The Lone Pine High School FFA farm will have its 10 acres of grazing land, just not on the FFA farm. Discussion on the issue took more than an hour at Friday’s Standing Committee meeting in Independence and ended with ag instructor Brenda Lacey accepting a proposal by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, a proposal she called ludicrous. It may have been ludicrous, but at least it ended what amounted to a stand-off between Los Angeles and Inyo County committee members.
The one stumbling block left before the FFA’s irrigation system could be installed was a California Environmental Quality Act analysis, originally prepared by Inyo County, then pulled into LADWP’s environmental department seven months ago. The grant funding was in place but the project ran the risk of not meeting a deadline extension and losing the grant. The additional 30 acre-feet of water added to the Van Norman fields enhancement/mitigation project well, taking the output from 480 to 510 acre-feet, had already been approved by the Standing Committee.
Apparently, what seemed like a simple agenda item was not. “We’re bound by the Long Term Water Agreement,” said Martin Adams, LADWP director of water operations. “Changing an in Southern Inyo currently being flood irrigated. Installing bubblers to irrigate the tree lot would help realize at least a 30 acre-feet a year savings and compensate for the water, eventually, added to the well allotment on the Van Norman fields. As Adams said later in the discussion, the result would be water neutral with no more water staying in Inyo County. Another plus: the short-term solution could be done without a vote of the Standing Committee.
Bob Harrington, county Water Department director, provided background on the fields. The 160-acre parcel known as the Van Norman fields was identified as an enhancement/mitigation project in 1987 and designated for re-irrigation. From 1989 to the present, the 480 acre-feet of water that was supposed to be pumped for that re-irrigation was never a reality. Harrington said the average water output was 280 acre-feet a year due to a bad well that is now being replaced. According to Harrington, the CEQA documents completed on drilling the replacement well to meet the original irrigation levels on Van Norman fields resulted in no significant impact at 500 acre-feet a year.
Lacey, students PJ Zrelak, Shawni Patton and Genesee Lucia and Lone Pine School District Superintendent Victor Hopper addressed the committee, explaining the value of the project and the ability to expand the ag classes to include breeding projects.
County Standing Committee member and Supervisor Rick Pucci expressed his concern that there were greater issues to solve. “We’re negotiating on a bigger issue here,” he said, “and using the school farm as a pawn. We have to solve this. I’m not comfortable pairing this with bubblers (on the tree lot). Down the road, nobody’s going to remember.”
Noland addressed the committee, expressing his delight at having the FFA do the work on his lease, then turning it back to him when a long-term solution was reached. The ag class has already put up fencing on the farm’s 10-acre potential pasture, constructed shelters and put in watering troughs for the livestock. An obvious issue was moving or re-building the same facilities on the Van Norman acreage. “I’m glad this short-term solution doesn’t include a decision to be made by this committee,” said County Administrative Officer Kevin Carrunchio, concluding that the Standing Committee was not capable of making a decision.
Supervisor Linda Arcularius moved that the committee approve adding the 30-acre feet of water to the Van Norman project for use at the school farm, contingent on the completion of the CEQA’s Negative Declaration, approved by the county and LADWP, by mid-April to early May. L.A. City Council member Tom LaBonge called for a caucus of the city representatives. Following the caucus, the county representatives voted aye, L.A., no.
Southern Inyo cattleman Scott Kemp suggested that the school’s 10 acres be added to the Noland lease; once the CEQA analysis was completed, the parcel would go back to the school. Los Angeles said no: the fields were not just a lease but an enhancement/mitigation project that could not be changed that easily. “Enhancement/mitigation projects are firmly defined by court order,” said Martin.
Arcularius suggested that the county be identified as the lead agency on the CEQA process. Los Angeles said no: Los Angeles was the lead agency on the original environmental documents.
Greg James, county consultant, former Water Department director and one of the authors of the LTWA, suggested adding the 30 acre-feet for the farm as an addendum on the original CEQA Negative Declaration that was done in 1989, prior to the signing of the LTWA. L.A. didn’t have a response to that one.
LaBonge had made the statement justifying Los Angeles’ no vote on Arcularius’ motion that he couldn’t give away Los Angeles’ water. That statement came back to haunt him as a number of those in attendance, overflowing to seats set up in the lobby outside the supervisors’ chambers, disputed just who owed the water. Noting the under-irrigation on the Van Norman project, Nancy Masters said “do the math just on Van Norman. The city owes the county water.”
“Make a public finding,” said Arcularius in frustration. “This is a school project. Just do it.”
After conferring with city staff, Lacey accepted the offer to take the 10 acres from Van Norman with LADWP installing the irrigation and new fencing, then re-installing irrigation on the farm’s parcel once the red tape was finalized. With the grant funding earmarked to reduce dust on the farm’s 10 acres, Lacey had her doubts as to whether those funds would still be available since the 10 acres would remain a dust issue.
At this point, three of the Los Angeles contingent excused themselves from the meeting. The helicopter they flew in on had to leave the area by 4 p.m.