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LADWP sues Mammoth over disputed water rights

January 10, 2012

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is seeking legal action against the Mammoth Community Water District over water rights to Mammoth Creek, shown here. Photo courtesy of U.S. Geological Survey

Years of meetings and discussion could not bring a solution to water rights issues between the Mammoth Community Water District and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Now the matter is going to the courts as DWP is pursuing legal action to protect its water rights.
Cooperative efforts between the two agencies have been in the works for more than six years. The issue is over the water needed by the Town of Mammoth Lakes and the City of Los Angeles for future growth. According to LADWP, it has water rights that the district is “infringing” upon.
The Mammoth Community Water District was unavailable for comment as of press time.
The legal action stemmed specifically from the districts’s Environmental Impact Report, “Mammoth Creek Fishery Bypass Flow Requirements,” which states the town’s future growth is dependent upon water from Mammoth Creek. The LADWP said it also “expressed concerns over the MCWD’s recently-adopted Urban Water Management Plan, which anticipates a 50 percent growth in water usage by 2030.”
The legal battle is based upon “temporary” Mammoth Creek water rights permits granted to the district by the State Water Resources Control Board, but the City of Los Angeles says its water rights supersedes those temporary ones.
LADWP stated in a press release that its own “extensive investigations” have found that Los Angeles has senior water rights to Mammoth Creek flows. LADWP said that this information is based upon the city’s “1905 Owens River water rights filing and the LADWP’s 1967 purchase of Chance Ranch, which included its associated 1893 water rights. Chance Ranch straddles Mammoth Creek just south of the Town of Mammoth Lakes.”
LADWP comments on the district’s draft environmental report started in 2005 about Los Angeles’ Mammoth Creek and Owens River water rights. LADWP sent a letter in 2007 offering to work with the district to develop “an accurate water balance model that could be used to address water supply and water rights issues” on Mammoth Creek. In 2009 the LADWP sent a letter to the MCWD detailing its concern that proposed flows would impact LADWP’S senior water rights.
“We have provided written comments to the MCWD and attended a number of meetings with them over the years to seek a solution that meets both the MCWD’s and our needs,” LADWP Director of Water Operations Marty Adams said in a press release. “Unfortunately, this has not yet proved successful and we have had to take steps to protect the city’s water rights. We would welcome the opportunity to continue discussions with MCWD in the near future so that we can arrive at an arrangement that will satisfy both agencies.”
LADWP has also requested entering into a tolling agreement with the district that would put the lawsuit in a holding pattern, “while the LADWP and MCWD work together on possible solutions” that works for both agencies.
“We understand the goal of the Town of Mammoth Lakes to develop to its full potential and provide much-needed winter and summer recreational opportunities for millions of visitors, and a stable economic base and lifestyle for local residents,” said Adams. “However, the citizens of Los Angeles depend on flows from Mammoth Creek, and the LADWP has a responsibility for protecting the City’s water rights. Taking water from Mammoth Creek reduces the volume of water to which Los Angeles has prior rights that can be delivered to the citizens of Los Angeles, directly translating into increased costs to our customers who pay our water rates. This planned use of water by Mammoth is particularly troublesome when Los Angeles water customers are paying water rates significantly higher than Mammoth customers.”
LADWP goes on to state in the press release the importance of water conservation to the city and town.
“We think that a big part of any solution is water conservation and recycling, both in Los Angeles and in Mammoth,” said Adams. “We have expressed to the MCWD our interest and willingness to work with them on these critical issues facing the state of California and the entire western United States.”
According to the press release, “Conservation, recycling and incentive water rates programs that have been implemented by the LADWP in the last several years have resulted in a dramatic decline in water use to a remarkable 122 gallons per person per day – the lowest per capita consumption of any city in the nation with a population over one million.”
“We look forward to cooperating closely with the MCWD to resolve this important issue so Mammoth can meet its future water needs while still protecting the valuable water rights of the citizens of Los Angeles,” Adams said.

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