Bureaucrat Beat: Election Capers, Rewards of Fear & Hardball

Why is it that Mono County produces more election shenanigans than Inyo County? Someone recently suggested that lots more money in Mono brings out the power madness. Maybe so. Sometimes we wish Inyo candidates would show a little of the Mono chutzpah. Instead, candidates gripe privately that the media hasn’t attacked would-be politicos enough. Hey, we’d love to quote what you people think of your opponents. Go ahead, tell us things we may not know. The rest of the public may need to know.

Mammoth Mountain CEO Rusty Gregory poked and prodded the Mammoth Town Council recently as they dithered over the appeal of the major project, Old Mammoth Place. Gregory called for leadership and said the Town better not be in the state it is now (floundering over planning) when the economic market returns.

A couple of days later, Councilman John Eastman pointed to some of the good things about Mammoth – the highly successful bus transit system, air service and the Lake Mary Bike Trail.

Daniel Pritchett of the local California Native Plant Society pointed to DWP’s groundwater much higher pumping rate this year and the failure of the Water Agreement to restrain pumps. You can read his entire letter on our website under this Bureaucrat Beat. Pritchett said, “Inyo County is confronted with the fruits of its fear-based decisions of the past.” Pritchett points to the iffy pump controls in the Agreement, the Drought Recovery Policy that DWP decided to drop even before water had returned to the root zone of plants. That means the Agreement goal of maintaining groundwater dependent vegetation cannot be met.

Pritchett points to the facts that Inyo and DWP agreed to revise the pumping rules and use an Interim Pumping Plan until that was done. Well, it was not done and now the interim plan has expired. Inyo County failed to take legal action to enforce the Drought Recovery Policy, so here we are, 14 years after signing the Water Agreement with no firm environmental recovery and no firm plan to get it done.

We’re not the only ones who know that the only way to play with DWP is Hardball. LA Mayor Villaraigosa has recently ranted about DWP’s upper level bureaucrats who have refused, the Mayor said, to respond to the need to move away from coal and toward renewable fuels. Villaraigosa called it “an absolute war.” Yeah, man, we know. This is what happens when bureaucrats rule. Big trouble. Too bad Inyo Supervisors won’t stiffen their spines and lead.

Wall St. bankers may have no spines, but they have oodles of dollars. According to news reports, in the lat 10 years, the banking industry has spent $4 billion on lobbyists to make their paid-for lackeys in D.C. do their bidding. In 2009 alone Goldman Sachs spent nearly $3 million on lobbyists, JPMorgan Chase spent $6 million and Citigroup forked out $5.5 million. Guess who owns whom?

Our favorite story this month? The one about the Ohio judge who advised citizens to carry guns to defend themselves since this county cut the number of deputies in half due to budget problems. Asked by a Cleveland TV station to respond to the law enforcement shrinkage, Judge Alfred Mackey said people should respond to the deputy cuts by arming themselves. He said citizens should “be very careful and just be vigilant because we’re going to have to look after each other.” He also urged formation of anti-crime block watch groups. The judge also said citizens have to be law-abiding and if they are not familiar with firearms they need to take a safety course so they are not a threat to their family, friends and themselves.” Strange times we live in.

We’ll end with a scam story. An 86-year-old woman in Lone Pine received a $4,450 check from “The Child Center of NY, Inc.” The schpiel that went with it told of a sweepstakes prize of $125,000. The check was a pre-payment. But they wanted the Lone Pine woman to send them a check for $3400 to pay the taxes on the prize. Wow. We called the number, and told the man who answered we were from the news and wondered if this whole prize thing were a scam. He said I’d have to call back. I did. He acted huffy. I said I wanted to speak to whos in charge because theyre sending questionable items to people in our community. He took my number. Im not holding my breath. Dont send strangers any checks!!

With that this is Benett Kessler signing off for Bureaucrat Beat where we await your word on our lives in the Eastern Sierra and beyond.

(Below is Daniel Pritchett’s full letter on DWP pumping)

Inyos chickens come home to roost:

DWPs 2010 groundwater management plan

By the time you read this article, DWP will have released its proposed groundwater pumping plan for runoff year 2010-2011. The plan is released each year on April 20. The pumping plan this year has much greater significance than any plan for the past four years. This is because pumping this year is no longer constrained by the 2007 Interim Management Plan (IMP). Because the IMP has expired, and because DWP stopped abiding by the Drought Recovery Policy of the Inyo-LA Long Term Water Agreement (LTWA) in 2001, the only management constraint DWP recognizes is the LTWAs ON/OFF protocol. This protocol, unfortunately allows far too much pumping to attain the LTWAs environmental protection goals.

Inyo County is thus confronted with the fruits of its fear-based decisions of the past. If youve read and remembered all my newsletter articles since 2001 youll understand what Im talking about. In case you havent, Ill try to explain below.

