|We watch the water.|
|1/4/2003||LORP DEIR/EIS issue for comment: brine pool transition area|
| As the Lower Owens River Project Draft Environmental Impact Report and Environmental Impact Statement public comment deadline draws closer, we're adding copy-and-paste-ready paragraphs on pertinent issues to our website "News" area; modify and add them to your own comment letter as you prefer and as they become available, or use them in combination with our sample comment letter (which also appears in "News"). For more information, see our LORP DEIR/EIS flyer or click on website "Issues" and then click on "Comment on LORP DEIR/EIS."
The issue: BRINE POOL TRANSITION AREA
Explanation and overview:
o Insist that significant impacts to shorebird habitat in the brine pool transition area can and must be avoided.
A significant and unavoidable (Class I) impact identified in the Draft EIR/EIS is a decrease in shorebird habitat in the brine pool transition area just to the south of the Delta Habitat Area. This would be caused by a reduction in the amount of water flowing from the Delta to this area. Under LADWP's project proposal this would be a reduction from what currently flows to this area.
LADWP states (Table S-1) there is no feasible mitigation for this significant impact due to an existing court injunction which prohibits them from releasing water to Owens Lake except to meet the goals of the LORP. For about 15 years up to the present LADWP has released small amounts of water out on to Owens Lake. However, LADWP does not admit that they have been in violation of the exisiting injunction by releasing the current flows; flows that have supported thousands of ducks and geese and hundreds of thousands of shorebirds in the fall and winter for many years. Was that illegal? The State Lands Commission and mining company that originally obtained the court injunction have not taken legal action. If the current flows are allowable, it is inappropriate to argue that maintaining those flows under the project is not feasible. The Owens Valley Committee and Sierra Club believe that LADWP is mistaken in its interpretation of the existing court injunction. That injunction was amended in September 2000 to allow releases of water onto Owens Lake for the purpose of implementing the LORP. LADWP could and should completely avoid this impact by maintaining current flows.
No mention is made in the Draft EIR/EIS that Owens Lake is part of the United States Shorebird Conservation Plan or that it is a Nationally Significant Important Bird Area as designated by the National Audubon Society due to its use by thousands of migrating shorebirds and as a nesting site for snowy plovers. Continuing flows to this transition area would avoid significant impacts. Additionally, if LADWP insists that this impact is unavoidable, they have an obligation under CEQA to explore mitigation alternatives that are feasible. They have not done so, but they must.
How does the International Migratory Bird Treaty apply to this "unmitigable impact" of drying up the brine pool transition zone? Recent observations confirm that LADWP’s current practice of drying up the delta and transition to brine pool in late spring and summer has left known nests and broods of rare nesting snowy plover without water and therefore certainly doomed. Recent data shows the intense use of the transition to brine pool habitat by thousands of migrating shorebirds moving back and forth from Canada/Alaska and Central and South America each fall and spring.
Impact To Brine Pool Transition Area: The Class I impact to shorebird habitat in the brine pool transition area, identified in Draft EIR/EIS Table S-1, can and must be avoided. This is an area that is used by thousands of ducks and geese and tens of thousands of shorebirds. It is in an area that has been recognized by the National Audubon Society as a Nationally Significant Important Bird Area and is part of the U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan. This is a very important wildlife habitat. The existing flows to this transition area have been released by LADWP for many years. Have they been in violation of the existing court injunction that they say would prohibit mitigation of this impact? If the current flows are allowable, it is inapproriate to argue that maintaining those flows under the project is not feasible. LADWP can and must avoid this impact by maintaining existing flows and by not allowing this area to dry up in late spring and summer as currently happens. Additionally, if LADWP insists that this impact is unavoidable, they have an obligation under CEQA to explore mitigation alternatives that are feasible.
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