Letter to the editor: response to response on Owens Lake Master Plan

dry lake

by Daniel Pritchett, Bishop

My argument that the emperor (the Owens Lake Master Plan) has no clothes (2/5/13) apparently hit a nerve. Ignoring the personal attacks, the author of the 2/9/13 response revealed interesting points about the basis of our differing views.

The 2/9/13 author wrote “the water is currently owned by the City of Los Angeles and it will go where they choose to send it.” I disagree. Water belongs to the people of California and the City of Los Angeles claims rights to its use. More important, some water claimed by LA is, in effect, “stolen” with respect to requirements of the Inyo-LA Long Term Water Agreement (LTWA). Some water sent down the aqueduct and diverted to Owens Lake was obtained by pumping inconsistent with LTWA goals. Some also represents water that should have been given to ranchers and mitigation projects under the LTWA.

The draft Master Plan is based on allowing DWP to export water it “saves” at the lake, so long as bird habitat is protected. Because some of the “saved” water is “stolen,” negotiating parties become accomplices to DWP’s water “theft.” The draft plan can also be considered ecological triage: upstream valley desiccation is ignored to get DWP’s protection of bird habitat at the lake. Continuing to negotiate won’t change this. “Must have” #2 in DWP’s January 28 ultimatum should dispel any doubts.

Regarding the January 28 ultimatum, the 2/9/13 author wrote “…if the list of 5 ‘needs’ or ‘requirements’ is a line in the sand then that is a problem” (italics added). Sometimes DWP’s meaning is unclear, but not this time. Several of the “must haves” have been in the draft Master Plan for over a year. It’s hard to see how much more straightforward DWP’s language could be.

Environmental leaders have invested so heavily in negotiations it may have affected their ability to make dispassionate decisions. This, and their failure to acknowledge “stolen” water, are two of several reasons negotiations should be abandoned.

Inyo must take a long-term view (DWP certainly does). The opportunity to negotiate a Master Plan will still exist after DWP’s outrageous litigation against Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District, Ted Schade, State Land Commission (SLC), and other parties ends. Bird habitat will be protected, even with no master plan, by SLC, which owns most of the lakebed. In a new legal landscape new negotiations may be possible. If premised on the ecological truth that the lake is connected to its watershed, negotiations may, eventually, lead to a Master Plan which doesn’t sacrifice one part of the valley for another.

Daniel Pritchett Bishop, CA

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