After several years of being busy behind the scenes, the Owens Valley Committee is back in the spotlight, spreading the word of its accomplishments and its ongoing efforts to hold Los Angeles accountable for its water-related commitments.
The OVC is the only local watchdog group keeping an eye on both the City of LA and its Department of Water and Power, and Inyo County as well, to ensure water agreements and memorandums of understanding are upheld.
The OVC’s President and Policy Director, Mark Bagley gave a presentation of the conservation organization’s recent legal victories and future endeavours on Thursday in Bishop, one of the first in years, and plans on giving regular presentations in the future.
Most recently, OVC has finished a lawsuit from 2005 that will make LADWP hold to its adaptive management measures which included enhancements to the Yellow-billed Cuckoo habitat.
Bagley explained that in the future, the OVC will continue to make sure mitigation measures are followed by the county and LADWP.
In fact, the history of the OVC grew out of citizens concerns that the county would cave to LADWP’s request to fill a second aqueduct, built in the 1960s and completed in 1970.
The time line of events for the litigation surrounding water issues in Inyo is long and complicated. The county sued LADWP in 1972 concluding that that the utility should complete an environmental impact report on the increase of water exportation under the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, implemented in 1970.
In 1973, the Third District Court of Appeals ordered that LADWP then complete an EIR on the potential impacts of filling the second aqueduct. The county and court objected to the first EIR in 1977 and the second EIR in 1981. The OVC was founded in 1983, Bagley explained.
In 1991, a third EIR was presented that included the Long-Term Water Agreement as a mitigation measure to try and prevent future damages. Part of the LTWA is the Lower Owens River Project, which the OVC found “vague” Bagley said and asked for clarity. LORP was created to try and revive the southern part of the Owens River area left bone dry since the aqueduct was built near Black Rock Springs in 1913 and diverted the water. The aqueduct was built near Black Rock because it was the closest its builders could collect water and export it using only gravity.
These short comings in the LORP were addressed in the 1997 MOU which outlined base flows in the river, seasonal habitat flows and ecosystem management plan.
Bagley explained that one difficulty in the agreements and LA’s implementation is that there are no penalties for not following through with the measures. This has meant that LADWP has delayed implementing many measures, intentionally, according to Bagley. He said during one court case, the then-current DWP Water Manager said in a deposition that, “Our policy is to delay.”
Bagley explained that a judge has to file an order demanding a measure be fulfilled, for the measure to be implemented. For example, the 1997 MOU stated that base flows into the river were to be started by June 2003. After numerous delays and allowed time extensions, the OVC, joined by the state Attorney General’s Office, filed a lawsuit to have the water flowing. The judge sided with OVC and ordered LADWP to implement the water flows or face a fine of $5,000 a day and the threat of the judge closing down the second aqueduct. Bagley said LADWP was quick to get the water flowing.
Bagley said that the OVC will continue to follow up on implementation of LORP, and details in the LTWA that includes groundwater pumping and surface water issues.
A complete history of Los Angeles and Inyo and water, authored by former Water Director Greg James is available on the Inyo County Water Department Web site.