No help for lakes or West Bishop

soforkbishopcrkAccording to the President of the Bishop Creek Water Association, Southern California Edison has refused to hold back water in the upper lakes this summer because the Department of Water and Power won’t give Edison a letter saying it’s okay to do so.

President Steve Stevens had told us that the Water Association Board had voted to send a letter to Edison requesting that in this third dry year, Edison should slowly release water down Bishop Creek so that ditches and ponds below would not dry up this year like they did last year. This management regime would also have kept more water in Lake Sabrina and South Lake.

Stevens said Edison wrote back that they need written authorization to reduce flows of Bishop Creek since there are court documents that lay out required flows. Stevens said DWP won’t give that authorization.

DWP had earlier hinted at possible cooperation to help West Bishop, but the DWP members on the Water Association Board abstained from the vote to ask Edison to hold back water this year, and now, according to Mr. Stevens, DWP has flatly refused to help.

In early May, Aqueduct Manager Jim Yannotta said that LA was willing to enter into a “dialogue on Bishop Creek flows.” He said DWP was concerned about irrigation requirements under the Long Term Water Agreement. He said the Inyo Supervisors and DWP, acting through the Standing Committee, would have to approve any reductions in irrigation water or water for mitigation projects if there are impacts from a reduction in Bishop Creek flows.

Mr. Stevens said that DWP had agreed to hold back water 17 times in the past, due to dry conditions. This year, he said, if water were held back, DWP lessees would still get what they need.

Meanwhile, as the days go by and water rushes down the creek, the Owens Valley Committee sent a letter to the Inyo-LA Technical Group to ask that they address the Bishop Creek Water management situation under the Inyo-LA Water Agreement. Asked about that, Inyo Water Director Bob Harrington said he is still “kicking that around.” He called it a complicated jurisdictional situation since flows are governed by court decrees. Harrington added that it seemed to him DWP had been saying that as a member of the Bishop Creek Water Association DWP was agreeable to holding water back in the reservoirs. Apparently not. We did place a call and an email to DWP Manager Yannotta but have not heard back.

The West Bishop people whose wells are drying up and who now deal with flooding from high creek flows are constituents of County Supervisors. Supervisors Linda Arcularius and Rick Pucci have attended Water Association meetings, but so far no one – not Inyo County, Edison, the Water Association and primarily DWP – have acted to help what will surely be a very dry late summer and fall for the residents.


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5 Responses to No help for lakes or West Bishop

  1. Mike and Stephanie Sheltz June 12, 2014 at 8:30 am #

    The June 11 article about the water situation at lakes and W Bishop is excellent.

  2. ladwp June 12, 2014 at 8:46 am #

    The following response was provided to Benett Kessler on Wednesday June 11, 2014 in response to her e-mail earlier on the same day.


    SCE is currently regulating the flow of Bishop Creek to meet the flow requirements of the United States District Court order No. B-61, also known as the Chandler Decree. There are no provisions in the Chandler Decree allowing for the City of Los Angeles, LADWP, or anyone other than the Court to issue a variance to the flows ordered by the Chandler Decree. LADWP has not provided any direction to SCE as to how it should comply with Chandler Decree flow requirements nor does the City of Los Angeles intend to take a position advising SCE to disregard this Federal Court Order.

    The 1933 Sales Agreement referred to in your e-mail, is an agreement between SCE and LADWP. The 1933 Sales Agreement addresses water rights in a number of different watersheds. Among other provisions, the 1933 Sales Agreement requires SCE to release 90% of all water stored in Lake Sabrina and South Lake each year. LADWP often provides permission to SCE to withhold more than 10% reservoir storage in order to maintain a water reserve. However, the 1933 Sales Agreement does not supersede the provisions of the Chandler Decree and at no time has any permission to withhold water in Sabrina and South Lake provided the legal authority to SCE to modify the flow requirements ordered by the Federal Court. I believe that SCE and LADWP both agree on this point.

    The shared concern by all those who benefit from the waters of Bishop Creek is that due to the current severe drought, there will likely not be sufficient water available to meet all needs throughout the year. In an effort to maintain water in their members ditches and ponds, the BCWA has lobbied SCE to reduce the current flows of Bishop Creek, store the difference in water, and release it during the fall and winter.

    While LADWP has not objected to the Bishop Creek Water Association (BCWA) request of SCE, LADWP is concerned that reduced Bishop Creek flows during the summer months could limit the amount of water available for irrigation on City-owned lands in the Bishop area. Water Agreement Section IV.A provides:

    “The Department shall continue to provide water for Los Angeles-owned lands in Inyo County in an amount sufficient so that the water related uses of such lands that were made during the 1981-82 runoff year can continue to be made.”

    My staff maintains open and cooperative discussions with the BCWA regarding this issue. To clarify this issue, LADWP is having some difficulty providing water to all of its Bishop-area lessees under the current Bishop Creek flow regime and anticipates that its lessees dependent on Bishop Creek will not receive a full allotment of water this year. While the Water Agreement and 1991 EIR recognize the requirement to provide irrigation water is contingent on amount of surface water and groundwater available, LADWP may not take unilateral action that would reduce the irrigated acreage in the Bishop area to below that required by the Water Agreement and 1991 EIR.

    LADWP has for many months suggested a solution to the BCWA that is provided by Water Agreement Section IV.A which provides:

    “It is recognized that successive dry years could result in insufficient water to meet all needs. During periods of dry year water shortages, the Technical Group will evaluate existing conditions. A program for reasonable reductions in irrigation water supply for Los Angeles-owned lands in the Owens Valley and for enhancement/mitigation projects may be implemented if such a program is approved by the Inyo County Board of Supervisors and the Department through the Standing Committee.”

    In order to ensure that water is available to all entitled parties during periods of drought, it has been suggested that the BCWA work with SCE, Inyo County, LADWP, and other stakeholders to ensure the necessary legal actions are taken to legitimately provide for reasonable flow reductions in Bishop Creek during low runoff years.


    Jim Yannotta
    Manager of Aqueduct
    Los Angeles Department of Water and Power

    • Benett Kessler June 12, 2014 at 8:54 am #

      Jim, You sent this after my deadline, but I will use parts of it for another story. Thanks for the response, Benett Kessler

  3. Philip Anaya June 12, 2014 at 1:08 pm #

    Mr. Yannotta,

    It is unfortunate for the Valley that Mr. Pendergast and Yourself this past year 2013, made the decision to modify the past cooperative Management Practices between LADWP and SCE of the Bishop Creek surface flows. Previous to your tenure as the Aqueduct Manager there has been periods of drought and a “different” Operations Plan for Bishop Creek that got everyone, the DWP, SCE, the Ranchers, the residents in West Bishop et all , through the difficult periods without the environmental, economic and social turmoil that resulted from your 2013 Bishop Creek Surface Flow Management.
    I shouldn’t go throught the litany of attempts to request a modification of that Management the requests that began last August except to say, You must be exhausted hearing the request for a “cooperative management plan” for this years 2014 runoff over and over at every venue that both You and I attended including Tech Group, Standing Committee Meetings , BCWA Meetings, Inyo Board Meetings, all those informal chit chats that We have had in the DWP Bishop Headquarters Lobby. Many including myself have heard the Mr.Yannotta dog and pony show, the denials of fact, the excuses, the delays, the dumbdown ” I’ll have to get back to you on that”. No Mr.Yannotta ,You and Mr. Pendergast are not liars , You guys are LADWP Managers after all. I’m not too sure what is accurate, trustworthy or credible anymore but I have come to the conclusion that You are true to your job which is to get every drop of water into the Aqueduct and down the pipe to Los Angeles.
    Last Years, 2013, Management was all about that . I do not believe that the DWP intended to cause Domestic Wells to go dry. The Water Agreement has provisions that restrict extraction (pumping) operations that lower the water table and effect domestic wells. Unfortunately the Water Agreement does not regulate surface flows even though Your Operations resulted in the lowering of the West Bishop Water Table (Monitoring Well T389). Dry ditches in August 2013 became dry domestic wells by October 2013 in West Bishop but then Mr. Yannotta , You and many others including myself , have long ago already had this conversation.
    The collateral effects and damages of the 2013 runoff management might not have been easy to predict . The fact You, Mr. Pendergast and the LADWP have decided to repeat the 2013 Management Practices reflect a knowledgable and a willfull decision on your part, even with the lessons gained in 2013, to once again damage the environment, to once again damage the economic vitality of the Bishop Community , not to mention the horror of $20-$30,000 apiece for new wells and to once again, seemingly purposeful, to create turmoil in the Owens Valley.
    Mr. Almond at the BCWA meeting back in March, presented a History of past management practices and a Plan for this years limited runoff , a sustainable attempt to avoid the 2013 difficulties. That was the solution and that was a lifeline for your future effectivness as the DWP Aqueduct Manager There have been many acre feet per second flowing from South and Sabrina Lakes ultimately into the Aqueduct truth be told and many CFS are flowing like sands in an hour glass. Soon the flows will diminish and stop and Mr. Pendergast at a BCWA meeting will explain that there’s just no more water . Deja Vue all over again

  4. david July 6, 2014 at 7:29 pm #

    I wonder if lakes behind dams are not maintained (de-silted) properly in order to maintain their full capacity, can the operators of the dam be sued for harming those dependent on it downstream when flows are reduced to zero or near zero? Looking at Lake Sabrina on Google Earth, it’s no wonder that the lake dried up so quickly. An article on the Cal Berkley website discusses it.


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