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 unfeasible.

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.   The first EIR prepared by the City was rejected as inadequate by the court and again conflict escalated.  A second EIR, also prepared by Los Angeles, was also rejected by the court.

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 enhancement/mitigation projects.

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, or pesticides.

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 nesting waterfowl.

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.

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