July 7, 2022 (LOS ANGELES) – On June 30, 2022, a California Court of Appeal handed Angelenos an important victory when it reversed a lower-court decision that would have tied the hands of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) and other water agencies by requiring that a new California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) analysis be done every year before making regular operating decisions about water use and diversions on land that is already owned by the agency but leased to a third party to utilize. The Court ruled, in part:
Contrary to Mono County’s argument, the sequence of events supports our conclusion that the 2018 water allocation was within the scope of the 2010 Leases. The timing is consistent with Los Angeles’ explanation that it issued the Proposed Dry Leases, agreed to complete the requisite environmental review for those Leases, and committed to maintaining its allocation practice under the 2010 Leases while proceeding with the environmental review. We have concluded that the 2018 water allocation was within Los Angeles’ authority under the 2010 Leases and consistent with its water allocation practice both before and after 2018. (Ebbetts Pass Forest Watch v. California Dept. of Forestry & Fire Protection 43 Cal.4th (2008).
“The Appellate Court’s decision to reverse a 2021 ruling ensures that water managers across the State of California and at LADWP will continue to have the flexibility required to balance the state’s strained water resources with the needs of people and the environment. Every year, LADWP takes great care to responsibly adapt its water operations to respond to changes in weather, environmental demands, storage capacity, annual runoff, water supply needs of LADWP customers, and more. Regardless of today’s outcome, our operations in Mono County will continue to protect the unique environment that serves as habitat for the Bi-State Sage Grouse, ” said Anselmo Collins, LADWP Senior Assistant General Manager Water System.
- The lawsuit – which was filed by the County of Mono and Sierra Club and ruled upon on June 30 – addressed whether a new CEQA analysis is needed each year for annual water supply evaluations and decisions regarding water usage on leased lands.
- The appeals court reversed a decision that curtailed LADWP’s discretion and authority in making operational decisions related to water usage on lands leased for ranching in Mono County. The previous ruling set an impossible standard for stewards of a public trust who must make real-time decisions to deliver water to residents, businesses and the environment, particularly in a year like 2022 when Californians are facing historic drought restrictions.
- In 2018, LADWP proposed to its seven lessees that it may consider no longer guaranteeing water each year for grazing lands. The Department then filed a Notice of Preparation (NOP) to begin CEQA and evaluate this proposal but has not implemented it. No changes will be made to the leases until the appropriate CEQA analysis is complete.
- LADWP continues to provide water to ranchers in Mono County based on annual evaluations just as it has historically done. Since 2016, lessees have received more than 120,000 AF of water, including in 2019 and 2020, when they received 38,000 AF and 18,000 AF respectively.
- All the while, within city limits, LADWP has transformed Los Angeles into one of the most water efficient cities in the world. Residential customers use an average of 74 gallons per person per day compared to the statewide average of 91 gallons. Investments in water recycling, stormwater capture and groundwater remediation have boosted the capacity of local supplies.
- LADWP is working closely with Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board to combat adverse impacts of cattle grazing on regional natural resources in Mono County.
- LADWP has taken significant action to protect the Sage Grouse – including the development of the 2020 Adaptive Management Plan for Bi-State Sage Grouse brood rearing habitats on LADWP land in Long Valley, developed with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. LADWP also works with local partners to mitigate the impacts of nearby ranching and infrastructure operations.
- LADWP’s commitment to the environmental preservation of these lands mirrors efforts around Mono Lake where LADWP, by leaving more water in the streams, has completed decades of restoration work that has led to a recovery of the streams, fishes and birds. Thanks in part to LADWP’s commitment to the region, Mono Lake and its tributaries now offer abundant resources for unique water birds nesting on shore and a healthy environment for plants and fish populations to thrive. The agency also announced last year the largest environmental restoration investment in the Eastern Sierra region to date. Learn more about that project and additional LADWP operations and activities in the Eastern Sierra here.