Tuesday’s meeting of the Technical Group was eerily similar to the preceding Friday’s meeting.
With the Blackrock 94 dispute still on the table, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and Inyo County Water Department staff remain in disagreement over the cause and significance of the degradation of vegetation in the 330-acre parcel. Blackrock will be handed over to the Standing Committee, scheduled to meet in Los Angeles Tuesday, April 22. Friday’s meeting was a procedural requirement of the arbitration process.
The seven-year saga of Blackrock appeared to be coming to resolution last fall when the Arbitration Panel found LADWP’s procedural arguments unsubstantiated. The panel asked the department to present additional information to argue its case that the annual 12,200 acre-feet of groundwater pumping in the section since 1972 did not cause the shift from grass to shrub vegetation nor cause the reduction in coverage. LADWP’s response in its “Evaluation of Attributability and Significance” stated the measurable changes in the vegetation were due to natural wet/dry cycles.
The county responded in mid-February, countering that argument with the cumulative impacts from the Taboose-Aberdeen and Thibaut-Sawmill well fields.
One of the county’s more compelling arguments is a series of photographs taken at 94 and the adjacent 99 parcel showing recovery of groundwater-dependent vegetation in 99 following the Inyo/Complex Fire in 2007. Block 99 showed significant recovery in the year following the fire; Blackrock 94 showed very little.
The panel referred the matter back to the Technical Group for possible resolution. If the dispute is not resolved at next week’s Standing Committee meeting, it goes back to the Arbitration Panel for resolution in May.
County Water Department Director Bob Harrington presented a discussion draft to LADWP Aqueduct Manager Jim Yannotta at the Friday, April 11 meeting and that draft was made public the following Tuesday. Described as “concepts for a settlement” by Harrington, the draft did not meet with agreement from all in attendance. “This doesn’t adequately manage the situation,” said Sally Manning. “A lot of people have tried to get environmental justice for this place … This contradicts the intent of the Long Term Water Agreement.”
In a conversation following the meeting, Mark Bagley. Sierra Club’s Owens River watershed conservation chair, found both good and bad in the draft, concluding, “If the county can’t win this dispute, the Long Term Water Agreement can’t protect the valley from over-pumping.”
The discussion draft outlines a regime of off-site meadow enhancement, a prescribed burn on 665 acres, not necessarily in block 94, to restore an alkali meadow environment as mitigation for the damage to Blackrock 94.
The draft also calls for a one-year test reduction in pumping, from 18 cubic feet per second to 11 cfs, to the Blackrock Fish Hatchery to determine impacts on groundwater levels as well as hatchery operations. In addition, the draft places restrictions, based on recovery in Blackrock 94, to future disputes. “If the average perennial vegetation cover … averaged over five consecutive years, is less than 15.8 percent, or if shrub proportion (to perennial cover) in the parcel … exceeds 56 percent, the county may initiate a new ‘significant effect’ dispute.” If those conditions do not exist, the county may not initiate a new dispute.
“We’ve made a good case,” said Harrington. “Our responsibility is to get the best outcome. (The matter) will either be resolved or go back to arbitration.”