UPDATE LADWP and Mammoth Community Water District agreed today to hold future court hearings over DWP's claims to Mammoth Creek water in Mono County instead of Fresno, as requested recently by DWP.
(The issue is the two lawsuits against the water district wherein DWP claims that the department owns the water rights to Mammoth Creek that Mammoth uses).
DWP noted the intense interest in the issue by Mono County residents, who packed the courtroom to overflowing this morning when they agreed to having future hearings in Mono County, but added a caveat that the hearings are presided over by a "neutral judge", picked by the Judicial Council.
The 9:30 hearing today was presided over by Mono County Superior Court Judge Stan Eller.
Eller told the courtroom audience that he had been involved with previous court cases with DWP; Once, when he prevailed on a restraining order forcing DWP to stop dewatering Rush Creek, and second, when he prevailed in protecting the fishery in the Owens Gorge from DWP dewatering. He noted he could be "impartial" during today's hearing, but within the first few minutes of the hearing today, DWP initiated the move to allow the hearings to stay in Mono County with the "neutral judge" caveat.
The next tentative date for another hearing is May 10, but that has yet to be confirmed.
This story will be detailed in the April 13 edition of the Mammoth Times.
Two steps forward.
On step backward.
Or maybe, it’s the other way around.
With the Mammoth Creek and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power issue, it’s hard to tell.
On one hand, this week, Los Angeles announced it wanted to move the court venue for a recent legal challenge (DWP wants to take ownership of Mammoth Creek water) from Mono County to Fresno. That didn’t sit well with Mammoth Community Water District, Mammoth’s only water distributor.
General Manager Greg Norby defended Mammoth’s legal right to the water. “The District considers these lawsuits to be without merit, and is taking aggressive actions to defend the community’s water rights,” he said. “To change the court venue from Mono County to Fresno County, where Los Angeles’s attorneys believe the Fresno area courts will be more sympathetic to their water grab,” would not be beneficial to Mono County, he said.
“The District believes strongly that Mono County water issues should be adjudicated in Mono County, where the fullest appreciation of the impacts of any legal decisions can be expected. …These water rights, properly issued by the state of California, go back nearly 50 years.”
He urged anyone interested in the issue to attend the court hearing on April 12 in Mammoth (see below for more details).
On the other hand, there has been some progress during the intermittent ongoing settlement talks between the district and the water department.
Los Angeles recently asserted that it owned all the water rights to Mammoth Creek, including those water rights that supply Mammoth with most of its water most years—rights that the district says it owns. Norby said some progress has been made since the last settlement talk in Los Angeles (last week). “They have agreed that what we have to replace is the actual amount of water we take from the creek that does not end up renewing the water table,” he said.
That’s a kind of progress, because before this last talk in Los Angeles last week, the Mammoth Water District was under the understanding that all of the water the district believes it has rights to—2,760 acre-feet a year (an acre foot is the amount of water needed to cover an acre one foot deep)—would need to be somehow sent down to the city if the city won the legal fight.
That may not be true. There are several water uses that actually recharge the groundwater, most notably the water that goes through the water treatment station in Mammoth. That water is treated and released back to the ground at the Laurel Ponds site, where it recharges the groundwater. Eventually, that water makes its way to the Owens River and the city already has access to much of the water.
Other water uses in Mammoth don’t recharge the groundwater like this. For example, landscaping and irrigation, say on golf courses in town, lose much of the water that is applied to them via evaporation. Except in the very big picture, as in when that water returns to the earth someday and somewhere as rain, the water is lost.
It’s these kinds of “consumptive uses” that Norby said DWP wants replaced.
So it’s progress … except for Los Angeles claims the water is theirs in the first place and the district disagrees.
“We don’t know what their endgame is here,” said Norby. “Maybe it’s some kind of precedent-setting thing. We don’t know.”
In a recent interview with the Times, DWP’s director of water operations, Marty Adams, was blunt about at least one thing the department wants. “It’s tempting to say what’s one more drop,” he said. “But the little bites add up to something significant.”
And it would be a very little bite for Los Angeles, if the city were to get access to the water Mammoth uses; less than one percent of all the water the city takes from the Owens River Basin. If it’s only the “consumptive uses” noted above, it would be even less than that.
But for Mammoth, it’s a very big bite. Mammoth depends heavily on the water from Mammoth Creek; about 50 percent of all the water Mammoth uses comes from the creek. Finding another water source, most likely groundwater, would be very expensive and time consuming.