Letter to the editor: The real facts on LADWP

lubken_ranch.jpgApril 7, 2013

Nancy Masters

P.O. Box 478

Independence, CA  93526

Dear Citizens of Inyo County,

On April 2, 2013 Mr. Martin Adams of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power addressed the Inyo County Board of Supervisors about the Owens Lake Master Plan, which was a collaborative process that had been underway for several years, and involved people representing many interests and concerns about the Lake.  DWP’s stated goals are to reduce aqueduct water usage on the Lake by 50%, maintain the current level of dust mitigation (instead of completing the dust mitigation as defined by the Air Pollution Control District), and to retain some habitat that has been created by water-based dust control measures.  In order to do this, they have unilaterally decided to create their own plan with a list of “must haves”, including an easement to have permanent control of the lakebed, and the right to pump water from under the lakebed.

LADWP acts like they are in charge, and have the authority to take these blanket actions.  The facts are:

  • DWP must complete the dust cleanup prescribed by the Air Pollution Control District.  The methods don’t need to involve water, as long as they are approved.
  • The People of the State of California own the lakebed and all the water under the lakebed, and this real property is managed by the State Lands Commission.
  • Pumping from under the Lake will affect seeps and springs on the edges of the Lake, as shown by the modeling done by engineering firm Montgomery Watson and Harza.  They didn’t seem to know whether Crystal Geyser’s wells would be affected.
  • Dust mitigation on the Lake is not related to the separate requirements of the 1991 EIR and Long Term Water Agreement approved by the Court of Appeals on June 13, 1997.  These requirements protect the Owens Valley environment.

Mr. Adams characterized Owens Valley water as only one piece in the thickening California water supply game, saying that increasing export of our water will decrease the City’s need for water from the Sacramento Delta.  This attempt to create a false sense of duty toward the rest of the State is dismantled by logic.

The Owens Valley has already sacrificed much of its environmental and economic health for Los Angeles.  We are a resource colony and have been for a hundred years.  There is no need for us to feel an obligation to the rest of California.  Our duty is to the remaining plants, animals and people that live in Inyo County.  We’ve done enough.

And most importantly, no amount of water from the Delta or anywhere else will suffice for the future until Los Angeles deals with growth.  It is the height of irresponsibility to continue to approve developments that increase the demand for water anywhere in the Southland.  It is a desert.  In the face of climate change, with the reduction of the Sierra snowpack, it is imperative that the State legislators reform local planning to cut the stranglehold developers have had on California’s planning process.  Until that is done, any water wheeling and dealing is grasping at straws.

The City of Los Angeles DWP has also masterfully employed the divide and conquer technique; pitting interest groups against each other through this Owens Lake Planning process.  Always implied, never stated, is that aqueduct water “freed up” from use on Owens Lake can remain in the Owens Valley for ranches and other uses.   Ranching and stock water has been intentionally and punitively reduced in the last several years, as the City has attempted to gain support for their Owens Lake position.  They can’t do that unilaterally, and here is why.  Ranch lessees are protected several ways by the 1991 EIR and Water Agreement.

First, the Agreement provides that,

Type E Vegetation Classification

(Lands supplied with water.) These lands will be supplied with water and will be

managed to avoid causing significant decreases and changes in vegetation from

vegetation conditions which existed on such lands during the 1981-82 runoff

year…… Another primary goal is to avoid significant decreases in recreational uses

and wildlife habitats that in the past have been dependent on water supplied by the


These lands CANNOT be converted to less water-dependent vegetation.  LA may argue that these lands were mapped, and that their reductions in irrigation comply with the mapping.  That process was not precise, as a study of the maps accompanying the Water Agreement will easily show.  Plus, the EIR states, “Should it be determined, through ongoing monitoring, studies or analysis, that vegetation is incorrectly classified, it will be reclassified as appropriate.”  Also, even if some of the lands recently cut off from irrigation by LA are incorrectly mapped as different types than Type E, it is not permitted in the Water Agreement and EIR to convert to a drier type of vegetation.

Further, lands that were supplied with water in the 1981-82 runoff year are included in Type E vegetation definition, mapping or no mapping, as this language in the EIR indicates,

Under the Agreement, LADWP must continue to provide enough water for Los Angeles-owned lands in Inyo County in an amount sufficient to continue the water-related uses of such lands that were in effect during the 1981-82 runoff year. LADWP must continue to provide water to Los Angeles-owned lands in the Olancha-Cartago area such that the lands that have received water in the past will continue to receive water.

