Water running high underneath West Bishop

By Deb Murphy

It’s back. The water table in parts of West Bishop is not just high, it’s popping through the asphalt, turning lawns into bogs and invading garages.

Ron Lawrence's submersible is pumping 2,000 gallons a day out of his garden.

Ron Lawrence’s submersible is pumping 2,000 gallons a day out of his garden.

Ron Lawrence on Carol Lane has a pump pulling 2,000 gallons a day out of his yard. A neighbor across the street is waiting for the water to recede so he can fix his irrigation line. A resident on Barlow is worried his home’s foundation is being damaged from the water running close to the surface under his slab and through his garage. Everybody’s worried what this will do to their property values.

If all this sounds familiar, it is. In the spring of 2014, following a winter with little if any water in a ditch system that brings creeks and ponds to homeowners, a winter when older, shallow wells were running dry, the same thing happened. Back then, County Water Department Director Bob Harrington thought one explanation was a perched aquifer: a water body held near the surface by a layer of clay or a big bubble of air. In response to a cry for help from West Bishop resident Todd Vogel, Harrington put his explanation in an e-mail.

The owner of this home is waiting for the water to recede so he can replace his sprinkler line. Earlier this week, the groundwater was up to the top of the board.

The owner of this home is waiting for the water to recede so he can replace his sprinkler line. Earlier this week, the groundwater was up to the top of the board.

Why did this weird aquifer pop up in ’14 and again this spring? Harrington and other residents think it was the waterless winter of 13-14 when residents were encouraged to clean out their ditches and ponds. What they may have ended up doing was removing a natural organic seal that allowed the spring run-off to absorb rapidly into the shallow aquifer. Harrington’s recommendation was to line ponds and ditches and install French drains.

To back track a little farther, during the second year of drought, 2012, the reservoirs at South Lake and Lake Sabrina were dropped to historic lows in compliance with irrigation requirements outlined in the Chandler Decree. That left little water to keep the creeks and ponds flowing through the winter of 2012-13.

Since then, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and Southern California Edison have made an effort to keep enough storage in the reservoirs to keep the ditch system at least damp. For whatever reason, the high water tables didn’t rear their little puddles last spring.

This isn't wasteful lawn sprinkler run-off, it's groundwater running over the curb.

This isn’t wasteful lawn sprinkler run-off, it’s groundwater running over the curb.

Back to the present. The Bishop Creek flows out of SCE’s Plant 6 have consistently exceeded the Chandler mandates, but nobody but Mother Nature can be blamed for that as former SCE employee Burt Almond explained at Tuesday evening’s meeting of the Bishop Creek Water Association. According to Almond, SCE was holding flows out of the reservoirs to 12 cfs, the number required to maintain the fisheries. The culprit was the uncontrolled flows out of North Creek. “The run-off is coming like gang busters,” he said. Almond said Lake Sabrina could reach capacity and water in South Lake is to the toe of the dam. “That’s the first time in five years,” he said. All this is good news, if it weren’t for the flooded basements.

The BCWA has encouraged folks to line their ponds. For now, the association’s Rock Baker is trying to balance a nice flow of water in the ditch system with water where nobody wants it. He’s experimented with taking water out of the ditches or asking residents to divert water in their ditches so ponds won’t fill up. Then wait and see if the standing water recedes. One resident ran a submersible pump for 72 hours but the water under his home is still there.

Don Coons suggested, strongly, that LADWP pay for a hydrological study. Another resident pointed out that Harrington’s recommendations should be heeded. Association Chair Gene Coufal recalled hearing of high groundwater issues in West Bishop in the 60’s. After the meeting, lifetime West Bishop resident Daris Moxley said McLaren used to be a swamp. But both areas have been heavily developed.

9 Responses to Water running high underneath West Bishop

  1. all wet June 17, 2016 at 10:09 pm #

    Pat, nice write up. I agree with all you said except I am wondering how velocity of flow reduces the amount that seeps into the ground.

  2. Pat Rowbottom June 16, 2016 at 2:41 pm #

    I’m thinking back to Highland, Barlow, Rocking K, Lazy A other west Bishop water problems of the past I remember (1950’s) and those residents I knew during runoff seasons and what they may have said. Also, Habeggers, below Mt. Tom have had very soggy situations and some buildings were built on pylons so the run off could just flow through and under the building. Daris’s recalls correct. Also, the P O used to be a swamp, Dixon, some of Mc Laren and the water table only about a foot underground downtown. Gas tanks often floated to surface. My uncle owned Carol Lane area when it was a meadow and many had ponds. Maternal grandfather owned all of Manor area to raise horses a bit before 1900.
    Regarding Philip’s article above “different soil types and the geology” is what makes a difference. Glacial till is spread around the foothill area, then filled with some granitic sandy and clay, topsoils. “Heaving” of rock can occur underground during winter freezes, becoming displaced and some soil saturates with more volume than other sandy soils. Highland residents have always had a higher water table, flooding septic tanks, etc.
    The rest Philip mentions, where what LADWP and what SCE do or have done is hard to document, costly, needs long term study and by the time a study is set up I suspect the problems will have dried up some. ( pun intended). Dyes can be put in surface water to try and trace the flow path for analysis.
    After periods of drought and dried up soil the channels underground find new flow and direction; then gravity and rocktype partitions rule. Dicolite has been used in the past to help seal the bottoms of ponds from losing water and yes ditches take a while to seal, hold and move water.
    Open meadows used to adjust to different above and below ground water flows in the foothill area without much notice but when land is divided into lots and regraded, landscaped, curbed and guttered it is perhaps random where capillary action of water will become a problem on top of glacial till and stream deposits from mt.
    runoff. Considering Riparian Rights LADWP and SCE should strive to keep something flowing in all of the established ditches. Velocity helps the water to keep flowing and from seeping into the ground along the way.
    Unfortunately, Nature rules and its not the neighbor’s fault but those many rocks underground that made my great grandpa raise Clydesdales, instead of farming because he couldn’t plow the ground.

