The City of Los Angeles has mounted a legal challenge to who owns the water rights to Mammoth Creek.
The challenge, which took the Mammoth Community Water District by surprise, was issued about 14 months ago in a letter from the City, said Greg Norby, the director of the Water District.
Norby paraphrased the essence of the letter at the Mammoth Lakes Planning Commission on Wednesday.
His remarks came almost at the end of an exhaustive recap of Water District future plans over the next five to 10 years.
To say that his remarks came out of the blue would be an understatement.
“What the City is saying is that ‘essentially, at a basic level your water rights are junior to our rights.’”
Norby, in an interview after the Planning Commission meeting, said L.A.’s position is that “the district’s water rights should never have been issued by the state in the first place.
“We’ve told them that’s not practical,” Norby said. “There’s a community here of 8,000 people and a multimillion recreational industry and it’s reliant on the utilization of that water supply.”
The revelation took the Planning Commission entirely by surprise.
Although commissioner Rhonda Duggan had no comment, precisely, she performed a silent belly laugh and eye-roll. Commissioner Mickey Brown raised a question, too, saying this might be more serious than people think, and compared it to the Mammoth Lakes Land Acquisition case, which resulted in a (as of now) $42 million judgment against the town.
Meanwhile, the town’s community development director, Mark Wardlaw, said the water case could have serious implications for the town.
“I’m sure the town would be very concerned about water rights as they impact our ability to implement the General Plan,” he said, “and protect the rights and property of the population.”
As of now, Norby said the case is moving at a snail’s pace.
“Beyond their letter — and that was October or November of last year — we’ve had one in-person meeting and two or three conference calls to try to move the issue forward, and it hasn’t moved, 14 months later,” he said.
“We haven’t moved forward from that yet,” Norby said to the commission. “We’ve been trying to work with the City and address their concerns. But after 14 months of that effort, as of today, we have nothing.”
As to what’s on the immediate horizon, Norby said he and the district are somewhat in the dark.
“We don’t know where that’s going to go next. When I say there’s a legal challenge, I’m not making words up.
“It’s very significant, but we don’t know where it’s going to go.”