1/25/2006 Construction begins on Lower Owens River Project
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced January 12 that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) had begun construction on the Lower Owens River Project, a project that would allow water to flow once again into the southern 62-mile stretch of the Owens River. The project, anticipated for many years, is meant to help mitigate some of the environmental impacts to the Owens Valley from LADWP groundwater pumping between 1970 and 1990.

LADWP Board President Mary Nichols cited the construction's start as signaling "what we hope to be a new spirit of cooperation that fulfills the City's environmental responsibility in the Owens Valley and demonstrates our commitment to restore and protect the natural resources of the Eastern Sierra watershed."

In recent years, the old spirit of cooperation in the valley had acquired a haunted look. Although flows to the river were scheduled to begin in mid-2003, delays in planning the project stretched from months to years. In July 2005, Inyo County Superior Court Judge Lee Cooper, Jr., ordered the LADWP to begin flows to the river by January 2007 or be "enjoined and restrained" from using its second aqueduct to continue to export water from the Owens Valley.

"...[I]t is important to note that DWP has been and is in violation of CEQA [the California Environmental Quality Act] since the early '70s because the mitigation measures it agreed to have not been accomplished as agreed and ordered," he wrote in a June 2005 Statement of Decision.

LADWP officials received the last outstanding permit for the project --a section 404 permit from the Army Corps of Engineers--January 10. Officials at the agency estimate that the project will be completed in 16 months.

--Ceal Klingler
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