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Watching the Lower Owens

April 11, 2014

OVC members and other water-watchers at the LORP pumpback facility: (l-r) Sally Manning, Nancy Masters, Mary Roper, Rose Masters (kneeling), Nina Weisman, Mark Bagley (Sierra Club and OVC) and Larry Freilich (Inyo County Water Department). Photo by Philip Anaya

The Lower Owens River Project was an action item on yesterday’s Technical Group meeting agenda as well as the subject of a recent study session called by the Owens Valley Committee.
With agreement from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Inyo County Water Department and the LORP consultants, Ecosystem Sciences, the Tech Group agreed Friday there would be no seasonal flow down the river channel this year.
The seasonal flow replicates the spring runoff at its height and serves a similar purpose to the spring thaw flows, flushing out the river bed and, hopefully, drowning problem tules as well as re-oxygenating the water. With a runoff forecast of 50 percent of normal, there simply isn’t enough runoff to justify an increase in the mandated 40 cubic feet per second flow down the river channel, according to the Tech Group.
At the previous Technical Group meeting held in January, consultants Ecosystem Sciences recommended adaptive management strategies for the project that would more closely mirror nature’s strategies, with high pulse flows as well as non-seasonal flows less than the required 40 cubic feet per second. Any change to the management of the project is subject to agreement by all parties of the 1997 Memorandum of Understanding, a partner document to the Inyo-L.A. Long Term Water Agreement. A project summit meeting is scheduled for this July.
The OVC’s March 27 LORP study session was called by new Board President Mary Roper, and hosted by Inyo County Water Department with staff from the department and LADWP on hand to answer questions. Representatives from the Sierra Club and California Department of Fish and Wildlife – also parties to the MOU – attended as well.
One focus of the session, according to the OVC, was to better understand the LORP pumpback station, a large facility near the mouth of the river, south of Lone Pine.
A press release from the group explains that the station captures LORP flows and controls where the water goes next. The facility includes a large forebay, weirs, a big metal shed that houses pumps, power lines and related infrastructure. Water arriving at the facility may be pumped up to the L.A. Aqueduct or into pipes supplying the Owens Lake dust control areas. Any water in excess of the pumps’ capacity flows through the weirs and down to the delta, the place where river water would naturally enter the lake.
The maximum amount of LORP water LADWP is permitted to pump from the forebay is 50 cfs, equivalent to 36,200 acre-feet per year, or three times the amount of water needed to fill South Lake.
The group also stopped near “the islands” reach of the LORP, north of Lone Pine and below the Owens Valley fault. Here, for a distance of about three miles, there is no obvious river channel, according to the OVC, and LORP water spreads over the land surface, giving rise to thickets of tules that restrict access for people and livestock.
“The afternoon was informative, but many questions remain,” the press release states. “For example, locations where water quality is a concern, and how flow manipulations might help, have not yet been addressed. ”
According to the OVC, this was the first of several LORP study sessions with the “ultimate goal to learn about the project and how to guide it in the future so that the Owens Valley sees the best possible outcome.”

(Reporter Deb Murphy contributed to this article.)

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