Lands to be supplied with water will be managed so as to avoid causing significant decreases and changes in vegetation from conditions that existed on such lands during the 1981-82 runoff year….

The Agreement also provides that significant decreases in recreational uses and wildlife habitats on such lands (which in the past have been dependent on water supplied by LADWP) are to be avoided.

In dry years, the Technical Group has to analyze the conditions, and “reasonable reductions” can only be implemented if approved by the Supervisors and LA, through the Standing Committee.  In summary, if it was watered in 1981-82, it should be receiving water today.

Second, the 1991 EIR specifies 5 acre feet for irrigated lands, not 3 acre feet as DWP does when they put in sprinklers.

Why is this important?  Sprinklers deliver water only to the area of production, not ditch edges, or areas around the field as flood irrigation does.  Trees and shrubs grow along ditches creating places for animals to feed and take shelter.  Runoff water is NOT wasted.  It goes beyond the production area to nurture additional plants and animals, and grass for livestock.  Watch out, as the DWP told the Supervisors that they will be “working with” the ranchers to implement water conservation on the leases!

Third, LA is prohibited from implementing changes in surface water management, if such changes result in a significant effect on the environment.  Obviously, changing irrigation practices from flood irrigation to sprinklers, or cutting back irrigation to Type E lands results in vegetation changes.  This is happening incrementally throughout the Valley.  Is this “significant” in the meaning of the Agreement and EIR?  Absolutely.  This is the language in the Agreement regarding whether an effect is “significant”,

Determine…whether effects of the decrease, change, or effect are limited, but the incremental

effects are substantial when viewed in connection with decreases or changes in other

areas that are attributable to groundwater pumping or to changes in surface water

management practices by the Department;

And here is how the 1991 EIR addresses the issue of flowing wells and springs;

Other Vegetation

Certain areas that contain vegetation of significant environmental value are not shown on the management maps.  These areas will be identified by the Technical Group for monitoring purposes. Such areas may include riparian vegetation dependent on springs and flowing wells, stands of willows and cottonwood trees, and areas with rare or endangered species. If, through field observation, monitoring, and other evaluations, it is determined that groundwater pumping or changes in surface water management practices has resulted in severe stress that could cause a significant decrease or change in this vegetation, such action will be taken as is feasible and necessary to prevent significant impacts and to reduce any impacts to a level that is not significant.

The incremental changes that LA is implementing throughout the Valley include:

  • reductions in irrigation and stock water,
  • prevention of tail water runoff,
  • conversion to sprinklers,
  • thinning of trees and reduction of water to the town tree lots,
  • conversion of the Lone Pine Park stream to a recirculating water feature, and,
  • deeply incising artesian well outflows to drop the water table which kills water dependent plants and animals, and makes the water flow straight to the aqueduct without any environmental benefits.

There are probably other actions going on, hard to monitor because of the vastness of the Valley.  Taken together, these changes are more than significant, they are an enormous impact to the Valley’s plant and animal diversity, since water is the key element.

The reductions in irrigation water are destructive not only to the natural environment, but economically disruptive to the agricultural community.  Ranchers and farmers are important contributors to Inyo County’s economy, as well as stewards of the land.  Despite the promises of the EIR and Agreement, the ranchers and farmers are taking the hit again, as they did when the second aqueduct began operation in 1970.

This is unfair and wrong.  They are our friends and neighbors, and their entire livelihood is at risk if they don’t receive the water that the Agreement and EIR promise.

Remember, citizens, the Water Agreement itself is a mitigation measure designed to offset the effects of groundwater pumping.  If every aspect of this Agreement and the EIR are not upheld, then the Owens Valley has suffered a magnified loss – first the surface water is exported, then the groundwater is pumped, and, most egregiously, the very legal documents designed to protect what little remains are ignored.  These documents are not “living documents” – the Court of Appeals approved them on June 13, 1997.  Let’s make sure that the Agreement and EIR are followed to protect our ranchers, our economy and the environment.


Nancy Masters


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8 years ago

April 25, 2013

KSRW – Sierra Wave
1280 North Main St., Suite J
Bishop, CA 93514

Very often comments in the local media pertaining to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) go unaddressed; however, I felt it important to respond to Ms. Nancy Masters’ April 7, 2013, letter to the Sierra Wave, particularly in regard to the critical issue of supplying water to Los Angeles owned land in the Eastern Sierra because much of what she said echoes what seem to be common misconceptions.

