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Eyes on Bishop Creek water supply for 2015

June 6, 2014

Lake Sabrina is one of two reservoirs in Bishop Creek Canyon impacted by the three-year drought. With runoff beginning to fill in the lakes a bit, and with three weeks of good runoff left, the Bishop Creek Water Association wants Southern California Edison and the Los Angeles Department of Water to reduce the amount of water leaving both reservoirs. Photo courtesy Lake Sabrina Boat Landing

While the West Bishop area still suffers from a water table gone wild, the area water association came to two agreements at Tuesday evening’s packed meeting: Rock Baker is the new board member and lawyers seem to have gummed up the effort to keep water in the ditches through the year.
The Bishop Creek Water Association got the election of a new board member out of the way at the outset. Five association members were nominated at the May meeting, but, with residents indicating notification of the election did not adhere to the association’s bylaws, the election was postponed until June. The May election discussion also focused on the fact the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, as owner of 80 percent of the land within the association, had 40 percent of the voting power with those votes cast by Bob Prendergast, LADWP’s water works engineer.
The five nominees went down to two by Tuesday’s meeting, Baker and Gene Coufal, former LADWP manager. Coufal declined the nomination. “We’re in a tough situation,” he said, “dealing with agencies. We don’t need the animosity of the last meeting. I’ve pledged my support to Steve (Stephens, association board president).”
Stephens has already made significant changes in the association’s structure, adding Coufal and Burt Almond, a former Southern California Edison employee, as board advisors and initiating arbitration, budget and nomination committees, the latter tasked to bring in a broader representation of association members.
Almond reported on the meeting held May 19 between all the parties involved in the 1922 Chandler Decree, the court order that dictated flows from Bishop Creek during irrigation season, April through September. Now in the third year of drought conditions, adherence to the decree flows would drain the minimal storage in the South Lake and Lake Sabrina reservoirs, cutting off water as early as August to ranchers as well as residents of West Bishop. With representation from LADWP, SCE (the utility with control over those flows), BCWA, ranchers with irrigation and stock water leases and the Bishop Paiute Reservation, measures are already being taken to conserve water supplies. According to Almond, all parties agreed to a reduction of 75-85 percent of natural flows out of Bishop Creek. Natural flows, said Almond, are defined as the flows that would come out of the drainage if there were no dams at the two lakes. “It’s weather-dependent,” said Almond. “The flows would vary.”
A letter to that effect, citing a specific section in the decree detailing conditions beyond the control of the utility could allow for changes to the flows, was sent to SCE on May 27. To date, SCE has not responded and flows continue at the 106 cubic feet per second, or more, as required by the Chandler Decree.
“Forty percent (of the available flow) has already come down the creek,” said Almond. “We have maybe three weeks of good runoff left. If Edison drops the flows, we may be able to stay even in the reservoirs this year.”
“We didn’t object to the reductions,” said Prendergast. “Edison wants it in writing (directly from LADWP) and we won’t write that letter.”
In a formal statement emailed Wednesday, Prendergast stuck with the often-repeated statement that the Chandler Decree is written in stone: “The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power shares the concerns expressed by Bishop Creek Water Association members about the levels of Sabrina and South Lakes and flows in Bishop Creek and ditches in the West Bishop Area due to the unprecedented ongoing drought. However, the Chandler Decree is a stipulated order by the United States District Court and it provides no authority to the City of Los Angeles to release Southern California Edison from its provisions. While LADWP continues to be a willing participant in discussions that could result in a modification of the Chandler Decree through an appropriate legal process, it is not willing to take any action that could reasonably be construed as usurping the United States District Court’s order.”
The hope among BCWA members is that LADWP’s representation on the water association will be sufficient for Edison’s lawyers to proceed with reduced flows. Almond, who participated in decree variances, agreements between Edison and LADWP to maintain water in the reservoirs by reducing flows in the past, said “We handled this at the local level. Now, it’s being handled by lawyers.”
Water to West Bishop residential areas was cut off or reduced in the fall of 2013, the second of a three-year drought. By late fall, early winter, residential wells were running dry. When water was released at the start of spring runoff this year, areas were flooded and the ground became saturated to the point that wells were contaminated and basements flooded. Those situations are ongoing with residents setting up fans in their basements and sump pumps in ponds. No one, including hydrologists, know exactly what’s going on under the ground, but apparently the shallow aquifer has changed direction, or new fissures have opened up, or old ones have shut down. The one thing hydrologists agree on is the ensuing chaos is a result of drying up the creeks last year.
“We’re not going to have enough water this year,” said Stephens. “We’ll need to rotate (water to the ditches) to keep them wet but not necessarily running. We don’t want to go through this again next year.” Unless the Bishop Creek flows are reduced to maintain water in the reservoirs for release through the rest of the year, residents fear next year will be even worse.

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