Letter: ‘Officials understate failure of LTWA management’

The following letter was submitted by Daniel Pritchett of Bishop:

The OpEd from Bob Harrington (Inyo Register 10/24/15) contained a review of language in the Inyo-LA Long Term Water Agreement (LTWA) regarding groundwater pumping and new wells.  It was also a good example of how county officials intentionally understate the failure of LTWA management.


Specifically, Harrington wrote, “Since the Water Agreement was signed in 1991, LADWP’s pumping has averaged 76,000 acre-feet per year.”  This is misleading.  The LTWA requires water be managed so as to avoid impacts relative to conditions as measured in the mid 1980’s baseline period.  DWP data show average pumping since this period to be about 88,000 acre-feet per year.

Why does the difference between 76,000 acre-feet and 88,000 acre feet matter?  The USGS (accepted by DWP and Inyo as a neutral third party) has estimated long term average pumping should not exceed 70,000 acre feet per year (excluding artesian flows) if baseline vegetation conditions are to be maintained. The 76,000 acre-feet number cited by Harrington greatly understates the magnitude of the over-pumping that has occurred since the baseline period.  And pumping since baseline period is the relevant number for attaining LTWA goals.

Further evidence of excessive pumping is provided in the Inyo County Water Department’s 2015 annual report.  Table 3.2 documents water tables too low to sustain groundwater-dependent ecosystems the LTWA was intended to protect.  Data throughout the report document long term degradation of vegetation.

It is not only LTWA groundwater management that is failing.  Many of the numerous LTWA/EIR/MOU projects intended to mitigate past impacts are failing and/or incomplete.  Some have yet to be started.  This, too, is documented in the Water Department’s annual reports.

In Harrington’s opinion, the LTWA, “sets out an objective framework for evaluating new wells that accommodates the rights and interests of both Los Angeles and Inyo County.”  The implication seems to be that language in the LTWA is sufficient to insure new wells won’t create new problems.

However, 24 years of data belie this implication.  If, as documented above, existing LTWA protocols are inadequate to successfully manage existing wells, it strains credulity to suggest they will be adequate to successfully manage new ones.  Political leaders at the Standing Committee and staff at the technical group are currently unwilling and/or unable to address existing management failures.  New wells and more pumping will worsen this problem, not solve it.

Supervisors who approved the LTWA in 1991 described it as “a search for justice.”  Re-introducing “justice” to water management discussions might open current supervisors’ eyes.  It might make them recognize that the well-documented failures of ongoing LTWA pumping and mitigation make installation of new wells not simply a technical question (as Harrington’s OpEd implies), but an affront to justice to be resisted by all legal means.

A further discussion of new wells and what might be done is available at www.ovcweb.org.

Daniel Pritchett

Bishop, CA

, , ,

1 Comment
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
7 years ago

There is only one way to justly manage the groundwater of the Owens Valley, and that is a to adopt a new plan with a simple objective set ground water level that must be maintained. If the water drops below this set level, no pumping is allowed. Water above the… Read more »