Drought takes toll on Lower Owens River

Boating through the tules.  Photo by Frank Colver

Boating through the tules. Photo by Frank Colver

Another consequence of drought conditions – the Lower Owens River. As per the agreement on the re-watering of the river, a 50% or less dry year means zero seasonal flushing flows for the river.

The normal flow will continue, but the periodic spring flow of 200 cubic feet per second will not happen. Department of Water and Power Manager Jim Yannotta stated this fact at the Inyo-LA Standing Committee meeting Tuesday. Yannotta did indicate that LA is willing to examine water issues at a River Summit this summer.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife was supposed to have ten days to review the seasonal river flow and Blackrock Waterfowl area flooded acreage, but since the Standing Committee meeting was happening the issue came up prematurely. Inyo Water Director Bob Harrington said Fish and Wildlife was expected to concur with drought-related water realities, but has concern over the long-term progress of the river project. He said the Technical Group has similar concerns.

Lacey Greene, Fish and Wildlife Environmental Scientist, told the Standing Committee that she understands the LADWP is interested in the potential for more flexible river flows as long as the situation remains “water neutral”. That means as long as LA doesn’t give any more water. Ms. Greene said Fish and Wildlife doesn’t see “neutrality” as a necessity. She said Fish and Wildlife wants to have “more of a river than a ditch.”

Many remain disappointed in the re-watering of the long-dried up Lower Owens River which is now largely choked with tules and not easily navigated. There were hopes for river recreation and habitat improvement that have not been realized.

In a letter to Inyo and LADWP, Ms. Greene had raised the concerns about fish kills resulting from the river water regime. Greene recommended better communication and monitoring of the river. Her letter also called for additional water releases if water quality starts to become compromised.

Fish and Wildlife agreed with half of the food irrigation for the Blackrock Waterfowl area as set out in an agreement, considering drought conditions.

 

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