Letter to the editor: DWP Manager addresses lakes, wells

DWP Aqueduct Manager James Yannotta

DWP Aqueduct Manager James Yannotta

This letter is to provide accurate information about the levels of South Lake and Lake Sabrina, as well as about the operation of a well and ditches in the West Bishop area. Without a doubt, the single biggest and primary cause of low lake levels, low groundwater levels supplying wells, and low flows in creeks and ditches, is the past two successive extremely dry years in the Eastern Sierra. It is a matter of public record that 2013 was the driest year on record for the State of California, and as of today’s date, 2014 is not looking any better. Eastern Sierra precipitation levels are at about 20 percent of normal. Even if we receive normal precipitation from today until April 1 which is considered the beginning of the 2014 runoff year, the Eastern Sierra will experience below normal runoff during the 2014 spring and summer.

South Lake and Lake Sabrina

The levels of South Lake and Lake Sabrina are not managed by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP). Southern California Edison (SCE) stores water in the two lakes and controls their operation. The 1922 Court-ordered Chandler Decree prescribes flow requirements for Bishop Creek that must be adhered to by SCE and which can have an impact on the lake levels particularly in extremely low snowpack runoff years such as the Eastern Sierra has experienced the past two years, and during the current very dry year. The Chandler Decree does not provide authority to LADWP to modify the provisions of the Court order. While LADWP has allowed SCE to store a portion of the City of Los Angeles’ (City) water rights in South Lake and Lake Sabrina in the past, this does not modify the provisions of the Chandler Decree. What LADWP has previously allowed is for SCE to hold back some of the City’s water rights in South Lake and/or Lake Sabrina when sufficient water was available in excess of that needed to meet the flow requirements mandated by the Chandler Decree, along with LADWP’s water obligations. During the 2013 runoff year, there simply wasn’t enough water available to allow SCE to meet the provisions of the Chandler Decree and hold back the City’s water rights.

West Bishop Wells

On December 7, 2013, the Inyo County Water Department (ICWD) expressed concern that LADWP well W407 may be affecting some private wells. In the West Bishop area, LADWP had been running one well, W407, to provide stock water to a number of its lessees on the Bishop Cone. While LADWP did not believe that this well 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 shut off 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 being affected by well W407. In a December 13 email the ICWD informed LADWP, “It does not appear that W407 is affecting water levels…or is the cause of the recent drop in the water level (in the Highland Drive area). The Water Department (ICWD) 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 resume the operation of well W407 and the well has remained off. LADWP continues to monitor water levels in the area that are of concern in West Bishop. The water table in the area has shown no reaction to the operation of well W407 which confirms well W407 had no effect on the water table in the area of the West Bishop private wells.

West Bishop Ditches

The significantly below normal snowpack runoff the Eastern Sierra has experienced over the last two years and thus far this year has resulted in very low and in some cases a lack of flow in streams and in ditches in the West Bishop area. There are many priorities for delivering flows. As best as possible, flows must be maintained in streams to keep fish in good condition, in ditches to satisfy LADWP obligations to the Bishop tribe, and for stockwater, irrigation, and other operational needs. However, this year there has not been sufficient water available to provide and sustain water in all ditches.

LADWP is committed to achieving all of its obligations in the Owens Valley. Unfortunately, the impact of successive years of significantly below normal precipitation, for which no one has control, has adversely affected what water is available to both the Owens Valley and Los Angeles.



James G. Yannotta

Manager of Aqueduct

Los Angeles Department of Water and Power


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15 Responses to Letter to the editor: DWP Manager addresses lakes, wells

  1. Philip Anaya January 23, 2014 at 11:16 pm #

    Without a doubt the drought has had it’s effects in the Eastern Sierra, however we are not talking about empty lakes, we are talking about emptied lakes, the primary cause being the Edison’s and DWP’s Operations and Management. Certainly there has been less snowpack these past two years however North Lake seems to have had adequate water throughout the year.

    You put the responsibility totally on the drought, on the Chandler Decree , on the flash floods last July in the LORP, all examples of never taking responsibility or seeking an improvement in the management of DWP Aqueduct Operations. Truth be told it seems that is your idea of improved management of the Aqueduct involves getting every drop of water that you can into the San Fernando Valley which is how you managed the Bishop Creek drainage basin resource this past year.

