Letter to the editor: DWP manager responds to Bishop Creek issues
KSRW – Sierra Wave
1280 North Main St., Suite J
Bishop, CA 93514
Subject: Clarification of Information in the April 2, 2014 Sierra Wave Media Article Titled “Water practices revealed”
Significantly below normal snowpack runoff in the Eastern Sierra over the past two years and during the current very dry year has resulted in very low, in some cases a lack of flow, in watercourses including Bishop Creek and ditches in the West Bishop area. In addition, this year’s snowpack is only 30 percent of normal. As a result, the Eastern Sierra is experiencing the driest three consecutive years on record.
Bishop Creek is supplied with water from South Lake and Lake Sabrina, both of which are at low levels due to extremely low runoff. These lakes are not managed by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP). Southern California Edison (SCE) stores water in the two lakes and controls their operation. The 1922 courtordered Chandler Decree prescribes flow requirements for Bishop Creek that must be adhered to by SCE. The prescribed flow requirements can have an impact on lake levels, particularly in extremely low snowpack runoff years such as the Eastern Sierra is currently experiencing. The Chandler Decree does not provide authority to LADWP to modify the provisions of the court order.
While LADWP has allowed SCE to store a portion of the City of Los Angeles’ (City) water rights in South Lake and Lake Sabrina in the past, this does not modify the provisions of the Chandler Decree. LADWP had previously allowed SCE to hold back some of the City’s water rights in South Lake and/or Lake Sabrina when sufficient water was available in excess of that needed to meet flow requirements mandated by the Chandler Decree, along with LADWP’s Owens Valley obligations and water supply needs. These obligations include stock and irrigation water for 18 ranch leases, numerous use permits, and the Bishop Paiute Tribe, all of which are all fed from Bishop Creek. In addition, sufficient flows are needed in Bishop Creek for fish habitat. Water also needs to be provided for dust mitigation on Owens Lake, the Lower Owens River Project, and water supply for the City. During the 2013 runoff year there simply wasn’t enough water available to allow SCE to meet the provisions of the Chandler Decree and hold back the City’s water rights.
SCE and LADWP are working together to identify steps that can be taken to address concerns associated with low flows in Bishop Creek. If SCE wishes to pursue modifying the Chandler Decree, this would require going through the Courts. LADWP is willing to enter into a dialogue on this issue as long as LADWP’s ability to meet its Owens Valley obligations and water supply needs are met.
Without a doubt the single biggest and primary cause of low lake levels, low groundwater levels supplying wells, and low flows in creeks and ditches, is the driest three consecutive year period on record in the Eastern Sierra, with 2013 being the driest year on record for the State of California.
LADWP is committed to achieving all of its obligations in the Owens Valley. Unfortunately, the impact of successive years of significantly below normal precipitation, for which no one has control, has adversely affected what water is available to both the Owens Valley and Los Angeles.
James G. Yannotta
Manager of Aqueduct
Los Angeles Department of Water and Power