July 11, 2007
County, Court Approves Lower Owens River Project Agreement
JUDGE DECLARES “LOWER OWENS RIVER IS A RIVER”
OWENS VALLEY, CALIF. – An agreement by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), Inyo County, Department of Fish and Game, State Lands Commission, Owens Valley Committee (OVC) and Sierra Club that ensures the Lower Owens River will flow in perpetuity was approved by Inyo County Superior Court Judge Lee F. Cooper today (July 11, 2007).
The agreement, which was forged by the parties over the last several months, resolves legal issues surrounding implementation of the Lower Owens River Project (LORP), and also recognizes that LADWP has established water flows in the river.
“I can now officially declare that the Lower Owens River is a river,” Cooper stated during the hearing, adding he was “extremely pleased” with progress that had been made and the cooperation among all the parties.
The resolution, known as a “stipulation and order,” was signed by all six parties and submitted to the Inyo County Superior Court for consideration on July 9, 2007. At today’s hearing Judge Cooper approved the agreement, which spells out the criteria to determine if permanent base flows in the river are being maintained, and establishes data reporting requirements and a monetary fine structure if the requirements are not met.
“This stipulation and order represents a triumph of cooperation to the benefit of the Lower Owens River and the surrounding communities,” said H. David Nahai, president of the LADWP Board of Water and Power Commissioners. “The City of Los Angeles is very proud that the river is fully flowing and already returning to life. We are also grateful to all of the parties for their hard work and diligence in reaching this agreement.”
“The restoration of the river has been a long term goal of Inyo County and we are heartened that river’s recovery is well underway,” said the Chairman of the Inyo County Board of Supervisors, Jim Bilyeu. “The County greatly appreciates the efforts of all involved in taking this giant step toward fully accomplishing this goal.”
“The Sierra Club is very pleased that all of the parties have worked together to forge this agreement,” said Mark Bagley who represents the Sierra Club. “We’re very happy to see water once again in the lower Owens River and are appreciative of all the hard work put in by the LADWP folks to get the river flowing again.” OVC President Carla Scheidlinger said her organization is “pleased to have this issue settled so that we can continue with the important work of the LORP.”
Under the 1991 Inyo County/Los Angeles Water Agreement, the LADWP and Inyo County agreed to implement the Lower Owens River Project (LORP) as compensatory mitigation for impacts related to LADWP’s groundwater pumping in the Owens Valley from 1970 to 1990. The LORP provides for the release of permanent water flows in 62 miles of the Lower Owens River that was diverted to Los Angeles in 1913, and has been called the most significant environmental restoration project in the western United States. Implementation of the project has proved to be a lengthy process because of the magnitude and complexity of the restoration effort.
In December 2006 more than 500 people gathered at the Los Angeles Aqueduct Intake to witness the first release of permanent water flows into the Lower Owens River in almost 100 years by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Inyo County Board of Supervisors and then Chairperson Susan Cash, and others.
With water now flowing year-round, the LORP will create thousands of acres of habitat for fish and wildlife. In turn, the river’s rebirth will also create new opportunities for fishing, bird watching and other recreation as well as help the Owens Valley economy. Already biologists, recreational enthusiasts and others are reporting a remarkable recovery of the environment, with vegetation becoming established in the rewatered channel, and fish and other wildlife repopulating the entire river.
In the future the LADWP, Inyo County and the other parties anticipate working together to study opportunities for additional recreational facilities in the area. The project will have a positive economic benefit for the Owens Valley communities, such as Lone Pine, Independence, Big Pine, and Bishop, which are close to the LORP, and will be a remarkable opportunity for biologists, ecologists, other scientists and students to watch and study the progress of a major river restoration.
A goal of the LORP, as identified in the 1997 Memorandum of Understanding among the parties, is “the establishment of a healthy, functioning Lower Owens River riverine-riparian ecosystem…for the benefit of biodiversity and threatened and endangered species, while providing for the continuation of sustainable uses including recreation, livestock grazing, agriculture and other activities.” In the agreement, the parties recognized that conditions will be encountered in the management of the LORP that cannot be predicted, and agreed to cooperatively work in good faith to resolve those issues in the future.
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the nation’s largest municipal utility, provides reliable, low-cost water and power services to Los Angeles residents and businesses in an environmentally responsible manner. LADWP services about 1.4 million electric customers and 680,000 water customers in Los Angeles. For more information, visit www.ladwp.com.
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