Track 9: Daris Moxley, rancher
Daris Moxley and her husband operate a 200-acre-plus LADWP ranch lease in Bishop that has been managed by her family since the early 1930s. Today she irrigates only 99 acres of her lease leaving the rest dry as prescribed in her lease agreement with LADWP. Over the years she has seen the irrigated portion of her lease property decline in quality due to cutbacks in irrigation allotments that are set by the department. Moxley has been one of the few voices from the within the local ranching community to express her concern over LADWP’s current irrigated pasture management policies, which she feels are inadequate. Although many Owens Valley ranchers are supportive of their landlord, many refrain from any public criticism out fear of provocation or possibly losing their lease entirely.
During her interview Moxley recalled how the high the groundwater table was years ago, “When we’d dig post holes we’d go down about five feet and it would be scramble to get your post in before the hole would fill up with water. Now, this spring, my husband and I were digging a hole and we were down to ten feet and we barely had moist soil—we never got a drop of water! This was within four feet of a running ditch.” She is greatly concerned that LADWP pumping overdrafts are severely lowering the water table in her area beyond recovery.
Historically, ranching continued in the Owens Valley even though 211,665 acres of valley floor had been purchased by the city in the early 1930s. Shortly thereafter, LADWP leased most of the agricultural acreage back to the original ranch owners in the form of a five-year lease. The lease agreement stated that it could be cancelled without prior notification if the water was needed during a drought period or if that year’s runoff was insufficient for the city or other in-valley irrigation uses. Any property improvements, construction of out buildings or repairs, were, and continue to be the financial responsibility of the lessee. To appreciate the extent of the agrarian changes that took place in the valley over time—note that in 1920, 75,000 acres were still being irrigated as pasture and by 1960, approximately 30,000 acres remained. By 2002, less than a 12,000 acres were being irrigated for ranching purposes.
As of 2006, fifty ranch lease agreements were in Owens Valley and ten within Mono County. The lessee is charged with monitoring and maintaining their lease with the goal to “provide a reliable high quality water supply to Los Angeles.” This arrangement allows the department to concentrate on its water gathering activities rather than land maintenance and its associated costs. Irrigated pasture helps to recharge the groundwater table, which LADWP eventually pumps back up for export into the aqueduct. Lease renewals are not subject to competitive bidding once the five-year period is up and are generally renewed to the existing lessee. Lessees must have an approved grazing management plan in place and maintain their lease. They are also required to keep 75 percent of their leased lands open to the public for select recreational activities, which has significantly contributed to the valley’s appeal as a undeveloped open space region.
Irrigated lands on LADWP ranch leases are subject to regulation and must maintain the 1981-82 baseline standards for vegetation management as stated in the Inyo-LA Long Term Water Agreement (LTWA). The LTWA requires that groundwater pumping be managed to avoid significant impacts while at the same time providing a consistent water supply for Los Angeles. The U.S. Geological Survey estimated that the maximum long-term average groundwater pumping volume consistent with goals stated in the LTWA to ensure environmental protection requirements throughout the valley is 70,000 acre-feet per year. LADWP reported in 2006 that its pumping averaged 94,809 acre-feet per year—far above the maximum suggested. Excessive overdrafts from the 1970s into the late 1980s have significantly degraded groundwater-dependent vegetation and some irrigated field pasture.
 Greg James, “Changing Perspectives on Groundwater Management: The Owens Valley (2002),” Inyo County Water Department website. Last accessed 9/8/12.
 See LTWA: Section A. Vegetation Management.
 See the Owens Valley Committee Groundwater brochure at: http://www.ovcweb.org/LInks/Referencedesk.html.