8/30/2006 Ad hoc meetings bring hope to mitigation process
Reprinted from the Summer/Fall 2006 issue of the Rainshadow, OVC's bi-annual newsletter

The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), to which the OVC is a party, mandates that there be a total of 1600 acre-feet of water each year left in the Owens Valley for the creation of wetlands to mitigate for springs and seeps that were lost in the wake of groundwater pumping associated with the second aqueduct. Although three different consultants have presented plans for the use of this water, all the plans have violated some provision of the MOU and have left all parties with a great sense of frustration and doubt that any reasonable mitigations could be developed that would please us all.

The OVC took the unprecedented step of initiating an "ad hoc" process in an effort to get this important mitigation back on track. "Ad hoc" means that any decision the group reaches is not binding and that any participant can leave the process at any time without endangering the legal MOU process, which remains in place. Furthermore, no decision of the group can be implemented until all proper legal protocols are observed, including public input into the resulting proposal.

Inyo County Water Department, LADWP, California Department of Fish and Game, the Sierra Club, and the ranching community have joined the OVC in this "ad hoc" process. What makes the process special is that it has created an atmosphere in which we have been able to brainstorm freely. Initial contacts were stilted and hostilities were evident, but as we have moved into a third month of meetings, the process has resulted in increased trust. Very creative and practical ideas have surfaced. We now have seven projects under consideration that include one associated with Hines Spring, as well as six more that will utilize both artesian well waters and canal waters to create habitats that will substantially enhance wetland habitat in the Owens Valley for the benefit of wildlife and aquatic organisms. OVC members Carla Scheidlinger, Derrick Vocelka, and Mark Bagley feel genuinely enthusiastic about this process and believe that, time-consuming as it is, it will result in a much more environmentally valuable project than could have been obtained from the consultants alone. If a proposal before the decision-makers of the "ad hoc" participants truly is universally supported, it will be a real landmark in the Owens Valley water wars. We may be replacing “see you in court” with “see you on the next field trip.”

—Carla Scheidlinger, President, Owens Valley Committee
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