The 1991 Environmental Impact Report (EIR) ”Water From the Owens Valley to Supply the Second Los Angeles Aqueduct” identified 11,600 acres of Los Angeles owned irrigated land in the Owens Valley, which are part of the more than 22,000 acres of Eastern Sierra lands that receive irrigation supply (as opposed to large acreages designated for dry grazing).

The Long Term Water Agreement between Inyo County and Los Angeles provides that the irrigated lands in the Owens Valley “will be supplied with water and will be managed to avoid causing significant decreases and changes in vegetation from vegetation conditions which existed on such lands during the 1981-82 runoff year”. During the 1981-82 runoff year, LADWP provided 46,680 acre-feet of water to those Owens Valley lands. In comparison, during the last 2012-13 runoff year, LADWP provided 48,684 acre feet of irrigation water to these lands, despite a runoff of only 57percent of average. The prescribed water deliveries were in fact made. There have not been cutbacks.

LADWP works hard to meet its commitment to provide water for irrigated lands. However, there are instances when LADWP is unable to provide water to certain areas, especially in low runoff years when there may not be sufficient flow in local creeks and
channels or when groundwater wells cannot be operated. The 1991 EIR recognized that at times LADWP might not be able to provide every irrigated lease with a full water allotment. It stated that:

“Irrigated leased lands solely dependent on diversions from a creek for irrigation water would receive the full allotment only when sufficient water was available from the natural flow in the creek. Other irrigated leased lands would receive pumped groundwater, where available, to stabilize water supply during drought years.” We fully embrace our obligation to provide water for agricultural and environmental needs, but we also have to meet the water needs of almost four million people living and working in Los Angeles. So far, we have been able to balance these obligations, in part through the nation’s largest water conservation program that has reduced the city’s water demands to early-1970’s levels despite a population increase of more than one million residents. Los Angeles residents use less water per person today than any large city in the United States, and most all other communities as well. Compounding the issue is the Owens Lake Dust Mitigation Project, which has added an additional water demand on the aqueduct equal to the entire City of San Francisco.

The job of meeting the water needs of both the Eastern Sierra and Los Angeles is a careful act of balancing our numerous legal and contractual commitments with the mission of the aqueduct, all against the backdrop of big annual swings in water availability. After two successive below normal water years, the 2013 2014 runoff year will present unique and difficult challenges to meeting water needs. LADWP will do everything possible to provide the water that its many lessees, environmental projects and legal obligations, and the citizens of Los Angeles are entitled to.

Water is a valuable resource, which too often is only recognized in times of shortage. Certainly the Eastern Sierra ranchers understand. Our state’s large urban population, nationally leading agriculture industry, and world class economy all depend on the thoughtful, efficient allocation of what may become a shrinking resource. In the arid west, water conservation has to be a way of life. LADWP is committed to continue to pursue ways to reduce its water demands, and welcomes news ways to manage the crucial Eastern Sierra resource we all rely on to ensure that municipal, agricultural, environmental needs can all be met.


James G. Yannotta
Manager of Aqueduct
Los Angeles Department of Water and Power

Jeremiah's ego
Jeremiah's ego
8 years ago

Good Job, and Thank You Nancy.
Now if only Tribes could become a force to be reckoned with like the ranchers are, I would like to think that ship hasn’t sailed??

8 years ago

I want to point out two things about water used on Owens lake and the use of ground water under the lake for dust control.
First, most of the water used on Owens lake was first used for the Lower Owens River Project, LORP. The water is run down the river then using the LORP pump back station it is pumped out onto the Owens lake bed and used for the second time as dust control. The Owens river water has lots of silts and plant debris so it is better used for dust control. So DWP at this time still has yet to use the LORP pump back station to put the Owens river water back in to the aqueduct. Instead it gets used for dust control on Owens lake. This has DWP making the most beneficial use of the LORP water.

Second, at the DWP public meeting in Lone Pine about the use of ground water under the Owens Lake for dust control. The data collected has a total of 5 aquifers under the lake bed all the way down to 1,500 feet. The water in these aquifers is high in minerals and salts. Just like the bad stuff that is now blowing off the Owens lake surface. If DWP were to use this salty ground water for dust control the water will evaporate off leaving behind the minerals and salts to concentrate on the surface. This will make it exposed to the Owens Valley winds.
Also the data showed that pumping the ground water from these aquifers will create ground subsidence on the lake surface by as much as 20 feet. This would result in big changes to elevations at the lake surface that DWP has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to level and make terraced ponds held in place by earthen berms for dust control. So the use of ground water comes with it’s own set of problems.

