Inyo County’s request for a modification of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) Owen’s Valley groundwater pumping plan recently met with a measure of both success and failure, Inyo County Water Department Director Bob Harrington reported at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting in Independence.
In a letter received by Harrington on Friday, the LADWP agreed to lower the yearly groundwater pumping in two areas north of Independence, the Thibaut-Sawmill and Taboose-Aberdeen well fields, but also decided to raise pumping levels in two other areas of environmental concern, the Independence-Oak and Laws well fields.
In July The Sheet reported Inyo’s legal action to challenge the LADWP’s pumping plan over concerns that the increase in overall pumping from 78,248 acre-feet in 2010 to 91,000 acre-feet this year would have a detrimental impact on vegetation surrounding the 4 well fields.
The County requested that the LADWP lower the pumping levels in Thibaut-Sawmill from 17,200 to 14,000 acre-feet, and in Taboose-Aberdeen from 14,000 to 10,000 acre-feet. The DWP complied with this request, but in order to maintain the same overall level of groundwater pumping, raised pumping in the Independence-Oak well field from 7,540 to 10,990 acre-feet, and in the Laws well field from 6,200 to 9,950 acre-feet.
“Already some areas around Laws are in poor shape,” Harrington noted. “This is not going to remedy that.” District 4 Supervisor Marty Fortney agreed. “It’s kind of alarming they chose Laws of all of them to increase [pumping],” he said. “I don’t get their thought process here.”
Harrington suggested a possible solution, considering “clearly the city desires to maintain the overall level of pumping.” He noted that “in our review, we found that some of these well fields can sustain this [pumping] better than others,” and pointed out that Inyo might suggest more resilient areas, like Bishop Cone, for raises in pumping rates.
Inyo County supervisors were divided about how to proceed, considering the water agreement between the county and the LADWP which allowed Inyo to contest the original pumping plan is hazy about the process for continuing comments.
“With this modification of the pumping plan the DWP has addressed the request we made back in June,” Harrington said. “So, we’ll acknowledge that.” But Harrington also suggested a letter of comment be sent to the DWP in the next week expressing continued concern about the raises in pumping. The Board’s direction: offer comments, plus an analysis of the impact to both sites, and reiterate the same recommendations for pumping from the county’s April letter to the DWP.
However, said Harrington, “our dispute over the pumping plan has identified core disagreements [between the county and LADWP] over what the water agreement means.” Fortney elaborated, “At the very core, the question is whether this agreement is enforceable at all.”
He pointed out that the county and the agency fundamentally disagree in their approaches to groundwater pumping: Inyo believes that the pumping plan should avoid impacts if possible, while the LADWP thinks that pumping plans can have impacts as long as they are mitigated.
The water agreement is sufficiently vague that at present, supervisors agreed, it’s difficult to tell which approach to pumping is the “correct” one. “We really need to get at some of these core policy issues,” Harrington said. “These are big things that overhang arguing about the pumping plan.”
The Inyo County/Los Angeles Standing Committee will take up the issue this Monday, Oct. 17, at 11 a.m.