By Deb Murphy
Ranchers, environmental groups, public agencies all showed up at Tuesday’s Mono County Board of Supervisors meeting looking for help in keeping 6,000 acres of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power grazing leases irrigated.
The lands in Long and Little Round valleys have been irrigated for 150 years, before LADWP set foot in the Eastern Sierra. Mark Lacey, with leases in Long Valley, told the board the ranchers may stay through the five-year term of the new leases to see if they can make it work. He wasn’t optimistic it ever would.
Much of the conversation referred to a change in LADWP policy, a change described as premeditated, focusing only on the needs of the City disregarding the needs of the communities. Board Chair Bob Gardner had another approach. “DWP ought to be better than this,” he said. “I’m reminded what Luke Skywalker said to Darth Vader—‘there’s gotta be good in you.’”
Matt Kemp started the ranchers’ presentation. During the two-year lease negotiations, the ranchers suggested a tiered-down system based on the snow pack with the water allocations going to a minimum of 2-acre feet, from the original 5-acre feet allocation. LADWP came back with zero, Kemp said.
Mark Lacey pointed out the ecosystem and wetlands would return to sage brush. Those wetlands have statutes to protect them, he said. “Water rights belong to the owner,” he said, “but the courts have said the water belongs to the people.”
Howard Arcularius’ family never sold to LADWP, but his land will be impacted as adjoining leases revert to invasive weeds and sage.
Speakers from Friends of the Inyos and the Eastern Sierra Land Trust talked about the impact on the sage grouse, Steve Nelson, Bureau of Land Management Bishop field office manager, was instrumental in developing the plan that kept the sage grouse off the endangered species list. “I’m still trying to wrap my brain around this,” he said. “The changes would be substantial” if the ranchers left the valleys.
According to Lacey, LADWP plans to supply 500 acre-feet for sage grouse habitat on the Convict Creek side of the valley. “Normally that area would get 7,000 acre-feet,” he said.
Gary Giacomini would have to reduce the herd size on the impacted leases by 90- to 95-percent. “Not only did they eliminate irrigation water,” he told the Board, “they took away the stock water.” He told the story of the department fencing cows off the creeks in 1995. “Now they said they’d broach what they did in ‘95” to provide stock water.
LADWP cites compliance with the City Charter as the reason to take away the water. Giacomini has a different theory. “They finally found a lawyer to re-interpret the City Charter, but this has been a premeditated effort.”
Then it was the County’s turn to comment. CAO Leslie Chapman suggested collaborating with Inyo County. “Inyo has the historic knowledge,” she said, suggesting attendance at the rescheduled May 31 meeting of the Standing Committee
Supervisor Fred Stump referred to a conversation with LADWP staff during the sage grouse negotiations. “DWP said it’s our water. You don’t get any unless we give it to you,” he said. He expressed his disappointment with state and federal partners. “They won’t engage; they won’t support us,” he said. His suggestion was to send a letter to Mayor Eric Garcetti and cover everybody who shares the same goals.
Rancher Tom Talbot strongly suggested direct contact with Garcetti. “Everybody’s marching to the same drum,” he said in reference to his own efforts. “We need to confront them directly.”
Supervisors Stacy Corless and John Peters talked about LADWP’s pattern of behavior over the past five or six years. “This is a systemic management issue,” Peters said. “They’re ignoring CEQA, historic values, the impacts on the ranchers and everybody. We can’t let DWP hide behind the City Charter. That’s wrong on so many levels.”