By Deb Murphy

We all knew it was in the works, but listening to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power staff announce the emergency declaration for the length of the aqueduct system and describe the danger to life, property, hydroelectric plants and especially the Owens Lake dust mitigation measures was intimidating. Maybe we all should have toned down our rain dances over the past five years.

Garcetti made the announcement at a press conference in LA, streamed live over the internet, calling the declaration a pre-emptive strike to protect homes and lives. The department, he said, is managing the flow out of Crowley Lake with the hope of preventing habitat and infrastructure damage. The biggest concern is the billion dollar dust mitigation measures on Owens Lake that have reduced emissions by 97-percent. That infrastructure could end up under seven-feet of water Garcetti said.

According to Richard Harasick, senior assistant general manager of water systems, with the snow pack 2.5 of normal, the department anticipates a million acre-feet of water coursing through the system. (Aqueduct Manager Jim Yannotta recently estimated the run-off at 750,000 acre-feet). The problem: the capacity of the aqueduct is 500,000 acre-feet, leaving the department to manage the other half.

Some water will go to meet and exceed mitigation and irrigation obligations. As much as physically possible will be spread and captured in the groundwater basin, but Harasick estimated 200,000 acre-feet will end up in Owens Lake, wreaking havoc on the four-foot berms and pump stations used to deliver water to quadrants on the lake that once measured 108 square miles. Also in danger are the tilled fields and areas growing salt grasses. Harasick estimated the lake bed could be under water up to 18 months.

The department is also “channelizing water” north of the lake to lessen the impact of runoff flows. Canals and ditch systems in the valley are also being cleared.

When asked about the timing of the declaration, Garcetti responded that while the department had been taking steps to protect both valley communities and the aqueduct infrastructure, the city needed help from the state to cover the potential damage. Repair to damaged dust control mechanisms could run as high as $500 million.

At the end of his opening remarks, Garcetti referenced the conflicts between the county and Los Angeles. But yesterday, he was thanking his Inyo partners, the Board of Supervisors and Administrative Officer Kevin Carrunchio.

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