LOS ANGELES, Dec. 17, 2003 -- Mayor Jim Hahn praised a tentative agreement among the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), Inyo County, environmental groups, and state agencies to restore water to a 62-mile stretch of the Owens River.
The agreement brings the parties closer to settling more than 30 years of legal disputes over the city's groundwater pumping in Inyo County.
The proposed agreement, which is subject to approval by all parties involved in the current litigation, paves the way for LADWP to go forward with one of the nation's largest river restoration projects. The LADWP Board of Water and Power Commissioners is scheduled to consider the agreement during a closed session on Wednesday, Dec. 17.
"This agreement signals the end of years of settlement discussions and begins a new spirit of cooperation that fulfills the city's environmental responsibility in the Owens Valley and demonstrates our commitment to restore and protect the natural resources of the Eastern Sierra watershed," said Mayor Hahn.
The Lower Owens River Project (LORP) will return a steady flow of water from the Los Angeles Aqueduct to the Owens River below Big Pine and down to the Delta of Owens Lake. The project will create a healthy riparian ecosystem along the river as well as spread additional water into basins to create wetlands habitat for waterfowl and shore birds.
Elements of the agreement are confidential until it is considered by the governing bodies of all parties. Generally, it sets deadlines for completion of environmental reviews and for the release of water flows to the river, as well as resolves outstanding issues that have stalled settlement discussions. If all parties stipulate to the agreement, it would basically put the litigation on hold while the required actions are carried out.
In November 2002, the LADWP and Inyo County released a draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) describing details of the project. Since then, LADWP administrators have been working to resolve several outstanding issues with Inyo County and other parties, including the State Lands Commission, the California Department of Fish and Game, the Owens Valley Committee and the Sierra Club.
"We have been diligently working for the past 24 months to resolve these issues so that the project can move forward," said David Wiggs, General Manager of LADWP. "We believe the proposed agreement is fair to all organizations involved. The LORP is a significant, positive project that will return life to the Owens River."
"The project also enhances recreational and economic opportunities in the Owens Valley while continuing to provide high-quality, reliable water to the people of Los Angeles," added Gerald Gewe, LADWP chief operating officer - water.
The legal disputes date back to 1972, when Inyo County filed a lawsuit against LADWP over the construction and operation of the second Los Angeles Aqueduct, contending that groundwater pumping to fill the aqueduct caused environmental damage and violated state law. The lawsuit called for the city to provide an environmental impact study of increased groundwater pumping under the recently enacted CEQA laws.
In 1991 the city approved an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) that identified the LORP as mitigation for Owens Valley water-gathering activities by the city. The project was further defined in a 1997 memorandum of understanding, which essentially settled the original lawsuit and outlined deadlines for implementing the LORP and other mitigation measures.
The LORP evolved from an idea conceived nearly 25 years ago by LADWP and Department of Fish and Game biologists. The LORP represents one of the most significant river habitat restoration projects undertaken in the U.S., according to Mark Hill, a nationally recognized ecologist whose consulting firm, Ecosystem Sciences, Inc., developed the LORP ecosystem management plan.
Hill said the project is designed to "let nature go to work restoring stream and riparian habitats, using sound flow and land management practices."
The LADWP, the nation's largest municipal utility, serves more than 3.8 million people in Los Angeles and was established more than 100 years ago to provide water and electric needs to the city's businesses and residents. For more information, please visit www.ladwp.com