The OVGA, according to Mono County

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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4 Responses to The OVGA, according to Mono County

  1. ES August 26, 2019 at 9:12 pm #

    I don’t think it is much of a surprise that the TriValley Ag interests are overdrafting that area. Too bad this will result in their neighbor’s wells going dry… guess we never learned from the San J valley towns where everyone’s well went dry because of a ‘handful’ of agricultural interests.

    • Philip Anaya August 29, 2019 at 6:08 am #

      Tri Valley is not in overdraught . The Ag interests have a unique designation from the State of California as an Irrigation District and there is sustainable management of groundwater in place. There has been a concern that one of the Ag interests would sell water for export to the DWP and concerns that Fish Slough receive an adequate recharge that a recent study from CFW indicates the recharge as being from Tri Valley. Not wanting to speak for Tri Valley, my own take from participating at nearly every OVGA meeting since its inception, they chose to participate in the OVGA with the assurances that they could establish their own rules and regs by the means of a “Management Area” section in a eventual OVGA GSP (Groundwater sustainability Plan).
      I believe the OVGA has a vital role for the future of the development of groundwater sustainability of the entire Basin, including Mono County and the Adjudicated portion of the Basin . The boundary between the Adjudicated and Non Adjudicated portions of the Basin is linked hydrologically and there will be the need to manage groundwaters and surface flow that recharges Aquifers across that boundary. Also DWP has it’s eyes on the aquifers below Owens Lake. There has been recent test and monitoring well construction with the eye to extract groundwaters for dust mitigation on the Lake . Problems that could occur would be an eventual subsidence/disturbance of the brine pool and waters on the surface that would not mitigate dust nor support the miracle of the bird population that has come with the spread surface waters of the Owens Lake Project. As stated in the article management of Owens Lake aquifers are a concern to Inyo County and to the Basin and we will need a viable OVGA to accomplish this need .
      Mono County has to be concerned with groundwater sustainability in Inyo County . Keeping “Long Valley Green” is an indication that both Inyo and Mono County have the DWP in their Counties. In a time of global warming and unknown futures with regards to climate and snowpack it is time for all hands on deck including forging new solutions and cooperative efforts by all in the Eastern Sierra . SGMA and the OVGA are part of new solutions required as will be a cooperative management of groundwaters in the Basins of the Eastern Sierra.

  2. Inyo Citizen August 23, 2019 at 10:40 am #

    “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.”

    Isn’t the purpose of this law to stop overdraft and all of the negative consequences that result, *in spite* of the fact that curtailing unsustainable agriculture pumping practices will have an economic impact…?

  3. Water Boy August 22, 2019 at 9:09 am #

    Did I really read that Inyo County contended that the boundary between the groundwater basins coincided with the Inyo/Mono County line?


    No wonder the State Department of Water Resources rejected the argument.



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