  3. Jaws39 June 13, 2016 at 4:55 pm #

    TIs can’t be true, because we are on a Drought, DEP says so! This story is just peddling fiction!

  4. Philip Anaya June 13, 2016 at 6:41 am #

    There are conditions and there have been events that defy logic regarding Bishop Creek beginning with the 2013 runoff year. While Chandler Decree required flows were met and exceeded in the months of April – Sept 2013 runoff year, there was insufficient storage in South and Sabrina to maintain those flows and keep the ditches flowing during the winter months that followed . Ditches went dry, Private wells went dry and when the ditch system was rewatered in 2014 the problems of horizontal spreading and the flooding began.
    That being said LADWP chose to repeat this management plan in 2014 and again there was insufficient water to keep ditches watered the entire year. Historically prior to 2013 there had been management of Bishop Creek between SCE and LADWP that considered a runoff projection for the year and Chandler flows were modified andthis is what has occurred this past year in 2015.
    Mr, Coufal, a retired LADWP Manager of the Aqueduct during some of these years is well aware of the events. Dry ditches ,dry wells and flooding despite a high water table and a differentiated geology in these areas , on Highland ,Sunset ,Carol and Sunrise despite historic multiple drought years had never before occurred. The water stains from the high water table along the curbs on Carol Lane are from 2013 forward.
    There has been the drought but there has also been DWP production wells reducing the local water table, the change to the historic management with the 2013 and 2014 Bishop Creek surface flows, homeowners told to take advantage of dry ditches to muck out their ponds and ditches and now with flooding there is a lot of speculation regarding causation. and how to fix things back to a pre 2013 condition.
    Don Coons is correct that there needs to be a complete hydrologic study of what has occurred and the mitigation measures needed to help effected homeowners. Despite the good efforts of Rock and the BCWA to rectify the flooding and keep ditches watered all at the same time, now is the time to apply professional examination and compliance to lower the water table in the effected areas . A systematic approach that is directed and coordinated by an “authority” to help the neighbors is now called for.
    We have found that the water table is a fragile balance . It may have been high prior to 2013 but obviously Chandler Flow management, including pond and ditch changes in 2014, all may have contributed to these differentiated effects, dry ditches, dry wells and then flooding . The collateral effects of the LADWP and SCE management decisions of 2013 are still occurring. Spring runoff has been rolling in these first days of June well above Chandler but Chandler flows prior to the runoff May16 -31 averaged over 100cfs more than the 98 cfs requirement . This is with half empty South and Sabrina Lakes and LADWP’s need to export every drop to a thirsty LA. This is the kind of management that has led to the current condition. There are plenty of ideas and facts rolling around but sustainability does not seem to be part of the equation. Experts at export need to refine their skills at sustainability and become responsible for the causations of their operations and they need to do it immediately.

  5. Trouble June 12, 2016 at 7:47 pm #

    Personnally I think DWP has figured out a way to siffen off our ground water. Why didn’t all this happen during other droughts? Why has DWP place rocks all along the canal east of Bishop?

    For anyone to blame the residents for this is foolish!

    • Who Knew June 13, 2016 at 9:19 pm #

      Seriously Trouble?? This is the trouble you are gonna stir up today?? Rocks placed along a canal, river, aqueduct, etc are called Rip Rap… Its used to prevent the erosion of the banks.

      noun: rip-rap : loose stone used to form a foundation for a breakwater or other structure.

  6. Barbara June 12, 2016 at 7:30 pm #

    Meanwhile, on the next streets over (to the south), ponds are still empty. They open the flow, fill up the creek/ponds…then stop the flow and let the creek/ponds dry up..over and over and over.

    Maybe try diverting that excess flow that is causing problems, over this way so we all have an even flow..less to the north and more to the south — should even it out. All we have over this way are little mosquito breeding grounds with 2″ of water and mud most days.

  7. Presto June 12, 2016 at 6:45 pm #

    I enjoyed reading this Sierrawave.net. it feels like sometime was given to this story. Thank you.

    The best part of this story is reading all the so called “players” in this serious problem, who are not sure who to blame or what to do for that matter. So they decide to blame Mother Nature.

    This drought was NEVER THAT DIRE for the couple little ditches that take a little detour and flow slowly through the neighborhood before finding there way back to the River and onward to L.A. to not flow

    It’s insulting to hear that excuse. They make it sound like if they didn’t divert the massive flow that runs through the neighborhood L.A. wouldn’t have survived.


    • Richard bruinsma June 16, 2016 at 5:54 am #

      there was a reason west bishop was a swamp before door nobs were planted.surface water


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