7/30/2004 Short takes from the July 29 Inyo County Water Commission meeting
LORP EIR/EIS: Deciding not to decide

The Inyo County Water Commission voted 4-1 Thursday night to affirm the Inyo County Water Department's recommendation to the Board of Supervisors to 1) defer consideration of certification of the Lower Owens River Project EIR/EIS until the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determines whether or not it will disburse grant money in time to help fund construction of the project and 2) direct staff to work with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the EPA to "(a) achieve an EIR/EIS that is acceptable to the three agencies, (b) to secure the federal grant funds for the County at the soonest possible time, and (c) to begin construction of the LORP at the soonest possible time."

Given that the EPA is likely to issue a statement next week saying that the EIS--as it stands now--is inadequate, and given that the EPA originally planned to disburse approximately $5.2 million grants-in-aid for the LORP to the County only upon the issuance of an adequate EIS and a Quality Assurance Plan, Inyo County Water Department Director Greg James recommended that Inyo County defer its decision so that the County will neither be rejecting the project nor committing itself without sufficient funding.

Reorganize or flush the Water Department?

ICWD Director Greg James also discussed a Board of Supervisors workshop planned for August 3, 2004, during which the Board will discuss a reorganization of the Inyo County Water Department. Given James' impending December 30 retirement, the Supervisors face several options. They may decide to 1) merge the Inyo County Water Department with another department--a solution that would, James noted, place a difficult burden on the person chosen to direct the two departments, 2) let the ICWD remain as a stand-alone department and recruit a new director internally, or 3) let the ICWD stand alone and recruit a new director externally. If the department remains independent, it may still be reorganized.

ICWD's perpetually dehydrated budget has left it with no seasonal staff, resulting in a 40% drop in vegetation monitoring, no seasonal assistants to help with well monitoring, and dependence on grants in order to maintain the rest of the department's full-time staff. Recent changes in LADWP's irrigation water and stock water policies have raised the specter of changes in Type E vegetation, and changes in tailwater may affect Type D vegetation and other vegetation, but ICWD doesn't have the staff to monitor such changes. If EPA funding evaporates, staff and funds for the Lower Owens River Project would present another serious challenge.

The Supervisors will probably not make a final decision on the question of reorganization until at least August 17.
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