By Deb Murphy
The Mono County Board of Supervisors took its first step to protect area cattlemen and 6,000 acres of grazing leases.
During a special session Thursday, the Board signed off on a letter to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti outlining the impacts of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s intent to pull water from grazing leases. The meeting started with a closed session, initiation of litigation. KSRW confirmed both agenda items were related.
Last week, LADWP’s public information office stated in an e-mail the department would perform “an environmental evaluation of the proposed…ranch leases” holding over the current ranch leases until that evaluation was completed. That may take some of the pressure off the six ranching operations this year, but provides no assurance for the future.
One glaring question after last week’s discussion: what about California Environmental Quality Act review of potential damage to lands irrigated for the last 100 to 150 years. A layman’s review of CEQA regulations didn’t answer the question definitively.
Steps taken by the County, LADWP and other stakeholders to preserve bi-state sage grouse habitat kept the bird off the endangered species list. But, according to Mono County Counsel Stacey Simon, the department’s conservation plan is still being reviewed by the US Department of Fish and Wildlife. Any changes in the conditions outlined in the plan, nullify the plan. No water—no plan.
The Board’s six-page letter acknowledges LADWP’s intent to provide water until an assessment is completed, but states “the ranchers need more certainty regarding what to expect on May 1,” the start of Mono’s irrigation season.
Other issues raised in the letter included “profound and irreversible impacts on the economy, environment and cultural heritage of Mono and Inyo counties.” Referring to history of LADWP and the Eastern Sierra, the letter states “it simply shocks the conscience for LADWP to propose dewatering the last historic ranch properties (and their associated wetlands and habitat) in Mono County.
The letter cites California water law and regulations “requiring water users to petition the State Water Resources Control Board before changing the place of use of water.” It goes on to describe the “not in compliance with the City Charter” assertion as “patently absurd.”
“It’s critical how we follow through,” Supervisor John Peters said. “We have to go toe to toe” with the department.