A year-old dispute between Inyo County and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) moved one step closer to resolution recently, when a three-member arbitration panel concluded that the County had followed proper dispute procedures under the 1991 Long Term Water Agreement and that a measurable decrease in vegetation has occurred at the Blackrock 94 parcel north of Independence.
The County commenced its dispute with the LADWP in 2012 after observing declines in vegetation cover in an area of about 330 acres near the Blackrock Fish Hatchery. Inyo County Water Department Director Dr. Bob Harrington noted that some of the decline in vegetation was to groundwater-dependent meadows. “One of the principle vegetation communities we’re trying to protect from groundwater pumping,” he said. The County argued that the change to vegetation was the result of the DWP’s management of the area.
According to the landmark 1991 Water Agreement between the County and LADWP, the DWP must manage its groundwater pumping and other activities to maintain vegetation conditions as they existed from 1984 -1987. Should any change or decrease in vegetation occur as a result of DWP pumping and related activities, the DWP must mitigate the impact.
However, the DWP argued that the County had not properly raised its dispute regarding the Blackrock parcel under the Long Term Water Agreement. “The DWP said that the [Blackrock] data was therefore inadmissible to the Tech Group,” Dr. Harrington explained. The DWP also claimed that it had already mitigated any impacts to the area.
The arbitration panel, composed of a retired Inyo County Counsel member, L.A. City attorney involved in the Water Agreement, and retired judge, stepped into the dispute in late summer. The panel concluded that the County did bring its dispute forward according to Water Agreement procedure, and that the dispute was based on good data, Dr. Harrington summarized. The panel also found that the DWP had failed to engage in the resolution process under the Water Agreement, and failed to introduce any evidence to challenge the County’s claim of a measurable change at the Blackrock parcel.
The arbitration panel did not resolve whether the decline in vegetation at the Blackrock parcel is the result of DWP management, however. “They sent the question of what caused the effect, and whether the effect is significant, to the Tech Group to prepare an analysis, ” said Dr. Harrington. So while the decision of the panel did not conclude the dispute, “It got the County halfway to where we want to go,” he said.
The Inyo/Los Angeles Tech Group must submit this analysis to the County and panel by Dec. 18. The County will have until Feb. 14 to respond to that analysis. If both sides fail to resolve the issue of whether the impact at Blackrock is significant and attributable to DWP management, the panel will make its decision early next year. If neither side disputes the panel’s decision in the Inyo County Superior Court, that decision will be binding.