While water supply continues to hover around a “critical point” for the city of Los Angeles, the amount of water available to Inyo County has also reached an all-time low level.
Inyo County and the Los Angeles Dept. of Water and Power (LADWP) held a Technical Group meeting on Monday regarding LADWP’s proposed water pumping plan in Inyo County for 2022-2023.
The meeting was chaired by Aaron Steinwand, Director of the Inyo County Water Department.
Eric Tillemans, LADWP Manager of Aqueduct Operations and Conservation, presented an update on runoff and operations of the aqueduct.
Total pumping for the 2021-2022 runoff year was 62,518 acre feet (AF). The total represented less than LADWP’s planned pumping amount of 64,600-79,980 acre feet.
Though the pumping numbers were lower than forecast, the amount of water available was dramatically lower than normal.
In fact, 2021-2022 was the driest year on record since 1935.
The snow runoff results of this year as of April 1 had a weighted average of 41% of normal; Mammoth Lakes was 54%, Rock Creek 19%, Bishop 43%, Big Pine 28%, and Cottonwood 19%.
LADWP forecasts 2022-2023 to be the second driest year on record, with an estimated runoff that is 47% of normal.
“Even though this is only our third year of drought and we’ve had longer droughts than three years before, the last two years have been extremely low. In fact, for the last 100 years we’ve had no runoff totals that were below 50% of normal, and this is forecastto be our third such year in the last ten” said Tillemans.
LADWP also noted that the soil moisture in the area has dried out as a result of the drought.
California’s Oroville and Shasta reservoirs, which supply water to L.A., have also exhibited critically low levels of water this year. The supply of water to L.A. has been labeled as critical, and as a result the state of California has issued a 5% allocation from the other reservoirs in the state to be divvied up among agencies in Southern California.
That 5% allocation has already run out this year.
LADWP says that L.A. averaged about 104 gallons per capita per day in water usage for the last year. The city has made considerable water conservation efforts over time, going from an average of 173 gallons per capita per day in 1990 to 106 in 2020, despite its population increasing. L.A. is currently at 112 gallons per capita per day.
Fast forward to a second Inyo/L.A. Standing Committee meeting on Thursday, where LADWP said it hopes to reduce this number to an average of 100 gallons per capita per day for 2022.
Representatives from LADWP went on to boast about how the city now uses recycled water for its golf courses, as well as how its installed 3.2 million high efficiency appliances, toilets, and showerheads that have all helped reduce per capita water usage.
LADWP asserted that it has “fairly conservative pumping plans” and pumped significantly less from Inyo County than its wells’ capacities allow.
A public comment pointed out that the table LADWP used to illustrate this pumping capacity is only in terms of the overall physical capacity of the wells – not in terms of the overall amount of water that can be pumped without impacting vegetation (which, of course, determines how much water will be available to the wells in the long run).
Environmental Director of the Big Pine Paiute Tribe Sally Manning provided public comment stating, “we’re hearing a lot about the water dilemma in L.A. and what they’re doing to lower their per capita use and their hardships, but I’m not hearing from Inyo County about the hardships that have been suffered up here for 30 years under the water agreement, with lowered water tables, dying vegetation, especially meadows, shrub encroachment, and more dust. From my observation, there’s basically been a systematic reduction in water given to the type E parcels, the irrigated leases, and the other accounts that are supposed to receive water each year. So it’s not like L.A. is the only one who’s been suffering, and to put it in perspective, except for the really big runoff years, the valley has gotten squeezed and squeezed more every year. It’s not just in this ‘47% of normal year’ that this has happened. And the water agreement, despite what the latest conversation has been, was about anticipating this. We knew this sort of thing could happen; that’s why the water agreement was put into place, to draw the line on protecting the resources here in the Owens Valley, not just continuing to siphon it off for claims of need in L.A.”
Inyo County has submitted requests for significant changes to the pumping model, different from the Green Book stated during LADWP’s presentation. But Inyo County didn’t submit a dispute resolution to LADWP as an action plan. “By not doing that, Inyo County, you’re letting L.A. do whatever it wants,” said Manning during public comment.
LADWP proposes a pumping plan for the six month period of April to September of 2022 of 43,230-51,400 acre feet. This is compared to what they say the “overall capacity” is, which is 192,110 acre feet.
(Due to a clause in the water agreement, if there are two consecutive years where, between April-September the Owens River Basin runoff is less than 75% of normal, LADWP must prepare its pumping plans at six-month intervals instead of yearly intervals).
According to LADWP’s presentation during the standing committee on Thursday, LA’s water usage is divided up as follows: 30.6% commercial, institutional, and industrial, 23% residential-other, and 46.5% residential-indoor.
Upon further questioning, LADWP admitted that these numbers are all estimates, and that outdoor usage could actually be higher. In a recent L.A. Times Article, it was estimated that as much as 70% of water in L.A. is allocated to outdoor usage.
Groundwater pumping in Inyo County will supply about 11-12% of L.A.’s water this year.