By Deb Murphy
The Los Angeles/Inyo County Standing Committee meetings are usually good for a few attention-getting headlines, but with the mass quantities of water headed down the mountain, most of the contentious pumping/export issues have, at least for now, melted away.
The one zinger at Thursday’s meeting in Independence came from California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Nick Buckmaster and his critique of the Lower Owens River Project operation plan. His comments mirrored those of the LORP consultants’ annual reports. The primary difference being: this year the water is available for serious pulse flows to scour the river channel. But, Buckmaster said, the tulles will just come back. Another difference: the difficulties were well stated in front of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s top dogs.
“We’re meeting our legal obligations,” he said, “but it’s not working biologically.”
LADWP tried a ramped up flow of 300 cubic-feet-per second flow last month but with little effect on the tulles according to the department’s Dave Martin. The discussion turned to a possible season flow of 700-800 cfs, but that would create a lot of damage to roads and the infrastructure on Owens Lake where LADWP has spent more than $1 billion to reduce/eliminate dust pollution.
LADWP is working on a Memorandum of Understanding with Inyo County to fulfill its promise to pay for the environmental report on the Owens River Water Trail. The department and county hit a stand-off over the necessary site agreement that would fulfil the grant requirements for the handicapped-accessible canoe/kayak trail. The environmental work would resolve that stand-off.
Supervisor Matt Kingsley questioned the department’s release of water in Kern County. Aqueduct Manager Jim Yannotta outlined the water spreading activity within Inyo, totaling more than 50,000 acre-feet between Long Valley and Haiwee Reservoir. Water spreading south of Haiwee has been limited for biological reasons and potential flooding of Coso Geothermal operations and LADWP’s power infrastructure. According to Richard Harasick, senior assistant general manager, water spread in Kern County would have ended up on Owens Lake. Harasick indicated there are already impacts on the lake and the projected epic run-off hasn’t hit yet.
LADWP’s draft pumping plan for 2017-18 is between 47,000 and 57,000 acre-feet. Supervisor Jeff Griffiths asked why pump at all. The reason: operational flexibility; a maximum of 7,000 acre-feet would be for export, the balance for environmental, mitigation and irrigation in-valley use. “It’s in there (the plan) as a place holder,” said Harasick, “only if the need arises.”
The department plans on drawing Crowley Lake down to 80,000 acre-feet, 100,000 below the lake’s capacity, to avoid a spill into the Gorge.
Inyo/Mono Agricultural Commissioner Nate Reade made a case for financial help from Los Angeles to help with mosquito control. Just as a whole lot of water is anticipated this spring/summer, so are a whole lot of mosquitos. Control of the critters is a public health issue, Reade said, one that Inyo needs help with. “Nate can do normal (mosquito control),” said Kingsley. “But 2,000 acres of standing water is anticipated at the Islands” north of Lone Pine.
Buckmaster blew a hole through the department’s plan to flood 500 acres in the Blackrock waterfowl habitat area. “We need to change our focus to caloric production,” he said, comparing the migratory duck population to long-distance runners in need of carb loading. “We can increase the value by changing to seasonal (flooding),” he said. “That will decrease the water and the costs.” Again, the current system is spelled out in the 1997 MOU, requiring consensus on any changes.