By Deb Murphy
Thursday’s Standing Committee meeting was a little like taking a seat at a sumptuous meal, but coming away still hungry.
There were the usual reports, agreements that staff would discuss ongoing issues, issues that were beyond the purview of either the committee or the Long Term Water Agreement, but nothing really satisfying.
Action Item Highlights:
Los Angeles and Inyo County representatives on the Committee agreed to new language that conforms to the protocol established by the LTWA on the issue of which entity, the Standing Committee or Technical Group, makes decisions on “reasonable reductions” in irrigation and mitigation project water this coming run-off year. The agreement puts that authority squarely on the Standing Committee’s shoulders once the Tech Group develops a plan if reductions are needed. Los Angeles had proposed that the Committee approve a plan in advance of the plan’s development. The LTWA won.
According to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, run-off predictions currently hover around 70-percent, on average in the Eastern Sierra.
Inyo County’s efforts to retain a portion of the water savings on the Owens Lake dust mitigation continued to run into a legal brick wall. Chair Felipe Fuentes repeated his assertion that the Committee had no authority to make those decisions; the City’s Charter supersedes the LTWA regarding water rights.
Assistant City Attorney Julie Riley maintained the “Owens Lake action comes under the Health and Safety Codes” and is excluded from the Agreement and Stipulation and Order. Supervisor Matt Kingsley pointed out that the County wasn’t asking for “new water…. Just asking for what should have been there all along,” referring to under-allocated mitigation projects and irrigation reductions. Both Kingsley and Supervisor Rick Pucci asked for further discussion. Senior Assistant General Manager Martin Adams conceded that staff could talk about it.
The issue of whether the Owens Lake lies, legally, within the LTWA also factors into LADWP’s plan to pump water out from under the lake to use for dust mitigation. The County asserts the lake should be subject to the Agreement.
Though not an official action item, the City agreed to work out a schedule to provide at least a preliminary agenda for future Committee meetings in a more timely manner. One of the Tech Group’s functions is to develop those agendas, but setting up a Tech Group meeting has been problematic. For Inyo, the next step is a presentation to the Board of Supervisors for direction to the County’s representatives. Supervisor Matt Kingsley asked for the Tech Group to give the County at least 10 days for adequate review by both the Board and County residents.
During public comment, rancher Matt Kemp brought up another item that was outside the purview of the LTWA: irrigation water availability in Mono County. Kemp explained three Inyo ranching operations with leases in Mono County had no information on irrigation on those leases. “I understand why the Mono leases weren’t irrigated last year,” he said. “But if they’re not irrigated this year, our businesses and the sage grouse habitat” will be seriously endangered. “As president of the county Cattleman’s Association, trust is important,” he said. “Once we could sit down with staff and discuss issues. But not now.”
Adams response: “We’re working on lease issues; we don’t want to do anything detrimental. But Mono isn’t covered by the LTWA. It’s complicated.”
LADWP’s Dave Martin gave an update on the Five Bridges mitigation project, which was declared 90-percent completed in 1999 but has seriously declined since. The 300-acre parcel was damaged by groundwater pumping in the late 1980s and has since been overrun by pepperweed. According to County Water Director Bob Harrington, the herbicides used on the invasive species have proven more effective on native salt grasses than the pepperweed.
“This highlights the Agreements goal of avoiding negative impacts,” Harrington said. “Mitigation is expensive, time-consuming and long-lived.”
Punctuating that assertion, Harrington presented a run-down of more than 50 mitigation projects. Thirty-three have met stated goals; eight have not and for 11, LADWP says goals have been met but the Count doesn’t agree.
The solution proposed by Richard Harasick, LADWP’s director of water operations, was for staff to sit down with the list, come to a consensus on the degree to which goals were met and figure out how to achieve those goals.