Owens Valley groups sue DWP over groundwater pumping issues—again

Three environmental groups have filed suit in Inyo County Superior Court to overturn the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s decision to approve the project and to order LADWP to prepare an environmental impact report (EIR).  

The groups contend that operating a groundwater pump to replace surface water supplied to the project may have significant impacts on the environment and that under state law LADWP is required to prepare an EIR to properly disclose and evaluate those potential impacts.

The Owens Valley Committee (OVC), Sierra Club and Big Pine Paiute Tribe of the Owens Valley have partnered to challenge the Negative Declaration for the Big Pine Northeast Regreening Project that was certified by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) March 6.

The Big Pine Regreening Project is a mitigation measure for impacts in the Big Pine area caused by previous water management practices and groundwater-pumping activities by LADWP as identified in their 1991 EIR. A revised description for the project was agreed upon by LADWP and Inyo County in 2010. The project provides for 30 acres of land northeast of Big Pine to be irrigated and seeded with a pasture mix to support livestock grazing. The Big Pine Canal will provide up to 150 acre-feet of water per year for the Regreening Project.  

The 2010 revised project description states that the irrigation is contingent on LADWP being allowed to pump Well W375 to replace (or export) an amount of groundwater equivalent to that supplied to the project each year from the Big Pine Canal.  Well W375 is located about three miles southeast of the Big Pine Northeast Regreening Project and has been in an off status in accordance with the on/off provisions in the Inyo/L.A. Water Agreement for more than a decade due to insufficient soil water, deep water table, and poor vegetation conditions. The project is contingent on Inyo and L.A. exempting Well W375 from the on/off provisions of the Water Agreement. It is that exemption that is the cause of concern for the three parties bringing the lawsuit.

“Over the past century, LADWP has aggressively pursued the destruction of our homeland for its benefit,” commented Big Pine Tribal Chairperson Virgil Moose. “The Tribe wants to see a benefit out of mitigation projects … not more negative impacts on our lands.”  

The groups charge that LADWP’s action in adopting the Negative Declaration constitutes a violation of the California Environmental Quality Act because LADWP failed to prepare an environmental impact report. An EIR is required because evidence presented by the public indicates that the Big Pine Northeast Regreening Project may have a significant impact on the environment.

“DWP has an obligation to comply with the mitigation measures provided in the 1991 EIR,” said Mark Bagley, spokesperson for the OVC and Sierra Club. “To the extent that DWP seeks to replace the surface water with groundwater pumping it makes little sense as the mitigation measure seeks to mitigate for DWP’s groundwater pumping program.  If the mitigation measure includes increased groundwater pumping, then such additional groundwater pumping must be fully and completely analyzed.”