Introduction to the riveting opinion piece that follows
We thought it proper to end the launch year of Every Last Drop with an article that has received much attention. It was written by Richard M. Frank, Professor of Environmental Practice and Director of the California Environmental Law & Policy Center at the U.C. Davis School of Law. This thought-provoking piece paints a well-researched picture of "The Latest Chapter in Los Angeles’ Century-Long Water War With the Eastern Sierra’s People & Environment,'' as the piece is titled on Legal Planet (Legal-Planet.org), an independent, academic law and policy blog where Prof. Frank is a contributor and where it was published on Dec. 8 (and has since been republished in the water issues website Maven's Notebook). Locally, it ran as a Letter to the Editor in the November 25 issue of The Mammoth Times. To paraphrase the subhead assigned to Prof. Frank's submission to the Legal Planet Blog, his opinion piece looks at how LADWP's unilateral revocation of water allocation to Mono County's farmers and ranchers triggered a California Environmental Quality Act challenge in the courts.
Through Every Last Drop, the Keep Long Valley Green Coalition (KeepLongValleyGreen.org) will continue to bring you relevant news on the turbulent history and complex issue of water for the benefit of Mono, Inyo and Los Angeles County residents, whose histories and destinies have been bound by the L.A./Eastern Sierra Water Wars. We hope you will share what you read in Every Last Drop with others to encourage more subscriptions (they're free!) to our e-newsletter in the New Year. If you are not yet a subscriber, please subscribe today using the link at the bottom of the newsletter. Happy Holidays!
--Wendy Schneider, Executive Director, Friends of the Inyo
County of Mono vs. LADWP Litigation Op-Ed
By Richard M. Frank
There LADWP goes again.
Recently the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power announced it was walking away from its longstanding obligation to provide Mono County residents and the environment with a tiny fraction of the water it transports from Mono County to LADWP’s customers in Los Angeles. When efforts by county officials to resolve the dispute informally with LADWP failed, the County sued, arguing that LADWP’s unilateral action violates California’s most iconic environmental law, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Earlier this year, a trial court agreed, ruling in the County’s favor. The court found that LADWP’s decision to turn off the Mono County spigot without prior environmental review violates CEQA. Now LADWP has chosen to appeal this adverse ruling to the California appellate court—where it is likely to lose again.
If LADWP’s action were an isolated incident, observers might well conclude that this is simply the latest chapter in California’s seemingly interminable water wars. But it’s not. To the contrary, LADWP has a sorry, 120-year history of treating the rural people and natural resources of the Eastern Sierra as a population to be exploited and an ecosystem LADWP is free to ravage. Fortunately, the courts, state officials and environmental advocates have in the past repeatedly intervened to halt or moderate LADWP’s economic and environmental depredations. Unfortunately, they need to do so again in order to stop LADWP’s announced water cutoff.
LADWP owns 6400 acres of land in Mono County. It acquired those lands many years ago—primarily to obtain the water rights associated with that property. For a quarter century, LADWP has leased the land to Mono County ranchers and farmers, agreeing to provide its tenants with a small allotment of water sufficient to provide for irrigation and livestock watering needs, along with wildlife habitat requirements.
That changed in 2018, when LADWP notified its tenants that for the first time LADWP water could no longer be used for irrigation and stock watering purposes. LADWP’s unilateral decision effectively makes ranching and farming in this arid region impossible, and also deprives Mono County of important “co-benefits” the previously-supplied water has provided the local environment—including preservation of wetlands and critical wildlife habitat.
When the county’s efforts to negotiate a compromise solution with LADWP failed, the county sued. In its lawsuit, the county argued that LADWP’s decision to stop delivering water to its tenants is a “project” under CEQA that has the potential to have a significant adverse effect on the Mono County environment. Under longstanding CEQA law, such projects may not go forward unless and until the project proponent prepares an environmental impact report analyzing the adverse environmental effects of the project.