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Volume 2 - Issue 8
May 2022


**NOTE** Every Last Drop will now be publishing monthly. 

Photo credit @jennifer_little4 on Instagram. 

How LADWP’s Plans to DeWater Long Valley Removes Critical Protection from Wildfire  

by Allison Weber 

In late February of this year, the Airport fire in Bishop burned 4,136 acres outside of the typical fire season, considered to be May-October. This unseasonal wildfire comes as no surprise for some as California experienced the driest January and February on record in the state.


In the Sierra Nevada rain shadow, Eastern Sierra communities rely on melting snowpack for the vast majority of their water. Less snow in the mountains means less runoff throughout the area, and as a result, drier plant materials, which are more susceptible to wildfire. To prevent large swathes of dry material from burning, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s (LADWP) irrigation on their ranch leases in Long Valley becomes more important than ever during a drought.

This image from Wildfire Risk, an online fire risk exploratory tool, shows Long Valley with a higher risk of wildfire, particularly towards the south-facing aspect of Glass Mountain ridge.


 A Wildland Fire Buffer

Long Valley rests between the Sierra Nevada range and Glass Mountain ridge in the Great Basin, a 200,000 square mile area that drains internally, with no outflow to other external bodies of water, such as a river or ocean, but whose drainage converges instead into lakes in the local ecosystem.


The Sierra Nevada range above the community of Crowley Lake has a northern aspect, meaning this area is less dry and as a result is more heavily forested with more plant matter to burn than the Glass Mountains, which sit across the Long Valley area from the Sierra Nevada and have a southern aspect. Fred Stump, former Mono County Supervisor and retired Chief of the Long Valley Fire Department, explained that this southern aspect means “the Glass Mountains essentially bake in the summer sun. This causes plant matter to dry out and become fuel more readily available to wildfire.”


Fuel availability is the amount of fuel that can feed a fire in a given area; this fuel is split into four types—grasses, brush, timber, and slash, which is debris such as logs, chips, bark, branches, stumps, etc. Irrigated pasture land/wetland habitat can provide an important wildland fire buffer in Long Valley by managing both fuel type and fuel availability. Stump explained that “with surface irrigation in Long Valley, the area is not as available to burn. It contains enough moisture to prevent larger fires.”


Removing surface irrigation in Long Valley takes away the natural fuel buffer of a healthy wetland meadow ecosystem, and we have already seen this in practice. In 2018, an LADWP drone crashed and sparked a fire on dewatered ranch lands in Long Valley. The fire burned 10 acres of land which, under historical irrigation practices would not normally be prone to ignition. The dewatering of the area led to the browning and drying of the vegetation and, as a result, elevated fire risk in the area, as it was warned would happen earlier in the year by then Secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency, John Laird. In a letter to LA Mayor Garcetti, Laird warned that the actions of LADWP in Long Valley would “significantly increase the risk of wildfires, which would threaten nearby communities,” and expressed support for “not withdrawing the water supply for these historic ranchlands, to ensure the protection of wetlands, species, and their habitat.”

Photo of the LADWP-sparked fire in Long Valley from Matt McClain 

Removing water from Long Valley puts the community of Crowley Lake at risk, and, in this age of large wildfires, potentially more of the Eastern Sierra, which is known for having intense winds that make wildfires especially dangerous. Strong winds produce a phenomenon known as ember cast, which carries embers from a wildfire up to 5 miles away, and can further “feed” a wildfire by providing it with extra oxygen, in essence, “fanning the flames.” Wind also dries out plant matter, increasing fuel availability. Add in the dewatering of the ranching leases of Long Valley to these natural risks, and the area is unnecessarily vulnerable, with the resulting dry plant materials left behind acting as “flash fuels,” which would ignite readily and be consumed rapidly.


 “Wind and dry, flashy fuels are the biggest concern;” Stump explained, “We can't control wind- so we have to try to manage fuel types and fuel availability.”


Keeping this area irrigated helps prevent dry materials from burning, but Stump explained that irrigation in Long Valley is not only important in preventing the availability of fuel in these areas, but also in managing the fuel types which are available to burn. Some plants are better fuel for fire than others, particularly invasive plants which are not adapted for wildfire resilience. He noted, “Invasive plants are a big Great Basin concern. Brush types all produce oils as the environment gets drier, and these oils on their leaves make them much more flammable.”


According to Stump, invasives such as cheatgrass “grow earlier in the season, outcompete natives, and then are already dead in spring” when wildfire season rolls around, making it well timed wildfire fuel in comparison to native plants which stay green later in the season. Dry, light, and easy to ignite, invasives like Russian thistle (tumbleweed) can carry easily in the wind when aflame, alighting heavier fuels such as bushes and trees found in the hills above the Crowley community.


On top of their flammable nature, invasive plants, such as tumbleweed, are pioneering, meaning they are able to move in on previously disturbed land, areas in which habitat/ecosystems have experienced disturbances such as vegetation change, water runoff change, etc. Already these highly flammable plants have spread across the Great Basin, increasing fire danger and risking not only the integrity of the native environment, but the safety of local communities.


