Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (R) discusses issues dealing with the divestment of lands in the Eastern Sierra with (L-R) Bishop City Administrator Ron Phillips, Bishop Mayor Stephen Muchovej, Bishop City Council Member Karen Kong, and Inyo County 2nd District Supervisor Jeff Griffiths. Garcetti held a meet-and-greet with community and business leaders at the Tri-County Fairgrounds during his July 16 visit to the Eastern Sierra. (Photo by Mike Chacanaca/The Inyo Register)
Holding the L.A. Department of Water & Power Accountable. Period.
By Jamie Della
Many Eastern Sierra locals were unsettled by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s July 16 interview with The Inyo Register that was posted on YouTube on July 19, and which still hasn’t enjoyed more than a couple of hundred views. In this issue of Every Last Drop, we will address why the Mayor’s statements during his low-key, lightning visit to Bishop on a Friday afternoon were so disturbing.
Mayor Garcetti asserted, “We figured out a way for more water to be retained here and more to go to L.A. while still taking care of the dust."
Unfortunately, toxic dust is still an ongoing threat in Owens Lake and Mono Lake. Nor can we rest assured when the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) has planned new actions that will result in further damage to our local lands.
“I found Mayor Garcetti’s choice of words disconcerting because they tell me he thinks the only water issue was with Owens Lake and that it is now resolved,” said Lynn Boulton, Sierra Club Range of Light Chairperson. “It is not and there are many other issues. DWP has plans for test wells and pumping groundwater from under Owens Lake, which will be spread onto the lake. This salty water will become toxic when dried and turned into more dust. Changing the chemistry of the habitat will also adversely impact wildlife.”
In spite of these dangers, the modus operandi of DWP is to engage in destructive practices for as long as the courts will let them get away with it, and then undertake halfhearted, court-mandated mitigation measures. According to a March 3, 2020 article published by UCLA Newsroom, the amount spent on mitigating past misdeeds has reached $2 billion over the last 25 years, all of which has been passed along to Los Angeles citizens.
According to DWP representatives, 15% of the DWP bill pays for damages to the Eastern Sierra environment. Sadly, these mitigation costs do not account for DWP actions that have resulted in economic dependency, public health concerns and community welfare for those who live in the Eastern Sierra, especially Native populations. Since mitigation costs are offset by DWP customers, the agency appears to act without consideration of the cost to the environment or to the ratepayer.
The Bigger Picture
“I wanted to show the people of Owens Valley that we are turning a new page,” said Mayor Garcetti. “After 100 years of fighting with each other in the southern part of the valley, we made peace.”
We have not attained long-term solutions or a thorough resolution for the decades’ worth of problems caused by DWP actions, and therefore are not at peace. The Eastern Sierra is facing the effects of drought and high temperatures as a result of climate change. This is an immediate concern in the Eastern Sierra as fire danger is very real when your home backs up to wilderness and forest.
Having DWP remove less water from the valley could only help dampen the effects of the climate crisis in our region. And this is possible: DWP’s own data, set forth in its latest Urban Water Management Plan, shows that it could meet the freshwater needs of Angelenos and reduce the amount of water it takes from the Owens Valley. For more information, read KLVG's full comment letter regarding DWP water management.
DWP has also diverted water into its Aqueduct in the Mono Basin, which is a separate watershed from Owens Lake. As a result, water that would naturally flow into Mono Lake has been significantly reduced. At present, Mono Lake is much smaller than it would be naturally, with vast areas of dry, exposed lake bed.
According to Phill Kiddoo, Air Pollution Control Officer of the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District. “DWP's water diversions from Mono Lake tributaries and water export from the Mono Basin have resulted in the largest single source of PM10 in the nation. In addition, DWP has yet to achieve requirements of the law to control dust at Mono Lake as mandated by statutes of the United States Clean Air Act.”
Water Justice Solutions
The solution rests in the power of the people.
“I would like Los Angeles residents to understand that they own one-third of a million acres in the Eastern Sierra and DWP is, at times, not doing the best job possible by failing to meet obligations agreed and continuing actions that hurt our towns, businesses, tribes and lands (owned by citizens in Los Angeles)," said Mike Prather, former Chair of the Inyo County Water Commission and 42-year resident of Lone Pine.
"DWP is the face of Los Angeles in the Eastern Sierra. Its actions create environmental and community problems that have real consequences – cutting off water to local ranches around Crowley Lake, dragging out the efforts to enhance and protect migratory shorebird habitat at Owens Lake, failing to facilitate the sale of L.A. City properties in the Owens Valley that would help our local economies. Angelenos should enjoy the lands that they own here in Inyo/Mono and demand that DWP and the City of Los Angeles cease harmful actions and fulfill existing obligations. The Eastern Sierra has no vote in Los Angeles, no voice in the management of the land where we live.”
“As ‘landlord,’ I would hope Garcetti would want to take better care of his land,” said Boulton. “It would be more fruitful if he met with those of us who are concerned for the environment to better understand the heavy toll water exports have had in the Eastern Sierra. DWP can and should do better to restore the environment, especially in the face of climate change.”
Whether you live in Los Angeles or the Eastern Sierra, we are all stakeholders in our shared water resource.
“Our future is intertwined,” said Martha Davis, former Executive Director of the Mono Lake Committee. “Los Angeles and the Eastern Sierra are connected both by the Los Angeles Aqueduct and climate change impacts to our shared water supplies. Thanks to Mayor Garcetti’s leadership and his Green New Deal Sustainability pLAn, LA’s current water use is the lowest it has been in 50 years. That’s a big deal. It is LA's commitment to secure seventy percent of its future water from local supplies and additional water efficiency that will create a climate-resilient and sustainable future for both Los Angeles and the Eastern Sierra.”
The people and land of the Eastern Sierra need the citizens of Los Angeles to help preserve the wild lands, habitat, lakes, and rivers of Payahuunadü. As Angelenos are the employer of the Mayor and DWP commissioners, they have the power to make a change. Whether you enjoy the Eastern Sierra for rest, rejuvenation or recreation, you are a valued stakeholder. Please forward this Every Last Drop newsletter to friends who live in Los Angeles and let’s raise a call for real action that will not be ignored.
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” - Mahatma Gandhi