New Alliances Form to Keep Water on the Land
The families whose livelihoods depend on the irrigation of local meadows by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) are not large corporations with concentrated animal farming, but long-time community members. For them, the domestic livestock grazing in Long Valley represents multi-generational traditions and values of stewardship.
Traditionally, ranchers and environmentalists might not be seen as kindred spirits, but in the fight to Keep Long Valley Green, a new dialogue has opened about how conservation and agricultural efforts can be mutually beneficial. Ranchers need water in order to grow grass for their cattle; Eastern Sierra environmentalists need water in order to partially mitigate wetland habitat loss caused by DWP’s flooding of the wetlands where Crowley Lake reservoir now sits (as we shared in Every Last Drop, Volume 1 - Issue 4).
Matt Kemp, KLVG coalition member and rancher, wants the public to understand that, “It is in a rancher’s best interest to care for the land they plan to live off of for the rest of their lives. We are not here to take what we can from the land for the biggest profit… No one is interested in degrading the land so that it can’t be used.”
A greater sage-grouse and cattle share a field.
Photo by by Rosana Rieth, Bureau of Land Management
“What’s Good for the Herd is Good for the Bird”
In a recent conversation, Matt shared with me and fellow Every Last Drop writer Jamie Della a saying that references the potential benefits between cattle ranching and conservation: “What’s good for the herd is good for the bird.” In other words, what is good for a herd of cattle can also benefit the threatened Bi-State sage-grouse.
The grass grown in irrigated pasture land can serve as important habitat for the native Bi-State sage-grouse, a species of special concern that is facing declining populations. While Bi-State sage-grouse adults can subsist wholly on sagebrush leaves during the winter, the baby birds need the insects found in wet meadows and irrigated pastures. Degradation of wetlands, meadows, and irrigated pasture into desert is an identified threat against sage-grouse conservation efforts, as it contributes to further habitat fragmentation, which is the process in which habitat is broken up into smaller and smaller isolated patches. Preserving intact open space for wildlife to exist and travel in is not enough to protect against this fragmentation; the quality of the habitat must be protected. If the land is dry and weedy as a result of DWP de-watering, many other birds and animals will find it useless as well. Properly managed ranch lands help preserve intact habitat ranges; best practices applied by ranchers can help conservationists protect the quality of this habitat. As Susanna Danner, Land Conservation Program Director at Eastern Sierra Land Trust noted, we are lucky in the Eastern Sierra to have ranchers who also work as stewards for the land and are seeking to apply best practices for habitat and water quality, such as rotating fields to reduce grazing pressure, fencing off erosion areas, and keeping careful observation of pastureland health.
In conversation with Susanna, she shared with us that "The irrigators know the conditions on the ground. They know every knick in the system, every place the water flows well, they know where there is more grass, more rabbitbrush, etc. Their presence is worth their weight in gold. When you lose cattle, you lose the people who manage that land, and their intimate knowledge of it. They are on the ground and can observe and respond to details and situations that the rest of us simply cannot.”
Ranchers and conservationists have both made caring for their land their livelihoods, and working together we can apply the most benefits, preserving habitat and water quality for not only residents—human, animal, and plant—in our own area, but even for those who receive our water 300 miles away in Los Angeles.
These maps from the Bi-State sage-grouse Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) show the
Long Valley area as a priority habitat for the Bi-State sage-grouse: an area of special concern for management and conservation.
The Future of Water in Long Valley
The Keep Long Valley Green Coalition seeks to establish a binding agreement from DWP to continue irrigation in Long Valley, to ensure that these lands and their many uses will be stewarded with the best interests of the community and environment of the Eastern Sierra in mind far into the future.
Every year, the future of water in Long Valley remains in the balance, with no assurance for the future. In recent years, DWP has continued to water this area to some degree and has not again expressed intention to de-water as they did in 2018 (Every Last Drop, Volume 1 - EXTRA 2021 Year-End Issue). DWP says it will continue to provide water in the area, yet refuses to consider a binding agreement, stating there is no guarantee of water for anyone. DWP is comfortable continuing to supply water while the public eye is turned on them, yet makes no effort to actually work with coalition members to secure the future of this area, despite the reasonable ask to provide water based off of each year’s snowpack (Every Last Drop, Volume 1 - Issue 4). Combining the interests of both agriculture and conservation, however, we have a chance to stand up to DWP and ask for what is right for people, animals, both domesticated and wild, and the environment.
Whether we are a rancher, conservationist, resident, or someone who just cares about the Eastern Sierra, we all want to assure a healthy future—and we are strongest when we work together.