Letter: LADWP using drought to its advantage

Letter to the Editor

– Submitted by David Wagner

In his definitive book on the Owens Valley water controversy, Water and Power, William Kahrl describes how in 1905, William Mulholland fabricated a drought in Los Angeles to frighten voters into approving a bond issue to help finance the construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct. It was impossible to contradict Mulholland because there were no hydrologic data for Los Angeles other than those in the files of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. In 1907, well after the passage of the bond issue, Mulholland reversed himself and said rainfall in 1905 was normal and provided higher stream flow figures than those he used to justify his “water nightmare” of 1905.

One hundred and ten years later we are experiencing a drought that is all too real. It appears that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) of today is every bit as adept at using the specter of drought to its advantage as it was in Mulholland’s day. In April 2015 LADWP submitted a pumping plan for the 2015-16 runnoff year which called for 16,500 acre feet of irrigation water for the Owens Valley leasees, an amount that would certainly mean financial ruin for many of them. On April 27, LADWP notified the ranchers and farmers in Owens Valley there would be no irrigation water deliveries after May 1, 2015. In a letter dated April 28, 2015 the Inyo County Board of Supervisors called the unilateral discontinuation of irrigation water in Owens Valley a clear violation of the Long Term Water Agreement and called on LADWP to rescind the April 27th letter. Within days Jim Yannotta, manager of the Aqueduct did rescind the irrigation water shutoff but still insists the cutbacks are reasonable.

At Talking Water workshops convened in early May by the Inyo County Board of Supervisors, Yannotta argued that because of this unprecedented drought there simply is not enough water to fill everyone’s needs. He stressed that, as per the recently approved pumping plan, there would be no water exported to Los Angeles from Owens Valley for the first six months of the year and only 42,000 acre-feet for the second six months, representing an 82% reduction from a normal year. This sounds like a sacrifice, but is it?

The LADWP pumping plan also says that 9% of the water used in Los Angeles during the coming year will come from the Eastern Sierra and that 20% of the water used in the coming year will come from its own aquifers. LA’s own aquifers will provide twice the amount of water than Owens Valley. It would be interesting to know if some of the water from LA’s aquifers originated in the Owens Valley. LA, along with rest of California, is subject to the Governor’s mandate for a 25% reduction in water use. If Los Angeles does achieve a significant reduction, in all probability there will be no need for water from Owens Valley. LADWP has been highlighting the fact that they will not export water for the first six months of the year as though it is a sacrifice when it is more likely the reason is that LA doesn’t really need it and probably wouldn’t know what to do with it if it was delivered to LA.

So what’s going on? A look at Haiwee Reservoir says a lot. It is full to the brim. Could it be that LADWP has been busily storing water downstream so they don’t have to provide it to the Owens Valley ranchers and farmers? In a letter to the Inyo Register (May 7, 2015), former Inyo County counsel, Randy Keller, wondered why LADWP stores water in Haiwee instead of Crowley where it could be used for irrigation. Keller said he was discouraged by a lack of transparency by LADWP. LADWP has recently announced it will provide water for irrigation through July but does not say where or how much. Just like in Mulholland’s day, they have the data and anyone else who would like to have some verification of irrigation flows, doesn’t.

In their Talking Water workshops the Inyo County Board of Supervisors instructed staff to evaluate the feasibility of cutting water from mandated mitigation projects in Owens Valley and using it for irrigation. The largest mitigation project is the Lower Owens River Project (LORP). Board Chair Matt Kingsley has been the most ardent proponent of reductions to the LORP while interestingly Aqueduct Manager Jim Yannotta would rather talk about reductions in water used for dust mitigation on Owens Lake. Most of the water delivered to the LORP is pumped back to the aqueduct so it is understandable that Mr. Yannotta is lukewarm about cutting LORP flows. Reducing flows to the LORP is risky business involving possible water quality problems that could result in fish kills and may even be subject to CEQA. In any case, the 4000 acre feet of water from flow reduction in the LORP and other mitigation projects are far from enough to fill the short fall. It has been repeatedly mentioned that there is more than sufficient water in Crowley Lake to provide water for irrigation in Owens Valley but so far LADWP has resisted, offering unconvincing arguments for not doing so.

The real objective is to reduce the amount of water used for dust mitigation on Owens Lake. Years ago LADWP was given three options for dust mitigation: flooding, gravel spreading or revegetation. Water was relatively abundant at the time so flooding was chosen, a decision that has proven to be disastrous.

LADWP is using the drought to accomplish two goals, reduce the number of agricultural water users in Owens Valley, and reduce the amount of water for dust mitigation on Owens Lake.

