Opinion: New leadership needed on water issues

Submitted by Daniel Pritchett

At the 2/9/17 Technical Group meeting Inyo County Water Department director Bob Harrington voted to approve DWP’s pre-construction plan for new wells on the Bishop cone (and was roundly booed for his efforts). Afterwards, he was quoted as saying, “There seems to be a misconception that the county is in favor of putting these new wells in (Inyo Register 2/11/17).” The public can hardly be blamed for its misconception. If approving flawed pre-construction plans is how the county manifests its opposition to the wells, one can only wonder what the county would have done had it supported construction of the wells!

The public’s misconception should not have surprised Mr. Harrington. The pre-construction plan wasn’t on the agenda of the recent (2/1/17) meeting of the Inyo County Water Commission, notwithstanding the fact the Water Department had received the report in mid-January. Had the Water Department brought the plan before the Water Commission it would have had the opportunity to make its case to the public as to why approving the plan would be consistent with the county’s alleged opposition to the new wells. It didn’t.

Harrington implied that the county had no choice but to acquiesce to DWP’s plan, stating, “The county is bound by a court-ordered settlement [i.e. the Water Agreement] and we fulfill these obligations for the joint evaluation for new wells”. This is misleading. “Joint” means Inyo has veto power over the plan – it doesn’t mean “must acquiesce to whatever DWP wants.” Inyo could have told DWP the pre-production plan was not acceptable and noted some of the deficiencies identified by the public at the Technical Group.

DWP has yet to successfully complete numerous mitigation projects. There is nothing in the Water Agreement that says, “Drilling new wells is more important than completing mitigation for impacts from existing wells.” Were the county truly opposed to the new wells it could have taken the position that work on a “joint evaluation” is premature until mitigation for existing wells is successfully completed.

One of the glaring deficiencies of the pre-construction plan is its cavalier treatment of our beautiful and highly-endangered stands of mature cottonwood and willows. In our desert climate they are some of the most humanizing features of the landscape and we are losing them at a rapid rate. According to the plan, in one parcel they will be subject to seasonal drawdowns of 2’-3’. The plan asserts “the potential impact…would be expected small” without citing any data to support this highly debatable assertion. It is not surprising to see this seat-of-the-pants analysis coming from DWP but the Water Department has no business approving it.

The cottonwood/willow example is particularly galling because the EIR to the 1991 Water Agreement asserts, “stands of tree willows and cottonwoods … will be identified by the Technical Group for monitoring purposes.” This is a broken promise. Had the Technical Group honored its obligation to conduct this monitoring, there would be plenty of data that could now be used in the pre-construction plan regarding water table drawdowns and their potential impacts on cottonwoods and willow.

While Inyo honors its obligation to work “jointly” with DWP on projects DWP wants – such as drilling new wells — Inyo rarely acts when DWP welches on its mitigation and monitoring obligations (such as the cottonwood and willow monitoring mentioned above). This asymmetry is why I have argued for years that the county is an enabler of its own abuse by DWP.

Unfortunately, this is by no means the first time the Water Department has bypassed the public and the Inyo County Water Commission to make controversial decisions. The decision to exempt lands managed under the Water Agreement from the new State Groundwater Management Act is another example, as was the decision to grant a well exemption for the Big Pine re-greening project. Both decisions were made with no opportunity for public discussion and input.

However, the buck stops with Inyo County Supervisors. They allow the Water Department to perpetuate these practices of secrecy and appeasement that have gone on for years. What will it take to get supervisors to recognize that the county is poorly-served by this behavior and new leadership is desperately needed?


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3 Responses to Opinion: New leadership needed on water issues

  1. Philip Anaya March 1, 2017 at 3:13 pm #

    There are about 511 domestic water users in the Barlow area whose water supply comes from the Aquifer below their residences either from a private well or a community water association . Been told that in one of these associations of 217 homes the total used both for their home and the yards 330 AF (acre feet) of water in 2016. That works out to be annually to be 1.52 AF per user. Extrapolating that number by 511 homes is 776.7 AF possibly being used from the Aquifer.
    The proposed new well B-5 just tom the south east of the Barlow neighborhood is to be capable of pumping 4cfs which is 2896 AF. The two leases intended to receive water from B-5 are about 275 acres and Leases typically receive 5AF per acre per year. 275 by 5 equals 1375 AF of water . The DWP seems to have sized the well sufficiently as irrigation season ids 6 months and half of well capacity is 1448 AF. That’s about the only thing that is valid and current about this pre construction building report .
    The new wells require CEQA review . This review identifies possible impacts and mitigation measures to address those impacts . DWP is claiming that the 1991 EIR is a sufficient environmental review for these new wells , however Impact 16-66 states and this is a paraphrase that new wells will cause fluctuations in the water table but will not effect private wells . We now know however that over two dozen private wells were lost in this neighborhood due to a combination of factors drought , ditches going dry and existing production wells having to be turned to off status as the water table dropped 17 feet at the monitoring well T-389 which is located just to the west of the W407 production well just north of Sunset Park
    There are already 4 production wells in the vicinity of Barlow that draw a tremendous amount of water from the Aquifer . From the 2014-2015 Bishop Cone Audit available at the Inyo County Water Department Website contains the annual data of these existing production wells . W407: 987AF, W408: 1046 AF , W140: 1193AF , and W412: 914 AF . The existing wells combine to draw in 2014 -15 a total of 4139 AF and remember the extrapolated figure of only 776.7 AF for all the domestic well users in Barlow . These numbers were not discussed but in a way were modeled in the pre construction report . Draw downs were projected but somehow where is the trust in the LADWP process when 4139 AF is proposed to be increased by lets say 1100 AF to a total of 5239 AF drawn from the Aquifer which is 6 1/2 times more than that of domestic well users
    So we and I mean the Inyo County need to hold LADWP to the requirements of CEQA, A “Subsequent EIR” review and it’s public process is necessary to do a current condition assessment of the proposed new wells . Obviously LADWP has not taken on any responsibility for the 2013-14 wells going dry . The monitoring in place to prevent those events failed to mitigate an Impact that states in the 1991 EIR that private wells would not be affected. Mr. Harrington has stated on the record to the Inyo County Board of Supervisors that Inyo county and DWP have a difference regarding the need for a Subsequent Environmental Review for the new wells . Each of the Board Members are aware of this particular issue and I for one being fortunate to being a private well owner in Barlow trust in conversations that I have again been fortunate to have with each of them. It has taken a lifetime to learn it is best to be able to speak with folks than to speak at folks and I recommend this conversation.
    Finally , these goings on are a good example of what the coming GSA (Groundwater Sustainability Agency) and it’s GSP (Groundwater Sustainability Policy) will be attending to, that being the coordination and management of groundwater between the Adjudicated (DWP lands ) and the Non Adjudicated (in this case the private properties of Barlow) areas of the Owens Basin .

  2. Doctor Dude February 28, 2017 at 7:17 am #

    Thank you Mr. Pritchett for informing us about the deficiencies in the Inyo County Water Department’s handling and review of LADWP’s applications for these two new wells.

    The term has been bandied about lately by the press, so I will use it, because in this case I think it is entirely accurate: in regard to the new wells, and in many other instances, Mr. Harrington and the Water Department are obviously and simply being “politically correct.”

  3. Trouble February 28, 2017 at 4:29 am #

    DWP is doing everything it can to route our ground water to their river and canals as we speak. Their making sure that the water basically doesn’t make it into our ground water table, before it gets there. Does that make sense?

    I actually agree with Dan for once. Our water director is not acting in our best interest.


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