By Deb Murphy

The Mono County Board of Supervisors heard a tutorial on the Owens Valley Groundwater Authority delivered by Deputy County Counsel Jason Conger at Tuesday’s meeting. The presentation and comments indicate a distinct line has been drawn between Mono’s members on the OVGA and Inyo County.

The bottom line: with the tentative low rating on the Owens Valley groundwater basin, Mono County’s Board doesn’t seem to see any advantage in keeping the OVGA intact. As Supervisor Bob Gardner said, “what’s broken that needs fixing? We need serious conversation to balance Mono County with Inyo’s Owens Lake issues.”

Conger told the Board “Inyo plans to litigate Los Angeles’ pumping under the dry lake.” However, Inyo’s County Counsel Marshall Rudolph stated, via e-mail, Inyo is “not currently considering litigation.”

More than two years ago, Inyo tried to distinguish the Owens Valley basin from the southern end of Mono County, specifically Tri-Valley Groundwater Management District. The state Department of Water Resources didn’t buy the break at, basically, the county line. So the two groups of water agencies were joined at the hip with the OVGA.

Inyo has agricultural water users, but those ranchers are on Los Angeles Department of Water and Power leases and the department operations are treated as “adjudicated” and exempt from the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act requirements.

There’s nothing simple about water in the Eastern Sierra.

If the low priority is finalized, no sustainability plan is required. If whatever agencies remain in the OVGA continue to develop a sustainability plan that does not include the entire basin, the DWR will intervene and do its own plan for the basin if the tentative low priority rating doesn’t stick or is raised to medium priority in the future.

This is the definition of between a rock and a hard place. Dave Doonan with the Tri-Valley district literally lives there. “If LADWP is exempt and de minimus users (homes with private wells) are exempt,” Doonan said, “that leaves six ag growers in Tri-Valley to balance the water users in the basin. Agricultural water is self-limiting. If the OVGA imposes an acre-foot fee, we’re out of business.”

Supervisor John Peters took a more optimistic approach. “The fee isn’t necessarily $50 an acre-foot,” he suggested. “It could be 50-cents. Or fees could be used as penalties.”

Supervisor Fred Stump, Mono’s rep on the OVGA, was much less optimistic. “The plan could require monitoring and reporting and fees. The OVGA could require Mono entities put monitoring wells in Inyo County.”

Consultants Daniel B. Stephens & Associates are working on the plan, though the progress has been slowed until the priority is finalized. The last update indicated DBS&A was still compiling data with no actual plan details worked out.

At an early spring OVGA meeting, a straw poll was held to determine how the nine members felt about maintaining the Authority and proceeding with a plan even if the basin remained low priority. Most of the six Inyo agencies wanted to keep going. 

As of the early August meeting, everything’s on hold with no plans for another meeting until the priorities have been finalized.

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