The Inyo County Board of Supervisors concluded its appraisal of two requests received by the Board as part of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) pumping plan for 2013-14 runoff year. At Tuesday’s meeting in Independence, the Board moved to refuse the first request for a reduction in groundwater pumping for irrigation in the Owens Valley, but accepted the second request for a reduction in water supplied to two enhancement and mitigation projects, with stipulations.
In late March, the DWP requested that Inyo County consider a 20% reduction in pumping for irrigation at the Laws and Independence well fields, and an overall 10% reduction in pumping for irrigation in the Valley. The DWP reasoned that this reduction was necessary for the Los Angeles water supply, given that DWP estimates a snowpack runoff at about 50% of normal this year. Yet the Board of Supervisors was asked to approve such a request, Bob Harrington, Inyo County Water Department Director, explained.
“Common sense says that irrigation is going to be reduced by more than 10% [already] because of the low runoff year,” said Supervisor Mark Tillemans. Why would the DWP request a 10% reduction on the full allotment of irrigation water, when the full allotment would likely be down by 10% or more? Bob Prendergast of the LADWP agreed that after the 20% cut to groundwater at the Laws and Independence well fields, the Valley’s remaining 39,000 acre-feet supply for irrigation would likely experience a natural, 10% reduction regardless of any further action by the LADWP.
Prendergast clarified that, should this turn out to be the case, the LADWP would not withhold yet another 10% of groundwater supply.
However, should the Valley receive closer to its full allotment, the LADWP would make 10% cuts to groundwater pumping for irrigation on a leasee-to-leasee basis. Tom Noland of the Cattleman’s Association expressed concern with this plan, noting that for the leasees in the Valley, some of whom have multiple parcels, supplied by ground and/or surface water, the DWP’s approach would become needlessly complex. “It’s getting way too confusing, who’s going to get cut and who’s not going to get cut,” he said. “If the water is available, it ought to be delivered.”
Big Pine Paiute Tribal Environment Director Sally Manning offered her own perspective. “To me, this 10% is a blank check for [the LADWP] to do what they want out there this year, and perhaps set a precedent,” she said. Moreover, she said, in this second consecutive drought year “we need the water table recovering to baseline, and vegetation recovering to baseline. We’re still technically in a Drought Recovery Policy year.”
Manning’s argument that the Valley would need the irrigation and mitigation water, not to mention runoff water, to preserve threatened water tables and vegetation, was met by Prendergast’s argument that Los Angeles too needed whatever water it could get during a drought year. Yet when asked whether the overall amount of water pumped by the DWP for the runoff year would change, should the County approve a 10% Valley-wide cut to irrigation, Prendergast admitted, “I don’t know.” He guessed that, with this year’s 50-55,000 acre-feet allotment of water for irrigation in the Valley reduced between 5-10,000 acre-feet, the LADWP might see a few hundred to a thousand additional acre-feet of water go down the pipe to Los Angeles.
“So what’s the purpose of the request?” asked Supervisor Linda Arcularius with some incredulity.
Prendergast replied that, given the drought, “if we can get a few hundred to a thousand acre-feet, we’d gladly take it.”
The Board voted 4-0 to deny the LADWP’s request for a 20% reduction at Laws and Independence, and a 10% overall reduction to pumping for irrigation in the Owens Valley.
However, the Board approved the DWP’s second request regarding a reduction in water supply to two enhancement and mitigation projects in the Valley. The Board presented the DWP with its own requests as a condition of this approval. The first request: that water formerly supplied to the McNally Ponds near Laws be diverted from Bishop Creek Canal to an area between Riverside Drive and Owens River in place of the Ponds. This shift would reduce conveyance losses suffered by the DWP because of the transport of water to the McNally Ponds, Harrington explained, while continuing to irrigate and mitigate in the McNally Ponds area. Supervisor Arcularius called this a “long-term, sustainable solution to this problem.”
The second request: that once the DWP has a new well up and running at the Van Norman parcel near Lone Pine, some additional water be provided to the Richard’s field north of the Van Norman parcel, while an additional 30 acre-feet be provided to the Lone Pine High School farm. Supervisor Arcularius characterized the latter addition as an opportunity for an LADWP “extension of goodwill to a program that has Valley-wide use and Valley-wide benefit, and provides kids with an opportunity to grown and learn for 30 acre-feet of water.”
“It’s not clear where the DWP intends to go as far as agreeing to [this request],” said Harrington. However, he said, the Board’s request was intended to make up for years of “inadequate irrigation at the Van Norman project,” due to problems with the old well.
Representatives of Inyo County and the LADWP will continue to discuss these decisions, as well as other agenda items, at the May 20 Inyo/Los Angeles Standing Committee Meeting in Los Angeles.