    Well 407 is not the only DWP production well that effects the water table in the west Bishop area as you well know and conviently not mentioned. W408 ,W104 and W412 also deplete the water table. In 2011-12 Bishop Cone Audit it is reported that these 4 wells extracted 4496 acre feet of water. You want to give accurate information? How many acre feet did your operations allow for the recharge of the Aquifer? Obviously not enough as monitor well T389 water table dropped 11 feet in 2013, as illustrated in Mr.Harrington’s Preliminary Assessment graph. The one factor that is made clear by this graph is that in 2013 DWP changed their historic management and the flows of Bishop Creek. The Lakes were not allowed to recover, the ditches went dry after you took the water ,the production wells extracted and lowered the water table and now there are dry domestic wells on Highland in West Bishop.

    These 4 production wells are strung together by a major ditch and the flow through ends up in the Bishop Creek Canal some going to lease holders ranches and stock and the rest down the Aqueduct to Los Angeles. Is that not accurate? The West Bishop area has seen drought in the past 5 decades . The West Bishop area has not seen dry ditches and dry wells during that same period. When I first corresponded with you it was about impacts to the biotic community, economic impacts to Bishop and lake operators and water in the ponds and ditches of West Bishop. Now it’s about what You, the DWP and Inyo County will do first, to assist the folks with their dry wells and second, recover the Lakes, ditches and thus the water table in West Bishop.

    I did not see any solutions or offers in your letter nor a commitment to work and resolve these issues with the community. I hope that you can write that kind of a letter and I hope we get some snowpack that will bring some relief and assistance to these issues of water.

  2. Steve January 24, 2014 at 9:17 am #

    I recently read a report done using satellite imagery of LA. The report counted all the swimming pools in LA not including the San Fernando valley. The count was 43,123 pools. That would be enough pools for every man, woman and child in Inyo Co. could have 2.39 pools each. For a family of fore it would be 9.58 pools in the back yard.

    So my question is will LA still fill these pools with with water from the Eastern Sierra?

    Or will LA pool owners be told there is just not enough water in this dry year to fill your pool.

    • MajorTom January 24, 2014 at 12:16 pm #

      I’ll bet none of those pools were covered to avoid loss from evaporation.

  3. sugar magnolia January 24, 2014 at 11:18 am #

    Interesting report I saw on a sacramento tv station, apparently reservoirs in northern california are all very low, some as low as 17% full. While reservoirs in sourthern california are mostly full, some as much as 85% full. Of course, the water in those reservoirs comes from the north.

    • Ken Warner January 24, 2014 at 1:22 pm #

      Depending on which part of SoCal you are talking about, some water comes from the Colorado River. And (I think) some water comes from up North.

    • Desert Tortoise` January 24, 2014 at 1:41 pm #

      Nope. Much of MWDs water still comes from the Colorado River. So Cal, and LA in particular, have taken water conservation to heart. LA County water use is down to under 150 gallons per person per day, while LA City is below 125 gppd. Inyo County’s non agricultural water use is just under 400 gppd and that of Mono County is above 450. Something mose up here seem unaware of is that fully 40% of Southern California’s domestic water comes from their local aquifers. Careful management of groundwater basins and the routine recharge of aquifers with floodwaters taken from flood control channels and retained in big flood control reservoirs in the foothills are used to manage and recharge aquifers. Southern California is not in extremis because MWD planned ahead and has over 2 million acre feet of storage down south, plus several groundwater banking programs in So Cal, the San Joaquin Valley and in Arizona to draw upon. Credit good planning on their part. It is not a conspiracy.

      LA MWD has rights to 550,000 acre feet per year from the Colorado River though their aqueduct from that river has a capacity of 1.3 million acre feet. Imperial Irrigation District has rights to 3.1 million acre feet per year. The State Water Project has a capacity of about 4 million acre feet serving 29 water agencies. MWD is allocated 2 million acre feet (Kern County is allocated 1.15 MAF). I am rounding, the actual MWD proportion is 47%. The other 27 water agnecies get the 26% that is left.

      The LA DWP takes aobut 1/3 of the city’s water from the Owens Valley Aqueduct. Much of their groundwater is not used due to contamination by Cold War era defense plants, primarily hexavalent chromium and trichloroethane contamination. The city is building two big treatment plants, one of which will be the largest such plant in the world, to remove contaminants from ground water. LA is also building a massive treatment plant to treat sewage to a potable standard to recharge into the aquifer.

      Southern California is doing things, the right things, to ween themselves off unreliable Northern California water supplies.

