Water reality grim for Owens Valley ranchers

By Deb Murphy

The numbers tell the story. The listing of Owens Valley water uses indicates a reduction across the board, but none as draconian as the 66-percent reduction in irrigation water provided to area agriculture, down from 49,000 acre-feet in a typical year to 16,500 acre-feet this runoff year.

lives1The numbers are included in the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s Owens Valley operations plan and will be the topic of conversation at Tuesday’s “Talking Water Workshop” at the Inyo County Board of Supervisors meeting, scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Enhancement Mitigation projects are down from 10,000 acre-feet in a typical year to 9,500; recreation, from 9,000 to 7,400; the Owens Lake dust mitigation project is down from 75,000 to 60,700 and the Lower Owens River Project, down from 18,600 to 15,300 acre-feet. Both the Owens Lake and LORP quantities are slightly higher when compared to the 2014-15 runoff year.

“We can’t beat up on the city,” said Lone Pine cattleman Tom Noland. “It just doesn’t look like the water’s there.”

Ranchers dependent on surface water will be hit the hardest, county Water Department Director Bob Harrington told the Water Commissioners at their April 23 meeting. Besides praying for rain, area ranchers’ hope for survival may well depend on the Supervisors’ workshop as they have cut their herds to the quick.

As Scott Kemp put it, ranchers are trying to preserve the genetics of their cattle. Rebuilding a herd is a multi-year process; having a proven breeding program is the beginning.

Kemp and Noland agree on what has to be done. “Take water off the Owens Lake,” Noland told the Water Commissioners. “What do people here value? We can put up with a little dust.”

In an earlier phone conversation, Noland acknowledged that reducing the base flow on the LORP could free up irrigation water, provided the Memorandum of Understanding partners could agree to a one-year change.

Kemp is more blunt. “The EPA will sue if they (LADWP) don’t meet the standards (on the dry lake); everybody else will sue if they don’t meet their obligations on the Lower Owens…. The only people who come out on top are the attorneys…. There are a lot of good ideas, but getting everybody to agree….”

The reality for ranchers is grim. Herds have been cut by as much as 70 percent. Kemp’s were cut 40-percent prior to this year; now he’s looking at cutting that number in half. Mark Lacey’s operation had private lands near Bridgeport and Crowley Lake as safety valves, but now those grazing fields can’t support significant numbers.

“We’re down 60-percent from five years ago,” he said. In mid-May, he’s moving cows to Nebraska. “The Owens Valley’s been resilient,” he said, noting that six of the last seven years have seen drought conditions. “But you can’t expect the land to rebound quickly. The forage has been taxed.”

According to Lacey, 2014 beef prices were high enough to not reflect the drop in herd sizes, but that won’t be the case in 2015. “Last year, the market reached its height,” he said, “now exports are down…. We can only hope for the best and plan for the worst.”


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42 Responses to Water reality grim for Owens Valley ranchers

  1. allen May 1, 2015 at 8:44 pm #

    land of little rain

    • 100 years ago May 4, 2015 at 7:39 pm #

      Land Of Little Rain…..and previously (before LADWP) LOTS of runoff water from our mountains.

  2. Ken Warner May 1, 2015 at 3:46 pm #

    Look on the bright side… If the OV turns into a desert, there will be plenty of room for the OHV people to have fun.

  3. sierrajenn May 1, 2015 at 8:35 am #

    Yes, when I worked in the 1980’s with local seniors, one of whom attested to the fact that when he and his parents travelled to the Lone Pine and Independence areas from LA, and there were sections of the road that were fully tree lined and there were wooden bridges over at least 13 or so creeks which feed the river, I am guessing this was pre-1920’s as this senior was in his 80’s at the time. Also, in the 1960’s the water table in Independence was 6-8 feet -just imagine! In order to comment on the DEIR of 1990 I researched this high water table item with DWP and the IC Water Dept. and the records on one of the town greening projects in about 1989 or so showed the water table couldn’t be found as it was below the 150 ft’ mitigation well reach! That’s a huge change. Finally, a hydrologist (whose name escapes me) revealed at a public hearing on the DEIR that the Owens Valley 1980 water study clearly showed that the second barrel (1970 2nd aqueduct) was causing “acceleration of desertization” similar to that which occurred in the Sahara desert. If one wants information it is on file and just looking one sees the severe devastation to our valley.

  4. allen April 29, 2015 at 6:38 pm #

    We live in a DESERT! it gets dusty. The rest is all political BULLS*IT. More laws more restrictions. It has nothing to do with what is right or conservation, its all about money and who ever has the most. everyone else will suffer. These department heads, goverments, ranchers etc. all expect us citizens to comply with terms, policy, and law, while they do whatever they want.

