By Deb Murphy
Mono County and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power laid their case out in Alameda’s civil court last Friday. Now, all they have to do is wait for the decision.
Stacey Simon, Mono’s county counsel, anticipates the decision could come sooner rather than later judging by the speed with which Judge Evelio Grillo went through Friday’s docket.
The County’s Writ of Mandate asks that LADWP be required to provide irrigation water to its grazing leases in Long and Little Round Valley until the analysis under the California Environmental Quality Act has been completed.
In the spring of 2018, the department’s new leases to area ranchers indicated no water would be provided to meadowlands that had been irrigated prior to LADWP’s operations in the county up to the present, with the only curtailment due to drought conditions.
After pressure was applied to the City, LADWP agreed to provide 4,600 acre-feet, as opposed to the historical high of 30,000 a-f, on the 6,400 acres of grasslands.
Last September, LADWP held a scoping meeting with locals, the first step in the CEQA process. The process includes a draft Environmental Impact Report open to public comments, a final document sometime this fall and then a vote by the LA City Council.
The County’s case cites impacts if water is withheld from the meadows: damage to wetlands, Sage Grouse habitat, visual/aesthetic resources as well as a danger to public health and safety due to potential wildland fires. Ironically, one of the EIR consultant’s drones crashed near Crowley Lake, sparking a grass fire August 31.
According to Simon, LADWP argued it was too late for Mono County to react to the de-watering since the leases signed-off by the ranchers in 2010 contained a provision the department could reduce water allotments to zero under any circumstances.
The County’s response: the new proposed leases were “something outside” that provision as it represented a larger action, a shift in water policies, according to Simon. Mono’s court filing repeatedly cites the purpose of the irrigation water shut-off—to ensure reliable water delivery to Los Angeles in the face of climate change and its effects on both precipitation and snowpack levels. That change represents a “fundamental policy change which constitutes a project under CEQA” and the appropriate, required environmental review, according to Simon.
From a layman’s perspective, it’s hard to imagine the ranchers assuming that provision would eventually result in shift to no irrigation water for ranch leases.