge. Manager Norby said DWP claimed Mammoth has no rights to Mammoth Creek and so can’t determine fishery flows.
Norby said there are state-issued documents that specify Mammoth’s water permits and licenses. He said DWP’s position is that no rights to surface water in Mammoth Creek should have been granted to Mammoth since LA already had them. “It’s a little late,” said Norby, “to take that position on our rights developed over 50 years.”
LADWP’s press release says that LA has senior water rights based on the City’s 1905 Owens River water rights filing and the LADWP’s 1967 purchase of Chance Ranch south of Mammoth. The press release says LADWP is also concerned about Mammoth’s recently-adopted Urban Water Management Plan, which anticipates a 50% growth in water usage in Mammoth Lakes by 2030. If Mammoth grows, LA loses.
Marty Adams, DWP Director of Water Operations, is quoted as saying that taking water for Mammoth deprives LA citizens of their water and causes them to pay higher water rates.
After all of the threats, LA does say they welcome continued discussions with Mammoth Community Water District. Talks over water issues had gone on between Mammoth and LADWP in the past year. Norby said Mammoth is very much interested in a “non-adversarial resolution.” He said Mammoth’s Water District tried for over a year and weren’t able to reach agreement with DWP.
Hypothetically, if DWP got all of Mammoth Creek, what would it mean to Mammoth Lakes? Norby said it would be extremely negative and would take away the town’s only reliable water supply.