A Shared Resource
Prior to 1970, water agencies in the Western United States
had focused primarily on seeking supply.
In June 1965, Washington Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson
stopped the Columbia River diversion proposals by introducing
legislation which prevented the Bureau of Reclamation from undertaking
feasibility studies without prior approval from Congress.
This action together with the earlier Supreme Court
decision in the case Arizona vs. California, gave signal to water
agencies in the Southwest that they were rapidly approaching the supply
limit. A changing climate
of opinion had made the monumental diversion projects of the past
With supply nearly maximized, the DWP recognized that the
next evolution in its role was to develop the resources it already had
to their highest utility. For
the City of Los Angeles, this meant developing a series of management
programs to use the water as efficiently as possible and a stance of
unceasing vigilance to protect the quality of the existing supply.
At the same time, environmental concerns were being viewed
as increasingly important by the population in general.
In 1970 the State enacted the California Environmental Quality
Act (CEQA) to assist agencies and governments in examining the impacts
of any given activity on the environment.
The 1970s in the Owens Valley were difficult for the City
of Los Angeles. The
completion of the second Los Angeles Aqueduct and the City’s plan to
augment the flow with groundwater from the Owens Valley prompted another
wave of resistance in the valley.
This time the issue focused on groundwater extraction and
its impact on the valley environment.
Inyo County, concerned about increased groundwater pumping to
supplement the second aqueduct supply, sued the City of Los Angeles for
an Environmental Impact Report under the new CEQA guidelines.
These and other issues were the cause of many court actions
on both sides. This series
of escalating controversies and legal actions led the City and the
County to the conclusion that negotiation was preferable to continuing
futile conflict. In
September 1982, Inyo County and the City of Los Angeles began the first
stage of resolving their problems over this shared resource by signing a
memorandum of understanding which provided for the formation of the
Inyo/Los Angeles Standing Committee and a Technical Group.
This agreement led to improved relations and cooperative efforts
to resolve the disputes between the parties.
Following the formation of the committees, agreements were
reached with the USGS to conduct cooperative Owens Valley groundwater
and vegetation studies. By
1984, relations had improved to the point of both parties entering into
an historic five-year agreement. The
agreement provided for setting aside litigation and jointly determining
the groundwater-pumping rate during the period the agreement was in
effect. The agreement also
called for joint development of a long term groundwater management plan
for the Owens Valley. Additionally, the City agreed to implement numerous
The projects, which range in scope from the development of
agricultural green belts to wildlife habitats and recreation, are
primarily aimed at beautifying the Owens Valley and mitigating any
adverse effects that may be attributed to groundwater pumping.
In early 1988, the parties agreed to extend the agreement
to allow additional time to complete the joint studies and to develop a
long-term management plan.
In the Owens Valley-Mono Basin, land management by the
Department of Water and Power permits recreational, farming, and
ranching activities. Today,
80% of the 312,000 acres owned by the DWP in the region is leased. The City’s long standing land use policy requirements that
75% of these leased lands remain open to the public for recreational
use. This policy, along
with federal management of public lands in the surrounding mountains,
has preserved the natural setting of the region.
Over 240,000 acres of land are leased to ranchers for
cattle grazing, and of 18,000 irrigated acres, 2,000 are allocated for
alfalfa production that requires little use of fertilizers, herbicides,
Grazing and recreation are compatible with watershed
protection and are an important part of a land management program that
provides viable business opportunities while satisfying the goal of
water quality protection.
In addition, the DWP and the California Department of Fish
and Game have developed a multitude of fish and wildlife programs on
City-owned lands. Since
1975, the DWP has employed a wildlife management staff including
wildlife biologists and vegetation specialists.
As well as a vegetation mapping program, the staff is engaged in
ongoing monitoring, including rare plant studies.
Wildlife and waterfowl habitat projects include habitat
protection and enhancement for the endangered Owens Pupfish, the
American Osprey, the Tule Elk, the Peregrine Falcon, and migrating and
As a member of the Interagency Committee on Owens Valley
Land and Wildlife, the City has participated in cooperative projects
which include the Visitor’s Center in Lone Pine, the Bishop woodlot,
experimental vegetation planting programs, a native plant nursery, the
Tule Elk viewpoint near Tinemaha Reservoir, the Sage Grouse viewpoint
north of Crowley Lake, and warm water fisheries and waterfowl habitats
at Lone Pine and Buckley Ponds.
The DWP also leases approximately 3,000 acres to government
agencies for campgrounds, airports, and scientific projects such as the
Cal Tech Radio Telescope and the University of California White Mountain
Research Lab. Approximately
2,000 acres of City property is leased for industrial uses where there
is no water pollution problem and where industry will not detract from
the scenic beauty of the area.
These land management policies have helped to develop the
potential of the Owens Valley and the Mono Basin for recreation as well
as agriculture. In
addition, DWP reservoirs at Grant and Crowley lakes have come to afford
the residents of California some superb recreational opportunities. Millions of trout are grown in fish hatcheries for release
into local streams, and on opening day more than 17,000 anglers start
their fishing season on Crowley Lake.
Recreation is now a major part of the region’s economy.
Abundant snowfall offers skiers a seven month season at Mammoth
Mountain. Swimmers enjoy the geothermally heated water at Hot Creek and
the area’s many lakes and streams provide unparalleled myriad
opportunities for boating, water-skiing, camping, and fishing.