Report from Water Commission meeting

By Deb Murphy

After five years of drought, the question of what to do with mass quantities of spring runoff is a welcome problem, one that Inyo County Water Commissioner Craig Patten suggested area residents can weigh in on.

“We’re at 244 percent of normal,” Patten said at Wednesday’s Commission meeting. “There could be a million acre-feet of run-off.” While Patten said Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has indicated “they’ll put the water where they can get it when they need it,” this may be the time to store some of it in the Owens Valley.

There was no shortage of suggestions from the Commissioners and County Water Department staff: direct water into some of the old irrigation canals that pre-dated the LA Aqueduct, bring the water table up at Five Bridges and/or Laws, described by Commission Chair Mike Prather as the mitigation orphan. Commissioner Teri Red Owl cited a water spread south of Big Pine years ago. “The water table came up and stayed up for several years afterwards,” she said.

According to Water Department Director Bob Harrington, the department has already opened the Bishop Creek by-pass and diverted water from the Owens River to the McNally Ponds.

Harrington indicated the timing of excess water suggestions could be included in the County’s response to the LADWP’s Annual Operations Plan, in late April.

Patten suggested getting public input, the Commission agreed. Those suggestions should be routed to Bob Harrington at[email protected].

The highlight of Wednesday’s meeting was a presentation by Water Department hydrologist Keith Rainville, providing a hypothesis that could explain West Bishop’s recurring high water table issues.

The County got state assistance through its drought emergency declaration, bringing in Department of Water Resources’ staff to explore a high table that has flooded crawl spaces and seeped out of lawns. The DWR’s report read like a mystery novel that failed to solve the mystery, coming to the same conclusions Harrington did when the problem reared its soggy head in the spring of 2014 and again this past year: seepage from West Bishop’s maze of ditches and ponds after the natural lining of vegetation was cleared out in the winter of 2013-14 when the water was cut off probably caused the problem.

Rainville’s hypothesis started with the last year of a balanced water table when water flowed year-round and seepage flowed evenly from the ditches and ponds to a depth of 40-feet, a level he described as relatively shallow for the Owens Valley’s alluvial fan.

When the water was cut off in the fall of 2013, the water table declined and the older shallow private wells began to run dry. When the water returned the following two springs, the seepage increased faster than the shallow subsurface layer could handle. Instead of all the water flowing down to the groundwater table, some of it spread vertically. With a near average runoff last year, the vertical seepage increased, popping up when the vertical spread met the surface of the gradual slope from west to east.

Rainville’s hypothetical solution: return to the equilibrium of 2013. Residents on Carol Lane may have provided one way to reach that equilibrium.

According to Rainville, the group drained several ponds, refilled them and watched them drain within a day. They repeated the experiment, but lined the ponds with fine-grain sediment. It took three times longer for the water to fully drain out of the ponds.

One Response to Report from Water Commission meeting

  1. Philip Anaya February 8, 2017 at 10:04 pm #

    The current issues of water in West Bishop originated with drought and a new DWP/SCE management of the Bishop Creek Chandler Flows in the spring and summer of 2013. Unlike in all the previous years even in years of drought where DWP and SCE did a cooperative management of the available runoff that maintained wetted ditches year round there were high flows through the spring and early summer but by August with no more water available there were dry ditches in West Bishop and by the end of December domestic wells in West Bishop began to go dry. The water table during this period was lowered 17 feet and the County also had to ask DWP to turn off production well w407 in West Bishop during this period of time.
    At the Bishop Creek Water Ass. meetings an overflowing crowd of members complained about these dry ditches, not getting water and heard horror stories of $25,000 for replacement wells. Folks were given advice to take advantage of the dry conditions and to muck out ponds and ditches. The DWP and SCE repeated the 2013 management of the Bishop Creek runoff in 2014 and there were reports in the spring of 2014 of water under homes, in basements and flooded yards from horizontal spreading .
    It is reported that up to 30 domestic wells went dry during these times. Another possibility that has been considered is the effect of 30 shallow wells no longer drawing water from the shallow portion of the aquifer and that in combination with scoured out ponds and ditches were infiltrating water to the shallow portion the water table which has come up to the surface even now into 2016-17.
    I would stress that causation of these events seems to have occurred beginning in 2013 and that folks dealing with these collateral issues are our neighbors who are not at fault for having a porous pond. The Inyo County Water Department has been involved looking for causations to find remedies for folks who on top of spending thousands for a replacement well now have water in their crawlspaces , flooded soggy yards and which of these folks are able to market and sell their homes at a normal price if they needed to relocate. The Bishop Creek Water Association , it’s trustees who are uncompensated volunteers have worked tirelessly with these issues since 2013 and there are many who thank them . The residents of West Bishop impacted by these events also have labored searching for relief . It was hoped that the Department of Water Resources report would yield some answers but the remedy remains studied speculation . The BCWA has three year capital improvement plan improving the controls on feeder ditches to the neighborhoods being funded by a small increase in our dues including a $3500.00 increase for the DWP. Hopefully there can be a transition from analysis to remedy measures but it looks as though that will take time, some luck and a lot of support from wherever it can be found as we face an historic snowpack runoff this year.


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