By Deb Murphy

Owens Valley Groundwater Authority meetings are a little like watching a chess match. Not really adrenaline inducing, but there’s a lot going on between moves.

Last Thursday’s meeting is a good example.

The question before the 11-member board dealt with the re-prioritization of the Owens Valley basin from medium to high—a new wrinkle from the Department of Water Resources to slam a 42-point whammy on basins that export water.

The exporter of that water, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, requested DWR take a second look since that portion of the basin under LA-owned lands is being managed by the Long Term Water Agreement and, as such, is exempt from the Sustainable Groundwater Act. LADWP’s conclusion would demote the basin from its current “medium” to “low” status.

Inyo County, while not agreeing completely with LADWP’s arguments, asked the board for input on an Authority letter. There is little difference between medium and high basins, both require the formation of managing agencies and sustainability plans. The gap between medium and low is huge. Low priority basins can but don’t have to develop sustainability plans.

According to Water Department Director Bob Harrington, if the basin were re-classified as low the board could go ahead and develop its grant-funded plan or it could disband. The big issue: LADWP’s water exportation out of the basin would be the justification for the high priority but the little water agencies would be footing the bill.

Then vocal community member Philip Anaya pointed out the Authority should be going for a high priority to best hold DWP’s feet to the fire in terms of water sustainability in the valley. Mono County’s Wendy Sugimura, senior analyst, fully understood Anaya’s comment. “We should want to be a high priority basin.”

Wheeler Crest’s Community Service District rep Glenn Inouye didn’t agree. His district includes 43 residents. Neither did Indian Creek CSD’s alternate Ted Williams. “We had to raise our rates 40-percent to pay for this,” he said.

Inyo County rep Dan Totheroh wanted more information. “If we’re a low priority basin, the workload will be less,” he said. “But some think DWP will better manage the basin if the OVGA stays alive. What about the water pumped by DWP that impacts non-adjudicated portions of the basin. I want to know the impact of either high or low.”

However, as Chair Fred Stump put it, the Authority has not hook to force DWP to mitigate its pumping impacts beyond its boundary. Totheroh has the simple answer. “If we can’t be sustainable under SGMA, we go back through the courts and change the Long Term Water Agreement.”

County staff will come back at the Authority’s August 9 meeting with an analysis of the two alternatives, draft letter and look at the prospect of funding for mitigation if the basin ends up with a high priority determination.

The other issue under discussion was LADWP’s request its portion of the basin be removed from the basin boundaries, a suggestion the Authority found illogical. Starlite CSD representative Daniel Cutshall read his own response, basically stating while the land was bound by boundary lines, the water underneath it wasn’t.

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