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Tug o' war over Mammoth Creek water continues

July 13, 2012

Mammoth Creek. Photo/Jesse Barlet

The legal struggle triggered when the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power claimed it owned all of the water rights to Mammoth Creek continues with both Los Angeles and Mammoth arguing their case in courts and through media.

In the past few weeks, letters between Los Angeles and the Mammoth Community Water District have outlined sharp differences between the two agencies—and no solutions.

Los Angeles continues to assert it legally owns all of the water in Mammoth Creek, including the water that Mammoth uses for its daily needs. The city first made this assertion publicly late last year.

In a letter to the water district dated June 28, Los Angeles asserts it does not want to “take” the water Mammoth uses—but it does want Mammoth to consider paying Los Angeles for the water.

The water district in turn argues it was granted the water rights by the state and as such, does not need to pay Los Angeles.

The repercussions of the case, should it not be settled out of court—both sides continue to meet in mandatory settlement talks—could be far-reaching. If Los Angeles prevails, at minimum, Mammoth’s water rates would increase.

But Mono County Supervisor Byng Hunt believes the damage could go much further.

“We have to keep an eye on this,” he said Tuesday, as the county supervisors discussed the most recent round of letters between the water district and Los Angeles. “This could have repercussions all over Mono County. Water will become increasingly important in the future and we need to be very involved in this. This is not just about Mammoth.”

Hunt said later he is worried that if L.A. wins, a legal precedent might be set that weakens the county’s control over its water.

Mono County’s attorneys are watching the process very closely, he said, and will get involved if necessary.
In the meantime, the water district’s general manager, Greg Norby, who has been actively petitioning Legislature and Congressional representatives for support, recently released a timeline and schedule of upcoming interactions between the two agencies.

The court held a status conference meeting by phone July 3. Judge Garbolino (retired Placer County judge appointed by Judicial Counsel), Stuart Somach and Kelley Tabor of Somach/Simmons/Dunn (representing DWP), Janna Sidley (of Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office), and Alan Lilly (representing MCWD) all participated.

During the course of the conference, the following orders were issued by Judge Garbolino:
• MCWD shall certify and file the administrative records in both cases on or before July 16.  LADWP will pay MCWD costs of preparing these records (admin records have been prepared, but not “certified”). 
• LADWP shall file its opening briefs (one in each case) on or before Sept. 14. 
• MCWD shall file its responsive briefs on or before Nov. 16. 
• LADWP shall file its reply briefs on or before Dec. 21.
• The hearing on the merits in each case is scheduled for Jan. 29, 2013, beginning at 9 a.m., in the Mammoth Lakes courthouse.  This hearing will be open to the public. It’s expected to only take a day or so. 
• Judge Garbolino will issue his decision shortly after the hearing (weeks not months). 

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