  4. MJA January 24, 2014 at 11:44 am #

    Surely with no snow melt to fill the lakes and ponds and canals and recharge the ground water the aqueduct must be empty too, right? Or are you still pumping and diverting water Mr.Yanotta from the Owens to LA? Thanks, =

  5. April Zrelak January 24, 2014 at 12:56 pm #

    Everyone needs to contact their supervisor to tell him/her not to sign the water resolution next Tuesday. Go to inyocounty.us to see the packet for the agenda. There should be public meetings before the Board of Supervisors put in drastic changes to land management, give up air quality standards, and make back-door dealings with the LADWP. If this were a crisis requiring these measures, LA would already have water rationing. The fact that only volunteer water reductions are in place demonstrates that this low water year is being used as an excuse for LADWP to exact more concessions from Inyo County. Our supervisors are prepared to hand your resources over without your input.

    There is no valid reason to sign this resolution next Tuesday! Why are the supervisors not going public? They claim to be listening to their constituents. I believe they are — to the LADWP management who reside in Owens Valley.

    • Deseret Tortoise January 24, 2014 at 4:13 pm #

      In case you were unaware, Los Angeles has water rationing right now and have had it in place for a number of years. The ordinance places restrictions on the days one may water their lawn, the number of minutes per day of watering allowed, prohibits hosing sidewalks and driveways and prohibits car washing without a nozzle that can be shut off when not spraying the car. Their building code also mandates low flow toiltes and fawcets.

  6. Daris January 25, 2014 at 9:44 am #

    April I did not see any mention of a resolution between DWP and Inyo in the Jan 28th agenda package. My questions are to whoever may know please let me know. What resolution and where do we comment? How can our supervisors sign an agreement if it is not on the agenda as an action item?

    • Benett Kessler January 25, 2014 at 10:07 am #

      They already did sign a letter to DWP regarding policy at the dry lake. I have copied and pasted it here:

      January 21, 2014
      Mr. Mel Levine, President
      Board of Water and Power Commissioners
      Department of Water and Power of the City of Los Angeles
      111 North Hope Street
      Los Angeles, California 90012

      Subject: LADWP’s Requirements for Owens Lake Agreements

      Dear Mr. Levine:
      On January 24, 2013, the LADWP Board of Water and Power Commissioners found that before
      LADWP can commit the significant investment in money and resources to implement its proposed
      Master Project at Owens Lake, certain agencies and stakeholders first agree to seven objectives and
      requirements. The Water and Power Commissioners’ seven objectives and requirements are:
      1. Acceptance of Master Plan elements that protect or improve the habitat and public benefit
      goals within the areas where LADWP dust controls currently exist.
      2. Reduction in the amount of Los Angeles Aqueduct water applied to Owens Lake for dust
      mitigation by at least 50 percent to lessen Los Angeles’ need for water from other California
      3. Lawfully-established limit of 45 square miles of dust controls that Los Angeles is responsible
      to construct and maintain.
      4. Approved new waterless dust control methods.
      5. Allowance to transition sufficient areas of the lakebed without penalties.
      6. Easement or other indisputable, permanent right to execute and maintain the lakebed
      according to the plan provisions.
      7. Allowance to utilize groundwater under the lakebed to achieve the full habitat goals.
      Following the action of the Board of Water and Power Commissioners, LADWP’s management
      requested that the agencies involved with Owens Lake (the County, Great Basin Unified Air
      Pollution Control District (GBUAPCD), California State Lands Commission, California Department
      of Fish and Wildlife and others) present their views on LADWP’s requirements. Until now, the
      County has not formally responded to LADWP’s request.

      The County believes that, at a time when the entire state is facing a potential third straight critically dry year, it is important for the County to express its support of efforts to reduce the use of potable water for dust control on Owens Lake that can be implemented without reducing the effectiveness of dust control on the lake and while maintaining critical habitat on the lake. Accordingly, in this letter, the County presents its views on LADWP’s proposed objectives and requirements.
      Concerning requirements 1 and 4, subject to review of a more complete description of these measures and review of an assessment of their environmental consequences, the County would support the implementation of these measures.
      With regard to requirement 2, the County supports the reduction in the amount of Los Angeles Aqueduct water applied to Owens Lake for dust mitigation practices provided that the reduction does not diminish the effectiveness of dust control measures, and LADWP agrees to invest one third of water saved in the maintenance of healthy watershed conditions on Los Angeles-owned lands in the Owens Valley.
      With respect to requirement 3, the County understands LADWP’s desire for certainty and finality with respect to the amount of dust abatement on Owens Lake. Therefore, if the GBUAPD and LADWP were to agree to the areas where dust control is the responsibility of LADWP and that LADWP is not responsible for dust emanating from outside the agreed upon areas, the County would support the requirement.
      The County supports the concept of transition areas; therefore, if the GBUAPCD and LADWP were to agree on transition areas, the County would support the implementation of requirement 5.
      The County would support a request that the State Lands Commission grant an easement or other permanent right to LADWP to maintain the lakebed as described in requirement 6.

