A very elaborate parlor game. That was the phrase Mammoth Community Water District General Manager Greg Norby used prior to briefing Mammoth’s Town Council Wednesday night on the state of legal action recently initiated against the District in Mono County Superior Court by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
LADWP has recently filed two lawsuits against MCWD, seeking to invalidate MCWD’s water rights for surface water supply from Mammoth Creek. The first lawsuit challenges MCWD’s Environmental Impact Report as required under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), concerning the establishment of long-term fishery bypass flows for Mammoth Creek. The second suit challenges MCWD’s 2010 Urban Water Management Plan.
The District considers the lawsuits to be “without merit,” and maintains it is taking “aggressive actions to defend the community’s water rights.” These water rights, according to Norby, were properly issued by the State of California nearly 50 years ago, and have been put to “beneficial and well-managed use by the community.” In particular, Norby told Council members that the District takes great exception to the EIR challenge. “LADWP’s position is essentially that it is inadequate under state law, because the water rights should never have been granted, and the EIR is therefore invalid,” Norby suggested.
LADWP has filed a number of court motions related to these lawsuits in Mono County Superior Court, one of which seeks to change the court venue from Mono County to Fresno County, where “LA’s attorneys believe the Fresno area courts will be more sympathetic to their water grab,” Norby said in a letter. During his remarks to Town Council on Wednesday night, Norby said that LADWP has indicated that Fresno has some sort of unique approach to adjudicating CEQA law. “That’s news to me,” Norby said. CEQA law, he pointed out, was written at the state level, and should be able to be adjudicated every bit as fairly in Mono County, “… where the fullest appreciation of the impacts of any legal decisions can be expected.”
The change of venue hearing will be held on Thursday April 12, at 9:30 a.m., at the Mono County Superior Courthouse in Mammoth Lakes.
Norby urged community members to attend the hearing “to demonstrate to the presiding judge and Judicial Council that this case is of critical importance to the citizens of Mammoth Lakes and the larger Mono County community, and should rightfully be heard in the local courts.”
Meanwhile, Norby said there have been two meetings to discuss potential resolutions outside the courtroom. One, required by law, was held in Sacramento and last week another was held in Los Angeles to discuss a proposal submitted by MCWD. According to Norby’s recollection, nothing short of MCWD finding a suitable water source as a replacement, paying for it in perpetuity and delivering it to LADWP will satisfy the City of Los Angeles. “We remain very far apart,” Norby told Council.
He also requested and was granted a letter from Town Council stating the body’s objections to LADWP’s lawsuits, adding that the District is nonetheless committed to “continuing the dialogue,” and still thinks that a “mutually beneficial solution” can be reached.
“It remains to be seen where this is going to go,” Norby concluded. –Geisel