CONSERVATION - Confusion Reigns

In the last two newsletters I've criticized Inyo County Water Department Director Tom Brook's proposed 3-year Interim Management Plan (IMP) for groundwater pumping. Brooks describes his plan as "maintain or gain" (meaning water tables would either stay at current levels or rise), yet the chances of water table decline are almost as great as the chances of "maintaining or gaining." His characterization as "maintain or gain" is thus incorrect, if not dishonest. Using this characterization, however, Director Brooks has gained the enthusiastic support of Inyo County Supervisors for his plan.

At the November meeting of the Standing Committee Inyo representatives went to LA ready to insist upon Brooks' plan. LA Standing Committee representatives, however, weren't prepared to discuss either Brooks' plan or DWP's proposed plan.

Nothing happened in December and January, then, a week before the Standing Committee meeting of February 12,2007, Brooks unveiled to Inyo Supervisors a new IMP proposed by DWP. This IMP, like Brooks' proposed IMP, had a goal of "maintaining or gaining" water tables. Unlike Brook's IMP, however, DWP's proposal would adjust pumping based on actual conditions to realize its goal.

Brooks' proposed IMP is analogous to mass produced suits in three sizes: small, medium, and large. Only if you have exactly the right body size will the suit fit. DWP's proposal is analogous to a tailored suit. Whatever your body size, the tailor takes your measurements and makes a suit that fits. DWP's proposal is an example of water table- based management, something Inyo has advocated for years and DWP has hitherto adamantly resisted. In short, DWP's proposal appears to be a major step forward and would be much more likely to "maintain or gain" than would Brooks' proposal.

Or would it?

While the goal and the methods are relatively clear, the DWP plan's imprecise language regarding pumping from exempt wells may be a loophole allowing excessive pumping. Until this is clarified, it's unknown whether this is the groundbreaking plan it seems to be, or a trick allowing massive pumping from exempt wells.

Given widely publicized commitments by both Mayor Villaraigosa and members of the LA Board of Water and Power to honor environmental obligations, I doubt this LA Board would attempt such a trick. Given that some DWP managers responsible for past over-pumping remain on the job, however, the exempt well language could be a DWP management attempt to undermine the LA Board's groundbreaking plan. I suspect the language for water table-based management reflects the intent of the LA Board. Does the exempt well language simply reflect DWP management's , incompetence, or, in apparently undermining the LA Board's intent, is it an example of DWP management's bad faith?

This question - is it DWP incompetence or DWP bad faith? - arises repeatedly for Lnyo County, so it's fitting that the LA Board confronts it as well. Perhaps it will finally induce the LA Board to change DWP management personnel.

Another recurring question is Inyo's obsession with secrecy. Although IMPs were on the agenda at the February 12, 2007 Standing Committee meeting, Inyo, inexplicably, made no attempt to get clarification of DWP's proposal. Nor have the IMPs been discussed at the Technical Group. Any discussions of DWP's IMP which may be occurring are not open to public scrutiny. This means Inyo Supervisors will, once again, make decisions 5 with little opportunity for meaningful public discussion, and undoubtedly rely on advice of ICWD Director Tom Brooks and legal counsel Greg James. This doesn't inspire confidence. . . . . ...

Daniel Pritchett, Conservation Chair