Inyo Supervisors and Water Commission – it’s complicated

By Deb Murphy
The Inyo County Board of Supervisors acknowledged the complexity of water issues in Inyo County at Tuesday’s meeting. What it didn’t do was accept recommendations presented by Water Commission Chair Mike Prather and Commissioner Craig Patton.
McNally Ponds

McNally Ponds

While the details of mitigation projects, groundwater basins and pumping impacts may be complicated, to Prather the Commission’s recommendations were a matter “of drawing a line in the sand. This list (of projects) has been an open wound for some time. There is widening concern by citizens.”

The Supervisors, though aware of public sentiment, wanted more detail, more caution.
At its January 27 meeting, the Commission chose the McNally Ponds and Pasture Enhancement/Mitigation Project as its top priority. Prather explained the short list, culled from a long list of projects, included Five Bridges and Laws, but some progress has been made in the Laws well fields.
Mitigation for groundwater pumping at McNally was to provide water in the winter for
water fowl habitat and irrigation for forage in the pasture.
According to Prather, the berms and plumbing have been for 24 to 25 years. “For 16 of those years, the project had no water; four years it had reduced water, some of the reduced flows with agreement from the County,” Prather said. “We need to force the issue if necessary.”
According to Prather, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has cited reduced water from Mono Basin as the reason behind the waterless McNally project. Speaking for himself, he said “we need to make this work or get it off the list. Move the water somewhere else.”
Supervisor Mark Tillemans “pressed for caution. What we’re battling is the central command,” he said. “The City of Los Angeles.” Supervisor Dan Totheroh wondered if “by prioritizing, will we lose somewhere else.” Chair Jeff Griffiths “wants to see more solutions. It doesn’t have to be a detailed plan,” he said.
Next up: Patton with the Commission’s recommendation that the Board “not permit any new LADWP wells until existing obligations… have been met.”
LADWP has proposed four new wells, B-5 in West Bishop, B-2 by the Gun Club, in Bell Canyon above Big Pine and a replacement well in Laws, identified in the Long Term Water Agreement with 20-plus year old California Environmental Quality Act analysis.
The department also proposed retrofitting two wells at Five Bridges to pull only from deep aquifers. Those wells were re-classified as new wells, requiring CEQA, but not included in the agreement’s list of 15 approved new wells.
The Five Bridges wells were shut off in the late 1980s following serious vegetation impacts. Water Department hydrologist Keith Rainville told attendees at last week’s field trip a pump test was conducted in the mid-1990s, running at 16 cubic feet per second for 60 days with a drawdown from 16- to 3-feet.
According to Patton, the Technical Group recommended the wells be permanently shut off.
“We need to get in front of Los Angeles as they proceed,” Patton told the Supervisors. “We don’t want to wake up one day and find they’ve put in those wells…. The County needs to be prepared to go to arbitration.”
In response to a question from Totheroh, Patton said one of the new proposed wells, B-5, would be used on mitigation projects and would take the stress off Bishop Creek runoff. In addition, the Bell Canyon well will provide water to the Big Pine Ditch system which has been supplied by surface water.
“I appreciate your hard work,” said Griffiths, “but there’s a lot in ‘the county should not permit.’ It’s complicated when you get lawyers involved. There’s difficulty in linking new wells to mitigation. But it’s important the Water Commission stay on top of this.”
Supervisor Rick Pucci came the closest to accepting the recommendations. “No new wells is politically right,” he said, noting Prather’s reference that while mitigation is invaluable, “we have to avoid situations where mitigation is required.”

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5 Responses to Inyo Supervisors and Water Commission – it’s complicated

  1. Charles James February 22, 2016 at 12:55 pm #

    “The Inyo County Board of Supervisors acknowledged the complexity of water issues in Inyo County at Tuesday’s meeting. What it didn’t do was accept recommendations presented by Water Commission Chair Mike Prather and Commissioner Craig Patton.”

