Letter: Responding to LADWP and commercial ranch leases

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.

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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4 Responses to Letter: Responding to LADWP and commercial ranch leases

  1. David Dennison June 13, 2018 at 1:38 pm #

    Since we’re living in California,whenever I hear the word environment,or mentioning the California environmental quality act, anything “environment ” it always concerns me…seeins who we have lying in bed at the white house tweeting,and knowing,since he didn’t carry California,like he said he was going to in November 2016,seems a personal vendetta against the Golden State.On his campaign,didn’t he talk and tweet about selling off National Parks to the highest bidder,private enterprise,with parts of Yosemite being mentioned,and later on talking of opening up Death Valley National Park to mining operations…cutting off endangered species acts as a way of getting back at President Obama’s past agenda ?….the least of our worries is what LADWP is wanting to maybe do.

  2. Tom Tuttle June 13, 2018 at 6:24 am #

    Get over it, it has been over 100 years now. LADWP owns the land and the water rights and can do what ever they please just like you with own your land/property. Just deal with it. Why do the people in Inyo county feel like they are entitled to everything for free?

    • philip anaya June 13, 2018 at 2:21 pm #

      For eons of time Native Peoples dwelled upon these lands and water was for everyone and everything. The lands and the waters were as the sun and the sky, golden and blue and belonged to all that existed.
      It did not take settlers in the Eastern Sierra long after their arrival to begin owning lands and waters and denying native people their place, their lives . The DWP also through hook and crook laid claim to lands and waters in the Eastern Sierra and have been making expedient repeated errors of judgement for the sustainability of all living things for the hundred years of which you speak. Laws such as CEQA, such as SGMA have been enacted as a response to “doing whatever they please”. Litigation such as the MOU of 1997 that reestablished the Lower Owens River, the issues at Owens Dry Lake and the Great Basin Air Pollution Control District and the costly mitigation that is being borne by the rate payers who have little say in the operations and management of the LADWP are also evidence that ownership comes with responsibilities and agreements made, come with obligations .
      When the LADWP begins to be responsible, sustainable, become true stewards of the land that they control, abide by the agreements that they have entered into and one very important extra , advocating and agreeing to water rights for the Tribes, only then will people in Inyo and Mono County begin thinking about the LADWP in a different way. Only then will we agree to “get over it”

    • Daris June 14, 2018 at 6:41 am #

      Tom you may own your land/property but you can not do just anything on it that you want. There are State, County, Local and legal documents that stipulate what you can or can not do. Such as health/safety, zoning, environmental, and numerous other regulations plus just trying to treat your neighbor as you would want to be treated. Example a dry weed filled lot next to your well maintained lawn/yard.


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