    • @Allen April 30, 2015 at 7:22 am #

      You hit the nail on the head! It is exactly all about money and who has it and who suffers. You know who else lives in a DESERT? Everyone in the Los Angeles basin.

    • 100 years ago April 30, 2015 at 9:57 pm #

      A desert now, but 100 years ago the old highway (395) was located on the west side of the valley at the base of the foothills. You’ve likely driven parts of it if you’ve ever taken County Road between Wilkerson & Big Pine or down by Tinemaha and Aberdeen.
      Do you know why the highway was there hugging those foothills rather than going right through the middle of the Owens Valley as it does now? It was because the middle of the valley was too wet most of the year for wagons and cars and wheels. Too marshy, too boggy, too muddy. There was a big lake at the end of it too.
      If you didn’t have grandmothers or grandfathers to tell you what the Owens Valley was like before the water was diverted, there are a few museums around that have recorded our local history. It’s always good to know at least a little bit about the place you live. Take for instance the Long Term Water Agreement. It’s quite recent as far as history goes. And for most people in the Owens Valley it’s a BIG deal. Big in scope, big in compromise, big in the amount of people that worked on it, big on the number of people it affects, big on it’s effect on our local environment, sometimes big on controversy, and big in the length of time it took to come to that agreement. It’s a big legal document. You don’t have to read it, but I think people that live here should know it exists and what it is.
      What the county is “fighting” for is the adherence to that agreement.

  5. Philip Anaya April 29, 2015 at 5:23 pm #

    Allen, Section IV.A of the LTWA contains the provisions that can provide the information that you are seeking:


    Some folks I know and the DWP, who tend to forget and ignore the provisions, don’t think much of the LTWA . It was a great accomplishment by those whose shoulders we stand upon today and it’s the only Water Agreement that we got

  6. Sad April 29, 2015 at 5:11 pm #

    Not getting into the Rancher/Cattle debate, but without the water on the valley floor… well… there are plenty of places that are not irrigated here, and I prefer the pasture sections.

    Sad to think what the Valley Floor is going to look like when the grass dies, one huge dust bowl.

  7. allen April 29, 2015 at 3:04 pm #

    so what Philip meant when he said “fight for the ranchers” he meant the county… is that right? and the agreement between the LADWP and the county includes the ranchers how? I believe the ranchers have their own lease agreements. Or am I wrong? Its as if the ranchers and the county are one entity.. Its BS

    • Better explained? April 30, 2015 at 7:48 am #

      Maybe I can help better explain and put into perspective what the relationship the ranchers and the valley (the county) is. Without the ranchers irrigation there would no longer be any green in this valley except in very close proximity to flowing streams and the river. That means a severe cut in the habitat for wild animals. Deer, elk, rabbits, birds, everything… What you and many others fail to understand that without the ranchers irrigating this valley it could die. For example, Round Valley is a very beautiful green valley with sprawling grassy meadows. Without the ranchers irrigating the fields the beautiful green landscape would be gone and that’s just a small example. That is what the county is willing to fight for. Without the ranchers irrigating the entire valley could turn into one big dust bowl. I hope that helped you to understand the importance of the ranchers in this valley.

  8. biggame April 29, 2015 at 9:48 am #

    come on sierra wave, what is in it for you to protect lacey. You dont think he can afford a little critisism? You do not hesitate to post prejudicial comments regarding CURRENT Pre-trial criminal proceedings that will no doubt cause the accused to have an unfair trial, yet you will not post any reply critisizing ranchers, sheriff misconduct and or related good ol boy related topics. There sure is a difference, without Bennett. what is wrong with saying Noland and Laceys priorities are their own wallets? Its true. Noland asked “what do people here value” he should know not everyone here values area ranchers. Like i said before, the contribute very little to our communities. Sure they contribute to FFA and other organizations related to the ranching industry, and political campaignes in their interest, but that is about it. They do not even buy local with their large profits. Mark Lacey admits he has not been impacted financially even after cutting herds in half. So what is he crying about, go to Nebraska already.

    • Bill Draves April 30, 2015 at 6:53 am #

      Sierra Wave has a history of proclaiming somebody guilty, based on accusation only. They care less about a person’s reputation, and damage to their family and business, than they do hyping some lie for profit. How about the Wes Anderson lie, Sierra Wave?

      • Bob Todd April 30, 2015 at 10:18 am #

        Complete falsehood about “proclaiming somebody guilty.”

        We report the news, and especially news that our listeners and readers want, like accusations of embezzlement, etc.