    It’s interesting how people can watch the same BOS meeting, but then disagree on what they think occurred. Having written an article on this same meeting for another news outlet, unlike Deb’s impression, I felt that the BOS gave a very sympathetic hearing to what the Water Commission had to say. In fact, it sounded very much like the Supervisors were very much in agreement with much of it.

    WC Chair Mike Prather agrees.

    “Speaking for myself, and I think that my colleagues on the ICWC would agree, we were listened to by our Inyo BOS – with plenty of discussion between us. We also would agree that this is VERY complicated in terms of legalities, Inyo’s limited resources and the time involved to make change. To me it is unfair to target our Board, all of who I truly know, care deeply about the protection of our valley.” (used with permission)

    At least three of the county supervisors also felt the same about the meeting. When contacted, they said that they “do get it” and feel the same sense of frustration as do many others. Their comments were underscored by their discussion of Water Commission’s educational tour of the Five Bridges area two weeks ago, a tour that three of the supervisors attended. They spoke of their impressions coming from the tour and how the failures of the mitigation efforts there for over two decades highlighted and reinforced the complexity and failures of the LTWA, and pointed to the many other mitigation failures in the agreement.

    It’s important to note that last Tuesday’s agenda called for the BOS to “Request Board receive recommendations from the Inyo County Water Commission.” It did not ask for the Board to do anything else beyond “receive recommendations.” Most comments from the supervisors acknowledged the importance of what the Water Commissioners presented to them and in large measure, appeared to sympathize, even straight-up agree, with the commissioners’ views.

    The shortcomings of the LTWA are well-known; the real issue is what can be done about it. It is the existing legal agreement under which water management issues currently must be addressed and there are increasingly many that feel that it is so flawed that it should be scrapped and replaced, while others seem to feel that all it would take to make it work is for the County to file lawsuits. No one can predict where either option would take matters, much less cost. A new agreement might take years. Lawsuits are expensive and offer no guarentee of winning in court. They can also take years to work their way through the courts.

    It did not take long for the Owens Valley Committee to blast email the view that “We don’t get it. It isn’t complicated at all,” and encourage its members and supporters to contact their district supervisors “for an explanation.”

    The simple “No New Wells” is proving an effective message, but all to often what seems “simple” would be best described as “simplistic,” treating complex issues and problems as if they were much simpler than they really are. This is not to dimiss the enormous value that OVC’s advocacy plays in protecting our environment. It has, in fact, often proven invaluable in confronting LADWP’s intransigence and forcing the County to take notice and action. But a clever slogan cannot replace the hard work that it takes to have effective and concrete results. Falsely accusing the supervisors of “not getting it” doesn’t move the ball any further up the field.

    Interestingly, Mr. Prather also agreed, writing that “OVC’s position that this is simple is incorrect.”

    “It is complicated” as Deb Murphy noted in her article. And it is not made any less so by any of us trying to pretend that it is not.

  2. Trouble February 22, 2016 at 5:56 am #

    Phillip, i would appreciate knowing what you would try to do if you were on the commission? I ask out of respect of your knowledgeable responses over the years.

  3. Philip Anaya February 21, 2016 at 3:56 pm #

    The great works of Mike Prather and Craig Patton and the Water Commission are vital and greatly appreciated by nearly every constituent of our Supervisors. There are no easy answers or simple solutions to the issues of the DWP in the Eastern Sierra but there is a whole lot of truth and hard decisions that need the light of day. It is time for the Board to take it up notch or two with the DWP

  4. Sandy Justice February 19, 2016 at 7:32 am #

    This was happening with the “Lower Owens River Project” it took a judges order to stop water flowing in the second aqueduct until the LORP was completed. This worked so well that DWP finished the LORP in record time.

    I say if it work so well before let’s do it again. Stop all water flowing South until all the years of damage to the Owens Valley is fully mitigated. This would make all the water available focused of repairing the damage. The mitigation would only take years not decades. Then we could talk about sending surplus water South.

    Owens valley first, then LA get’s the rest.

  5. MJA February 19, 2016 at 5:43 am #

    It is not complicated. Removing water from areas that naturally have water has adverse effects. Mitigation begins and ends with leaving the water where it is meant to be, naturally. =


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