By Deb Murphy
Just before Inyo’s Board of Supervisors approved the settlement agreement with Los Angeles Department of Water and Power over wells and mitigation in the Five Bridges area, Supervisor Matt Kingsley admitted there were “subtleties in this agreement.”
That was an understatement. Months of Technical Group meetings ending in a deadlock, generally left the regulars in the audience scratching their heads.
The agreement allows LADWP to proceed with the two-month test with defined environmental protections. It also clears up issues that floated to the surface during the nearly year-long process after Well 385 was modified to pull from the deep aquifer.
Another issue compelling the Board to approve the agreement was the uncertainty of the County’s litigation. In essence, if the County prevailed in its suit on the inadequacy of LADWP’s Negative Declaration on the pump test, a full environmental review could end up with the permanently-off status of Wells 385 and 386 removed from the area’s Mitigation Plan, according to County staff.
The two-month test comes with a sets of monitoring sites and depth-to-water triggers. The water pumped during the test, 333 acre-feet, will go into the Aqueduct, but an equal amount of water will be diverted to the mitigation site during the growing season.
In an e-mail, Water Director Bob Harrington stated the purpose of the County’s litigation was “to prevent LADWP from unilaterally modifying or ignoring mitigation measures they had agreed to.” The agreement allows the department to temporarily suspend the permanent shut-off status of Well 385 but only through the Technical Group.
The Tech Group, made up of County and LADWP staff, has to agree to any measure. The agreement re-affirms the Tech Group’s role in any future pump tests, monitoring or mitigation plans or operation of both Well 385 and 386.
During a Tech Group presentation by LADWP on the Five Bridges mitigation plan, the relevance of that plan was questioned. The department had trouble admitting it had approved the plan. Through the settlement, the department “agrees the ’99 reveg plan was prepared by the Tech Group as required by the Memorandum of Understanding.”
The settlement also “makes clear the authority to modify the plan lies with the Tech Group, not solely with” the City.
Harrington’s e-mail maintains LADWP’s “strategy in the negative declaration was to characterize 385 as a new well, negating the revegetation plan’s prohibition against running the well.” But, the settlement “makes a linkage between the site conditions and the well. If LA wants to put the well into operation, the Tech Group has to designate a management area and monitoring site requirements.”
Those who provided public comment on the agreement didn’t appreciate the above subtleties. Their focus was on what Alan Bacock described as a promise the agreement took away. “The language (in the mitigation plan) is perfect clear,” he said. “Permanently shut off.”
Owens Valley Committee Mary Roper wanted the Board to postpone the decision. “OVC does not approve of the agreement,” she said. “Mitigation goals have not been achieved.” She also questioned “why these two wells,” pointing out their proximity to Fish Slough and just outside the boundaries of the Bishop Cone, an area under the Hillside Decree that requires LADWP to use as much water on the Cone as it pumps out from under it.
The OVC also initiated a lawsuit against LADWP following its board’s acceptance of the negative declaration.
Philip Anaya asked the Board to hold a settlement conference with the MOU parties, all partners in the process of establishing mitigation plans. “You’re leaving the MOU partners in the dust,” he said.