More than 50 people gathered in Independence Monday to hear how their water systems suffer from seriously aging pipes and no capital improvement funds to take care of it.
Back in the late 80s, the Inyo Supervisors negotiated with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power on a Long Term Water Agreement to settle Inyo’s major environmental lawsuit against DWP pumping. Part of that agreement said DWP would hand over the water systems of Lone Pine, Independence and Laws to the County. Public discussions said this would keep water rates low for Southern Inyo were almost all of the groundwater pumping damage had been done.
At Monday’s meeting, Nancy Masters and Mary Roper of the Independence Civic Club explained the history to the crowd. Most listened attentively as Roper, the former County Clerk, said that there are serious questions about the legality of the water system transfer. Masters and Roper also said that the County never got adequate money from DWP to upgrade the systems as promised in the agreement.
Masters said any changes to the Water Agreement would have to go back to the Court of Appeals. She also pointed to the fact that additional environmental review should have been done by DWP on the water system transfer. Masters maintains, and those who attended public meetings in the 80s and 90s agree, that Southern Inyo and Laws were the focus of DWP’s over-pumping and that the water system transfer was designed to mitigate that condition and allow people to keep their trees and lawns alive. Groundwater in the Independence area went from 10 feet down to 60 feet down.
The audience seemed receptive and interested, and some were angry and passionate. Patrick McLernon said, “Why isn’t the County looking to the City to do what they said – make the systems function properly.” Ben Holgate called for a petition for action and formation of a committee. Many voiced that the County was not upholding its obligation and trying to push the cost off on the people.
Interim Public Works Director Doug Wilson laid out the facts to the public about the California Health Department’s inspection of the systems and the discovery of very old pipes and no capitol improvement fund. At the Supervisors meeting the next day, Wilson told the Board that although they had earlier considered leasing out the water systems, the revelation of problems would make that hard. He said that in effect if rates could not be raised to cover costs, something else would have to be done.
Wilson told the Board about Monday’s meeting and that some had suggested the transfer agreements is not valid and that the County should turn the systems back over to DWP. Others had suggested turning them over to the Department of Public Health. Wilson said, “The County is on the hook for the needs of the systems.” He said all points need to be explored and one solution discovered. The Supervisors extended their contract with Owenyo Services at around $27,000 per month to continue to operate the systems for six more months while they try to figure out what to do.