LADWP legal attack on Mammoth water will stay in Mono court

mcwd

The Mammoth courtroom was packed with an overflow room opened for those in support of keeping the LADWP suit in Mono County. (Phot0 by Jonah Matthewson)

In a brief court hearing today, Mono County Judge Stan Eller confirmed his tentative decision – the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power case that attacks Mammoth’s water rights will stay in Mono County with an assigned, neutral judge. Jonah Matthewson covered this story for Sierra Wave Media, with a camera in the courtroom.

The courtroom was packed and the court opened up another room for the overflow crowd.  The audio of the hearing was piped into that room.  Community leaders and citizens responded to the call for action from Mammoth Community Water District Manager Greg Norby who had asked them to show up for the hearing with a show of support to keep this critical court fight in Mono County.

LADWP attorneys had filed a motion to move both water lawsuits to Fresno County.  At the start of the hearing, Judge Stan Eller disclosed that when he was Mono County District Attorney he handled cases against LADWP on Rush Creek and the Owens Gorge.  He said he has been a local resident since 1982 and is a customer of Mammoth Community Water District.  Judge Eller said, “In spite that, I can be fair and impartial.”

The DWP lawyers presented their points on moving the case to Fresno as a neutral forum – it’s closer for them, has a better airport and has qualified environmental law judges.  But, then, the LA lawyer surprised the crowd when he said that there were a lot of people in the courtroom with a lot of interest and it would be okay with LA if the court brought in a different judge.  The water district was fine with that.

Judge Eller said he already intended to keep the case in Mono County and get another judge. In fact, the Judge said he had already contacted the Administrative Office of the Courts about getting an assigned judge.

The judge set another appearance for May 10 at 9:30am in Mammoth Court to reveal the identity of an assigned judge.  This hearing may be the easy part in what could be a very difficult and costly legal fight for Mammoth Lakes.  LA contends they have the rights to Mammoth Creek water.  Mammoth Creek provides half to three-fourths of the Town’s supply and is the largely consistent supply.  Without it, the Town could not exist as it is today.

So far, LA has offered no reasonable settlement in the view of Mammoth Community Water District.  They want Mammoth to find a water supply and pay for the amount of water LA is not getting from Mammoth Creek – this in perpetuity.  MCWD Manager Greg Norby said that’s not possible.  The some 2600 acre feet per year that Mammoth uses out of Mammoth Creek would cost roughly $2 million per year to replace.   Norby has met with DWP staff in Bishop and will continue to try to negotiate a resolution.  Letters from Mammoth and Mono County will go to LA’s mayor and city council asking them for a peaceful end to this fight.

Thursday afternoon, following the hearing, LADWP issued a news release in which they claim that their intent is not to “stop all Mammoth Creek and groundwater use by Mammoth.”  However, the release goes on to say that “LADWP holds senior water rights to Mammoth Creek which must be protected.”  (See entire LADWP press release below)

 

Los Angeles Department of Water and Power Statement on the legal dispute with the Mammoth Community Water District

April 12, 2012 Contact: Chris Plakos 760-873-0264

Because of the strong local Eastern Sierra interest surrounding a Los Angeles Department of Water and Power legal challenge to action taken by the Mammoth Community Water District, at a Court hearing in Mammoth Lakes on April 12 the LADWP offered to have the case heard in Mono County with the provision that a neutral judge preside as mandated by State law. All parties agreed to the stipulation and a May 10 date was agreed to for a new judge to be announced by the Court and a trial hearing date set.

At the hearing today the attorney for the MCWD stated that the legal action by LADWP is an attempt to stop all Mammoth Creek and groundwater use by Mammoth. The LADWP would like to make clear that this is not the intent and furthermore, is not what the LADWP’s legal challenge is about. The legal action is about the MCWD’s legal obligation under the California Environmental Quality Act and their requirements to prepare an adequate Urban Water Management Plan.

In December 2011, the LADWP took legal action to challenge a decision by MCWD to finalize an Environmental Impact Report concerning Mammoth Creek flows, which is based upon using water from Mammoth Creek to meet the town’s future growth.

As the EIR was being developed by the MCWD, the LADWP was up front and repeatedly informed MCWD that Los Angeles’ Mammoth Creek water rights are senior to the MCWD’s. Since 2005 the LADWP has provided numerous written and verbal comments to the MCWD about Los Angeles’ Mammoth Creek and Owens River water rights. The legal action taken by LADWP should come as no surprise to MCWD or anyone familiar with this issue.

The LADWP has repeatedly held meetings, discussions and exchanged information with the MCWD to try to reach an agreement. Unfortunately these attempts have proved unsuccessful so the LADWP was left with no choice but to take legal action to protect its water rights.

