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Inyo County balks at DWP pumping totals

July 14, 2011

The Inyo County Board of Supervisors is asking the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to reduce the amount of water going down the L.A. Aqueduct (above) this year, citing “negative environmental impacts” to the Blackrock area north of Independence. The board says the LADWP should be able to reduce its water exports while still providing enough water to the L.A. area. File photo

Local leaders are contesting the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s operations projections for the coming year.
The county has initiated legal action requesting that the LADWP reduce the amount of groundwater it plans to pump from the Owens Valley over the next 12 months.
In its annual Owens Valley Operations and Pumping Plan, the LADWP said it planned to pump 91,000 acre-feet of groundwater from the valley, the highest level of groundwater pumping by LADWP since 1989.
“By reducing the amount of pumping in the plan by less than 10 percent, the City of Los Angeles can avoid a potentially costly legal battle,” a press release from the Inyo County Board of Supervisors states.
Second District Supervisor and Board Chair Susan Cash said this year’s high snowpack and runoff in the Eastern Sierra can be used to both help repair environmental damage from drought and previous pumping, and still supply the city of Los Angeles with about 70 percent of its drinking water needs.
“With the expected runoff this year at 150 percent of normal, even with the county’s proposed reduction, LADWP will still export about 380,000 acre-feet of water from the Eastern Sierra via the Los Angeles Aqueduct,” the press release states.
In February 2011, the Inyo County Water Department released an analysis showing significant negative impacts to vegetation in an area located a few miles north of Independence.
The county says the impacts are a result of groundwater pumping and surface water management activities on the part of the LADWP. According to the county, reduction of pumping would raise the water table under the impacted area, which would avoid further decreases and changes in vegetation and promote recovery.
“While we are confident our scientific analysis of these well fields is credible and pumping in them should be reduced on the available scientific evidence, the larger question is whether the leaders in Los Angeles will be willing to work with Inyo County cooperatively on this fairly simple issue,” Cash said.
The county is asking the Inyo County-Los Angeles Technical Group to reduce pumping from 17,200 to 12,800 acre-feet in the Thibaut-Sawmill wellfield and from 14,000 to 10,000 acre-feet in the Taboose-Aberdeen wellfield in order to allow vegetation to recover in the vicinity of the Blackrock Fish Hatchery.
In all, the county is asking the department to reduce pumping levels by 8,400 acre-feet, from 91,000 to 82,000 acre-feet.
But Daniel Pritchett of the Bristlecone Chapter of the California Native Plant Society says the county is not concerned about the habitat at Blackrock and is seeking only to protect the Blackrock Fish Hatchery.
He recently wrote a Letter to the Editor (July 7, 2011 “Supes misleading public about reasons for legal action”) in which he claims that the county’s proposal will not protect the Blackrock area from further deterioration.
“The (Board of Supervisors) specifically excludes hatchery pumping from its proposed reductions. The pumping the BOS seeks to reduce did not cause the problem at Blackrock, nor will the proposed reductions solve it. Because of this, the BOS’s invocation of ‘environmental protection’ as the grounds for its legal action is misleading, to say the least,” he wrote. “DWP openly justifies its Blackrock pumping in the name of maximizing Los Angeles’ domestic water supply. The BOS’ challenge in the name of ‘environmental protection’ would simply maximize hatchery flows and perpetuate existing desertification.”
The Inyo-L.A. Technical Group is scheduled to meet at 1 p.m. Friday in the LADWP Multi-Purpose Room on Mandich Street in Bishop to discuss the county’s concerns about the Operations Plan.
LADWP Public Information Officer Chris Plakos said he was unaware of any official reply from L.A. to the county about its request, but said that any official decision the department arrives at will be made public at the Tech Group meeting Friday.

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