Local Groups Reel after Court Rules LADWP Can Cut Irrigation
Tuesday, July 5, 2022
The futures of tourism, wildlife and ranching in Mono County are now at the mercy of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power - according to environmental groups - now that a court has upheld the agency's authority to cut irrigation water.
For about 100 years, the agency has leased its land and provided water for ranchers to graze cattle in Long Valley and Little Round Valley. But Wendy Schneider, executive director of the nonprofit Friends of the Inyo, said the damage from allowing less water to irrigate these valleys would be widespread.
"We are talking about taking away the scenic value and the recreational value, of a large portion of the county," said Schneider. "Also, this area is really important for the survival of the bi-state sage grouse population."
Schneider also said she worries about the survival of trout and the potential for increased dust storms and fire danger.
The DWP did not immediately respond to a request for comment - but has argued in court that it has the right to modify its leases and that the historic drought has forced its hand, since its primary mission is to serve millions of families in the Southland.
The current watering season will continue through September. The DWP hasn't said how much it plans to cut water deliveries to the alpine meadows near Mammoth Lakes.
Stacey Simon, legal counsel for Mono County, said the court did provide a backstop to prevent the city from cutting off the water entirely.
"The court is saying, 'Look, we can't direct this public agency as to how to exercise its discretion,'" said Simon. "'But we do say that, if it goes so far as to dry out these lands completely, that's a new project, environmental review is required.'"
The DWP first notified leaseholders about its intention to cut back on water in 2018. A trial court initially sided with Mono County and the Sierra Club, but the appeals court partially reversed that decision on Thursday.
According to Simon, if the agency turns off the flow altogether, stakeholders would consider litigation under the California Environmental Quality Act.
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