By Deb Murphy
Thursday’s Standing Committee meeting was a riveting tennis match of semantics and legalese. In the end the committee couldn’t agree on a framework for or anything related to reasonable reductions to agriculture which means the status quo is maintained and agricultural leases will get 45,000 acre-feet for irrigation.
The only potential ag losers are those leases dependent on surface water.
LADWP Aqueduct Manager Jim Yannotta indicated the department would come back with a revised plan after the County opted not to accept the original at last Friday’s Technical Group meeting. The revised plan included a chart of historical data and removed reductions to mitigation projects, but the numbers for agriculture stayed the same.
Los Angeles representatives felt their Inyo County counterparts were bound by the Long Term Water Agreement to consider “in good faith” the framework of a program that would have cut ag leases by 30-percent from the 1981 baseline, or 32,676 acre-feet, the lowest allotment since the early 1980s. Inyo County reps agreed they would discuss in good faith but were not bound to agree with the program.
There were a couple of sticking points for the County, including the 65,000 a-f committed to the Owens Lake dust mitigation project, significantly higher than the 47,000-plus a-f used last year. In April, the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control Board signed a new State Implementation Plan, the goal of which was reducing dust emissions to 0 and reducing water usage.
Richard Harasick, LADWP’s director of water operations, said the lake “numbers bounce around each year,” and whatever water savings were realized during the 2016-17 runoff year would go to Los Angeles, on top of the proposed 113,853 already outlined in the department’s operations plan. Harasick also indicated, if the County agreed to the framework, the numbers would be reset and there would be no ag irrigation reductions.
Presumably, the 12,000-plus a-f not used for irrigation under the proposed plan would also go to Los Angeles, though that volume was not included in the 113,853 a-f.
The framework identified “below normal,” “dry,” and “critical dry” years based on percentage of runoff. It also indicated percentages of reductions based on the number of consecutive years for each type of year.
According to that framework, ag would drop by 30-percent.
Harasick told the committee, LADWP would agree to reset the clock for this year, providing full available ag allotments, if the County would approve the framework.
The County wouldn’t approve the framework, a move that also provides 45,000 a-f for agricultural leases.
That’s the bottom line but it didn’t keep committee members and city and county staff from making additional points.
Harasick cited the Long Term Water Agreement’s statement that a program of reasonable reduction “may” be implemented during dry years.
County Water Department Director Bob Harrington cited the agreement’s EIR stating that the 11,600 acres in agricultural leases would receive 5 a-f of water per acre “even in dry years.”
County Counsel Marshall Rudolph’s interpretation was that the “may” was discretionary.
According to County Administrative Officer Kevin Carunchio, runoff conditions could be described as dry 12 times since 1985 during which agricultural water stayed around 90-percent. But, that was before other LADWP obligations responded Harasick and Aqueduct Manager Jim Yannotta.
Carunchio reminded the department, Owens Lake was its doing and not related to the Long Term Water Agreement, a point LADWP has used to avoid committing savings for in-valley uses.
LADWP’s attorney David Edwards said the County representatives “couldn’t withhold consent just because you can.” Supervisor Rick Pucci said “these aren’t just numbers, they are impacts to our people. Ranchers and farmers have to deal with Mother Nature but here we have to deal with Mother Nature and LADWP.”
Supervisor Matt Kingsley made a motion recommending areas of in-valley water cuts and that staff continue to discuss a feasible framework.
That launched an extended discussion by Edwards as to what the motion was, a “program” or “recommendation to staff.” Rudolph’s response” “it is what it is – it’s a motion in the spirit of continuing the conversation.”
When Carunchio asked Edwards how the agreement defined “a program,” Edwards had to admit the agreement offered no definition.
An element of Kingsley’s motion involved “equitable management” of Bishop Creek runoff, regulated by the Chandler Decree. Yannotta said LADWP had no control over Bishop Creek flows, which were within the purview of Southern California Edison. But, as Harrington pointed out, last year, the department required a similar motion before entering into discussions with SCE to alter flows.
After a break, Los Angeles City Councilman Felipe Fuentes indicated the City would not vote on the motion.
Kingsley came up with another one, referring to the in-valley uses pie chart in the department’s annual operations plan and unused Owens Lake water exported to Los Angeles. The pie chart outlines how 161,600 a-f will be divided among valley uses, including the 65,000 a-f for the lake.
Since no one really believed all 65,000 a-f would actually go on the lake, Kingsley’s motion would subtract what wouldn’t be used on the lake from the “Owens Lake” category, but would keep the 161,600 a-f intact for valley uses.
Basically, it was a clever way to keep the savings in Owens Valley. Edwards repeated the mantra that Owens Lake activity was outside the purview of the Standing Committee and Los Angeles wouldn’t vote on the motion.