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Water distribution big issue for Water Association

January 29, 2014

Well drilling rigs, like this one from Bishop’s Reeve Drilling, have become a common sight in West Bishop. According to the county, three drilling permits have already been pulled in the first weeks of this year. Photo by Deb Murphy

The lack of water, everywhere, reached critical mass Monday night at the annual meeting of the Bishop Creek Water Association. The meeting venue had to be moved to accommodate nearly 100 people.
While little could be resolved in the face of a possible third year of drought conditions, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power Aqueduct Manager Jim Yannotta expressed a willingness to work with Southern California Edison, the utility that controls the flows out of Bishop Creek reservoirs at Lake Sabrina and South Lake.
“SCE and LADWP are currently working together to identify things that could be done in the future to address the concerns associated with low flows in Bishop Creek,” Yannotta said in a statement following the meeting. “LADWP is willing to enter into a dialogue on this issue as long as LADWP’s ability to meet our water obligations and operating needs are met.”
The issue Yannotta referenced is the Chandler Decree handed down in federal court in 1922. The decree requires the owner of the reservoirs to release specific flows to meet the irrigation and stock water needs of properties in the valley. Those flows vary from 44 second feet in early April to a maximum of 106 from June to August, then back down to 53 in late September. Meeting those requirements drained the lakes to historic lows.
Additional requirements for stock water through the winter, flows to the reservation and maintenance of viable fisheries in the creek left the water association’s residential creeks dry. Those dry creeks and ponds led to an epidemic of failed residential wells. As the number of failed wells increased, LADWP shut off well 407; the county Water Department monitored the water table and determined the drop in the aquifer was due to the lack of recharge from the creeks, not well 407.
Marvin Moskowitz, director of the county’s Environmental Health Department, reported that three well permits had been pulled in the first weeks of 2014, compared to a total of 10 for 2013.
West Bishop’s 30-60 feet deep wells “were not considered deep wells,” he said. “We’re seeing it takes 100-200 feet to get to a good aquifer. Those with shallow wells are the most vulnerable. If you have a shallow well, consider (a new well) an investment in your property.”
Bill Snyder, whose Highland Drive well went dry, objected to Moskowitz “talking about a well like it’s a new roof.” The cost of new wells, according to Moskowitz, ranges from $10,000 to $25,000.
At its Jan. 28 meeting, the county Board of Supervisors passed an emergency declaration that would set in motion assistance, at both the state and federal level, for those impacted by the drought. In a phone interview, Fifth District Supervisor Matt Kingsley said “residents may be eligible for low interest loans for well improvements,” stressing the “may” as details have not been worked out as yet.
While those with dry creek issues were very knowledgeable in regards to the complex system of major and minor ditches in the area, the primary beef was equitable distribution. Those from West Bishop felt McLaren ditches had more water; home-owners from both sides of Line Street felt stock water could be reduced, redirected or cows given access to the canals.
“The water is there,” said John Coons, “enough to keep the ditches wet. Somebody has to lose and that seems to be West Bishop.”
According to Tom Talbot, area veterinarian and cattleman, stock water flows are at the minimum through the winter and are not always adequate. Talbot said the ditches were iced over with no flowing water at all through the mornings during the mid-December cold snap.
Yannotta said he would ask staff to look into the distribution of Bishop Creek flows.

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