Inyo Supervisors discuss groundwater extraction

Pumping the aquifer under Owens Lake to meet dust mitigation and habitat requirements has been the elephant in the room for a very long time. The question of whether groundwater extraction under the lake is governed by the Long Term Water Agreement or not may never be resolved, but pumping will be a hot topic in the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s Environmental Impact Report and eventually managed under the California Environmental Quality Act.

dry lake

Groundwater rose to the surface of Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors’ discussion of its official comments to the department’s Notice of Preparation. The County’s input included wording almost verbatim from a January 2014 letter from the Water Department to LADWP. Inyo County would agree to disagree with LADWP on the applicability of the LTWA to groundwater pumping under the lakebed, allow pumping, under the restrictions of the EIR, “provided DWP and the County agree that any other groundwater pumping by DWP in Inyo County, whether for the purpose of supplying water for dust control on Owens Lake or for other purposes, would be subject to the Water Agreement.”

Basically, the EIR process, with its monitoring program and other protocol, may make the LTWA question moot with neither side of the dispute claiming victory or conceding defeat.

The County’s comments focused on keeping some of the water saved on the Owens Lake for in-valley uses, land use issues, clarification on actual water savings, and, of course, groundwater pumping. Lone Pine resident Earl Wilson requested the Board include continued participation by the master project working groups and Board Chair Matt Kingsley agreed. “We want to provide input as the project goes farther,” he said, “to continue to engage in conversation as the project changes over time.”


The long history of the pumping/LOTWA dispute is something like a verbal chess game, adrenalin pumping entertainment for policy wonks or lawyers, not so much for normal human beings. An April 2010 letter from the Inyo County Water Department to then Aqueduct Manager Gene Coufal serves as a historical review. In 2006, LADWP “reaffirmed its understanding that the Water Agreement will govern any groundwater pumping to supply dust mitigation measures on Owens Lake,” the letter states.

That understanding took a shift at a February 2010 Standing Committee meeting. LADWP’s argument was its interpretation of the California Health and Safety Code section 42316, covering Great Basin Air Pollution Control District’s mandate to the City to control dust on the dry lake. DWP’s interpretation was that the H&S Code trumped the LTWA, exempting groundwater pumping for dust control from the agreement.

But, the County pointed out, that same code “shall not affect the right of the city to produce, divert, store or convey water” and, therefore, did not exempt pumping from the agreement. According to this 2010 letter, the County wanted to assure “groundwater pumping activities and related impacts should receive the full scrutiny and protection required by the LTWA.”

LADWP’s next move, or letter, cited Section XVIII of the LTWA, “Any project implemented pursuant to California Health and Safety Code 42316 is not part of this Stipulation and Order.” In later communication, the department maintained that while groundwater pumping under the lakebed was not specifically required by Great Basin, it was still exempt under the H&S Code.

The County tried to strike a deal on the dispute in its January 2014 letter; the department has yet to comment.

County Water Department Director Bob Harrington told the Supervisors Tuesday that LADWP had initiated the arbitration process to settle the dispute. “It’s been on the back burner for a few years,” he said. “But could be initiated at any time…. (groundwater pumping) will be resolved in the CEQA process. A good management plan as part of the EIR is what we wanted.”


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One Response to Inyo Supervisors discuss groundwater extraction

  1. Philip Anaya August 6, 2015 at 6:48 am #

    Comments are due by 5pm tomorrow Friday Aug 7,2015 from government entities and interested individuals regarding issues and ideas to be addressed in the Owens Lake Master Project Environmental Impact Report . Comments and contributions can be emailed to
    [email protected]

    A 12 page Notice of Preparation Letter containing a project overview is available by googling LADWP Environmental Reports. Click on Owens Lake Master Project, click on Notice of Preperation to review the Project.

    Water for dust mitgation and for habitat is a key componet of the Project . We have heard ideas that LADWP proposes to reduce the water spread on the lake for Dust mitgation by 50%. That could be anywhere from 35-45,000 Acre feet . Included in that total although not addressed in the NOP letter are rumors 9,000 AF that would be pumped from below the lake to be spread on the surface. Additionally ,” Cumulative impacts of operating the groundwater componet of the proposed Project will include an assessment of incremental impacts to groundwater when considered together with neighboring groundwater wells” Does that mean that there is a possible idea to extract addtional AF as time goes by ? The Owens Lake Advisory Group in a May 14, 2014 report talks about seeps, springs and meadows that could be effected by groundwater extractions . Doing an assessment of this proposed groundwater extraction is appropriate to the development of a OLMP and is vital to the componets of that plan most importantly groundwater pumping . Inyo County has it correct when all the issuses are considered including healrth and safety , CEQA requirements to identify and address environmental impacts and most importantly to manage an Owens Lake Management Agreement through the LTWA process. The State Lands Commission must require an adequete and complete assessment of the hydrogeology of the Lake , identification of Aquifer’s, their source including the AF capacty and recovery of each, the testing and a plan for long term montoring of the water quality of any ground water allowed on the surface and the issue of the dynamic of geologic and biotic impacts from possible susidence and related geological effects of the Lake and surrounding locales of the Lake . DWP in their EIR needs to do the very best review and address the results in the very best above the board fashion as they have their own vested interest in the results of their own review. The State Lands Commission needs to monitor this EIR very closely and exercise any regulatory control on this CEQA process possible.
    It is not to late to submit comments to what we need to see addressed in the EIR. There is a lot at stake for the future of both the environment of the Owens Valley and the new evolving “Partnership” between the Eastern Sierra and the City of Los Angeles .


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