West Bishop wells run dry

wellrigReports are now out that a number of private wells in West Bishop neighborhoods have dried up. Residents, alarmed at these developments, are questioning why after 50 years, in some cases, are their wells suddenly dry?

At Tuesday’s Inyo Supervisors meeting, Water Director Bob Harrington told Board members, some of whom knew about the dry wells, what he knew of the situation. He said that one of the Department of Water and Power’s wells, number 407 in West Bishop, had been running longer than usual to supply stock water. Could that groundwater pump have drawn down the private wells? Harrington said he contacted DWP and plans developed to turn off the well to see if any groundwater recovery occurred in a nearby monitoring well, one thousand feet away.

Harrington said it appeared the well shut-off made no difference in the groundwater table. He concluded that a lack of water re-charge may have affected the water table and the wells, many of which only went down some 30 feet. Trouble is, the wells had never gone dry before. Why now?

Harrington and others have pointed to the fact that many water ditches and ponds in West Bishop had dried up this past summer. Now, wells are drying up. Maybe a lack of re-charge led to the problems.

One resident of Highland Dr. in West Bishop, Denise Morrill, said she had noticed four or five wells that have gone dry on her street and that well rigs have been visible in other areas around Barlow Lane. Morrill pointed out that wells were drilled in the 60s and now have problems. She wants to know what happened to the groundwater levels, and it’s an expensive fix – up to $20,000 for a new well.

Morrill, like other residents, wonders why this is happening. We have contacted DWP for a response to their part in the management of Bishop Creek drainage water this past summer.


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15 Responses to West Bishop wells run dry

  1. Philip Anaya December 18, 2013 at 1:14 am #

    Emptied lakes, emptied ditches and of course the 2 year drought have wrought environmental and economic impacts that are not addressed in the management of the Bishop Creek Drainage Basin. In her Register story, http://www.inyoregister.com/print/4943 dated Aug 2, 2013, Deb Murphy describes the dynamics of that management. Edison who operates the emptied South and Sabrina lakes is required to provide water to the DWP by the Chandler Decree. You can read her story . When the ditches became dry there was plenty of discussion at the Bishop Creek Water Association but it was explained that there “just was not any water.” DWP was aware of that as those waters were headed to Los Angeles. The ditch system including ponds and feeds DWP lease hlders through the neighborhoods in West Bishop and also feeds the Aquifer as water absorbs into the ground from these braided waterways. There is also evaporation from the ditch systems streams and ponds and the DWP would refer to this and the loss of water into the Aquifer as a conveyence loss, meaning the recharging of the Aquifer along with the evaporation is water that will not end up in the Aqueduct. However, production wells in the Bishop Cone area are able to tap into the Aquifer and that water extracted is supposed to be only for the usage on the DWP lands in the Bishop Cone and is not to be exported and that restriction to extraction is regulated by the Hillside Decree. So there are two old decrees that effect the Aquifer in the Bishop Cone and now the water tables are being lowered and new wells are having to be drilled to reach the the lowering water table . Without a doubt the Aquifer and the Cone is being affected both by pumping and inadequete recharge.
    If there is to be a recovery of the Aquifer there needs to be a recovery of South and Sabrina Lakes. No matter the runoff this coming year, the Lakes need to be allowed to fill so that there can be a managed balanced release for the full 12 months of the year instead of the 5-6 months that occurred this past year. The water that DWP saves from the 6-7 month conveyance loss needs to go into the Aquifer and not Tinnemaha Reservoir. Mr. Yannotta and his DWP need to address these issues and have a plan to adapt their management and the interested and affected government entities, business and environmental groups and individuals should be invited by the DWP to participate in the formation of that plan. The Inyo does not have access to the resource of the California Water Project not at any price. This push back of DWP of it’s enforced mitigations of the Owens Dry Lake dust and of a pending arbitrators ruling on Blackrock can not be allowed to occur. The environmental and economic condition of the Bishop Creek Drainage Basin and the Bishop Cone are now being more than threatened by a possible 3rd year of drought and it is time to have that concern as a priority and DWP needs to lead that initiative.

