On January 30, 2021, the Los Angeles Times published a story, authored by Louis Sahagun,
discussing the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s relationship with ranchers in
Mono County. This relationship has faced increased scrutiny over the past few years and along
with it we’ve witnessed an increased misrepresentation of the facts – this story proved to be no
exception. Even after providing detailed background information, the author, unfortunately,
elected to perpetuate a one-sided story, which although providing heightened dramatic flair, is
not reflective of the current realities and facts.
While we discuss the inaccuracies with the writer and editor, we wanted to provide you with
As a public agency, the Department of Water and Power is committed to providing safe, clean
drinking water to the City of Los Angeles and protecting the environments in which we
operate, including in Mono County.
Historically and currently, seven commercial ranchers located in Long Valley on a 7,000-acre
spread of land within Mono County, receive water to flood irrigate grazing lands. Their leases
operated on a holdover status from 2013 until 2018, when LADWP, dedicated to the
continuation of the longstanding relationship, proposed new leases. Although the previous
leases stipulated LADWP has the full discretion to provide water from 0 acre-feet up to 5 acre-feet
per acre per year, the ranchers demanded a guarantee of water be written into their new
leases. The leases still remain in holdover to this day.
While we cannot provide a guarantee of water to anyone, we certainly have and will continue
to work with the ranchers each year, balancing environmental needs with a myriad of other
factors to determine the amount of water available for commercial cattle grazing.
For years, the utility has provided and continues to provide excess water to commercial
cattle operations in the area. We want to make clear that LADWP has provided and continues
to provide water to ranchers every single year, except 2015, at the height of California’s
drought when there was simply no water in the creeks to divert and we dammed the LA
Aqueduct – a first in its 100+ year history – delivering no water to LA during the annual
runoff. Although it was reported that in 2018 there were changes made, the truth is, there
weren’t. In 2018, the ranchers received 4,200 acre-feet of water – comparable to the 4,424
acre-feet they received in 2016 when runoff conditions were almost identical.
The water diverted in 2018 was decided using the same factors we continue to use each year –
beyond just precipitation and runoff, we analyze the storage capacity in the system, the
previous year’s hydrology, environmental needs and LA’s supply needs. Using the same
formula, LADWP provided Mono County ranchers with ~40,000 acre-feet of water in 2019 and
~18,000 acre-feet of water in 2020. Mr. Sahagun’s headline implying that LADWP is ending a
“free water deal” for Long Valley ranchers could not be further from reality. LADWP’s
relationship with Mono County dates back nearly a hundred years, and we are committed to its
continuation. In fact, we have already initiated a full environmental review process to renew the
Another outdated angle the segment elected to pursue was the connection between the water
ranchers receive with the water for the environment. LADWP has always and will continue to
ensure dedicated water is available for the region’s environment, especially for the Bi-State
Sage Grouse of which we’ve been a vocal and proactive steward not mandated by any court
order. In 2014, we developed a Habitat Conservation Strategy and in 2018, working with the
United States Fish & Wildlife Service and local partners, we launched a working group to
mitigate the impacts of ranching, Mono County’s landfill management, and other operations –
these coordinated efforts are far from “stabs in the dark” at Sage Grouse preservation as the
story claims. The working group also recommends the locations and amounts of water that the
Grouse need each year, typically only a few hundred acre-feet to be spread throughout their
mating grounds and LADWP is committed to providing. The California Department of Fish and
Wildlife has provided no scientific guidance on the appropriate amount of water necessary for
the Grouse and in fact, still manages annual hunting in the Long Valley and Bodie Hills areas.
Faced with a new climate reality, there is no guarantee of water for anyone, anywhere. We do
not know what the future will hold and we, as a public agency, working to protect Angelenos
and the environment, cannot promise water that does not exist yet and cannot be predicted.
That said, it is possible to achieve balance — we’ve cut in half the amount of water Los Angeles
exports from the Eastern Sierra region. This water now stays in Mono and Inyo counties for
environmental preservation. Locally, LADWP customers have reduced per capita water use by
more than 40% in the last 30 years, even as the City’s population grew by more than 1 million
people. We are also on track to achieve the Mayor’s goal of reducing usage to 100 gallons per
person per day by 2035.
In an effort to diversify supplies, we introduced Operation NEXT, developed in partnership
with LA Sanitation and Environment, that will allow Los Angeles to recycle 100% of available
treated wastewater for beneficial reuse by 2035.
As the entire West is grappling with how to balance responsible water management practices
and historic expectations with the changing environment, we must continue to prepare for an
uncertain future and look for innovative ways to stretch limited supplies. The work LADWP has
done so far in the region, and especially our long-standing relationship with the ranchers, is a
commendable model for the future.