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LADWP, Mammoth agree over water

July 18, 2013

Agreement will ensure enough water for Mammoth’s projected final population

Mammoth Lakes will continue to have access to the amount of water from Mammoth Creek granted to it by the state for at least another century and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power will get about $5.8 million in return after both sides reached an out-of-court settlement earlier this month.

The ongoing tussle over Mammoth’s water rights to Mammoth Creek, which supplies much of the community’s water, was officially declared over on July 2 and ensures that LADWP will not continue to litigate two recently filed lawsuits against the Mammoth Community Water District, the water distributor for Mammoth.

The lawsuits have already cost the small water district in excess of $700,000 to fight.

The new agreement also ensures that Mammoth will have access to enough water to meet the community’s needs in the future, according to Pat Hayes, the district’s general manager. Mammoth’s “build out” population lands at about 52,000 visitors and residents. This is the number town planners say is the maximum population the Mammoth Lakes area can sustain.

The agreement is good for a minimum of 100 years, and possibly for as long as 110 years if certain measures in the agreement regarding conservation of water are met, Hayes said.

“We could extend the primary agreement by up to 10 years through accumulated water savings. We are not using anywhere near the 4,387 acre-feet of water projected for build out,” he said.

The agreement is based on two main ideas: in return for allowing MCWD access to the amount of water Mammoth will need for current needs and at build out, LADWP will get financial help from MCWD. The district will receive $5.9 million, paid in two installments adjusted for inflation (one now, one in 50 years), to implement local water conservation measures.

The vast majority of the conservation efforts will be on large tracts of ranch lands leased from LADWP and used to graze cattle located near the Hot Creek Fish Hatchery and McGee Creek.

“We would be paying for the capitol cost and the maintenance costs of implementing a sprinkler irrigation system (instead of the ranches continuing to use flood irrigation),” said Hayes.

Conservation efforts like these will save about 1,779 acre-feet of water a year, he said.

“The new water conservation efforts will save enough water so that this agreement will not have a negative impact on LADWP’s water customers,” according to a joint news release sent out by both agencies last week.

“The Mammoth Lakes community is assured of the water it needs to flourish and the water conservation efforts funded by the MCWD will return water to LADWP’s system—effectively replacing water that would have been used by MCWD (without the conservation efforts),” said LADWP General Manager Ron Nichols in the news release.

Hayes said he is confident the agreement will prevent future lawsuits between the district and LADWP.

“I believe we have full agreement on how to measure and monitor the conservation systems and the water flows,” he said. “I am satisfied we addressed all of their concerns.”

The fight over Mammoth Creek came to a head a year and a half ago when LADWP notified MCWD that it did not believe the district had legal water rights to the water it was using from Mammoth Creek.

The district did not agree, and said it had been granted those rights by the state.

The two sides agreed not to go to court during an extended negotiation period, led on MCWD’s side by former general manager Greg Norby.

But the negotiations broke down abruptly late last year and LADWP filed two lawsuits against the water district.

Since then, both sides have been talking, even as the lawsuit process is in place.

This agreement is the final outcome.

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