Jeremiah's ego
Jeremiah's ego
8 years ago
Reply to  Steve

Wow, a whole new can of worms.

Philip Anaya
Philip Anaya
8 years ago

The Issue of Owens Valley Ranchers being shortchanged water has got to be the worst and most contentious DWP issue in the Valley. Thanks to the Marty Adams at the Board Meeting, thanks to The Ranchers who spoke about being shortchanged water because of the Owens Lake Dust Mitigation and thanks to Nancy Masters who also spoke and reminded everyone that the Longterm Water Agreement requires water for the Ranchers at the1981-82 runoff year level , we know once again, who it is, who will do or say anything to suck the Owens Valley dry.


If I might add, Section II article II, states the definition of Type E Vegetation as: “this classification comprised of areas where water is provided to City-owned Lands for alfalfa production, pasture, recreation use, wildlife habitats, livestock and enhancement projects”
This section descibes “These are the Lands” in the Section II article IV , that has the requirements for Type E vegetation that Nancy has quoted in her letter.

Paragraph 1 “These Lands will be provided with water” etc etc

Paragraph 2 “The Department shall provide water for Los Angeles owned lands in Inyo County in an amount sufficent” etc. “Additionally, the Department shall provide water to any enhancement/mitigation project added since 1981-82, unless the Inyo County Board of Supervisiors and the Department agree to reduce ”

Paragraph 3 ” succesive dry years” etc “A program providing for reasonable reductions in irrigation water supply for Los Angeles owned lands in the Owens Valley and for enhancement/mitigation projects may be implimented if such a program is approved by the Inyo County Board of Supervisiors and the Department, acting thru the Standing Committee.”

There are requirements for the DWP in the Longterm Water Agreement to provide adequete water for the Ranchers . There is also a process in the Longterm Water Agreement for the DWP to reduce the amount of water for the Ranchers .
They can only reduce water to the Ranchers through this process and only with an agreement of the Inyo County Board of Supervisiors. The Board has not made any agreement, as far as I know, to any reductions or any plan that reduces water to the Ranchers or to any enhancement/mitigation project.
Not knowing enough about Law, implications of litigation at this level, not knowing if DWP is in violation the Long term Water Agreement and the Court Order endorsing that Agreement, this is not the question. The question is: What is to be done to deliver 1981-82 runoff water levels to the Ranchers. That’s the question. Not if we’ll do it , but how are we going to do it.
If DWP ain’t going to do it on their own, like so many other times and opportunities, then the tried and true methods of legal recourse ,of litigation activity, that may be the only recourse. That’s how the dust is being controlled on Owens Lake, that’s how the Lower Owens River is flowing once again. Mono Lake although losing maybe a foot of elevation or so this year is still there thanks the efforts of advocats and dedicated legal experts.
The Owens Valley Committee has some experience with all of this and they have my “Rancher’s Fund” check by now, however only enough for some gas money. That’s right Mikey P. I sent it just as sure as you’ve done so in your history .
This is not just about the most important, Water for Ranchers. This is not just about enhancement/mitigation projects or even the Longterm Water Agreement and everything and Everybody who made it happen. It’s not just about the 100 years of sorted deception and deceit and that pain of those lives and dreams of people whose shoulders we stand upon today, with their knowledge and their hopes to carry forward.
I don’t know what this is all about except, what about the future, what about the next 100 years? What about an acknowledgement of our creation, our humanity and existence on this planet to find solutions? We are not looking for adjutigation, orders stipulations. We are looking for wisdom and solutions What is it going to take to get everyone in the world, in the Owens Valley, to get on board with that idea, even those H.Sapiens in the DWP.

April Zrelak
April Zrelak
8 years ago

Thank you, Nancy. Only one correction. LADWP has been very clear in the Planning Committee meetings that the water “freed” from dust mitigation at Owens Lake would continue to Los Angeles. There was always discussion from members to encourage a portion of the savings to remain in the valley (ranchers needs are always expressed). The most clear statement came following the Master Plan draft comments. Marty Adams and Gene Coufal both indicated that DWP will not implement the Plan unless at least 1/2 (47,000 acre feet) of current water use projections is diverted from the dust mitigation and into the LAA. After some pleas from the County, the City representatives stated that DWP provides the valley and ranchers with “excess” water in extraordinary runoff years and may again, if there is one. I don’t believe they are being vague on this issue. They do, however, let people talk about the need and desire without reiterating where the savings will go. Using the ranchers to confuse the issue with the public and supervisors is disingenuous, for sure. But, DWP has been clear where the water “savings” is going.