The Greek myth of Sisyphus bears a striking resemblance to the work of the Inyo County Water Commission: Condemned for life by Zeus, Sisyphus had to roll a large boulder up a steep hill, only to watch it roll back down and have to be pushed back up again … and again … and again.
In the case of the Inyo County Water Commission, it must often seem that their task is similar to pushing a boulder uphill and then watching it roll down again; that boulder representing Los Angeles.
At their public meeting held recently in Lone Pine, the commissioners continued their Sisyphean task of protecting the county’s water resources from the valley’s version of Zeus, the City of Los Angeles. The only dissimilarity between the Greek myth and the water commission is that it is open, honest, and transparent in its dealings, quite unlike the deceitful Sisyphus of the myth or that boulder that continues to threaten to crush it.
The first project item on the agenda was the issue related to the Blackrock 94 mediation results (see related story next page) which found in favor of the county’s premise that there is a likely a significant adverse effect that pumping on the water table by the LADWP exceeds the aquifers ability to recharge. The result is a decrease in vegetation cover of approximately one-third compared to baseline. The panel also ruled that LADWP failed to participate as required under the 1991 Long Term Water Agreement and did not provide evidence to disprove the county’s position. So that particular boulder is continuing to be pushed uphill.
Another item discussed was the Lower Owens River Recreation Use Plan which, if ever brought to fruition, could significantly improve access and recreation opportunities available on the Lower Owens River. It is hoped that it will provide a boost to tourism and local economies. This is a boulder that has yet to be moved.
The Van Norman Enhancement/Mitigation Project in Lone Pine which is reactivation of a well that will re-water fields north of town was also discussed and it appears on track.
A side trip was made to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for the proposed LADWP Manzanar Solar Ranch (see related story page 9) and the ongoing concerns over the Bartell Parcel, the large open and barren field adjacent to Hwy 395 next to the public school in Big Pine. A detailed article was written about the parcel in September by The Sheet and essentially it involves whether or not the parcel is a “dry” or “wet” lease.
The five-member Water Commission is a citizen advisory panel which serves as a conduit between the County Board of Supervisors and the public on water-related issues. It conducts regular public meetings to inform and educate the public, and to solicit its opinion on water resource issues. It also evaluates hydrogeological and related environmental impacts that any changes in water resources create and makes recommendations to the County Planning Commission.
Not surprisingly, many of the water issues brought out in Water Commission meetings involve disagreements with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Under the Long Term Water Agreement between the County of Inyo and the City of Los Angeles, a process was implemented to make it easier for the county and City of Los Angeles in an effort to insure they work together and reduce the need and costly threats of lawsuits.
Editor’s Note: Warning, James gets on his soapbox starting about right here as he strays from news story to editorial. Rather than interfere, let’s roll with it.
The Agreement instead often seems ineffective, either being simply ignored or disingenuously interpreted by LADWP in an effort to force delays or hope that the county will simply give up.
Despite this year’s 100th Anniversary of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, also known as the Owens Valley Aqueduct, it is well-known that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has something of a checkered past, especially in the keeping its word to work in a timely and forthright manner with the many concerns and ecological issues created by the massive water project.
Given the City of Los Angeles’ record of delaying tactics in resolving disputes under the Long Term Water Agreement, perhaps it would be a better analogy to replace the myth of Sisyphus rolling a boulder up a hill only to see it roll back down again to the Water Commission trying to push water up a hill as it diverts, shifts, changes course, all in an effort to create an illusion of progress. Eventually the water always seems to flow together … and continue its journey down the valley through the Los Angeles Aqueduct.