DWP attempts last-minute delay, threatens State Water Board over stream restoration Order (updated)

Update: DWP walks back problematic claims

DWP has walked back some of the claims made in their letter discussed in the post below. The Committee has been talking with City of Los Angeles leaders about the difficult situation created by the letter and commends Mayor Garcetti and DWP Commissioners for standing by the actual content of the stream restoration settlement agreement.

At a DWP Commission meeting on September 14, General Manager & Chief Engineer Martin Adams dialed back the letter’s attempt to delay State Water Board action on stream restoration, reporting that:

“We do anticipate receiving the amended license in the next few weeks or so, and we are prepared to move forward with the spillway modifications in order to deliver the new flow regimes that are required during the wet and extremely wet years under the new license terms.

“I wanted to let the Board know we did submit comments to the draft license. The comments were directed at some of the language from the State Water Resources Control Board, did raise some concerns amongst the settling parties, but I wanted to assure the Board, nothing in our comments was directed toward any of the commitments that we made in the Settlement Agreement, nor was it meant to signal any change in our commitment to the settling parties to move forward with the Grant Lake modification project.”

The California State Water Resources Control Board is days away from issuing a final Order on Mono Basin stream restoration that will launch a new package of measures to heal 20 miles of creek habitats and fisheries in the streams tributary to Mono Lake.

The program is part of the decades-long effort to heal the damage done by past excessive water diversion by the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (DWP).

The measures include an outlet at the antiquated Grant Dam to allow release of springtime snowmelt high flows, a sophisticated program of ecologically designed stream ecosystem flow requirements, a monitoring program and more.

The package of elements was agreed to by DWP, the Mono Lake Committee, California Trout, and California Department of Fish & Wildlife in a 2013 settlement agreement to implement the deeply researched recommendations of the State Water Board’s independent scientists.

DWP alleges State Water Board is “legally deficient”

In a striking contrast to this positive (and long drawn out) progress, the DWP General Manager recently wrote a letter claiming that the State Water Board’s planned action is “legally deficient.” The letter appears to be part of an effort to derail State Water Board action—and in direct violation of the stream restoration settlement agreement’s provisions.

Alarmingly, the DWP letter fundamentally misrepresents the terms of settlement agreement in a way that threatens the important, but separate, matter of restoring Mono Lake to health. DWP claims the agreement guarantees them long-term substantial diversion of water from Mono Lake’s tributary streams, regardless of the current low level of Mono Lake and the resulting ecological and public health concerns.

The letter is fundamentally wrong about the facts, and the Mono Lake Committee has swung into action to make the truth of the matter clear through legal and political engagement. Stream restoration and lake restoration are separate matters, and DWP is responsible for accomplishing both under the mandates of their water licenses. There are no free passes to overlook the health of Mono Lake.

The story of the settlement agreement already follows a convoluted path full of DWP delays over the past eight years. We expect more developments this month.

It is baffling why DWP continues to throw roadblocks to completing the much-lauded 2013 settlement agreement that their own Board of Commissioners approved. Nonetheless, the Mono Lake Committee stands by the agreement, supports the draft Order, and has continued to urge the State Water Board to adopt the license amendments proposed by DWP and the other agreement parties in 2013.

You can read the DWP letter here.

And the strong opposing response from the Mono Lake Committee here.

As well as responses from the other settlement parties CalTrout and DFW.

Top photo by Andrew Youssef.