        And I take offense, for myself and Benett, about “hyping some lie for profit.”

        Also, have no idea what you mean by the “Wes Anderson lie.”

        I will also continue to not post comments that call people names and make accusations without any facts.

        We want this comment section to represent all opinions, but some of you are making it very difficult for me.


        Bob Todd

    • Bob Todd April 30, 2015 at 10:13 am #

      We’re not “protecting” just not posting your same comments over and over.

      And as for your latest shot at the Inyo County Sheriff’s Department, that’s not getting posted either.


      Bob Todd

  9. Daris April 29, 2015 at 9:03 am #

    Allen yes you are missing something. Inyo County and LADWP have a signed legal document the Long Term Water Agreement that both sides agreed to. LADWP is breaking that agreement and has been breaking that agreement for some time it is about time for Inyo County to step up and make them abide by this agreement. Inyo Co is not fighting just for the ranchers but for the whole Owens Valley. If you think that the Owens Lake is a dust problem just wait a decade or so and see what kind of a dust bowl the Owens Valley becomes if LADWP gets away with ignoring the LTWA.

  10. allen April 28, 2015 at 8:21 pm #

    Am i missing something? Why should the county go to court and fight for the ranchers? If I have a business on LADWP land, and there is a breach of contract, will the county represent me? Or would that be an issue between myself and the LADWP?

    • Ted April 29, 2015 at 10:14 am #

      Very good point Allen!

    • Philip Anaya April 29, 2015 at 1:31 pm #

      Irrigation water applied to the Ranchers lands stays in the Owens Valley, benefits wildlife, and is a binding legal obligation as part of the LTWA. I don’t know the history well enough to say but it’s probable that there would be no LTWA without the Ranching Community . The relationship between the Ranching Community and the Environmental Groups are on the same page and support each other . We have in common a out of control LADWP as a foe because of the DWP high handed dysfunctional operational management decisions such as we are experiencing once again. There are plenty of reasons to haul them into Court. In a previous post on the SOVSRP I wrote of including DWP in a Partnership to Protect the Owens Valley. I think I must be losing it to have ever thought that a partnership could ever occur with the LADWP.

  11. Philip Anaya April 28, 2015 at 6:42 pm #

    ” By letter dated April 27, 2015, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) notified each of it’s Ranch Lessees in the Owens Valley ,except for the irrigated lands in thee Bishop area and certain enhancement /mitigation projects, all irrigation in the Owens Valley will be discontinued effective as of May 1 , 2015.”

    “LADWP’s unilateral discontinuation of Irrigation in the Owens Valley is a clear violation of the Agreement”

    These quotes from the Inyo Board of Supervisors letter dated April 28 , 2015 to the LADWP has requested an immediate rescinding of the discontinuation of irrigation and working out an irrigation plan through the LTWA Tech Group process.

    At the same time while waiting for a response from DWP , I hope the Board is preparing to head to Court for immediate relief for the Ranchers .

  12. Low-Inyo April 28, 2015 at 1:39 pm #

    Had to wash my truck on Sunday afternoon,but before I did,went by the local car wash to see if they are still in operation….sure enough,2 stalls being used.So I went back HOME to wash my truck,thinking if someone can make money off of others and using a LOT of water doing so,it’s O.K. if I save some money and wash my truck at my own place.

    • biggame April 28, 2015 at 8:35 pm #

      lowinyo- i think they otta throw you jail. your saying you are not going to comply with water restrictions because no one else does?

      • John April 29, 2015 at 9:37 am #

        As a form of protest when I was I stayed in the Best Western on Main in Bishop this last weekend I left the water running in the sink for my entire stay.

        • Mark April 29, 2015 at 2:02 pm #

          Yes because wasting even more water is a great form of protesting. If you want to protest, don’t do it in such a sheepish way. Stand up and don’t be a coward about it. Wasting perfectly good water when others could use it in the safety of a hotel room where no one sees it as an act of defiance is not protesting. It’s wasteful

    • Wayne April 29, 2015 at 6:58 am #

      Commercial car washes are required to collect water in a sump, filter and reuse it. They use high pressure rather than volume, which is more efficient. Overall they use less water per vehicle and filter out pollutants such as oil and soap (which home washing releases into the groundwater).

      • sugarmagnolia April 29, 2015 at 4:12 pm #

        Water regulations recently enacted in Mammoth have banned all non-commercial car washing! ie you have to go to a car wash to get your car washed. I wonder about the carwash fundraisers that the kids do?

        • Eastside Bum April 29, 2015 at 9:02 pm #

          Sugar, it’s going to be an interesting summer in Mammoth. Stay tuned, I guarantee water conflicts all over town, pitting condos, homes, businesses, and neighbors against each other over their rights to wash their own vehicles and irrigate their “special projects”.

