Farming in Callao

Monday, October 02, 2006

Owens Valley - foot dragging legacy

A news story in the Los Angeles Times -- L.A. Told to Restore Owens River (9-28-2006) -- reported a decision by a California Court of Appeal upholding a lower court order banning Los Angeles from using one of its aqueducts if the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) does not proceed to restore 62 miles of the Lower Owens River.

LADWP has been ignoring earlier court rulings and deadlines for decades, taking advantage of the economic fact that it was cheaper to pay fines than to restrict the interbasin flow of water. The court of appeals decision turned on a technicality -- LADWP lawyers did not assert their right to appeal in a timely manner. If they had, they may not even have had these restrictions imposed.

People have criticized opponents of the Las Vegas water exportation scheme when we bring up Owens Valley. "That can never happen," they say, "because laws are much stronger now." That may be true, although the Spring Valley (the basin west of Snake Valley) stipulation agreement recently signed by SNWA and the US Department of Interior (DOI) does not contain any triggers to initiate mitigation plans if impacts are discovered. The agreement allows for monitoring (although SNWA has a virtual veto over monitor well locations) but only specifies talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk if impacts are raised by any of the parties.

One aspect of the Owens Valley saga remains a real possibility -- foot dragging.

If SNWA begins pumping in Spring Valley it could take years to see impacts, potentially permanent, develop. Once those impacts are raised, a monitoring committee composed of SNWA and DOI staffers talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk about what needs to be done. Their conclusions then go to an Executive Committee which will talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. They may do something about the impacts or they may not. SNWA may not admit their pumping is responsible for the impacts. This could lead to years of study which could still result in SNWA doing nothing.

Even if court decisions go against SNWA, they have the example of their public utility cousin LADWP to guide them. SNWA could decide that paying off a $2-$12 billion pipeline is a higher priority than slowing or stopping the flow. Fines would be nothing more than a speed bump for this well-healed utility.

Given all the power of Las Vegas gaming corporations and land developers -- who seem to hold the state of Nevada hostage with their claims of economic apocalypse if out-of-control growth founders -- SNWA has a lot of juice (a Las Vegas term meaning clout).

Environmental laws may be more stringent now but juice is still juice.

L.A. Times story

No comments: