Supervisors disturbed by DWP water policies but take no bold steps on pumping

inyosupervisors4-16When the Inyo Supervisors sat down to talk about the Department of Water and Power’s proposed groundwater pumping plan for this runoff year, Supervisor Rick Pucci, clearly disturbed, brought up the privately discussed issue of the Bishop and Lone Pine golf courses pushed by DWP to pay for their water. He pointed to the Bishop Saddle Club apparently losing its DWP water. Pucci said, “DWP needs to be more cooperative”.

As he and three other board members faced the DWP pumping plan, Supervisor Pucci said, “The golf courses are the entrances to our communities. They are in every brochure DWP puts out. The Chamber of Commerce uses them.” Pucci said he has received calls from entities, presumably the golf course, which, he said, report that they will have to close down if DWP pushes its water charges.

Golf Course officials admit DWP said they may look at charging for water in the current negotiations on new leases. Water for both golf courses has always been included in their leases. The golf courses have lost members in the past few years and maintain marginal finances.

With all of that in mind, Supervisors heard from former Inyo Water Department plant expert and current Big Pine Tribal Environmental Director Sally Manning. She said DWP is ignoring the water tables and vegetation goals. Manning said DWP has “systematically cut connections in valley water uses.” She said DWP has replaced stream water for Valley uses with pumped water. Manning said, “The pumping is happening faster than the Valley is being recharged.” She said the Owens Valley “has not recovered from the heavy DWP pumping of the mid-80s.” The current discussions also do not consider the heavy pumping in the 70s. Manning said ranching and other areas are “eroding before our eyes. It’s time to listen to the people. I’m calling on the County’s leadership.”

Rancher Daris Moxley said DWP has cut half her water and told her she still has to irrigate all 99 acres. She pointed to a DWP letter which says they will cut 20% of the irrigation in Laws and Independence and 10% elsewhere.

Supervisor Jeff Griffiths said, “Where will it be unacceptable for the water table to go down? Some of these drops (predicted in the pumping plan) are alarming. Plants will not recover.” He said he has concerns about the former Drought Recovery Policy that DWP unilaterally ended. He pointed to the need for a recovered and stable water table. Griffiths said, “Where’s the point when we say don’t pump any more?” Water Director Bob Harrington said Dispute Resolution is always on the table every year. Griffiths pushed for and got the County to go for a much lower pumping rate in the heavily impacted Big Pine well fields.

Supervisor Linda Arcularius said Supervisor Pucci’s comments about needing cooperation on things like water for golf courses were “extremely important.” She supported language in the County’s letter to DWP on the pumping plan that points to cooperation and mutual concerns for the community.”

In the official response to DWP’s pumping plans, Water Director Harrington recommended a range of 46,825 to 49,585 acre feet for April through September. Because it’s a second drought year, the next six months’ pumping will be determined later. DWP’s pumping range is higher at 47,370 to 54,660 acre feet. Harrington said the whole year is expected to be in the low to high 70,000 acre feet range.

The Supervisors will discuss the separate DWP letter to cut irrigation even more at a meeting before the May 20th Standing Committee meeting. It is unclear to officials what DWP means by cuts in irrigation – is it ranches? golf courses? saddle club? parks? No one in Inyo County seems to know.



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18 Responses to Supervisors disturbed by DWP water policies but take no bold steps on pumping

  1. Please direct your energy here, Tim May 1, 2013 at 9:45 am #

    The City Council sent the utility a neutered version of the lawn ordinance that would allow watering an extra day a week. Last week, browbeaten Department of Water and Power commissioners quietly rubber-stamped it. What is being passed off as a tweak looks more like a death knell for one of the best collective environmental efforts made by the citizens of Los Angeles.

    The ordinance was instituted for many reasons — regionwide drought, water delivery cuts to Southern California and common sense on the part of then-DWP General Manager H. David Nahai.

    Nahai went after lawns because that’s where the water is. Roughly half of the water used in Los Angeles goes outdoors, most of that on turf grass, a plant that needs almost constant life support outside its traditional range in rainy Britain.

    But not everyone supported water conservation in our frontyards. San Fernando Valley Councilman Greig Smith argued that the ordinance turned lawns brown, and last September, he began publicly flouting it by watering his own yard more frequently than the law allowed. That stunt was overshadowed by a series of highly publicized water main breaks — one so spectacular that the resulting sinkhole swallowed the front end of a fire truck.

    We will never know if the leaks of September 2009 were caused by the fluctuations in pressure from the two-day lawn watering regimen. The DWP has historical charts showing that the rate of bursts was nothing out of the ordinary. But last spring, when a USC engineering group released a report arguing that the leaks were indeed exceptional and that the ordinance caused them, the DWP was too embattled to object.

    The ordinance’s godfather, Nahai, was gone as general manager. So was his successor, S. David Freeman. The DWP sent a new draft ordinance to the City Council incorporating a USC recommendation to spread out lawn watering days. Under this, half the city would have watered on Mondays and Thursdays and half on Tuesdays and Fridays.

    The City Council sat on the proposed fix until long after the water department could reasonably be expected to publicize any new rule before the hottest days of summer. And when the council finally acted, it rejected the DWP proposal, instead sending back to the utility a plan by Smith to allow watering three days a week. Cowed DWP commissioners rubber-stamped the proposal last week.

    On paper, the Smith plan looks better. The original ordinance allowed automated sprinklers to run two days a week for a total of 30 minutes. The Smith plan allows sprinklers to run three days a week for a total of 24 minutes. Less water! More savings!

    Smith sold the plan arguing that the original ordinance led to large pressure fluctuations on the two legal watering days. By having half the city watering on three days and the other half on another three days, pressure would be kept more even over six days. Better for pipes!

  2. Daris May 1, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Maybe I was not clear when I said we were only getting 50% of the water. I meant that the irrigation ditches only had about 50% of the water they had last year.

  3. salblaster May 1, 2013 at 6:44 pm #

    there’s some pretty good information on what water pumping is doing to the valley if you google. effects of groundwater pumping in the owens valley. then click on owens valley,california,plant ecology. by david groeneveld. it has a lot of data and information collected by the usgs, inyo co. and dwp. from 1983-1988. it’s a bit long and technical but will explain the differences between phreatophtes, xerophytes, mesophytes and others. even though i don’t think the entire owens valley is going to turn into a giant cat box, i must admit there are some changes occurring and in some areas grasslands are being replaced by shrub brush, and some natural springs have stopped flowing, i know of two springs around lone pine that are dry and one by charleys butte south of tinemaha. there’s still a lot of grass land on what i like to call the earthquake fault greenbelt that starts around diaz lake and runs up the owens valley on and off to round valley, it’s good quail hunting area and i believe most of it is irragated under ranching leases, now with talk of reducing water for cattle ranchers i’m starting to think there might a problem. you all should read groenevelds paper i found it to be an informative unbiased account of effects of lowering the water table.

    • Philip Anaya May 2, 2013 at 7:05 am #

      “The Key to realizing the Agreement goal for protection of the vegetation is an aggressive monitoring program” . I did not find a date on this Paper from David Groeneveld but it seems to be from the 1990’s. Here’s the link

      When asked what endangered pup fish were good for , Phil Pister answered, “What are you good for?” And so it is with the vegetation in the Owens Valley. There’s a whole lot of life cycle that goes along with every plant. Thanks for the reference salblaster.
      There’s another key for realizing the goals of the Longterm Water Agreement. We have to do the right thing with the knowledge gained form an agreessive monitoring program. How about groundwater pumping for export only in years of heavy runoff.

  4. Philip Anaya May 1, 2013 at 7:24 pm #

    ” It is recognized that successive dry years could result in insufficent water to meet all needs. During periods of dry year water shortages , the Technical Group will evaluate existing conditions. A program providing for reasonable reductions in irrigation water supply for Los Angeles-owned lands in the Owens Valley and for the enhancement/mitigation projects may be implemented if such a program is approved by the Inyo Board of Supervisors and the Department, acting through the Standing Committee.”
    This is from the Longterm Water Agreement. Section II, Article A , paragraph 3 in the “Type E Vegetation Classification.
    The DWP cannot unilaterally restrict either irrigation water or water for the enhancement/mitigation projects. They need the approval of the Inyo County Board of Supervisiors. That’s how I read the document.
    If they do reduce water without the approval of the Inyo Board of Supervisiors then they are in violation of the Longterm Water Agreement.
    The DWP is no stranger to the issues of violating the Water Agreement. Their delay ,obstruct, starve and imtimidate the Ranchers skills are finely honed and are backed up by legal defense budgets and changes in laws at the State level “for the benefit of many” is standard operating proceedure for them. Litigation by the County or interested groups have prove successful in the past but that is a time consuming process and meanwhile there is the immediate needs of Ranchers and Mitigation projects that will be starved for water.
    A line has to be drawn in the sand and it has to happen at the Inyo County level sooner than later. Hard decisions are going to be made by our Supervisiors and whatever decisions they decide may not even prove effective with the juggernaut LADWP.
    I’ve been thinking that the Inyo Water Department needs some new tools, some enforcement ability. I’ve been thinking that there could be some Compliance Officers, sworn law enforcement personnel, who have the powers to cite and arrest violators of County Codes with respect to Water Agreement. The theft of resources in violation of statutory legal orders and agreements is clearly some kind of a violation. At the very least, the DWP could be cited for violations of law ,restraining orders might be issued either civil or criminally and daily fines imposed as they were in the Lower Owens River Project case untill there is compliance. It is enough,100 years of having no self determination in this Valley, being vassals, subordinates, subservients to the Los Angeles Dept of Water and Power, this is the time to try something new.
    I wish that there was good answer or a solution in this impossible situation. In the meantime, there is ample knowledge to the effects of excessive pumping in the Owens Valley during droughts . Now is the time to meet the needs of the Biotic Communty here in the Valley . Now is the time for the Supervisiors to be supported in a decision to NOT agree to diminished water resources for the Valley.