  13. allen April 28, 2015 at 8:16 am #

    its another trick. The LADWP knows if they get the ranchers on their side “the good ol boys” they will have more pull. The only way to do that is to cut their water and get their attention.

  14. MJA April 28, 2015 at 7:50 am #

    Water reality grim for everyone. =

  15. Badfinger39 April 28, 2015 at 6:58 am #

    Soon hamburger will cost 25$ a Lb. at Vons and milk $7 a gallon and Loaf of Bread $4 a loaf, box of cerial $7 plus… and on and on. The Black Horse Prophesy in the Bible comes to fruition

    • John April 28, 2015 at 1:34 pm #

      You’ll live longer if you eat less animals

    • Ken Warner April 29, 2015 at 7:57 am #

      Surprise! There are 8 billion people living on Earth. They all want to eat cheeseburgers. Except for the vegans — who are liers….

  16. sugarmagnolia April 28, 2015 at 6:56 am #

    LADWP is amazing…water in short supply? get the locals sniping at each other…they play us like a stradivarius!

    Heaven forbid they cutback on their water exportation!

    • Seriously? April 28, 2015 at 3:45 pm #

      Uhhh… how bout zero export since early April lasting until sometime in November? Maybe you’d like to re-read the last article about this subject and come back to this one.

      • sugarmagnolia April 28, 2015 at 9:26 pm #

        sorry Seriously…. I must have missed that article, I did not realize that LADWP was stopping all exportation out of the owens valley until November. Can you provide me with the link to the article?

        so you’re saying all of LADWP’s wells will be turned off so the aquifer can recharge
        and the aqueduct completely dry….that would be great

    • Trouble April 28, 2015 at 4:44 pm #

      Sugar, you are so right!

  17. NO H20 April 27, 2015 at 7:33 pm #

    Please converse Owens Valley

    CalTrans in Socal needs the water to keep the freeway landscaping lush and green.


  18. Andrew Morin April 27, 2015 at 6:59 pm #

    “What do people here value?” Rancher Noland asks after advocating to take water off pf Owens Lake. Well Tom, what people value is clean air, and taking water off of Owens Lake – something that will lead to bad air for thousands of people – so that a handful of ranchers in this valley can water their pastures? So really what you are saying is that you and the financial well being of your family is more important that the much cleaner air and better health of thousands of people that has been achieved through years of struggle to get water back on the lake?

    • Max Rosan April 28, 2015 at 10:22 pm #

      Statewide, 80% of California’s available water supply is used for agricultural purposes. Much of this 80% is lost to evaporation from sprinklers, or becomes drained away as waste from field flooding (which creates further issues of toxic mineral & chemical concentrations). Moreover, much of California is in desert or semi-desert regions, and so crop irrigation is the only way to take advantage of the state’s fertile soils and favorable growing climate. We would do well to consider, sooner rather than later, moving to drip, micro-sprinkler, or other water conservation techniques of irrigation that are far less wasteful. This includes irrigation of the large alfalfa fields of the Owens Valley. In the middle east, where water has been scarce for thousands of years, progress has and continues to be made in new practical, efficient, water-saving irrigation methods. In the article referenced below, new high-tech irrigation solutions, pioneered by companies in the middle east claim to save over 80% of water otherwise wasted on traditional flooding and sprinkling systems.

      It is time to move away from our old water wasteful ways, and move towards newer and more efficient means of crop irrigation. Rather than suffer through “draconian cuts” to existing water usage, we should cut the current waste, leaving sufficient water for future uses.


      • Keith Ringgenberg April 29, 2015 at 1:01 pm #

        Your 80% figure clouds everything you posted after the lie.
        You read that number on the LA Times and ran with it. I suppose it’s also possible you’re part of the green mis-information movement.

        The number is closer to 30% and has been verified repeatedly.

        • Ian Bell April 30, 2015 at 11:49 am #

          Agriculture uses 80% of the developed water supply in California, and roughly 40% of all total water. The confusion comes about because some people quote the percentage of developed supply and some quote the percentage of total water in the state. My interpretation: some people want the number to sound high, and some want it to sound low.


  19. chris April 27, 2015 at 4:23 pm #

    I understand the logic behind the move to decrease the amount of water required for DWP for the Owens Lake Mitigation Project, however, I’m concerned about how that decision will affect future attempts, in good rain years, to get DWP to comply with court orders. Does a reduction move on “our” part set a precedent or action to which DWP can point in the future if it decides to balk (again) at meeting the terms of the agreement?


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