News

2/15/2008 For Valentine's Day, Lower Owens carries LA mayor away
OWENS RIVER INTAKE, INYO COUNTY, CA--Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa let the Lower Owens River sweep him off his feet Wednesday, February 13.

After presiding over a ceremony to celebrate the beginning of the first artificial seasonal habitat flow since the river's official rewatering in December 2006, the mayor climbed into a yellow canoe and rowed gently downstream. Many others joined him in a small celebratory flotilla, including Mark Bagley, local Sierra Club representative, and David Nahai, new DWP general manager, who sat elbow-to-elbow at the bow of a drift boat.

The Lower Owens River Project partly mitigates environmental damage from groundwater pumping from 1970 to 1990. Yearly seasonal habitat flows--including this, the first for the newly rewatered river--are meant to imitate natural flooding by redistributing muck from the river bottom, helping to distribute and germinate seeds from riparian vegetation such as willows and cottonwood, and recharging groundwater tables in the flood plain, among other purposes.

Several speakers at the ceremony wryly acknowledged that mitigation projects for Los Angeles' water exports from the Owens Valley have often been a labor of law more than a labor of love.

"We recognize that Los Angeles was a desert before we came to the Owens Valley and that the Owens Valley was an oasis," the mayor said. "....Today we say we're going to share the prosperity....We're here to be the neighbors we should have been one hundred years ago."

"We've done this together," said David Nahai, who served on the Los Angeles Board of Water and Power Commissioners before becoming LADWP's new general manager in December 2007. "....While the past is immutable, the future is there for anyone to change."

That future is still written in water. Although the Lower Owens River Project partly mitigates groundwater pumping damage from 1970-1990, damage to the Owens Valley from ongoing groundwater pumping is still a source of conflict. In spite of joint groundwater management agreements, Los Angeles' average yearly groundwater pumping exceeded sustainable levels until 2005, when a court order temporarily reduced Los Angeles' groundwater pumping in the Owens Valley until minimum flows in the river were well established.

Inyo County and Los Angeles are still negotiating the terms by which groundwater pumping in the Owens Valley will be managed to avoid additional environmental impacts. Desertification and damage to the valley's groundwater-dependent meadows are a deep and ongoing concern. And, as Owens Valley Committee president Carla Scheidlinger noted during the habitat flow ceremony, the Lower Owens River Project's degree of success will rest on an as-yet-to-be-determined monitoring and adaptive management plan for the river.

Habitat flows to the Lower Owens will be ramped up slowly during a seven-day period from the river's base flow of 40 cubic feet per second to approximately 200 cubic feet per second at the Aqueduct Intake by about February 20. A peak flow of 200 cubic feet per second will be maintained for 24 hours, and then flows will slowly drop again by about 20 percent per day to the 40 cubic feet per second base flow. Increased flows will take approximately two weeks to travel down the river to the Alabama Gates area, where flows will then be supplemented to maintain a 200 cfs flow for several days in the Lower Owens River below the Alabama Spill Gate.
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