By Deb Murphy
Tuesday’s Inyo County Board of Supervisors’ meeting was long but fruitful as the Board and area Tribal representatives appear close to transitioning from a workshop on a consultation policy to an action item on the County’s protocol.
In addition, while the County’s Water Department Director couldn’t tell the Board California is out of drought status, the numbers, prior to this past weekend’s storms, are inching toward normal or average. This is one case where both normal and average are good things to be.
The issues regarding the County’s Tribal consultation policy remained, but the discussion of those issues got the two parties close enough for Chairman Jeff Griffiths to direct staff to incorporate additional changes and come back with the revised policy as an action item.
Briefly, consultations with local Tribes is a state requirement for any project that generates a California Environmental Quality Act analysis. Inyo’s Planning Department went beyond the mandates set out in Assembly Bill 52 but the policy itself has gone through five workshops without complete Tribal agreement.
The sticking issue is the County’s more structured protocol that defined expectations of and details on the process. Each workshop has revealed the complexity of fitting all of Inyo’s Tribal communities into the County’s policy.
And then there’s the initially unspoken issue of trust. As Raymond Andrews, the historic preservation officer for the Bishop Paiute Tribe, explained at an earlier workshop, “You don’t see this through our eyes.” Alan Bacoch, with the Big Pine Paiute Tribe of the Owens Valley said the current set of Supervisors may be trustworthy but there was no guarantee down the road.
Tuesday, Supervisor Mark Tillemans assured the Tribal representatives the County was going “above and beyond.” Bacoch responded, “We’re talking out of experience of how other governments have dealt with us.” That was a difficult argument to counter.
From the Supervisors’ perspective, some framework was necessary for the County to deal with future project proponents. As Griffiths explained, the County needs to “know when the process is over” so someone wishing to build a house on undeveloped land has an idea of the process.
“Ultimately, this is a Board policy, we’re the only ones held to it,” said County Administrative Officer Kevin Carunchio. “If you don’t like this, develop a Memorandum of Understanding that turns this upside down.”
Bottom line: that was the ultimate goal all along, an agreement between the County and each Tribe that achieves the consultation goals and fits within each Tribe’s individual structure.
The predicted Godzilla El Nino may be more accurately described as the Pygmy Marmoset El Nino, but for California, rated at the direst level of drought, any El Nino is an improvement over no El Nino. Or as Bob Harrington, water department director, told the Board “the drought has been so severe, improvement was not hard to achieve.”
The high points of Harrington’s presentation, given that “drought” and “California” seem to be inevitably joined:
- As of March 1, prior to last week’s storms, Sierra Nevada snowpack ranged from 75 to 89 percent of normal with Mammoth Pass at near normal and points south from 60 to 70 percent of normal.
- Water levels at Crowley Lake are higher than normal, due in large part to no or little draw down last summer, plus heavier than normal precipitation in the spring and early summer.
- The Eastern Sierra is within the above normal range in the latest three-month precipitation outlook.
Given that the past two late winters have been warm, Carunchio suggested that Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s operational plans, based on run-off determined April 1, may be misleading. “We have a new concept of normal,” he said. If those operational plans “assume what we’ll see in the future is what we’ve seen in the past, they may be based on false assumptions.”
Harrington responded that Jet Propulsion Lab has been measuring actual snowpack on the west side, to give water managers the ability to make physical-based, rather than statistical-based, forecasts.