|Mammoth Community Water District EIR on Mammoth Creek Water Diversions Challenged by LADWP
After efforts spanning more than six years working cooperatively with the Mammoth Community Water District (MCWD) to address concerns about Mammoth Creek flows, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) has taken legal action to prevent MCWD from infringing on LADWP’s water rights. The action stems from the recent finalization of the MCWD’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR), titled “Mammoth Creek Fishery Bypass Flow Requirements,” which depends upon drafting water from Mammoth Creek to meet the town’s future growth.
The LADWP legal challenge is based upon temporary Mammoth Creek water rights permits that were granted to the MCWD by the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), but are subordinate to the water rights held by the City of Los Angeles. The LADWP has also expressed concerns over the MCWD’s recently-adopted Urban Water Management Plan, which anticipates a 50% growth in water usage by 2030.
“We have provided written comments to the MCWD and attended a number of meetings with them over the years to seek a solution that meets both the MCWD’s and our needs,” said LADWP Director of Water Operations Marty Adams. “Unfortunately, this has not yet proved successful and we have had to take steps to protect the city’s water rights. We would welcome the opportunity to continue discussions with MCWD in the near future so that we can arrive at an arrangement that will satisfy both agencies.”
In an attempt to arrive at a mutually beneficial solution, the LADWP has also requested entering into what is legally termed a “tolling agreement” with the MCWD. The tolling agreement would hold the lawsuit in abeyance while the LADWP and MCWD work together on possible solutions that meet the needs of both agencies.
“We think that a big part of any solution is water conservation and recycling, both in Los Angeles and in Mammoth,” said Adams. “We have expressed to the MCWD our interest and willingness to work with them on these critical issues facing the state of California and the entire western United States.
Los Angeles has a decades-long history of pursuing water conservation dating back to the installation of the first water meters in the 1920s. Conservation, recycling and incentive water rates programs that have been implemented by the LADWP in the last several years have resulted in a dramatic decline in water use to a remarkable 122 gallons per person per day – the lowest per capita consumption of any city in the nation with a population over one million. Total water use by Los Angeles customers is lower today than it was in 1970, although the population has increased by more than a million people. And, the LADWP continues to explore new water saving and recycling ideas and opportunities.
“We understand the goal of the Town of Mammoth Lakes to develop to its full potential and provide much-needed winter and summer recreational opportunities for millions of visitors, and a stable economic base and lifestyle for local residents,” said Adams. “The fact is, many of Mammoth’s visitors come from Los Angeles and they are LADWP customers. However, the citizens of Los Angeles depend on flows from Mammoth Creek, and the LADWP has a responsibility for protecting the City’s water rights. Taking water from Mammoth Creek reduces the volume of water to which Los Angeles has prior rights that can be delivered to the citizens of Los Angeles, directly translating into increased costs to our customers who pay our water rates. This planned use of water by Mammoth is particularly troublesome when Los Angeles water customers are paying water rates significantly higher than Mammoth customers.”
Extensive investigations by the LADWP show that Los Angeles has senior water rights to Mammoth Creek flows based upon the City’s 1905 Owens River water rights filing and the LADWP’s 1967 purchase of Chance Ranch, which included its associated 1893 water rights. Chance Ranch straddles Mammoth Creek just south of the Town of Mammoth Lakes.
In 2005 the LADWP provided written and verbal comments on the MCWD’s draft EIR about Los Angeles’ Mammoth Creek and Owens River water rights. In 2007, the LADWP sent a letter offering to work with the MCWD to develop “an accurate water balance model that could be used to address water supply and water rights issues” on Mammoth Creek and its tributaries, and the two agencies subsequently held several meetings. In 2009 the LADWP sent a letter to the MCWD commenting on its proposed Settlement Agreement with Cal Trout over Mammoth Creek fishery flow requirements. The letter said that the LADWP was concerned that proposed Mammoth Creek flows would impact Los Angeles’ senior water rights and also suggested that the MCWD implement a monitoring program to evaluate the potential impacts of its groundwater pumping.
The LADWP’s official comments in 2011 on the final EIR pointed out that the proposed fishery flows were based upon temporary water rights that were granted to the MCWD by the SWRCB in 1997, and that Los Angeles holds senior water rights on Mammoth Creek that must be satisfied before MCWD can divert water from that source.
“From the beginning have been upfront regarding our main concerns and tried to work with the MCWD,” Adams said. “We look forward to cooperating closely with the MCWD to resolve this important issue so Mammoth can meet its future water needs while still protecting the valuable water rights of the citizens of Los Angeles.”
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