Under the LTWA, pumps go on and off according to the ON/OFF protocol — a set of calculations based on measurements of soil moisture and vegetation at 33 monitoring sites. When the LTWA was negotiated ON/OFF was an untested, experimental protocol, and there was concern that it might not be adequate to recover groundwater from enormous drawdowns caused by DWPs record volumes of pumping during the drought of the late 1980s. Inyo and DWP, therefore, agreed to an overlay, or further constraint on pumping beyond the ON/OFF protocol. This overlay is the Drought Recovery Policy (DRP). It calls, among other things, for substantial recovery in soil moisture and water table conditions The DRPs explicit goal is to insure recovery of soil water within the rooting zone [italics added] to attain the LTWAs vegetation protection goals.

From 1991-2000, DWP asserted that its pumping complied with the ON/OFF protocol and the DRP. In 2000, however, DWP hired consultants to evaluate the DRP. In their evaluation, DWP consultants de-coupled the DRPs substantial recovery phrase from the rooting zone specified in the DRP goal. They decided that substantial recovery meant recovery of 80% of the pumping-induced drawdown regardless of rooting zone conditions. In fact, they only used the phrase rooting zone twice in their entire lengthy report. DWP used the report as grounds to unilaterally terminate the DRP in 2001 over Inyos objections.

In de-coupling substantial from rooting zone DWPs consultants de-coupled management from science. Substantial is a relative term, while rooting zone is based in biology. If soil moisture doesnt recover in the vegetation rooting zone, the LTWA goal of maintaining groundwater dependent vegetation cannot be met, regardless of how substantial is defined.

In its unilateral termination of the DRP, DWP made itself vulnerable to legal challenge on both procedural and substantive grounds. The procedural argument is that because the DRP was established by the Standing Committee, DWP cannot unilaterally terminate it: Only the Standing Committee can terminate it. The substantive argument is that the DRP goal of recovery in the vegetation rooting zone had not been met in 2001 in many wellfields (and still hasnt in 2010).

Rather than initiate potentially costly dispute resolution and legal proceedings, Inyo agreed — at a Standing Committee meeting in summer 2003 — to send Inyo County Water Dept staff to meet with DWP staff and a facilitator to come up with an interim management plan. The idea was that such a plan would constrain pumping in place of the DRP, while Inyo and DWP jointly developed an alternative to ON/OFF. Both Inyo and DWP dislike ON/OFF, though for very different reasons. I vividly recall Inyo County officials threatening litigation over the DRP if the facilitated meetings failed to produce an interim management plan by September 1, 2003.

September 1, 2003 came and went with neither an interim management plan, nor the threatened litigation. County Supervisors were repeatedly told that progress was being made and just a little more time was needed. Finally, in early 2004, Inyo County CEO Renee Mendez became involved and the meetings broke down. The proposed interim management plan produced was so bad even the Inyo County Water Department (which negotiated it) recommended it be rejected, and Inyo Supervisors rejected it in a unanimous vote.

What happened next?

Instead of Inyo Supervisors making good their threat of litigation, the Inyo County Water Department started developing its own replacement for ON/OFF. It made some degree of sense to have developed a potential management solution before initiating DRP litigation. The Water Department publicly discussed its conceptual model for an ON/OFF replacement in 2006. DWP, apparently alarmed that Inyo was about to actually make a serious proposal, then attempted to co-opt Inyos effort. It proposed that Inyo and DWP work jointly in an effort not just to replace ON/OFF, but to revise the entire Green Book.

Inyo Supervisors fell for DWPs proposal hook, line, and sinker. In 2007, Inyo and DWP agreed to an Interim Management Plan intended to stabilize groundwater at 2007 levels for three years while DWP and Inyo staffs attempted, with a facilitator, to revise the entire Green Book. The Interim Management Plan superseded the DRP and Inyo agreed not to attempt to enforce the DRP while the IMP was in effect. Inyo Supervisors naively thought the Green Book would be revised by 2010 and there would no longer be a need for the DRP.

We pointed out in 2006-2007 the folly of this strategy. There was no reason to think that the same staff who had been unable to accomplish a relatively simple goal of developing an interim management plan with assistance of a facilitator in 2003 would now be able to revise the entire Green Book with assistance of a facilitator in 2007. We made a particular issue of the secretive nature of the proceedings and pointed out that without meaningful public scrutiny DWP would have no incentive to act in good faith and would simply delay. We also argued that the Water Department should continue developing its own ON/OFF replacement because of the high likelihood the joint effort would fail.

It is now 2010. The Interim Management Plan has expired, the joint Green Book Revision process has not produced any Green Book revisions at all, much less a replacement for ON/OFF, and the Inyo County Water Department hasnt completed its own proposed ON/OFF replacement it described in 2006. Inyo Countys position is thus the same as it was in 2003 and 2006. It couldnt pull the trigger and challenge DWPs unilateral DRP termination then, and theres no indication it can pull the trigger now.

By failing to challenge DWPs unilateral DRP termination, Inyo has allowed DWP to impose a biologically indefensible reading of the DRP. Because the DRP has the strongest language in the LTWA for attaining the LTWAs environmental protection goals, DWP has effectively gutted the LTWA and Inyo has acquiesced.

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