Silence implies consent: problems at the (former) Owens Lake Planning Committee
by Daniel Pritchett, Bishop
In 2010 DWP convened “a broad collaborative process” to develop a “Master Plan” for Owens Lake. Almost every county, state, federal, and tribal entity in Owens Valley, along with environmental groups and several individuals joined the “Owens Lake Planning Committee.” The committee adopted rules for consensus-based decision-making. A draft Master Plan was released in December 2011, and public comments were accepted, but never addressed. In March, 2013, DWP abandoned its collaborative process in favor of promoting the “Owens Lake Master Project,” a plan over which DWP has sole control. Although it has abandoned the “Master Plan” process, DWP seeks to perpetuate the (former) Planning Committee.
The Owens Valley Committee (OVC) recently resigned from the (former) Planning Committee and distributed a press release (available at http://www.ovcweb.org/item/OneNews.asp?qitemid=292 ) explaining its reasons.
Inyo County Supervisors made comments to the news emphasizing the importance of talking to DWP and being “engaged.” The implication was that in leaving the Planning Committee OVC would somehow lose the ability to talk to DWP. This is incorrect: OVC continues to talk to DWP. For example, OVC and other MOU parties and recently persuaded DWP to implement supplemental flows to the lower Owens River.
Membership in the (former) Planning Committee no longer confers any power to affect what happens at Owens Lake. Under its original charter, Planning Committee members were bound to a consensus process, which allowed all members at least some control over the Master Plan. That control offered a real incentive for Planning Committee membership. DWP ended this arrangement in March. The “Master Project” has replaced the “Master Plan” and DWP alone has control. OVC and other parties — whether (former) Planning Committee members or not — can only beg. “Engagement” is not an option.
A serious disadvantage to remaining in the (former) Planning Committee is the fact that DWP uses the committee — without members’ permission — in its war against Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District (GBUAPCD). For example, Planning Committee members were listed in a DWP video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXl0dorQBTc) attacking GBUPACD. They were also invoked in propaganda promoting DWP’s lawsuit in federal court against GBUAPCD last fall (https://www.ladwp.com/ladwp/faces/ladwp/aboutus/a-water/a-w-losangelesaqueduct/a-w-laa- owenslake?_adf.ctrl-state=147ofat061_4&_afrLoop=676855079258000). When OVC objected, it was ignored. In OVC’s press release this was described as a “capture” of the Planning Committee by DWP’s public relations department.
Another, striking example of this capture occurred at the May 15 (former) Planning Committee meeting. One of the members noted DWP’s own data show it had used far less water for Owens Lake dust mitigation than the 95,000 af/yr listed in the Master Project. DWP’s representatives didn’t dispute the assertion. They didn’t say anything at all. Inyo County representatives (including two Supervisors) didn’t say anything. Not even the facilitator said anything. After an awkward silence, the subject was changed.
Silence implies consent. I can’t think of a better example to illustrate how completely this group has lost its way. Members of the (former) Planning Committee have become knowing enablers of DWP’s deceit. This doesn’t serve the public interest, to say the least, and OVC was correct to leave. I urge other (former) Planning Committee members to re-consider their participation.
By focusing attention on its Master Project and the (former) Planning Committee, DWP has diverted attention from that which should concern us most: the new wellfield to be established in southern Owens Valley. This is described in DWP’s Owens Lake Groundwater Development Plan. DWP consultants report this pumping will cause a wide range of impacts, affecting people and the environment from Lone Pine to Olancha. Predicted impacts were judged unacceptable when DWP solicited public input in 1999. However, this judgment has been ignored and the pumping is embedded in DWP’s Master Project.
It is time for Supervisors to “Just say No” and publicly declare their opposition to this pumping as their constituents did years ago. Unfortunately, they are doing the opposite. By participating in the powerless (former) Planning Committee they implicitly endorse the Master Project which includes the pumping they should be using any and every means to stop.