Track 6: Greg James, lawyer

The same year the second aqueduct was put into service a new California state law designed to protect the environment went into affect. This 1970 measure, known as the California Environmental Quality Act or CEQA, required state agencies to consider the ecological repercussions of development or other related activities before commencement of such activity in the form of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR). Inyo County relied on this measure to effectively sue the city for its intensified water exportation activities when Los Angeles announced that they planned to use the “second barrel” to its fullest capacity by 1972.

The outcome of the ligation proceedings forced LADWP to file an EIR. Local LADWP officials responded by installing water meters throughout the valley when historically, valley residents and business had received their water for a flat rate service—an act that outraged the local community.[1]  LADWP countersued Inyo County arguing that it was not responsible for providing an EIR as the second aqueduct had been constructed prior to the implementation of CEQA and was consequently exempt from compliance. A judge in 1973 agreed otherwise, stating that though the actual construction of the aqueduct was not subject to an EIR, the water gathering activities used to fill the aqueduct were subject. Two legally inadequate EIRs were submitted by the city by 1979 and both were consequently rejected by the court. Throughout this ten-year period the LADWP continued to pump groundwater at levels considered unsustainable by many of the state’s environmental experts.

In 1980, Inyo County voters responded in passing a groundwater ordinance, an initiative to regulate groundwater pumping with a management plan and pumping permit procedure. LADWP fought the initiative in court with the judge deeming the ordinance unconstitutional in 1983. Because of lack of county funds to appeal the ruling, Inyo County and LADWP officials entered into closed session negotiations with the goal of developing a long-term groundwater management plan within five years.[2]

Still, many community members and other group stakeholders were not satisfied with the direction of the interim management plan. This led to the formation in 1983 of the citizen-directed Owens Valley Committee (OVC), which followed through with lawsuits of its own. Although the OVC eventually ended up supporting the management plan it determined that resulting EIR, developed jointly by the City of Los Angeles and the Inyo County, was inadequate in that it did not properly describe the earlier impacts caused in 1970–1990 nor did it create a benchmark description of the valley’s environment prior to 1970 to base a future drought recovery plan on. Concurrently, an Inyo County recall election reflected the displeasure many area residents felt about the situation.

Eventually, the Inyo-LA Long Term Water Agreement (LTWA) was signed in late 1991 in spite of widespread community and area stakeholder objections to the EIR. Both Inyo County and Los Angeles made concessions in order to approve the compromise agreement. Shortly thereafter, implementation of the required mitigation projects such as the Lower Owens River Project (LORP) were stalled due to conflicts over implementation disagreements with other federal agencies such as the California Department of Fish and Game. From 1993 to 1997, after a series of negotiations took place, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) resulted in 1997 outlining a series of required studies and mitigation projects between Inyo County, LADWP, OVC, the Owens Valley Indian Water Commission, the California Department of Fish and Game, Sierra Club, and other “friends of the court” stakeholder groups. The MOU had one important caveat—it did not include enforcement measures.

Deadlines for a draft EIR came and went while mitigation extension deadlines were ignored or further complicated by planning delays such as a disagreement for the size of the pumpback station that was to be located at the delta of Owens Lake as well as the EPA’s federal involvement with the LORP.  Back and forth litigation efforts ensued. At the same time negotiations began with the LADWP and the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District for the Owens Lake bed re-watering mitigation project, which began in late 2001.

When it became clear that LADWP would not meet the 2005 deadline to begin rewatering the 62-mile stretch of the Lower Owens River as required by the MOU, Judge Lee Cooper Jr. of the Inyo County Superior Court determined that “DWP needs the threat of immediate sanctions before it gets busy on the LORP.”[3] He then outlined a court order to stop all water exports from the Owens Valley to Los Angeles via the second aqueduct if LADWP failed to commence the LORP by January 25, 2007. Judge Cooper also consequently fined them $5,000 a day until the flows of the river reached the agreed upon forty cubic feet per second and included other requirements for groundwater replenishment in the Owens Valley.

[1] See Track 10: Benett Kessler for more information.
[2] In a meeting with Inyo County Water Commission on October 8, 2001 LADWP Water Commissioner, Dominic Rubalcava stated that LADWP litigation budget alone exceeds Inyo County’s entire annual budget. Noted by Greg James who was present at the meeting.
[3] C.J. Klingler, “A brief overview: recent Owens Valley water history and the OVC,” Owens Valley Committee website. Last accessed 9/8/12.

For more detailed information on this topic, see Greg James, “Changing Perspectives on Groundwater Management: The Owens Valley (2002),” Inyo County Water Department website. Last accessed 9/8/12.

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