Jim Newton: DWP vs. Owens Valley – latimes.com

[Came across this forgotten piece from 2012 as I was cleaning out the AF blog’s drafts folder.  Of course, the lawsuit being reported on was settled with the 2014 stipulated agreement – but that settlement only goes so far in resolving the century long history of antagonism and distrust between the Owens Valley and LADWP.]

A lone Cottonwood tree stands sentinel at the Silver Spur Mine, with the LORP and Alabama Hills in the distance.

A lone Cottonwood tree stands sentinel at the Silver Spur Mine, with the LORP and Alabama Hills in the distance. [Photo by Barry Lehrman]

“Los Angeles owes an old debt to the Owens Valley. It was there, a century ago, that representatives of this ambitious city quietly bought up water rights from unsuspecting farmers and then diverted the Owens River into a newly built aqueduct that brought Sierra snowmelt south and made Los Angeles possible. Owens Lake was emptied so that Los Angeles might prosper.

But how far does that debt extend? Is Los Angeles forever on the hook for the actions of its forefathers? And to the extent that it is possible to restore some of the Owens Valley, what would make it whole? …”

The question of who is responsible for the dust in Owens Valley is a separate question from who is legally responsible for mitigating all those PM10s. The recent lawsuit by LADWP is attempting to revive this question,15 years after the ruling that first put Los Angeles on the hook (and 5 years after the last revision). State regulators have upheld that Los Angeles must pay

The historic facts are that irrigation diversions from the Owens River were draining Owens Lake before Los Angeles bought up all the water rights and began importing the water down to Los Angeles. Also, not all the dust in the region, comes from Owens Playa.

Above the relic of Owens lake at the ruins of the Kaiser Permente salt works at Bartlett, watching the Sierra shadows creep up the Coso Range. [Photo by Barry Lehrman]

Above the relics of Owens Lake as the Sierra shadows creep over the Coso Range. [Photo by Barry Lehrman]

But dust is just the subtext for this fight – water is the focus. Water is for fighting in the best western tradition. Water policy in the west comes from two traditions – the Spanish Law of the Indies and Pueblo Right, and the Anglo ‘first in time, first in right’ advocated for by the miners and farmers. Neither of these traditions are adequate to equitably distribute scarce resources, nor to protect those without a voice – the flora and fauna.

Finally, there is the larger context of water, which confronts the entire West. There is growing demand and limited supply. Farmers in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta are braced for Los Angeles to draw water off the Sacramento River and potentially jeopardize their livelihoods. Western states such as Nevada are growing and are resentful of California’s claims on the Colorado River…

But the thirst for water continues to grow in the Southwest, and efforts to secure and conserve it are serious, expensive and difficult. In the face of such cost and effort, it is “unconscionable” to flood a section of the high desert so that a place that was always dusty might no longer be.
Jim Newton: DWP vs. Owens Valley – latimes.com.

The LADWP hasn’t sufficiently explored alternative mitigation strategies or invested enough in making the dust control project a beautiful and ecologically productive place. But that isn’t what they are suing for.

Tillage is favored by the DWP as a means to save water - at the expense of creating habitat. [Photo by Barry Lehrman].

Tillage is favored by the DWP and approved in the 2014 Stipulated Agreement as a means to save water – at the expense of creating habitat. Soon much of the verdant shallow flooding will be replaced by this barren corduroy terrain. [Photo by Barry Lehrman].

Ted Schade’s (of Great Basin Air Pollution District) public reply from October 23rd to the DWP suite is here: www.aquafornia.com/archives/75027/

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