  5. Dee May 2, 2013 at 7:58 am #

    Time to elect a new board of supervisors and perhaps reelect Griffiths, the only one that seems to be doing anything regarding this matter. It’s pretty obvious the current group (minus Griffiths) has a warped interest on this matter. What a joke these folks are, they should look for a clown job at a circus.
    When golf courses are a priority you know they’re full of baloney! Are they on the take??

    • Outsider May 2, 2013 at 9:58 am #

      I’m sure they’re at least smart enough to see through the pressure/insults from Jeff’s campaign bulldog, Dee. Your boy only gets one vote out of five.

      • Dee May 6, 2013 at 8:14 am #

        I’m not much of a Jeff Griffiths fan and didn’t vote for him, not my boy to say the least.
        But he clearly has spoken out on the side of sanity on this subject.

    • Desert Tortoise May 2, 2013 at 12:28 pm #

      First off, not only do I not play golf, but I consider myself to be a non-golfer. My opinion of golf matchs that of Mark Twain. Having said that, it seems that all over the western world and even some developed Asian nations, the presence of an acceptable golf course is a prerequisite amenity if desireable business are going to locate in your community, and almost equally important as a tourist draw. Lack of a golf course of an acceptable standard turns out to be a genuine detriment to other desireable economic activities. This is as true as it is silly.

      Betcha that DWP guy plays a round or two.

    • Jeff Griffiths May 2, 2013 at 12:46 pm #

      I can assure you that every member of the Inyo County Board of Supervisors is working diligently to find solutions and chart the best course through a difficult and complicated issue. We all work together to do whats best for Inyo County, its residents, and our valley. This is a time when our entire community needs to stay united as a team.

      (and my buddy signs his name Dee Younger, Outsider. It is a different Dee, I don’t know who.)

      • John Barton May 2, 2013 at 6:23 pm #

        @ Jeff- The County Board has a long history of doing nothing about DWP. I think it’s mostly fear and self-preservation/interests. Many supervisors including at least one on the current board have leased land from DWP to raise cattle or buildings for a business. Conflict of interest? Yes! Looking out for constituents best interests? No! I hope you prove different and don’t just continue to throw out the typical sound bytes:

        “We all work together to do whats best for Inyo County, its residents, and our valley. This is a time when our entire community needs to stay united as a team.”

        • Dee May 6, 2013 at 8:20 am #

          Thanks for pointing out the well known conflict of interest.

          Seems like Rick Pucci and Griffiths are the only ones speaking out forcefully on this issue. Kudos to both!

          • outsider May 6, 2013 at 12:48 pm #

            Who has a well-known conflict and what is it? No one ever seems to want to say. Is it Voldemort!?

      • Trouble May 2, 2013 at 6:28 pm #

        Jeff Griffiths-Thanks for responding. It’s good to know someone in high places is following our concerns. Thou you should probably take my comments with a grain of salt. Thanks.

      • Desert Tortoise May 2, 2013 at 8:12 pm #

        The Board needs to send representatives to Los Angeles, get on the agendas of the LA City Council and DWP Board and challenge directly and in person the tactics and policies of the DWP. Make sure the press in LA knows you will there. LADWP sends it’s people up here to state their case in person. Inyo and Mono Counties need to do the same. If you are too lazy to do so, then don’t complain about the outcomes.

  6. Andrew Kirk May 2, 2013 at 12:50 pm #

    Great story, Benett. Thanks.

  7. amazed May 2, 2013 at 2:29 pm #

    Dee, there are elections every few years. Maybe you and Jeff should run as a team.. Is it easier to just throw rocks at those who run and really try to make a difference.for Inyo

    • You think you've got trouble May 2, 2013 at 3:50 pm #

      Please correct me if I’m wrong but at least in Inyo County your elected officals ran an actual campaign and became elected to their positions.

      Unlike Mammoth Lakes, where two councilmen ran unopposed (Bacon and Raimondo)
      Then you have two others who have been around for so long, it’s difficult to know for sure how many cookie jars they have their hands in. And lastly the mayor who (surprise! surprise!) is a developer.

      And of course, since straight-shooter Dave Wilbrecht dared butt heads with the town’s version of Mr. Potter (from “It’s A Wonderful Life!”) Rusty Gregory, Wilbrecht has been replaced with an ultra-slick number-cruncher from the big city of Oakland, who can talk up a storm while saying and solving nothing, and thinks the best things for Mammoth are car washes and auto dealerships.

      Feel fortunate.


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