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Tempest brewing in Water Association

May 7, 2014

Bishop Creek Water Association trustees Henry Means and Bob Prendergast (l-r) start checking ballots to fill the association’s vacant seat. Many in attendance at Tuesday’s BCWA meeting had not received the required five-day notification of the election, so members will have a re-vote June 3. Photo by Deb Murphy

Tuesday night’s meeting of the Bishop Creek Water Association ended with an agreement to put together a summit between all parties receiving water from Bishop Creek.
Those parties range from property owners in West Bishop to ranchers with irrigation and stock water, Inyo County Water Department staff, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Southern California Edison and the Bishop Paiute Tribe.
“We’ll get them all together if I have to hog tie them to get them there,” said newly-elected BCWA Board President Steve Stevens in a phone interview.
The meeting got off to a rough start.
Through this past winter, the West Bishop area didn’t have enough water; now some areas have too much with water seep Continued from front page
ing into basements and contaminating residential wells.
Just a month ago, the association had a long-running board president in Fred Finkbeiner; now filling his vacated seat may lead to a resurgence of the Owens Valley water wars.
The board hoped to fill the vacated seat at Tuesday’s meeting, but that election was postponed until June 3. While Stevens said notice of the election was mailed April 24, many of the nearly 100 members in attendance said their notices did not arrive until early this week.
Despite the fact five names were put up for the spot and ballots gathered, the election was postponed until proper notice could be given.
Board Secretary Bob Prendergast, LADWP water works engineer, read the association’s election protocol from its bylaws, indicating the primary land owner’s vote could not exceed 40 percent of the total vote. When it was pointed out that LADWP was the primary land owner with 80 percent and Prendergast would cast those votes, a mini-revolution broke out.
Potential trustees include retired LADWP Aqueduct Manager Gene Coufal, Chris Lanane, Paul Bidel, Mike Schultz and Rex Allen.
West Bishop resident Rock Baker suggested the candidates pool their votes to put up one candidate, hypothetically with support from the other 60 percent, against “the DWP candidate.” While the suggestion had some support, the association will proceed with those five, and whoever else throws their hat into the ring, facing off in early June.
Once that was decided, the meeting moved on to water table issues, not as easily resolved. Following a winter of no flows in the West Bishop ditch systems and the ensuing dry wells, the first surges of water into the system last month caused a rapid increase in the water table. Basements were flooded, water stood in yards and under homes and residential wells were seriously compromised. The water was shut off but now home owners at the lower ends of Highland and Sunset want those flows turned back on.
Association Water Master Miles Maillet agreed that while a high volume of water was going in at the top of the ditches, “little reaches the bottom.”
County Water Department Director Bob Harrington admitted it was a “mystery why the water table came up and stayed up.”
Data gathered from monitoring wells indicate that the table was at 17 feet in early March. Harrington told the group that, normally, spring runoff brings the level up to 8-9 feet but that this spring the table sits at five feet. “The infiltration rate is very high,” he said.
Another mystery is why the table has remained high. Home owners reported ponds once went dry four days after a water shut-off. This year, those same ponds not only remained full a week after the water was shut off (to avoid continued flooding issues) but rose a foot.
“The situation will go upside down in a few months,” said Harrington. His primary concern was the issue of compromised residential wells.
BCWA members, both those with flooded basements and those with empty ponds, ranchers, utilities, tribal members and county staff will, according to Stevens, figure out a plan to manage too little for too many.

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