Tech group can’t agree on mitigation at Five Bridges

By Deb Murphy

The Technical Group meetings have morphed into the E-ticket of all local meetings.

Comprised of representatives of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and Inyo County Water Department staff, agenda items are approved with agreement on both sides, like the Standing Committee. That agreement has been elusive lately.

Monday afternoon’s meeting was called to deal with one item on last Wednesday’s agenda—an item the group didn’t get to after not agreeing on a number of other items. The subject: resolve any disagreement over attainment of mitigation goals for the Five Bridges impact area.

At a January meeting of the Tech Group, DWP’s Dave Martin made his presentation maintaining the mitigation goals had been met. Inyo staff’s response was a brief “we’ll get back to you after we do our own evaluation.” That evaluation, presented Monday by Zack Nelson, disagreed with Martin’s findings.

Nelson went through the report, outlining results of different forms of analysis. The goals outlined in the 1999 mitigation plan for Five Bridges required a 60-percent recovery in alkali meadow and 90-percent of riparian scrub. To meet those goals, the vegetation in each area had to reach 90-percent of those targets when compared to coverage and vegetation variety prior to the operation of wells 385 and 386. Inyo’s conclusion was the alkali meadow recovery was close to goal but riparian areas never met the goals over the 20-year study period.

How could the two entities reach opposing conclusions?

The original impact area constituted 300 acres. When the acreage was assessed in 1991, it was decided roughly 240 acres had recovered and the new goals were laid out for the remaining damaged area in 1999.

Martin explained the goals were irrelevant and had used the entire 300-acre original impact area to come to the conclusion Five Bridges had met those irrelevant goals.

The Water Department simply took those areas identified as still in need of mitigation and concluded they had not met the goals set out for just those 60 acres.

During last year’s epic run-off, LADWP spread a lot of water in the valley to keep it out of the river and away from the Owens Lake. Everything greened up but Harrington questioned whether that recovery was sustainable. The down side of all that green was the dominance of the invasive pepperweed.

LADWP accused the County of cherry picking areas to use in its evaluation. The County reminded the department the plan was developed to address those unmitigated areas.

Chair Jim Yannotta suggested a caucus. That lasted almost an hour after which Yannotta announced the Tech Group would continue the discussion Monday, March 26 at 1 or 1:30.

During the final public comment period, Nancy Masters summed up the dispute: “It’s disheartening we’re arguing over semantics when you can see the mitigation is not getting done. The fundamental problem is that in 1999 both the County and the City agreed on the goals of the plan. Agreements need to be viewed as what was agreed to.” Her conclusion: LADWP had to avoid impacts as that was easier than the untried waters of recovery.

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