Stump added, “In order to provide cheaper water to their service customers, it seems [LADWP] is willing to risk the environment.” Pioneering invasives could easily establish themselves if these habitats lose the water they have come to rely on since the creation of the Long Valley Dam and the subsequent destruction of the wetlands behind it to create the Crowley Lake Reservoir. These invasives would crowd out the wetland vegetation that is there now, resulting in further habitat loss and increased fire danger.


Resources Stretched Thin


“The local fire department in Long Valley is volunteer. The area is small, rural, and has a general lack of resources which can be put towards protecting the community and environment from the threat of wildfire. Large fire resources must come from far away, and this is very dependent on what other fires are burning at that moment,” Stump explains.


As the fire season becomes longer and more intense, the availability of firefighting resources across the state, including in Long Valley, is stretched thin. In July 2021, only half of the U.S. Forest Service fire engines in California were fully staffed and able to run seven days a week. This year does not look much better, with the Forest Service warning of 50 percent fewer applications submitted for firefighting positions this year, something the service has testified they are trying to turn around.


Nationally and federally, there is a scramble to improve fire-fighting resources and working conditions, as seen with California’s Senate Bill 1062, The Fixing the Firefighter Shortage Act of 2022, which would require an increase in existing firefighter fuel crews and a standard minimum level of staffing without the regular practice of forced overtime. The Biden administration has vowed to boost federal firefighter pay and hiring  in order to fight increasingly complex wildfires.


California cannot afford to create further wildfire stress, and LADWP, as a major land owner and stakeholder in the Eastern Sierra, must join the collective effort to increase our ability to withstand intense wildfire. While we plan to manage the next fire season, we must also plan to prevent these fires in the first place.


In addition to the physical threat of fire to human lives and livelihoods, wildfire in Long Valley poses a threat to air quality, with not only hazards from smoke but dust pollution resulting from the desiccation of the area. Already in the Eastern Sierra, high levels of PM10 and other fine particulate matter in the air threaten public health, as seen at Owen’s Lake and Mono Lake, where LADWP’s water extraction has long desiccated the landscape resulting in hazardous dust pollution.


According to the LA Times, LADWP has spent $2 billion dollars mitigating dust on Owen’s Lake. The state of California spent an all-time high of over $1.2 billion from the large fire emergency fund in fiscal year 2020-2021 alone. Fire and dust are costly enough without further threatening the environment and safety of the Eastern Sierra— investing in the future of Long Valley by continuing historical irrigation practices can help prevent further costly damage control.


Stump concluded, “LADWP needs to show hazard mitigation interest sooner rather than later. It’s a lot cheaper to maintain or prevent rather than restore.”


We can help reduce water needed to fight these fires by applying water strategically, as in places like Long Valley, where the water will not only help reduce fire danger, but support the greater environment and economy of the Eastern Sierra. A binding agreement to continue historical irrigation in Long Valley is an investment in the future of the Eastern Sierra and a state that is facing increasing danger from wildfire destruction. LADWP needs to change their practices in the Eastern Sierra and act now, rather than later, to save these lands.  They can start by keeping Long Valley green.


We know that you’re interested in the immediate and long term health of Long Valley water resources. It is vital that we raise the awareness of LADWP misuse of Eastern Sierra water so that we stop it from happening.


Water is a critical issue that impacts us all. We are asking the public to be part of the solution and tell their story about the importance of water to their lives and livelihood. Please consider writing a Letter to the Editor expressing the need for: 

  • Water conservation in Los Angeles
  • Investment in storm water reclamation and groundwater remediation in Los Angeles
  • The continued irrigation of LADWP ranching leases in Long Valley


Submit a Letter to the Editor: 

The Sheet:  email jacklunch@yahoo.com

The Mammoth Times:  email wendilyn@mammothtimes.com

The Inyo Register:  email editor@inyoregister.com


Need help getting started on your letter?

Please contact us at info@keeplongvalleygreen.org and we can help.


Without Water 

Metabolic Studio's film on the fight to #keeplongvalleygreen won Honorable Mention for Best Documentary at the Independent Short Awards and the film is already confirmed to show in over a dozen film festivals in the next year.


Upcoming Showings: 

June 6th, 6 pm | MTB Movie Monday at Mammoth Brewing Co.

June 17th | Marina del Rey Film Festival

June 23rd | Pasadena Film Festival 

In the Community: 

Keep Long Valley Green will be tabling at Cerro Coso Community College in Bishop on May 31st for their Climate Career Fair, 4-6 pm, and at the Eastern Sierra Pride Festival, June 5th from 2-5 pm.


Why do YOU want to Keep Long Valley Green?

Let us know by writing to us at info@keeplongvalleygreen.org, or messaging us on our social media platforms: Instagram and Facebook @keeplongvalleygreen, and Twitter @LongValleyGreen.

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