The long-awaited River Summit is scheduled to start this morning, focusing on the Lower Owens River Project and what, if anything, should be done to meet the goals and expectations of the project.
But, the issue of whether the three-day series of meetings and tours will be open to the public has created a contentious situation âfrom the get go,â admits Owens Valley Committee President Mary Roper.
The OVC issued a press release Thursday, July 24, inviting the public to the meetings held at the LADWP Bishop office. Both Inyo County and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power responded, saying, no, the River Summit would be closed to the public.
âIt was not our intent (to create contention),â said Roper in a phone interview yesterday, âit was a matter of principle.â
The idea of a summit was introduced by the LORP consultants, Ecosystem Sciences, at last Januaryâs Inyo County/Los Angeles Department of Water and Power LORP update meeting. That meeting was public with standing-room-only attendance. The issues discussed were adaptive management plans to encourage the Owens to behave more like a river than a channel, primarily by altering the constant and seasonal habitat flows outlined in the 1997 Memorandum of Understanding as well as the capacity of the pumpback station that would allow LADWP to recover the excess flows.
In its LORP recommendations, Ecosystem Sciences recommended the summit be open to the public. More recently, however, they indicated to Inyo County Water Department Director Bob Harrington they did not expect the sessions to be public.
âThere is nothing confidential about the meeting,â stated Harrington in an email. âResults of the meeting will be made public at some point in the future when we can distill the meeting into a memo summarizing the events and conclusions.â
He also explained in a phone interview that since the MOU was a settlement to litigation with stipulations agreed to as a result of a lawsuit, the meeting and negotiations were not required to be public.
âThe county is not adverse to public meetings on the LORP,â he said. âThe process is as public as it can be. Weâve had staff meetings with the MOU partners and those have not been open. There is no Brown Act involved here. There will be no new information presented. Everything is in the annual report and on the countyâs website.â
The OVC is one of the MOU partners with the city, the county, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the California State Lands Commission, Sierra Club and Carla Scheidlinger. Representatives from the ranching community will be in attendance but are not on the agenda. âLessees conduct a number of land management activities in the LORP area,â said Harrington âand LORP activities have the potential to affect the lesseesâ businesses.â
Roperâs view is that the LORP is ânot just the MOU partnersâ project, itâs the citizensâ project. It canât hurt to have the public there.â Roper noted the good ideas presented at the January LORP update meeting, âbut I can see where the summit would not be open to that kind of discourse. If the public is included and some people go off into the weeds, it could still be a controlled, productive meeting.â
Roper said the OVC asked the partners about the closed status of the meetings. âWe got no response, so we issued the press release,â she said.
In January, when the condition of the LORP was laid out, the consensus was for change to the way the project is managed but with the understanding that those changes would require compromise from all the MOU partners.