Response to KSRW’s May 31 article entitled ‘LADWP offers update on status commercial ranch leases in Mono.’

By Michael Prather

The current question in the Eastern Sierra is, “Should the City of Los Angeles dry up LADWP grazing leases in the Crowley Lake area of Mono County – lands where, for over 150 years, ranchers have created meadows and wetlands that support a rich variety of wildlife including our Bi-state sage grouse?” The drying up of 6,000 acres (nearly 10 square miles) of irrigated meadows will morph these lands into dry scrub with far less value for local agriculture and wildlife.

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Michael Prather

Why would Los Angeles do this? Those of us living embedded in the City of Los Angeles lands have been asking that question for over 100 years. No one knows outside of the LADWP building on ‘Hope’ Street and City Hall.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power arguments in cutting off the ranchers range from the callous, “Water was never guaranteed to these ranchers,” to claims about cattle harming sage grouse and polluting Crowley Lake. For nearly 150 years cattle have co-existed with sage grouse without causing their extinction. Any impacts occur primarily in sage areas (non-watered) and not meadows that are critical to the grouse. The LADWP claim of nutrients reaching Crowley does not discuss the percolation of water through meadows which is known to facilitate the remove pollutants. It is estimated that 50-80% of the irrigation water filters through the soil on its way down slope.

Meanwhile, Inyo County is breathing a sigh of relief in having their 1991 Inyo County/Los Angeles Long-term Water Agreement (LTWA) which preserves past land and water practices among other things. Mono County currently lacks that defense, but would have challenges under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and may even look to Inyo County’s LTWA that guarantees sustainable agriculture in the Owens Valley where several ranches/businesses depend on the summer range around Crowley Lake. Will the LADWP threat to destroy irrigated lands in Mono County trigger action by Inyo County? Will the ranchers rise up themselves and join legal campaigns brought by others?

The last four mayors of Los Angeles back to Mayor Hahn have all proclaimed, “The bad old days are over in Inyo and Mono.” This is while a LADWP manager would brag, “Litigation (delay) has been very profitable for Los Angeles. Litigation is cheaper than water.” This conflicting behavior has resulted in a 50% reduction of water exported to Los Angeles over the past decades as the Eastern Sierra has fought back. Los Angeles, with its superb water conservation efforts has been able to adjust to that loss although their water purchases from the Delta in Northern California have increased.

Los Angeles’ elected leadership and LADWP have agreed to many beneficial undertakings in the Eastern Sierra over the years. Local parks, campgrounds, golf courses, land fills, many businesses are all on leases from the City of Los Angeles through LADWP. Some 315,000 acres is owned by Los Angeles in Inyo and Mono Counties.

The City is an absentee landlord for many residents. Collaboration that has taken place during creation of the Owens Lake Master Project promises to control hazardous dust, use less water and enhance/protect wildlife habitat. The possible water savings over time at Owens Lake equals the amount of water that Los Angeles plans to deny ranchers in Mono County.

The 1991 Inyo/Los Angeles Long-term Water Agreement has a primary goal to provide a reliable source of water for Los Angeles. Respect and mutual trust are required in order to work cooperatively with Los Angeles. Both of these critical factors that allow us to live together are eroded when LADWP behaves as it is now with ranchers in Mono County.

The face of Los Angeles in Inyo and Mono Counties is the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Is it able to learn from the past for the benefit of those of us living here in the Eastern Sierra and for its own rate payers? When will the ‘Bad Old Days’ be truly over?

Michael Prather
Lone Pine, CA

Chair of the Inyo County Water Commission writing as an individual.

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