By Deb Murphy
A three-year effort to repair or replace a half-mile stretch of 75-year-old pipeline delivering irrigation water to the Big Pine Paiute Tribe of the Owens Valley ditch system may have partially ended.
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power will have the pipe fixed within the next four to six weeks. Additional issues over who owns, has responsibility for or access to that same pipe will be resolved, eventually.
Apparently, the appearance of a large contingent from the Tribe at Tuesday’s LADWP Board of Commissioners meeting did the trick.
The group spoke during the public comment period. According to Big Pine’s Alan Bacock, the session was “atypical.” “There was a pause in the comments,’ he said. “Then (Commissioner) Christina Noonan took out her checkbook and offered to pay for it.” The comments kept coming, the check was passed to the Commission chair but, under the Brown Act, no board action was taken.
According to a LADWP press release, General Manager David Wright “directed staff to take immediate steps to fix the failing pipeline without using the Commissioner’s generous donation.”
The release goes on to quote Wright: “In the spirit of cooperation, we will expedite the repair or replacement of the failing portions of the irrigation pipe at our own cost, as we had originally offered. We will continue discussions with the Tribe and the Bureau of Indian Affairs regarding the underlying ownership, maintenance responsibilities and other issues at a future time.”
Tuesday was the second time the Tribe has approached the Board with the issue.
According to Bacock, the deteriorating pipe situation was first noted in 2012. The half-mile long conduit starts at a pond, half on LADWP land, half on the reservation, where the water is monitored. From the pond it flows through the pipe and out feeder lines that then enter the reservation irrigation ditch system.
The pipe was installed in the early 1940s by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bacock said, shortly after the land swap agreement with LADWP that established three reservation lands in the Owens Valley in Bishop, Big Pine and Lone Pine. The pipe is on LADWP land, within 10 to 20 feet of the reservation boundary.
By 2015, the impact of the loss of irrigation water and the severity of the pipe’s condition were very evident, Bacock said. The Tribe received grant funding for the fix and approached LADWP for the necessary paperwork. “We felt the language was too inhibiting on the Tribe,” Bacock said. The pipe’s problems continued.
Negotiations continued and both parties reached an agreement in concept. But when the actual documents were reviewed by the Tribe, Bacock said “they were not in the best interest of the tribe.” More specifically, the agreement stated, all disputes related to the 1939 (land swap) agreement would be considered settled. “That would put us in a vulnerable spot,” Bacock said.
The negotiations, obviously, aren’t over; but the Tribe will have irrigation water this growing season.