  2. andy December 18, 2013 at 8:30 am #

    Most likely over pumping that area by Water and Power, could be the new norm.

  3. Jim Yannotta December 18, 2013 at 5:21 pm #

    The following information is being provided in response to the December 17, 2013 story that appeared in the Sierra Wave news, “West Bishop Wells Run Dry:”

    LADWP had been running one well, W407 in the West Bishop area to provide stock water to a number of its lessees on the Bishop Cone. On December 7th, 2013 the Inyo County water Department (ICWD) expressed concern that the well may be affecting other private wells. While LADWP did not believe well W407 was affecting other private wells in the area, LADWP was amenable to shutting it off in order to confirm whether or not the well was affecting private wells. After LADWP’s lessees were given time to make other arrangements for stock water, LADWP shutoff the well W407 on December 11, 2013 and the groundwater response was monitored by both the ICWD and LADWP. By December 13, 2013 it was clear that the groundwater table in the area of private wells in the West Bishop area was not affected by well W407 and the ICWD provided the following email:

    “Based on review of the data collected over the past two days, it does not appear that W407 is affecting water levels in T389 or is the cause of the recent drop in the water level in T389. Since T389 is located between W407 and Highland Drive, it does not appear that W407 is has caused any recent water table decline that may have occurred in the Highland Drive area. The Water Department does not object to resuming operation of W407 to supply stockwater to lessees and use permit holders.”

    However, because other arrangements had been made for stock water, LADWP did not need to resume the operation of well W407 and the well has remained off. LADWP continued to monitor water levels in the area of concern in West Bishop. As of December 17, 2013 the water table in the area has shown no reaction to turning off well W407, confirming that well W407 had no effect on the water table in the area of the West Bishop private wells.

    Most likely the reason why private wells in the area are having problems with water supply is due to lack of recharge caused by the last two successive very dry years. Hopefully, we will have adequate snow pack and runoff this coming year, however, initial snow reports indicate that we are only about 30% of normal for this time of year.


    Jim Yannotta
    Manager of Aqueduct
    Los Angeles Department of Water and Power

    • Benett Kessler December 18, 2013 at 6:00 pm #

      Thank you, Mr. Yannotta. Does DWP have plans to deny variance requests from Edison as you did last summer, to be able to more carefully manage water levels in South Lake and Lake Sabrina and in water ditches and ponds below in West Bishop? Some believe the fact that DWP swiftly took much of the Bishop Creek drainage water last summer led to the drying up of the lakes, ditches and ponds, which now may have had an impact on domestic wells. Would you please comment.

      Benett Kessler

    • Philip Anaya December 18, 2013 at 11:27 pm #

      Mr. Yannotta ,
      The reason why private wells are having problems is that the water table is being depleted by extraction activities including the DWP and not being recharged this past uear with normal historic consistant flows through the ditch systems . Much of the water resource in Bishop Creek is diverted into the Edison power generation penstocks. The penstocks as you know are the huge pipes that direct the water from power plant to power plant until the water from the Edison power generation activity and what ever is in the Creek itself is then dispersed through a braided stream and ditch sytem where recharge of the Aquifer can take place .

      When DWP this year took it’s water early and got it into the Aqueduct the ditches went dry and recharge of the Aquifer stopped . You say that the drought has caused the Aquifer to not be recharged but where other than below Edison plant # 6 in the ditch system is the West Bishop Aquifer recharged even in normal years .

