The Long Term Water Agreement, the result of years of litigation over groundwater pumping, was signed by LA and Inyo County in 1997. With that agreement, the County took over control of three town water systems in Independence, Laws, and Lone Pine. Water rates were left cheap so that people could keep their lawns and gardens alive.
County Officials say that the water systems cost more money than they make, especially when maintenance and upgrades of the systems come into place. Adding to the budget woes stemming from the water agreement, LA agreed to pump water for the Towns for free up to a point. With Independence and Lone Pine over the allotted annual amount, the county owes DWP $138,000 and counting.
After continued debates at the Inyo Supervisors meetings the argument has boiled down to whether or not the county will raise the water rates or will there be a subsidy out of the county general fund?
The county has already spent $75,000 out of the general fund to hire a consultant to come up with a revised rate plan. The county has budgeted, $100,000 for the systems this year as well. Some residents that we have heard from dont want to spend Inyo tax dollars to subsidize water.
With a Water Agreement supposed to mitigate pump damage in Southern Inyo, LA gives Inyo County $3 million dollars a year, two million of which goes into the General Fund. Others have asked why Inyo County does not use a portion of that money to pay for the water systems.
Water Attorney Greg James, who negotiated the water agreement for Inyo County, gave the board a history of the water systems for the second time in six months. He explained that Inyo had fought with LA over town water systems since the 70s, even going to the State Supreme Court to fight over water rates. Now that the County is in charge of the water systems, the fight will stay local.
The consultant hired to do look into the town water systems is expected to have recommendations ready this summer. The decision on how to move forward will then go back before the Supervisors.