Letter to the editor: road not taken with DWP

blackrockBlackrock 94: The road not taken

An arbitration panel recently sided with Inyo County in a preliminary ruling in the county’s dispute

with DWP over parcel Blackrock 94. This is good news, and the arbitrators’ decision is important.

However, it is premature to open the Champagne; the decision is better understood as a catastrophe

averted than a real step forward.

Though Inyo initiated the dispute, DWP had tried to hijack it by seeking to disallow decades of

wellfield monitoring data gathered by the Inyo County Water Department for the Technical Group.

Had DWP prevailed in this argument, enforcement of the Inyo-LA Long Term Water Agreement

(LTWA) would have become impossible because the most important data for determining attainment of

management goals would have been rendered inadmissible. This is the catastrophe averted.

Opening Champagne is premature because the arbitrators’ decision doesn’t address the real problem at

Blackrock: the exemption of Blackrock Hatchery pumps from the LTWA’s On/Off protocol. The

exemption allows continuous pumping, which is the reason the water table at Blackrock 94 never

recovers to the rooting zone. The lowered water table, in turn, is the reason the former groundwaterdependent

meadow is converting to a dusty, weedy, shrubland. I noted this in my 2007 letter (on behalf

of the Bristlecone Chapter of the California Native Plant Society) that led to the Blackrock disputes.

Inyo could have responded to my letter by invoking the “primary” LTWA goal of avoiding impacts and

seeking to modify management by limiting hatchery pumping. Had DWP objected, it would have had

to argue that its current practice of permanently decoupling groundwater from a groundwaterdependent

meadow creates no impacts — a tough case to make! A dispute would have focused on

management practice and an arbitration ruling favoring Inyo would have reduced the hatchery pumping

which causes the problem. Equally important, it would also have established that Inyo can enforce the

primary LTWA goal of impact avoidance.

Inyo didn’t invoke impact avoidance, but, instead, sought mitigation after the fact, a “secondary” LTWA

goal. Mitigation can be required only after the Technical Group establishes measurability of vegetation

change, attributability to management, and significance. DWP didn’t participate in Technical Group

deliberations in good faith, which led Inyo to initiate the current dispute. The dispute doesn’t challenge

management of hatchery pumping; it pertains to the process of determining whether mitigation is


Arbitrators have, so far, ruled that a measurable decline in vegetation has occurred. They will now

consider whether the decline is significant and attributable to management. Their final decision will be

made sometime next year.

Assuming the arbitrators’ final decision favors Inyo, the Technical Group must then determine

mitigation. Given DWP’s lack of engagement, it wouldn’t be surprising if Inyo has to initiate yet

another dispute to compel DWP to agree to the necessary reduction in hatchery pumping.

DWP has never acknowledged that its LTWA obligation to avoid impacts can be enforced by Inyo. At

Blackrock the county had a golden opportunity to challenge DWP’s position and, if successful, benefit

the entire valley. By not challenging DWP’s position, Inyo implicitly accepted it. Victory in Inyo’s

current dispute will lead only to site-specific mitigation benefiting Blackrock 94. Considering the lost

opportunity to benefit the entire valley, I suggest victory in this limited dispute will not merit

Champagne, but a wine cooler, at most.

Daniel Pritchett, Bishop


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7 years ago

Daniel I was not involved with the LTWA until 2008 but when my lease vegetation was impacted I started attending meetings.
I was present for numerous meetings when you asked DWP to answer your (Native Plant Society) letter and were ignored with not even an acknowledgement of them having read the letter.
As I understand the LTWA it’s primary goal is to avoid impact to the vegetation in the Owens Valley. Our Supervisors do not want to question DWP about vegetation changes in the valley they will only mitigate.
Mitigation as I understand it is where DWP would restore an area that has been impacted by lack of water with another or similar area with WATER THAT HAS BEEN PUMPED SO THERE IS STILL THE SAME AMOUNT OF WATER FOR THE AQUADUCT this pumped water DWP calls replacement water. I don’t understand this part of the LTWA either it sounds like robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Mitigation is only after the Technical group establishes measurability of vegetation change.
At the Technical group meetings where Inyo County Water Department showed data even photos of the damage and DWP agreed there was a change. Because DWP disputed the way data was collected they walked out of these meetings and refused public comment on the issue.
2007 to 2013 6+ years and still in limbo. In the meantime DWP pumps still run. Blackrock 94 will never be what it was like before the pumps, but maybe some improvement will happen. I hope it does but have my doubts as I see it DWP will still want replacement water for the mitigation.
I agree with Daniel no Champagne we will probably have to toast this event if it ever happens with bottled water. And most likely we will have to go to the LA River to enjoy the Owens River that did run through the valley.

7 years ago

Thanks for the synopsis Daniel, it helps to know what is going on. A couple of questions:
What is the minimum ground water level to maintain the native vegetation of the Owens Valley? Does the current LTWA stipulate this level for the health of the environment? And lastly, if not, can the Mono Lake agreement once disputed for a minimum lake level to maintain the health of Mono Lake be used step by step to change the current LTWA to one that ensures the ground water level and the health of the Owens Valley? =