By Deb Murphy

The public carried its disagreement over new wells proposed by Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to Wednesday’s Technical Group meeting, arguing that environmental analysis should proceed any well drilling or testing.

The wells at the center of the dispute are located near the Five Bridges mitigation project (385 and 386), one west of Big Pine and two in West Bishop. LADWP had submitted its pre-construction evaluations on the Big Pine and West Bishop sites for comment by the County.

County hydrologist Keith Rainville outlined Water Department concerns: changes in conditions since an Environmental Impact Report was prepared in 1991, concerns over the department’s groundwater models and the need for more monitoring wells. “We were pretty responsive” to those concerns, said Assistant Aqueduct Manager Greg Loveland. But, Water Department staff had received LADWP’s response that morning and hadn’t enough time for review.

The County had similar concerns regarding the Big Pine well located in Bell Canyon. The well is slated to supply water to the Big Pine Ditch System, currently using surface water. The 1991 California Environmental Quality Act analysis was “junk,” according to Mark Bagley with the Sierra Club and didn’t address cultural resources impacted by the well’s infrastructure according to Sally Manning of the Big Pine Paiute Tribe of the Owens Valley.

As for the modified wells near Five Bridges, LADWP has agreed to go through a CEQA analysis; the disagreement was whether the wells, screened to draw from deep aquifers, would be tested before or after impacts were analyzed. Aqueduct Manager Jim Yannotta, reporting in by phone, said the department hadn’t decided when the tests would be run.

A dispute resolution over the Five Bridges Mitigation Project, called by the Owens Valley Committee and Sierra Club last week, complicated the Tech Group’s discussion of LADWP’s draft mitigation plan developed earlier this year.

In essence, the Group identified what LADWP and County staff agreed on, but couldn’t approve the plan itself. “We don’t want to delay,” said Water Department Director Bob Harrington.
Mitigation at Five Bridges started 28 years ago after an 18-month run of wells 385 and 386 to dewater a gravel pit and send water to the aqueduct resulted in serious impacts to a 300-acre area. Some elements agreed on were diversions to better manage flows and encourage spread, broadcasting native seeds, grazing, weed and recreation management. Yannotta said the plan would be presented at the March 31 Standing Committee meeting.

The Standing Committee will re-hear items raised at a prior meeting: pre-approving a yet-to-be-developed irrigation/mitigation project water reduction based on continuing drought conditions and keeping some of the water saved on the Owens Lake dust mitigation project for Owens Valley. The County won’t agree the former; LADWP, on the latter.

Other items recommended by the March 15 meeting of the Board of Supervisors included more timely scheduling of Committee and Tech Group meetings so agenda items can be reviewed in advance by the public and a comprehensive overview of progress on all 60 mitigation projects.

The one agreed-upon bright spot was an improvement in precipitation, though at 70- to 75-percent of normal, the Eastern Sierra is still considered to be in continuing drought condition.

With snow pillow numbers ranging from 104-percent of normal to date at Mammoth Pass to 55-percent of normal at Big Pine Creek, LADWP’s Eric Tillemans said the average was 75-percent of normal. Even if no more snow falls, Tillemans said that number would bottom out at 63-percent. Rain in the valley stands at 55-percent of normal to date.


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