By Deb Murphy
Friends of the Inyo is the latest entity to come out in support of ranchers with grazing leases in Long Valley, leases receiving a fraction of previous irrigation water allocations this year and possibly no water following an environmental analysis by land owner, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
Initially, LADWP leases indicated no water for this year. In early May, Mayor Eric Garcetti indicated by letter ranchers would receive “an amount of water…. similar to 2016, which was also based on snowpack conditions.” Snowpack this year came in at 82-percent of normal, compared to 71-percent in 2016. The total water for Mono County leases this year amounts to 18-percent of historical allocations.
Bishop-based Friends of the Inyo’s June 29 letter to Garcetti notes the 2012 Bi-State Action Plan that kept the sage grouse off the Endangered Species list. “The Plan clearly states that irrigated meadows are crucial for successful brood rearing habitat.”
A new wrinkle introduced by the correspondence: “Prior to the development of Crowley Lake Reservoir, the lower part of Long Valley contained several thousand acres of wetland habitat.” In essence, the 6,200 acres of irrigated leases helped maintain those wetlands. LADWP had indicated its no-water policy would improve the ecosystem by returning the land to pre-irrigation conditions. However, it’s doubtful the department intends to fill in Lake Crowley.
In conclusion, the Friends ask for the development of a management plan addressing timing and allocation of water resources to the leases, a plan developed through collaboration of local stakeholders.
The Audubon California and Eastern Sierra Audubon Society’s May 31 letter to Garcetti strongly supported both the sage grouse and ranching lessees. While “the sage grouse adults “subsist on sagebrush leaves during the winter, the baby birds need the insects found amongst the forbs and grasses in wet meadows and irrigated pastures …in the spring and summer…on Los Angeles lands,” the letter states.
The Sierra Club Range of Light group, Assemblyman Frank Bigelow and California Senator Tom Berryhill have also weighed in on the issue.
Perhaps the letter with the most clout came from the California Natural Resources Agency, the umbrella agency for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Agency Secretary John Laird asked for an “immediate commitment to provide a water allocation this year for these ranchlands commensurate with current snowpack and water conditions.”
In response to Mono County’s request to maintain irrigation, Garcetti had noted successes on Owens Lake, a settlement reached through litigation. Laird noted that achievement but reminded the department it had missed the January 2018 deadline to complete facility upgrades in the Owens River Gorge, also a settlement agreement.
Laird asked the department to “immediately commit to an appropriate water allocation this year” and to begin discussions with Mono County and the Department of Fish and Wildlife for continued irrigation for both the benefit of the ranchers and the protection of wetlands, species and their habitat.