      So literally that’s water under the bridge. What’s going to happen with your management this coming year? Are there going to be more wells going dry because you are unwilling or unable to work with responsible Agencies and Groups to provide adaptive management to recover the Lakes and then have a consistent flow and recharge to the Aquifer? We bring this issue to your attention now in December so that when the runoff occurs no matter if it’s 50% or 150% there is a plan in place that has some goals in mind like water in the Lakes, consistent water in the ditch systems , consistent flows that recharge the aquifer .These are a few ideas and there are more if you ask for comments and concerns from the Inyo Water Dept. from the Bishop Chamber of Commerce, from the DFW ,from the Bishop Paiute tribe ,from the City of Bishop,from the Inyo National Forest ,from Edison and from individuals like myself who are hoping and waiting for your DWP to begin to resolve problems and issues as they appear on the horizon rather than dealing with things ex post facto. Who does not want a solution or an alternative to a new $20,000 well? Why be satisfied with assessment of “most likely the reason why” . Lets continue this discussion with the folks who can help and find answers to deal with these environmental and economic issues and lets get the ball rolling in time for the runoff.

    • Waxlips December 19, 2013 at 8:02 am #

      It takes longer than a few weeks to recharge an aquifer, but you knew that, right?

      • Ken Warner December 19, 2013 at 9:27 am #

        I’ve read but can’t prove that once an aquifer is depleted, the matrix that allows water to flow and circulate — the matrix collapses and the aquifer is permanently damaged and takes a long time — decades or centuries — of lots of water to reestablish the matrix.

        Put simply, once an aquifer is gone — it’s gone forever.

        I would like comments on this so that I understand the topic better.

        • Desert Tortoise December 19, 2013 at 10:28 am #

          If true, then how do water banks manage to function? Hundreds of thousands of acre feet of water move in and out of water banks as a matter of course. There are several such operations in the San Joaquin Valley and at Willow Springs in operation, some for many years. Some years ago ground water pumping in the western San Joaquin Valley led to subsidence that threatened to do damage to the California Aqueduct and also was beginning to affect the gravity flow of the water through the canal. Subsequent replenishment of that aquifer reversed the subsidence. The Fremont Valley “Restoration” Project proposes to refill an aquifer that was drained by agricultural pumping leading to significant subsidence at the southern end of Koehn Lake.

          • Ken Warner December 19, 2013 at 1:48 pm #

            Just guessing but don’t those water banks use the same pumps to put the water back as they used to take out the water?

            The thought about recharging the Owens Valley aquifer is to do it from the top down. Which I don’t think will work because the top of the aquifer is going to be Sun baked clay or sandstone and the water will just run off and not percolate down.

            I’m probably wrong of course…

  4. Yaney LA MacIver December 18, 2013 at 8:57 pm #

    And why is there no recharge? Shouldn’t LADWP take less from other sources to allow recharge? How is LA weaning itself from the Owens Valley?

  5. altostratus December 19, 2013 at 12:43 am #

    The current extreme dry spell in California is pretty incredible, and there are going to be some major water supply problems in the near future. Worse, prospects for meaningful rain/snow over the next couple of months are pretty slim. There’s a long discussion on the California Weather Blog at http://www.weatherwest.com for those who are interested…

    • Philip Anaya December 21, 2013 at 4:33 pm #

      Thank you for the link . It’s now in my favorites list but it is not what anyone wants to read. I hope that nature does the unforseen uturn and that we have at the very least a normal average year of percipitation and snowpack . Meanwhile we should contribute to the idea that DWP have some adaptive management in place in time to deal with this impending 3rd year in a row drought.

  6. Desert Tortoise December 19, 2013 at 10:32 am #

    Agriculture uses about 80% of the developed fresh water in California. A 10% reduction in agricultural use would increase water to cities by 33%. The amount of water used to irrigate alfalfa for pet horses in California is equal to the amount of water used by municipal water districts state wide. These are just a couple of examples of how water use in this state is not rational. Just look at the round alfalfa fields in the desert. Growing one of the most water intensive crops in the desert makes no sense at all, but is widely practices here and across the western US.

  7. mongo the idiot December 20, 2013 at 7:18 pm #

    Mr. Yannotta ,
    Isn’t it true that when you over pump ground water that the land settles and cant be recharged. Didn’t this happen in the San Joaquin?
    Here is a link with proof;
    Why would you do this to The Owens?
    You are going to kill the ecosystem and starve us all.
    Please stop.


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