David Wagner


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3 Responses to Letter: LADWP using drought to its advantage

  1. Castro Abu Amsha June 22, 2015 at 6:31 am #

    just i want to add another small comment;

    the shallow flooding method at Owens lake is a Water wasting method because it turns the water from drinkable water into toxic water that affects humans, plants and wild life. It becomes polluted in elevated levels with lead, mercury, selenium, cadmium , arsenic, boron, sodium and barium. These toxic materials are the cause for killing large numbers of birds on Owens lake, see the link:


  2. Castro Abu Amsha June 19, 2015 at 11:55 am #

    Before the division of the Owens river to the LA aqueduct, Owens lake water was thought to be excessively saline, and when over flow the salt had reached to large areas around the lake and affected the agriculture.

    After the glaciers melted, the lake waters receded, and this accelerated with human exploitation of the lake even before the Los Angeles Aqueduct was built, due to Owens Valley farmers who had already appropriated most of the Owens River’s tributaries’ flow, causing the lake level to drop slightly each year.

    With the lake -area fluctuations observed prior to the diversion of Owens river, many have speculated on the fate of Owens Lake if the diversion had not taken place.

    This curiosity initiated the development of a surface-water model, “Lake.f,” which was developed in 1992 for the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District (District) (Mihevc and Cochran, 1992). The model simulates both the current situation, which is the diversion of water to Los Angeles, and what might occur if the diverted Owens Valley surface water were allowed to flow into the lake.

    I think that LADWP had made a favor to Owens valley when they made the aqueduct, because if the Lake becomes dry due to Owens Valley farmers who had already appropriated most of the Owens River’s tributaries’ flow, then who will paid the millions for dust mitigation?? I think that the aqueduct becomes the cause for the Owens valley development.

    Instead of the water diversions, DWP made wells to be used for irrigation by the farmers, and today, the City of Los Angeles owns about 315,000 acres of eastern Sierra watershed land, which is administered by its Department of Water & Power (DWP). Los Angeles is, therefore, the largest taxpayer in both Inyo and Mono Counties.

    DWP made these lands available for use by local farm and ranch operators, pack outfits, businesses, schools, city and county governments, state and federal agencies, and college and university researchers, as well as the many thousands of tourists who visit the eastern Sierra each year.

    The 239,000 acres of DWP property leased for livestock grazing and alfalfa farming are leased with the written agreement that at least 75 percent of the property remain open for public access; e.g., for hunting, fishing, water sports, hiking, bike riding, photography, painting, bird watching, wildlife viewing, etc. Overnight camping, however, is restricted to developed campgrounds.

    The DWP also leases property for airports, fair grounds, public golf courses, city parks, campgrounds, museums, visitor centers, parking lots, and radio, television and telephone facilities (relay stations, microwave stations, etc.).

    In addition to leases, the DWP has sold numerous land easements – – to the Counties for roads, pipelines, and facilities; to the State of California allowing highway improvement projects; and to the City of Bishop for road drainage, water, and sewer facilities. Property has also been sold to Inyo County for a Senior Citizens Mobile Home Park, a low-income housing project, light industrial uses, school and pre-school expansion, a hospital skilled nursing facility and expansion of the existing hospital, and for sewer ponds for the local Indian Reservation.

    In addition, permits are given to film companies for the production of commercials, documentaries, and feature-length films – – creating an economic boost for the local communities.

    In his submitted letter to the Sierra Wave Editor, Mr. David Wagner concluded that:
    LADWP is using the drought to accomplish two goals, reduce the number of agricultural water users in Owens Valley, and reduce the amount of water for dust mitigation on Owens Lake.

    I think that the second goal is right but to make this water available for the agricultural water users in Owens Valley as the DWP announced in the Standing Committee meeting on June 6, 2015.

    The DWP has a new promising waterless dust mitigation product and in the Standing Committee meeting they asked the GBUAPCD to shortening the testing period for it. So when LADWP has announced that they will provide water for irrigation through July and
    August this was based on the variance from the GBUAPCD to shortening the testing period.

    If there is a good alternative solution for dust mitigation at Owens Lake then why to waste that 60,000 acre feet of water on the dry lake, and defiantly this water can be used for irrigation.

    So, we must not judge things from the perspective of one.

  3. Philip Anaya June 18, 2015 at 5:49 pm #

    Thank You Dave for this great synopsis of the recent effects of the drought. If indeed there is an advantage to a 4th year Drought it would be the awareness and consciousness of the importance of water and how much we all taken water for granted. There is always a hidden agenda with human beings and DWP seems to have their share and they pay them the big bucks to do it. Maybe after a mandatory 25% reduction of wages for the administrative folks there could be some incentive/performance rewards for evolved thinking and innovative solutions at the DWP. They could start with teaching and rewarding Kids in LA Unified like they are doing in the Inyo Schools and they don’t have to pay anyone for that great idea.
    It is up to each of us to regulate our own usage and it is up to each of us to make sure that the Owens Valley is treated fairly so that we all have some water to use .


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