Inyo supervisors approve tribal consultation protocol

By Deb Murphy

At a quick glance, last Tuesday’s Inyo Board of Supervisors’ agenda looked light.

It wasn’t. The 1 p.m. timed item: a public hearing on hopeful adoption of the draft Tribal Consultation Policy, was the first clue an early dinner was out of the question.

The Board and Tribal representatives have struggled through the process of consultation for nearly 13 months. But after 2-1/2 hours and some significant word smithing and additions, the policy was approved.

A brief background: at the request of individual Tribes, consultation is state-mandated on projects requiring California Environmental Quality Act studies. For Inyo County, a document outlining the protocol for those consultations was step one, followed by a Memorandums of Understanding with each Tribe in the county.

The process got off to a rocky start with Tribal reps concerned they were not included in developing the initial protocol.

Often, the subsequent reviews looked like meetings between two separate countries speaking different languages, which, indeed, they were as Tribes are sovereign nations. Raymond Andrews, Tribal historical preservation officer for the Bishop Paiute Tribe, wanted the inclusion of “cultural landscape” in the draft document under discussion Tuesday, to allow for consideration of spiritual experiences—not necessarily a common consideration for the County’s Planning Department.

With the help of the Native American Heritage Commission, the department crafted a protocol that would bring elected officials to the table with Tribal Councils. Supervisors were eager to get past the protocol and begin the MOU consultations.

Following input from NAHC Commissioner Laura Miranda and other Tribal representatives, the Board appeared ready to approve the policy with changes. The commission’s counsel Terrie Robinson asked the Board to hold off. “You need to meet with the Tribes before approval to clear the air,” she said.

Chairman Jeff Griffiths called for a recess; Robinson met with Council Counsel Marshall Rudolph and Special Counsel Greg James in the parking lot and hammered out the final details: specific language was included to make clear the protocol would not restrict the rights of the Tribes and cultural landscape was defined.

County staff will now meet with Tribes to begin implementing the policy. Two Supervisors assigned to each Tribe will then begin the consultation process by developing individual MOUs.


The 2 p.m. timed item, a presentation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act stakeholder assessment, got started at 3:30.

Recognizing the complexity of SGMA, the state Department of Water Resources provided grants for facilitation services. “The idea of SGMA wasn’t written for Inyo County,” facilitator Lisa Beutler told the Supervisors. “This area is very water-aware,” she said.

“Basically, the stakeholder pool is everybody.”

Through the summer, facilitators from MWH Global held mini-workshops, interviewing 49 people from ranching, Tribal and environmental communities in pursuit of perspectives, agreements and conflicts—what a potential Groundwater Sustainability Agency could look like.

While the DWR is still in the process of sorting through some of the complexities, one thing is sure. Beutler said “a GSA can’t be successful without collaboration with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.”

Basically, a GSA in one form or another will be managing the sustainability of the Owens Valley Basin while LADWP manages the hole of the basin donut, roughly half, under the Long Term Water Agreement.

In addition, Beutler pointed out multiple entities are stakeholders. The State Lands Commission owns Owens Lake, Great Basin Air Pollution Control Board holds sway over emissions off the lake, the National Park Service has concerns for the historic orchards at Manzanar, the inclusion of Fish Slough as a sub-basin creates additional concerns, the 20-plus Community Service Districts are worried about regulations and fees result in what they perceive to be little value, according to Supervisor Dan Totheroh. Beutler said the CSDs’ reactions were typical, acting “like SGMA doesn’t really exist.”

But, there are bright spots in the accelerated process of figuring out a feasible GSA. Inyo-Mono Integrated Regional Water Management Program is supportive. State Lands would be willing to incorporate “certain kinds of management practices” consistent with SGMA into future lease agreements, Beutler said.

Beutler said her report to DWR reflects the great need of continued facilitation and the amount of work involved to identify a GSA for the Owens Valley Basin. “We need more conversations with Tribes,” she said. “We need to get the CSDs to the table.” In addition, special interests need to have input in the eventual agency.

The deadline for all this is February, months out from the June 30, 2017 deadline for a GSA to step up. The advanced deadline allows for 90 days to resolve any boundary conflicts if another entity wants to form a GSA for part of the basin.

The Board directed Planning Department staff to begin the process of developing a County-specific approach to public lands that consume 98-percent of Inyo.

“We’ve been asked (by elected representatives in Washington) ‘what do you want?’” Chairman Jeff Griffiths explained to the Board. Griffiths said he realized the County had been explaining what they don’t want through Forest Plan Revisions, federal environmental legislation, and renewable energy plans. Maybe it was time to figure out what the County wants.

The motion was to develop a scope of work, timeline and resources with the goal of hiring a consultant to assist the County in an outreach program to eventually define specific public land adjustments.

Those adjustments could be in the form of land releases, trades, Wilderness Study Areas found to lack wilderness values taken out of the WSA status, access to gravel pits along Saline Valley Road, County roads rights-of-way on federally managed lands. The list is long.

Totheroh expressed some doubts. “I’m not sure the County has a clear objective,” he said. “What do we want to achieve? Economic stability? It seems we have the cart before the horse…. If the overriding issue is a sustainable economy, we need to balance that with available resources.”

County Administrator Kevin Carunchio suggested taking LADWP lands out of the equation for the time being. The water agreement lays out a process of releasing 75 acres of the city’s land for auction.

After two auctions, only seven acres have been sold. “The citizen advisory committee was flawed,” he said in reference to the group that selected those 75 acres out of a pool of 220 acres. “We don’t want to rush into a third auction.”

The agreement calls for the land to be made available in a series of three auctions. The fear is after three unsuccessful auctions, LADWP land sales will be over and done.

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