12/5/2002 Lower Owens River Project faces potential delays
Last September 12th Superior Court Judge Ed Denton ordered the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) and Inyo County to release the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the Lower Owens River Project (LORP) by November first. Judge Denton's order, in response to the case brought by the Sierra Club and Owens Valley Committee, resulted in the release of the document on that date, more than two years after the original deadline. The LORP calls for rewatering of the river between the LA Aqueduct intake and the river delta, rehabilitating 63 miles of old river bed to habitat levels not seen since the opening of the LA aqueduct in 1913.

The LORP has the potential to be of tremendous benefit regionally, both environmentally and economically, and has been eagerly anticipated for more than a decade by many in the Owens Valley. However, the project may encounter more delays because of a continuing disagreement over the size of the pump station that will return most of the river water to the Los Angeles Aqueduct just before it flows to Owens Lake.

LADWP has proposed that the pump station have a capacity of 150 cfs (cubic feet per second). This is large enough to capture a majority of the springtime seasonal flows that would otherwise escape to the Owens River delta during the two-week high flow period. Inyo County and the Environmental Protection Agency have proposed a 50 cfs capacity pump station which they believe is the size required by the Inyo-LA Long Term Water Agreement. This is sufficient capacity to capture the 40 cfs baseflow that will be in the river for 50 weeks a year. As LADWP concludes in the DEIR (p.S-9), "It is anticipated that dispute resolution, litigation, or agreement (following issuance of the Final EIR/EIS and project decisions by the involved agencies) will determine which of these alternative pump station capacities will be implemented."

A LORP pump station of up to 50 cfs capacity is called for in the Water Agreement, but LADWP believes that language in a Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) allows them to build the larger station. The other MOU parties (Inyo County, Sierra Club, Owens Valley Committee, California Department of Fish and Game, and State Lands Commission) disagree with the City’s interpretation of the MOU.

As Sierra Club spokesman Mark Bagley, of Bishop, wrote in a letter printed by the Los Angeles Times Sept. 18, "The Sierra Club and other MOU parties believe that the larger pump station violates the Water Agreement and would restrict flows to the delta that are necessary to meet habitat goals agreed to in the MOU. More incredibly, the United States Environmental Protection Agency's analysis, in addition to our own analysis of DWP's numbers, show that the larger pump station does not make sense economically." The Owens Valley Committee has speculated that the real purpose of the larger pump station is to export additional groundwater from the Owens Valley.

The Environmental Protection Agency, in a February 2002 letter to LADWP *, stated that "LADWP's proposal for the larger pump station does not appear to be economically or environmentally justified." Additionally, the Agency concluded that "the excess, under utilized capacity (of the larger pump station) would provide strong incentive for LADWP to pump additional water from the Owens Valley."

In addition to two pump station options, the DEIR presents two different assessments of the impacts to the delta for each option. Sierra Club spokesman Bagley said, "It is highly unusual for an EIR to have two separate impact assessments on the same issue. I think the assessments done by URS Corporation, and backed by Inyo County, make a lot more sense and have much better supporting arguments than the other assessments backed by DWP. Public comments on this will be very important in order for the LORP to be properly implemented."

Two meetings have been scheduled for initial public comments on the DEIS. The first meeting is in Lone Pine on December 4th at Statham Hall, 138 N. Jackson St., and the second meeting is in Bishop, on December 5th, at the Home Economics Building, Tri County Fairgrounds. Both meetings are at 6:00 pm. Written comments can also be submitted to LADWP, 300 Mandich Lane, Bishop, CA 93514 or via fax to 760-873-0266. All comments must be received by January 14, 2003 and will be incorporated into and addressed in the Final EIR.
* the full text of the EPA letter can be found on the OVC website under "News"
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