The FFA Farm began in 1999 with perimeter fencing and a few livestock pens. Since then, said Lone Pine High School Agricultural Instructor Brenda Lacey, the farm has grown to include a 50 by 100 foot livestock barn for sheep and hogs, as well as an orchard, covered shelters for individual steer projects, wash racks, exercise areas, a chicken coop, and more.
The FFA Farm is home to a llama, alpaca, donkey, steers, goats, rabbits, miniature horses, turkeys, and an assortment of chickens.
FFA Farm student participants learn how to raise animals, produce crops, and drive tractors, among other things, Lacey said.
“Back in ’99, the idea was to have an irrigated pasture,” she explained. The pasture would increase the scope of the Farm “beyond having just one market animal a year,” she said. However, she added, since that time there have been “differing opinions about where that water should come from.”
Lacey said she brought the issue before the Standing Committee because it needed action. “The proposal had been sitting there for two years,” she said. She and others hoped to receive the requested water allotment in time for the summer season.
Prior to the Steering Committee meeting, the fate of the requested FFA Farm water allotment depended upon the 160-acre Van Norman parcel across the road from the Farm, explained Inyo County Water Department Director Bob Harrington.
Last year, the DWP requested a reduction to two of its mitigation obligations in the Owens Valley due to the drought. Inyo County accepted the reduction, on the condition that when the DWP installed a new well at the Van Norman parcel, an additional 30 acre-feet of water be provided from that well to the Lone Pine High School Farm.
The DWP had previously agreed to install a new well at the Van Norman parcel because the parcel well never operated efficiently enough to provide the parcel’s full water allotment.
As of last year, the DWP installed a new well on the parcel. But in order to essentially take on another mitigation obligation by allotting 30 acre-feet to the FFA Farm, the DWP requested Inyo County conduct a CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) analysis.
The County completed the analysis late last summer, Harrington said, and sent it in to the DWP. “L.A. then said that they thought it would be better if they did the CEQA,” he said. “Since then, we’ve never gotten anything back on the CEQA analysis from L.A.”
At the Feb. 7 Standing Committee meeting, Harrington said Inyo County representatives pressured DWP representatives to produce the CEQA analysis, which the DWP had months to complete. The DWP countered this pressure with a left-field proposal: that instead of supplying the FFA Farm with its requested allotment, the Farm should relocate to the Van Norman parcel across the road and share some of its allotment there.
Relocation would require moving fences, troughs, and shaded structures, among other things, Harrington said.
The DWP proposal came “out of the blue,” he said. He added, “They’ve been shorting the Van Norman field project by a couple hundred acre-feet for decades now. Providing 30 acre-feet would help to make up for heretofore deficient mitigation at the Van Normal project.”
Although Lacey agreed at the Standing Committee meeting to consider moving the Farm, she subsequently said that after DWP officials had a chance to tour the FFA Farm on Monday, Feb. 10, “I don’t think that [move] is even an option. They really didn’t understand the scope or what the project looked like.”
The current FFA Farm facility has probably cost about a half million dollars, raised via grants, fundraisers, and donations, Lacey said.
The Standing Committee meeting concluded at an impasse over the issue, in part because several DWP representatives departed the meeting via helicopter before the Committee was halfway through the agenda. “They wanted to get the heck out of Dodge,” Lacey laughed.
However, she added, “I think [the meeting] really helped get the conversation going. It was kind of a three-ring circus, but in the long run, it’s a good thing.” Lacey said that she and the DWP will continue to discuss options for providing the 30 acre-feet allotment. “I think all the options are still out there,” she said.