Mono Supervisors ask LADWP to Do the Right Thing

Sage Grouse and Grazing in Mono County

The City of Los Angeles (City), through its Department of Water and Power (LADWP) has proposed to dry up approximately 6,400 acres of agricultural lands in Mono County – thereby increasing the risk of wildfire, destroying wetlands and riparian areas, devastating important habitat for sensitive species such as the Bi-State Sage Grouse, reversing more than 70 years of LADWP water management policy and, and undermining the agricultural economy, heritage, and tradition of both Mono and Inyo Counties.

In March 2018, LADWP provided ranchers in the Long Valley and Little Round Valley areas of Mono County new proposed leases containing no irrigation or stock water for ranchlands.  Historically, leases provided up to 5 acre-feet per year (AFY) of water per acre or approximately 32,000 AFY in total (with proportional offsets in drier years).  The leases proposed by LADWP would have eliminated this entire amount beginning in the Summer of 2018.  In response to action by Mono County, and in consultation with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, LADWP has partially walked back its original proposal.  However, LADWP has instead committed to providing only 18% of historic allocations this summer (0.71 AFY per acre or a total of less than 4,600 AFY) with no commitment of any water in future years.  This is not an acceptable solution and will have immediate impacts on the environment, economy, and citizens of Mono County.

LADWP’s proposal flies in the face of decades of collaboration to effectively manage water resources and ensure environmental protection and economic stability for both Mono County and the City.  In an era of climate change, reestablishing a working relationship that allows us to resolve issues as they arise will be even more critical and will benefit the citizens of both regions of California.  To that end, Mono County is working to schedule a meeting the Mayor’s Office and LADWP to discuss these issues and agree on a process for resolving them this year and in the future.

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS

This summer, and over the long-term if LADWP’s proposal is not modified, Mono County residents and visitors will see browning pastures – instead of green meadows – along Highway 395 between Bishop and Mammoth Lakes.  Wetlands and riparian habitat created by historic irrigation will be eliminated. Wildlife that depends on that environment, including Bi-State Sage Grouse chicks that forage in the meadows of both valleys, may be lost.  In fact, the dewatering could ultimately lead to the listing of the Sage Grouse under the Endangered Species Act which would impose additional requirements on ranching activities and (ironically) on LADWP’s water exports.  The lack of water will also increase the risk of wildfire, threatening adjacent properties and communities.

ECONOMIC AND CULTURAL IMPACTS

The agricultural economies of Mono and Inyo Counties are highly interdependent, with most ranchers moving stock between operations located in both counties.  As such, impacts to agricultural operations in Mono County will impact Inyo County as well.  A study commissioned by the Inyo-Mono Agricultural Commissioner’s Office estimates that southern Mono County agriculture contributes more than $51 million to the local economy, including more than $31 million in direct contributions, and supports nearly 250 local jobs.  The elimination of these historic ranching operations will forever change the culture and historic legacy of the region and local ranching families that have worked these lands for generations and rely on them for their livelihood will be devastated.

THE CITY AND LADWP’S STATED PURPOSE

The City and LADWP have provided little reason for the change in policy except to explain that “changing environmental circumstances” require the reevaluation of current water uses.  This stated purpose is at odds with the Mayor’s own sustainability goals to source more water locally – specifically, 50% percent by 2035 – and reduce the City’s reliance on imported water.  The contradiction between Mayor’s commitment and LADWP’s proposal begs the question whether the proposal is merely another Owens Valley water grab similar to one that dried up Owens Lake and nearly destroyed Mono Lake.

MONO COUNTY RESPONSE

On April 19, 2018, Mono County sent a letter to Mayor Garcetti detailing the impacts of LADWP’s proposal; identifying the need for LADWP to comply with state and federal natural resources laws; and appealing to the Mayor’s interests in environmental sustainability and maintaining the longstanding relationship between the City and Mono County.  On May 1, 2018, the Mayor responded by stating that LADWP would analyze the environmental impacts of the proposed “waterless” leases and that he had directed LADWP to provide ranchers some amount of water for Summer 2018.  He also expressed his commitment to maintaining the relationship between the City and Mono County.  Subsequently, LADWP revealed that the amount it would provide to ranchers in 2018 would be only 4,600 AF (or 0.71 AF per acre), well below historic amounts (with the exception of extreme drought years).  On May 3, 2018, Mono County responded by requesting that LADWP honor its past practice of providing 5 AFY per acre, offset based on snowpack and anticipated runoff (78% of anticipated runoff for 2018).  Additionally, Mono County invited the Mayor to visit the region, tour the impacted areas, and meet with county representatives to discuss resolving the matter.

As this process moves forward, Mono County and its ranchers remain willing to work collaboratively with the City and LADWP and adjust their operations and water use in times of drought.  But to ask the County and its ranchers to go without water entirely or to subsist on dramatically lower amounts when it is not warranted by environmental conditions is untenable.

CONCERN FROM OTHER ORGANIZATIONS AND AGENCIES

Many Eastern Sierra environmental and conservation organizations are concerned about the City’s and LADWP’s proposal on the natural environment, habitat, and wildlife of the Eastern Sierra.  These groups include the California Audubon Society, the Eastern Sierra Audubon Society, the Owens Valley Committee, the Sierra Club Toiyabe Chapter, the Sierra Club Range of Light Group, the Mono Lake Committee, the Eastern Sierra Land Trust and the Center for Biological Diversity.  In addition, various state and federal agencies with species, habitat and public trust obligations, including the California Natural Resources Agency, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Inyo National Forest, and the U.S. Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest have expressed concern over potential ecological impacts – particularly to the Bi-State Sage Grouse.

ADDITIONAL MATERIALS

The links below include Mono County’s letters further outlining the potential impacts with LADWP’s dewatering proposal and Mayor Garcetti’s response.  In addition, the links below include letters from the California Natural Resources Agency and Senator Tom Berryhill and Assemblymember Frank Bigelow expressing their concern with LADWP’s proposal.