The three-person arbitration panel assembled to rule on damage done to the Blackrock wellfield in Inyo County essentially said the Department of Water and Power had failed in its responsibilities under the Water Agreement, carried out policies that could endlessly delay environmental protection, and tried to deny the groundwater baseline agreed to in the Water Agreement.
The picture painted by the panel reveals a DWP at work to delay dealing with realities in the Owens Valley and, instead, to blame Inyo for violating the Agreement.
As we had reported, that panel rejected some of the Department of Water and Power claims against Inyo County regarding the Blackrock vegetation loss. The panel said Inyo County had taken the right steps to dispute DWP’s denial of damage, and the panel determined measurable damage had, in fact, been done at Blackrock. Now they will determine what caused the damage and how bad it is.
The full text of the panel’s recent decisions revealed that DWP fundamentally failed to accept its responsibilities under the Water Agreement. DWP claimed that neither Inyo nor LA has the legal right to independently monitor, gather and analyze data on the groundwater and plants. DWP said only the Technical Group could do this. The panel said if that happened it would thwart the purpose of the Long Term Water Agreement and the intent of the Agreement as a mitigation measure, and would deny each party’s right to gather its own data.
The panel said that LA’s version of the Water Agreement would allow either side to derail examination of the environment. Asked for an explanation, Inyo Water Director Bob Harrington said, “If Inyo came to the Technical Group with a problem, LA could say they don’t want to study it and the issue would end.” That’s basically what happened with Blackrock.
The panel’s decision said that the Technical Group had agreed Inyo would provide a report on Blackrock as to significance of damage. They said DWP never objected, but after the report was submitted, DWP “largely disengaged as a member of the Technical Group on the Blackrock issues.” The Technical Group was unable to proceed. There was no determination at the Standing Committee and the County went to dispute resolution.
The panel said that for more than 15 months after Inyo County submitted a report on damage at Blackrock, DWP failed to perform an analysis and to share it with the Technical Group. The decision says, “Los Angeles failed to perform such analysis, while agreeing that the evidence demonstrated a measurable negative effect on vegetation, apparently relying on its belief that it bore no duty to do so under the Long Term Water Agreement.”
One more thing. 22 years after they signed the Water Agreement, DWP also claimed that the 1984-87 baseline for groundwater and vegetation was wrong, that the figures were biased and too high. Asked about that, Inyo Water Director Harrington said the arbitration panel found that “both parties knew the facts about the baseline data when they included it in the Agreement.”
The panel sent the Blackrock issue back to the Technical Group and ordered LA to prepare a written report with evidence on its position by December 18th. Inyo County will respond by February 14th in the new year. The panel ordered that both parties must cooperate fully in the process.