By Deb Murphy
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power took step two in the Environmental Impact Report process on new ranch leases in Long and Little Round valleys at its public environmental scoping meeting Wednesday evening in Mammoth.
The element of those new ranch leases that drew 40-plus people to the session amounts to the de-watering of those valleys that have been spread irrigated for more than 100 years.
Previous leases allowed up to 5 acre-feet for each of the six lessees. The new leases would cut off all but stock water unless spreading met the operational needs of the department. An example of those needs was seen during the epic run-off in 2017 when water was spread to minimize damage to Owens Lake infrastructure. The new leases could be good for up to 20 years.
This past spring when the new leases went public, LADWP allowed what amounted to 18-percent of normal allocations. The EIR will analyze impacts on the grazing meadows but does not address any damage from the current year.
LADWP’s Chuck Hallowell ran through procedural aspects of the EIR, identifying Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Executive Directive No. 5 to reduce water imports by 50-percent as the impetus for the change.
Then came 28 speakers.
Concerns ranged from fire danger as the meadows dried out and morphed into tumbleweed, loss of sage grouse habitat, degradation of area tribe’s ancestral lands, economic impacts to agriculture, concern that what should have been the meadow baseline had already been degraded and the cost to ratepayers for what speakers anticipated would be extensive mitigation for future damage to the wetlands. Mono and Owens lakes were cited as examples.
Prior to the scoping session, Mono and Inyo county residents attended a gathering hosted by the Sierra Club and Friends of the Inyo. Inyo/Mono Cattlemen’s Association’s Matt Kemp told the group that of the 20-30,000 a-f traditionally spread across the meadow, between 50 and 80-percent returned to Lake Crowley and the aqueduct system.
Kemp also mentioned the possibility of water allotments in proportion to snowpack. That was what the department proposed for this past irrigation system. However water allotments fell far short of the 80-percent of average in the Mono watershed. Water allotments in proportion to snowpack percentages could be included in the EIR as an alternative.
Jeff Dozier, an educator at University of California Santa Barbara, made a compelling argument for LADWP to work with the lessees, noting the issue was not a scientific one but a moral issue.
He brought up predictions that while precipitation was in question there was a strong possibility snow pack would be at significantly higher elevations creating spring-like run-off through the winter months. “What are you going to do with that water?” he asked the department since in the past the snow pack was a form of water reservoir.
His solution was to keep water on the pastures as a form of water banking. “Can the ranchers help you manage winter run-off?” he asked.
Mono Supervisor Bob Gardner repeated a theme he has stressed since the issue was first discussed by the Board. “Do the right thing, don’t play games with the process. Just turn the page and do the right thing.”
Hypothetically, community input from Wednesday’s meeting will be taken into consideration during the Draft EIR development. The Draft will initiate another public input cycle, then on to the Final EIR which will be voted on by the Los Angeles Water Commission, tentatively in the fall of 2019.
There was no discussion of LADWP’s intent for ranch water allotments in the spring of 2019.
LADWP press release
LADWP Advances Environmental Review of
Proposed Ranch Leases in Mono County
Hosts Public Meeting to Seek Input on Scope of Environmental Review
Los Angeles, CA (September 27,2018) – The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) yesterday held a public scoping meeting to solicit input on the breadth and content of the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the proposed Mono County Ranch Lease Renewal Project (Project). The EIR will assess the environmental impacts of a proposal to enter into new, 20-year leases, with 10 current lessees of approximately 28,000 acres of City of Los Angeles-owned lands in the Long Valley area of Mono County. Past leases of these lands to the same operators have expired, and they are currently operating on holdover status.
Historically, 6,100 acres of these lands were flood irrigated as required to address an LADWP operational need to manage surplus water flowing to the Los Angeles Aqueduct. However, in the period that would be covered by the new leases, LADWP anticipates that little to no surplus water will be available due to the impacts of climate change, including the resulting shift in water supply availability, and LADWP’s environmental enhancement and mitigation obligations unrelated to the leases. Therefore, LADWP is proposing to issue new leases with the provision that water may only be diverted to the leased lands to address LADWP’s operational and environmental-protection purposes. The proposed new leases would not affect LADWP’s long-term commitment to the natural environment in Long Valley – including the creeks, streams, fisheries, Sage-Grouse and riparian habitats.
“We appreciate the input from every individual, agency and organization who participated in this stage of the environmental review process,” said Richard Harasick, LADWP Senior Assistant General Manager of Water System. “We look forward to continuing this collaborative and science-driven review of our proposal to renew the ranching leases in Mono County.”
Members of the public who still wish to provide comment on the scope of the environmental review can do so in writing until October 16, 2018. Find more information here.
Taking into consideration comments from the public, LADWP will define the scope of the review and begin to produce a Draft EIR. Following the completion of the Draft EIR, LADWP will initiate another public comment period, providing all interested stakeholders with an opportunity to review the draft findings and provide input. LADWP will continue to keep stakeholders and community members informed throughout this public and transparent process.