      Finally, with regard to requirement 7 a groundwater monitoring, management, and mitigation plan must be agreed upon by LADWP and the County. Crucial components of this plan would be protection for non-LADWP groundwater users, protection of groundwater dependent resources, specification of each condition that would be considered a significant impact, management of groundwater pumping based on quantified triggers set to avoid significant impacts, on-site mitigation for property owners should unforeseen impacts occur, open and timely sharing of relevant data, regular reporting, and ongoing adaptive management of pumping based on accumulated monitoring data. If the agreed upon plan is analyzed and implemented through LADWP’s EIR on its Master Project for Owens Lake, the County would agree to not challenge the adequacy of the portion of EIR that addresses the plan.
      In addition, for the County to support requirement 7, the County and LADWP must reach a mutually acceptable resolution of the dispute filed on December 21, 2011 by LADWP. In the dispute, LADWP contends that groundwater pumping to supply water for dust control on Owens Lake is exempt from the provisions of the Long Term Water Agreement (Agreement). The County’s position is that such groundwater pumping is subject to the Agreement–a position affirmed by the Standing Committee in 1998. A resolution of the dispute would recognize the positions of both parties, acknowledge that groundwater pumping pursuant to the plan outlined in the previous paragraph and implemented through LADWP’s Master Project EIR would not be subject to the Agreement–provided that LADWP and the County agree that any other groundwater pumping by LADWP in Inyo County, whether for the purpose of supplying water for dust control on Owens Lake or for other purposes, would be subject to the Agreement.

      With regard to the proposed Master Project, the County’s previous input submitted regarding the Master Plan that preceded the Master Project continues to be important to us, and we incorporate that input herein by reference1 and request that it be considered moving forward.
      The County recognizes that the entire state is facing the third straight critically dry year. Inevitably, this serious situation presents major challenges in Los Angeles and in the Owens Valley. Consequently, we believe that it would be beneficial for both parties to commence discussions as soon as possible with the goal of working together to develop mutually acceptable plans for managing the water resources of the Owens Valley during this severe drought period while maintaining the shared goals and objectives memorialized in the Long Term Water Agreement.
      In conclusion, the County hopes that the County’s good faith effort will lead to the opportunity for productive discussions concerning these important matters with representatives of LADWP.

      Supervisor Richard Pucci, Chairperson
      Inyo County Board of Supervisors

      • Philip Anaya January 25, 2014 at 8:19 pm #

        In this Inyo County response to LADWP’s requirements for it’s Master Project at Owens Lake there are folks in the Owens Valley who are unfortunately reading it for the first time. Yes indeed , watch the water , sign up for email notifications with the ICWD for meetings, but where was the distribution of this letter in draft form seeking comments ideas and responses. Enough whining
        It is vital that Inyo County support completely the efforts and the regulation that Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District has responsibility for. Dust mitigation and methods need to worked out by DWP and GBUAPCD. A promise of wildlife habitat and completion of required mitgation projects if DWP saves water that they are using by there own choice on the Lake should not sway in any way support and the authority of the GBUAPCD.
        The conflict regarding the groundwater pumping from the Aquifer below the Lake for dust mitigation being subject to the Long Term Water Agreement certainly needs to be resolved and Inyo County should not compromise their position drought or no drought.
        This letter seems to address these issues but there are folks and fine points that should could been included. I am looking for some inclusion of public comment and ideas Tuesday at the BoS meeting. The Resolution needs to be fully examined ,explained ,understood and there should be a public consensus assured before an adoption of this important statement

    • Philip Anaya January 25, 2014 at 1:13 pm #

      The item for the resolution is number 13 on the Agenda

      • Benett Kessler January 25, 2014 at 1:28 pm #

        It’s a drought proclamation resolution. I think Ms. Zrelak’s concern is that it mentions reallocation of water used to keep dust down on the dry lake. Of course, only the Great Basin Air Pollution Control District has jurisdiction over dust control. LA has chosen to use water and now does not want to.

  7. rockerchic June 17, 2015 at 5:14 pm #

    If LA is so concerned about their water, sustainability, the environment and their citizens, then why are they allowing MORE urban $prawl and hou$ing development, which only increases the demand for water?


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