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Blackrock settlement means less pumping

January 5, 2012

A settlement between the Owens Valley Committee and the Department of Fish and Game could result in less water being pumped into the Fish Springs Hatchery south of Big Pine and into the L.A. aqueduct. Photo by Mike Bodine

A legal settlement has been reached to curtail groundwater pumping at Blackrock, the area between Independence and Big Pine. The settlement may also help raise the water table in Big Pine.
According to a press release, the settlement is between the Owens Valley Committee and the California Department of Fish and Game over water used to feed fish hatcheries in the area that has been over-pumped and facts that were not discussed or inadequately addressed in environmental reviews. The settlement asks the DFG to come up with a plan to reduce the pumping level to historic and natural spring levels.
The settlement demands that DFG present a proposal to the owner of the wells and the land, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, to try and limit some of the groundwater pumping.
“Our objectives in bringing the lawsuit have been met with this settlement,” Mark Bagley, OVC’s president and policy director said, adding, “We believe we will see some changes for the better.”
The OVC announced in December it reached a settlement in its lawsuit challenging the DFG and a 2010 Environmental Impact Report. The OVC claimed in its suit that the DFG’s environmental report for its statewide hatchery and stocking program “failed to adequately examine past, current and future impacts on Owens Valley springs and alkali meadows.”
Jordan Traverso, spokesperson for DFG, said the organization is “on schedule to present the proposal” to DWP by the January 2012 deadline. She also explained that there is no time limit for when DWP is to react to the proposal and no penalties for the DFG if the proposal is not accepted by the utility. Traverso said the DFG’s responsibility per the settlement is to present a proposal.
“The agreement is consistent with DFG’s commitment to balance the diversified use of fish and wildlife for the benefit of the larger public,” Donald Mooney, legal counsel for the OVC said in a press release.
“The proposal will also include a plan to maintain historic fish production levels in the Eastern Sierra to accommodate for any reduced fish production due to reduced groundwater pumping at Black Rock,” the OVC said.
Chris Plakos, local public information officer for LADWP said the proposal will be evaluated when it is submitted, but until then he said the utility has no comments on the matter.
Representatives from the Inyo County Water Department said it was not involved in the settlement and will wait and see what the DFG proposal will bring. DWP’s reaction to the proposal will determine if the county will become a party to the settlement actions.
According to the OVC, the matter is complicated and dates back to 1970.
Naturally occurring Fish Springs and Blackrock Springs along the floor of the Owens Valley once fed the two fish hatcheries in the area but were sucked dry in the early 1970s when DWP used the water to try and fill a second aqueduct.
DWP built new pumps in the area to feed the hatcheries, pumps that are exempt from the Inyo/Los Angeles Long Term Water agreement on-off provisions. The pumps supplied the hatcheries with nearly twice as much water as the natural springs; from 8,000 acre-feet per year at Blackrock to 13,000 and from 16,400 acre-feet a year from Fish Springs to 24,000 acre-feet pumped into the hatchery annually. The water flows through the hatcheries for its needs, then into the L.A. aqueduct which amounts to 40-60 percent of all groundwater pumped in the valley by DWP.
Bagley explained that the DFG 2010 environmental report failed to take the change in water supply to the hatcheries into consideration. The DFG report chose an arbitrary baseline to examine the effects of the pumping, precisely, damage done from 2004-08.
The settlement states that the arbitrary baseline is inadequate to measure effects.
The DFG has agreed that the Black Rock Hatchery can run on 8,000 acre-feet per year, but will have to ask DWP for modifications to the pumps. The current pumps are gauged for pumping at a specific rate and cannot be turned down, only on or off. To meet the proposal, DWP would have to agree to new wells, that the DFG would pay for.
The settlement also provides for an impact analysis in the Big Pine well field at the Fish Springs Hatchery. The idea is to have the extra water infiltrate into the surrounding fields and hopefully increase the groundwater table in Big Pine.
“The primary goal of this effort is to try to determine changes to groundwater levels and vegetation both before and after the Inyo/LA Long Term Water Agreement baseline period of 1984-1986,” explained Bagley.
The OVC has agreed not to restrict below the current pumping capacity at Fish Springs Hatchery during the evaluation period.
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