By Deb Murphy
For a brief time, members of the Standing Committee seemed to be on the same page despite disagreements on specific issues. If that was indeed an era of good will, it’s gone, replaced by what looked like dueling agencies.
Example: Inyo Water Commission Chair Mike Prather used a visual to bring home the 96,000 acre-feet high end in Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s pumping plan for this run-off year. That volume, if placed in the field of the Rose Bowl, would be 96,000-feet high.
LADWP’s Director of Water Operations Marty Adams responded “we lay two Rose Bowls on the Owens Lake every day.” He neglected to mention the Owens Lake water usage was court ordered to control dust after the department diverted water to Los Angeles.
Inyo County had requested the pumping plan be reduced to approximately 74,000 acre-feet to bring water table levels up to baseline in specific well fields and allow vegetation recovery to catch up to levels in Laws.
The department made no changes to its original pumping plan.
Next up was Inyo/Mono Ag Commissioner Nate Reade’s presentation on the economic impact of agriculture in the Eastern Sierra. Before he started, Los Angeles representatives on the Committee questioned the validity of the study containing no “raw data.” Reade explained the data was confidential. Chair Nury Martinez told Reade to get on with the presentation so the committee could get to the rest of the agenda.
Reade soldiered on, ending with references to LADWP’s intent to pull water off 6,000 acres of leases in Mono County. “The Mono leases are an integral part of Inyo ranchers’ management plans, a requirement of the 1997 Memorandum of Understanding,” he said.
The usually jovial Adams questioned whether Inyo’s alfalfa crop was exported to China and Saudi Arabia. Reade explained “a lot stays in Owens Valley, the rest goes to dairies in the Central Valley.”
China is a major importer of U.S. alfalfa, just not from Owens Valley.
Back to the Mono County issue. Ten Inyo County cattle operations send their herds to Mono County during the heat of the summer. The department dropped water allotments by 82-percent this year and will do an analysis of environmental impacts on no future irrigation water. Aqueduct Manager Jim Yannotta maintained the 6,000 acres would be better environmentally once irrigation water was cut off.
Ranchers have been spreading water on those acres for 150 years.
“Historically, when DWP de-waters an area, it doesn’t work out well,” Inyo Supervisor Matt Kingsley said, noting damage at Mono and Owens lakes as well as required mitigation in Owens Valley.
During the public comment period, a representative from a LADWP ratepayers’ organization told the Committee the city was not allowed to give away its assets and should consider its obligations to its ratepayers.
Mono Supervisor John Peters pointed out the economic impact to LADWP and its rate payers from past environmental issues. “You can do the right thing now and not go down that road,” he said.
Next up, the issues on Well 385 and mitigation at Five Bridges. Surprise—the issue was postponed to a June 25 session of the Standing Committee based on a new report from LADWP Inyo representatives and staff received Wednesday morning.
Item six on the agenda: LA’s proposal to provide water to three County landfill sites as an enhancement/mitigation project. The County has initiated condemnation proceedings on the three sites. In a prepared statement, County Counsel Marshall Rudolph said “it appears (the E/M proposal) is an attempt to settle partially the condemnation litigation pending between the County and LADWP and, as presented, (the issue) is not properly before this Committee for consideration.”
Following a brief back-and-forth between Rudolph and DWP attorney Dave Edwards, Inyo Supervisor Rick Pucci pointed out the discussion was great but “we’re not authorized to vote on the item.”
On the list of other possible E/M projects in the County, LA wanted more time to review the projects.
The meeting will re-convene June 25, 1 p.m. in Los Angeles.