2/1/2005 Note to Gewe: Legal obligations aren't a frill

In a visit to the Owens Valley this January, LADWP chief operating officer Gerald Gewe was quoted in a local newspaper (Inyo Register, 01/27/2005) as complaining that "third parties want to add bells and whistles" that could add to the cost of the Lower Owens River Project. He said that such "bells and whistles" might prompt LADWP to "walk away" from the project. The following letter of response appeared in the Inyo Register (02/01/05) and is reprinted here with the author's permission:

To the Editor,

The Owens Valley Committee appreciates Jerry Gewe’s desire to get the Lower Owens River Project (LORP) moving. That has been our desire as well for the seven years that have expired since the LORP was finally agreed upon in the 1997 MOU. Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) committed at that time to having water flowing in the river by June 2003. That day has come and gone. Gewe implies that the delays are due to the fact that “third parties want to add bells and whistles” that were never intended as part of the LORP re-watering plan. As a negotiator of that plan, I can assure you that the “bells and whistles” that Gewe seems to be referring to were in fact integral parts of the plan that were painstakingly negotiated by all parties. I assume that he is referring to the requirements that LADWP prepare an adequate Environmental Impact Report for the project, and that a monitoring and adaptive management plan be an integral part of the project description. Bypassing that requirement would be akin the Planning Department giving a go-ahead to a developer to slap up a building complex without having addressed the traffic impacts, fire protection requirements, or other new public services or liabilities associated with the complex. Gewe’s attitude suggests that water can just be put into the river, and any problems that might arise can be dealt with later. Responsible planners don’t consider that to be a good approach.

LADWP’s inability to provide these documents in a legally adequate form is part of a pattern of performance that has been in place since 1970, when the first environmental documentation for impacts to the Owens Valley caused by the second barrel of the aqueduct was required by California law. For the past 35 years, LADWP has continued to extract water from the Owens Valley without full compliance with environmental law for adequate mitigation. The LORP is the major mitigation required for the impacts that have been accumulating since 1970. LADWP’s strategy appears to be to produce inadequate environmental documents, and then oblige the “third parties” to either accept them and condemn the valley to ongoing degradation, or to challenge them, resulting in delays to the project. The parties have opted to challenge.

Let’s lay the delays where they belong. The “third parties” were an integral part of the LORP negotiations, and we are well aware of what kind of a deal we struck. Our refusal to accept shoddy planning is not a desire for “bells and whistles”. It is simply what is required to assure that this project does what it is supposed to do: mitigate for damages to the valley since 1970. A deal is a deal. If schedules are not being met, the fault lies squarely at the door of LADWP. The idea that LADWP can “walk away” from the LORP is an empty threat. The LORP is a legally required mitigation for the on-going exportation of water from the Owens Valley. The court wants to see this project implemented too, and the “third parties” are dedicated to assuring that the court continues to maintain oversight over the process.


Carla Scheidlinger
Owens Valley Committee

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