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3/13/2007 Judge rules lower Owens close, but no vacation
MARCH 13, 2007--In a ruling issued late yesterday, Inyo County Superior Court Judge Lee Cooper found that the Los Angeles Department of Water (DWP) has "proceeded with commendable diligence" in complying with a 2005 court order to rewater the lower Owens River, but that DWP isn't done yet.

"On the record before me, I cannot find that the City has complied with all of the conditions set forth," Cooper wrote. "....All means all, not just some of the conditions!"

Los Angeles diverted the lower Owens River to its first aqueduct in 1913. The river rewatering project, required as partial mitigation for environmental damage from Los Angeles' groundwater pumping in the Owens Valley from 1970 to 1990, had foundered for years until a lawsuit initiated by the Owens Valley Committee and the Sierra Club resulted in Judge Cooper's 2005 order.

In his 2005 ruling, Cooper issued an injunction that would stop Los Angeles' water exports via its second aqueduct if the City did not meet certain conditions by January and July of 2007. Among other measures, the court order required Los Angeles to pay $5,000 a day beginning September 5, 2005 and continuing until flows in the lower Owens had been fully implemented. The City was also required to begin flows to the lower Owens River by January 2007 and to implement flows of 40 cubic feet per second throughout the river by July 2007.

Los Angeles began flows into the lower Owens River in early December last year.

In late February, attorneys for the City submitted a request to Judge Cooper to vacate the injunction and lift the other conditions of the court order.

"LADWP is pleased to inform the Court and the parties that it has established permanent baseflows of approximately 40 c.f.s. throughout the Lower Owens River in compliance with the Court's Order.... nearly five months ahead of the compliance deadline," the City's attorneys wrote.

Judge Cooper, however, found that the City hadn't earned a vacation yet. The DWP had constructed only nine of 17 stations required for monitoring flows throughout the river and was unable to provide adequate data about the volume of the flows.

"Regrettably," the judge wrote, "given the history of the [Lower Owens River Project], a certain level of skepticism by the other parties about DWP's representations is understandable, particularly when required monitoring stations have not been provided and the additional flow data that would have been generated is not available."

Nevertheless, the judge continued, he looked forward to Los Angeles' fulfillment of all of the conditions of his order, which would allow him to "declare the Lower Owens to be a river again."

--Ceal Klingler

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