Mono Will Sue DWP This Week

Wendilyn Grasseschi
Times Reporter

Words of collaboration and expressions of neighborliness between Mono County and the Department of Water and Power gave way this week to legal action as Mono County prepared to file a lawsuit against the water agency. The lawsuit is intended to stop the immediate dewatering of dewatering of irrigated leased meadowland near Crowley Lake and in Little Round Valley and, to require the agency to do a full environmental review before making changes to future irrigation allocations.

“The goal is to file it this week,” said Stacey Simon, Mono County Counsel. “There is still some logistical coordination, but that is our goal.

“The main basis for the litigation is that LADWP should have done environmental review prior to making a decision to eliminate or reduce the water to these lands, which have been irrigated historically for at least 70 years and have developed important habitat and resource values,” she said.

She said the lawsuit will also seek to require DWP put water back onto the affected landscapes as soon as possible, so that further damage to the meadows and riparian areas does not occur. The water agency cut the amount of irrigation water to both the Crowley Lake and Little Round Valley areas from about 26,000 acre-feet annually to about 5,000 acre-feet earlier this summer and the meadows have been slowly and surely turning brown ever since.

“It will also seek preliminary relief asking that DWP maintains the status quo while it completes the environmental review,” she said.

She added that there will be a lot more information available about the content of the lawsuit next week, when it is filed and goes public.

She emphasized that one place the county and DWP agree on is that climate change is already forcing changes to how much water is available in any watershed; almost always now, there is less, not more, water than there has been historically.

That said, the impacts of the drastic action taken by DWP this summer have not been studied and as such, a good plan to address both entities concerns regarding climate change impacts cannot be achieved, she said.

“We do all recognize that a changing climate does ask us to reassess, but we think it should occur in a thoughtful and studied way,” she said.

The environmental review process that Simon is referring to is the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process, which typically takes a year or more to complete as it requires extensive science-based studies of the impact of the action being studied and extensive public and other land management and government agency involvement.

The county is not going alone either, as it seeks relief from the irrigation cuts.

On Aug.16, the Mammoth Lakes Town Council was scheduled to consider a letter from the council to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti that strongly urged Garcetti to provide leadership to DWP and seek a solution that will benefit both DWP and the Town of Mammoth and the county.

“On Tuesday, Aug. 7, Town staff attended a meeting of the Board (Mono County Board of Supervisors) at which this item was discussed,” the letter states. “Over 100 people, ranging from private citizens to environmental groups and non-profits to other government entities, including Bureau of Land Management and the local Paiute tribe, spoke and provided comments in opposition to this practice... As you are aware, the majority of our tourism comes from Southern California, including Los Angeles County... The Town is extremely concerned that environmental analysis has not been completed prior to changing historical practices with regards to how water is managed throughout lands in Mono County... The Town is concerned that irreversible damage may have already occurred. Until sufficient environmental analysis can be conducted, the Town strongly urges LADWP to reevaluate the current water allotment for this year...”

The letter refers to a meeting before the county board of supervisors Aug. 7 where the standing-room-only crowd delivered impassioned and reasoned pleas to stop the immediate dewatering of the meadows and to find a solution for allowing the meadows to remain irrigated into the future.

Clarence Martin, DWP’s aqueduct manager, attended that Aug. 7 meeting and defended the agency stating, amidst other things, that the irrigation schedule local ranchers have enjoyed was enacted during very different conditions, when there was a lot more water available overall.

But despite residents stating they could see the browning meadows clearly, within minutes of the end of that meeting, DWP posted a news release that stated the cuts to irrigation for the meadows surrounding Crowley Lake had not had a negative impact on the environment.

“First and foremost, this is NOT a proposal to dewater or de-ranch Mono County...” the agency said. “Before making any changes to water management practices in Mono County, LADWP will complete a full and thorough Environmental Impact Report.”

The board did not appear to be at all appeased and said, in a sharply-worded letter dated Aug. 8, that it did not believe DWP was working with the county in good faith and that it no longer trusted what DWP was saying, since the agency’s publicly stated words, in letters and on its rate-payer website, did not match its actions.

“Unfortunately, after several good faith attempts to negotiate a compromise protective of both environmental and scenic values and agricultural operations, our discussions have concluded with LADWP refusing to supply more water,” the letter stated... “Quite simply, LADWP’s arbitrary plan is nothing more than a thinly veiled water grab.”