The MCWD has been drafting water from Mammoth Creek based upon water right permits and licenses granted by the State Water Resources Control Board, including temporary permits. However, the LADWP holds senior water rights to Mammoth Creek which must be protected.

Extensive investigations by the LADWP show that Los Angeles has senior water rights to Mammoth Creek flows based upon the City’s 1905 Owens River water rights filing and the LADWP’s 1967 purchase of Chance Ranch, located just south of the Town, and its associated 1893 water rights. With the finalization of its EIR last year, the MCWD began the process of making those permits and licenses permanent.

The LADWP understands the goal of the Town of Mammoth Lakes is to develop to its full potential and provide much-needed recreational opportunities for millions of visitors, and a stable economic base and lifestyle for local residents. The LADWP will continue to work with MCWD officials to seek a fair solution that both communities can live with.

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badfinger
badfinger
10 years ago

It should be apparent by now that DWP cannot get a fair Hearing in MONO or INYO counties for that matter, there should be a change of venue to Fresno or another county to be fair to the people of californiaL There’s an old saying, that goes…” Don’t Bite The… Read more »

Big AL
Big AL
10 years ago
Reply to  badfinger

So what is your point bad? Other than DWP won’t get a fair hearing in these two counties?

NewEra/ Jeremiah Joseph
NewEra/ Jeremiah Joseph
10 years ago
Reply to  badfinger

Fairness? Hahahahahahaha, you crack me up badfinger, Thanks for that. We are talking about a immoral entity! LADWP could care less about the people of California. They could careless about the Owens Valley. That’s been proven! “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you” what audience where after besides those under… Read more »

Trouble
Trouble
10 years ago
Reply to  badfinger

DWP lied, cheated and stole to get these water rights in the first place. Now badfinger is worried about DWP getting a fair trial. Better hope I’m not on the Jury.

Rob
Rob
10 years ago
Reply to  Trouble

I’m no fan of DWP. But what exactly did they do that was illegal when they aquired Owen’s Valley water rights? Educate me.

lying and cheating might be uneithical, but it isn’t necessarily illegal.

Benett Kessler
Benett Kessler
10 years ago
Reply to  Rob

They claim to have had water rights for some 100 years but never mentioned it to Mammoth Lakes before now.
Benett Kessler

20/20 vision
20/20 vision
10 years ago
Reply to  Rob

Hard to imagine water police knocking on doors to see if we high altitude residents from Mammoth Lakes are violating water ordinances, ie. One shower per week, rationed drinking water, shared showers (that one might be okay) only booze served in restaurants … ie., just so overpopulated L.A. can keep… Read more »

Rob
Rob
10 years ago
Reply to  20/20 vision

At some point the population of LA will overwhelm all their sources of water. Rationing won’t even begin to help. Might even happen in my life time.

NewEra
NewEra
10 years ago
Reply to  Rob

from what I have read they had a inside scoop from BOR records of who had the most water rights and started there. And gave ranchers the impression they were selling there land and water rights for a water study through BOR and had no idea they were selling to… Read more »

Trouble
Trouble
10 years ago
Reply to  Rob

Rob-from what I understand they sent several people up here pretending to be ranchers and offered a high price for ranch property. They never disclosed they were after the water rights only. I realize this may not have been illegal , but they did conspire to cheat the property owners… Read more »

Rob
Rob
10 years ago
Reply to  Trouble

Trouble, your speaking of Fred Eaton. He bought the land but was not truthful who he was buying it for. He even kept some of the best land for himself. I think the legalities on that ship have sailed. You want to get back at DWP raise quagga muscles and… Read more »

Bill
Bill
10 years ago
Reply to  badfinger

I say BS! If it happens in Inyo and Mono Co then the court case should be heard HERE.

SierraFan
SierraFan
10 years ago
Reply to  badfinger

Badfiger,

No disrespect to you but what are you smoking? Lol…. DWP is only doing this to show their might to a small town like a bully on the playground.

bishopdude
bishopdude
10 years ago

DWP.. And it’s not just radiation from Japan. An effort by the Southern California Edison power company to secretly ramp up production to avoid public disclosure may have led to a leak at the San Onofre nuclear power plant. And see these articles on California radiation exposure courtesy of EneNews:… Read more »

Trouble
Trouble
10 years ago
Reply to  bishopdude

Bishopdude-i’m not sure I ever read a more worrisome blog than yours. I hope SierraWave reports more on this and reports on any effects to Inyo and Mono Counties.

Trouble
Trouble
10 years ago

Outside Judge? Sounds like the Mammoth Judge’s are admitting they hate DWP too.

sierragrl
sierragrl
10 years ago
Reply to  Trouble

what rock did you crawl out from under? Mono County has historically used judges from out of the area to adjudicate cases. With communities this small, there are times where the judges need to recuse themselves. Also, why keep a third judge on the payroll when you don’t always need… Read more »