Lower Owens River Watershed

The Lower Owens River Project

The Lower Owens River Project settles more than 24 years of litigation between the Department and Inyo County over groundwater pumping and water exports.  The project is intended to mitigate for a host of lost environmental values in the reach of the Owens River from the Los Angeles Aqueduct Intake to Owens Lake, and associated springs and seeps and off-river lakes and ponds.  The project is the largest restoration effort undertaken by the Department.  It has an extensive scope and includes a geographic area 65 miles long and across the Valley from the White Mountains to the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  This area has been designated the Lower Owens River Conservation area and consists entirely of LADWP property.  The project includes not only restoration of the river but developing habitat connectivity with off river habitats (numerous ponds and lakes) and thousands of acres of wetlands, riparian pasture and upland grazing management, sanctuaries for T&E bird, fish, and plant species, recreation plans, and a pumpback facility.  The project was initiated in 1993 with a controlled flow study, data acquisition, and GIS data development.  The DWP and consultants are now in the final stages of developing management plans for all resource components in the ecosystem.

River Management

The Lower Owens River will be managed with a base flow of 40 cfs and an annual riparian (freshet period) flow of up to 200 cfs.  These flows will allow natural processes to create diverse and complex fisheries and riparian habitat. 

Wildlife/Wetlands Management

The LORP will result in the creation of hundreds of acres of new wetland habitat for the benefit of wading birds, shore birds, and riparian species.  Elk, deer, and other animals will benefit from the extensive wildlife habitat that will accompany the water and land management actions.

Spring & Seep Habitat Management

Over 100 springs and seeps have been inventoried in detail.  Representative springs and seeps will be selected for long-term monitoring to measure changes caused by groundwater pumping. Some springs will be identified for restoration.

T&E Species Conservation

Development of a plan for indigenous threatened and endangered (T & E) species of fish, wildlife and plants, forms a part of the overall goal of the project to benefit biodiversity and comply with federal and state laws.  The T & E plan focuses on the occurrence, distribution and habitat requirements of the federally listed species, as well as for selected federal and state species of concern.  To ensure that the plan is not in conflict with the habitat requirements of other species of the planning area, information on candidate species of concern in addition to the federal T & E are being incorporated.  The preliminary plan will identify conservation areas within the Lower Owens River planning area and incorporate all the actions planned to support recovery of T&E species.  Most if not all of the planned actions within the Lower Owens project will benefit identified threatened and endangered species and measures are being taken to fully integrate T&E species into all elements of the planning process.

Monitoring & Adaptive Management

The LORP is a long-term commitment to monitoring trends, measuring attainment of goals, and decision-making on a host of ecological issues through adaptive management.  Monitoring and adaptive management represents a major effort over many years to reach goals set for the LORP.

Baker and Hogback Creek Management

Two high quality riparian systems, Baker and Hogback creeks, in the Lower Owens River will be managed for their unique values for threatened and endangered bird species and associated habitat.

Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs)

One of the many programs the Department performs on an ecosystem-wide basis that benefits the whole watershed management effort includes managing threatened and endangered species.  While there are some existing sanctuaries for T&E species, and others in the development stage, the effort to maintain water deliveries to the city without creating conflicts with T&E species is too often piecemeal.  The Department will initiate habitat conservation plans for all T&E species, on all Department lands, beginning with fish in 1999.  Successful implementation of HCPs will allow the Department to continue water delivery operations for perhaps 40 years without risk of conflict with T&E species and issues.

Resource Monitoring

Vegetation Mapping: Another ecosystem-wide program is the development of new vegetation maps at regular intervals for all Department lands in the Valley.  These maps illustrate vegetation changes over time that is essential information for watershed management and planning.  These maps and associated data, like most Department databases, are available to other agencies, universities, and researchers.

Aerial Photography: The Department also updates its library of aerial photography and satellite images at prescribed intervals.  Again, this information is essential in watershed management and photos and data are always made available to interested parties.

Land Use Management

Water export, grazing/ irrigation, and recreation are the three primary uses of the Lower Owens watershed.  The future quality and quantity of water to be supplied to the city is dependent on the management of both the water and the land.  Grazing lease management plans are being prepared for each of the leases so as to meet best management practices and to conform to the stated goals and objectives of the Lower Owens River Project.  Elements covered in the plans and future implementation include threatened and endangered species, livestock and elk grazing, waterfowl management, recreation and water quality both in the uplands and the riparian areas.  Management plans are being designed to promote biodiversity and a healthy ecosystem while allowing for the continuation of sustainable land uses.  The individual lease plans will be used to build the land use management plan for the Lower Owens River and to continue to be in compliance with state and federal laws that protect water quality and threatened and endangered species.

Recreation Management

As the restoration effort proceeds and the river and wetlands increase in biomass and diversity, the area will undoubtedly attract an increasing number of tourists and other outdoor recreation enthusiasts.  Any increase in tourism and other recreation will be an economic boom to retailers and hotels in Lone Pine, Independence, and Bishop.  The Department will adaptively manage recreation to prevent harm to the ecosystem and to minimize user conflicts.  The Department expects to be proactive in our management as recreation use increases.  Klondike, Warren, and Diaz lakes are valued recreation areas in the Lower Owens River.  The Department will continue to provide management that promotes water sports, fishing, and hunting opportunities on these large lakes