A recent ruling on Inyo County’s claims that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s water-gathering efforts have had an adverse effect on vegetation in the Blackrock area is being viewed as a win for Inyo County, its residents and the environment.
On Oct. 21, a three-member arbitration panel released a 14-page decision about the dispute between Inyo County and the LADWP over whether LADWP’s groundwater pumping and surface water management practices have adversely affected vegetation in the approximately 330 acres of the Blackrock area.
According to a fact sheet provided by the Inyo County Water Department, the unanimous decision by the panel found that the county had followed the proper procedures in prosecuting the dispute and that a measurable change and decrease in vegetation in the affected area has occurred.
Now a determination must be made about whether or not the LADWP’s operations are the cause of the decrease in vegetation.
“The panel has retained jurisdiction to determine whether the changes and decreases were caused by LADWP’s actions and whether the changes and decreases are significant,” the fact sheet states.
The dispute about Blackrock began in 2012 when the county raised concerns about vegetation conditions at Blackrock in accordance with the Inyo County-Los Angeles Long-Term Water Agreement. The 1991 Water Agreement between the county and LADWP sets ground rules for the department and the county regarding LADWP’s water exports from the Owens Valley.
The Water Agreement requires LADWP to manage its groundwater pumping and other activities to maintain vegetation conditions as they existed during a 1984-87 baseline period. “The agreement provides that if there is a measurable change or decrease in such conditions that is significant and attributable to LADWP’s activities, LADWP must mitigate the impact,” the Water Department’s fact sheet states.
In the Blackrock decision, the panel rejected LADWP’s contentions that the panel had no jurisdiction to hear the dispute because the county had failed to follow the applicable procedures of the agreement, that the Water Agreement’s baseline vegetation conditions are not required to be maintained and that the impacts identified by the county had already been mitigated.
The panel also found that LADWP had failed to engage in the dispute resolution process as required by the 1991 agreement and had failed to introduce evidence to rebut the county’s contentions that the impacts are significant and attributable to LADWP’s activities.
The decision requires LADWP to submit a report by Dec. 18, addressing the issues of whether LADWP’s pumping operations and/or surface water management practices have had a “significant” and “attributable” impact on the vegetation.
The county has until Feb. 14, 2014 to file a response.
If the two issues are not resolved, the panel is expected to decide the issues early next year. Once the panel issues a final decision, under the 1991 agreement, either party may submit the issues in dispute to the Inyo County Superior Court for a final resolution. If the issues are not submitted to the Superior Court, the final decision of the panel is binding.
Copies of the panel’s decision, a summary of decision and the briefs filed in the dispute are available on the Inyo County Water Department’s website, www.inyowater.org .