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DWP using new technology to study groundwater

LADWP conducting Airborne Survey at Owens Lake

Submitted by Amanda Parsons, LADWP spokesperson


Bishop, CA – Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) hydrologists are utilizing Airborne Electromagnetic Surveying in a pilot study Saturday, July 25, Sunday, July 26 and Monday, July 27 at Owens Lake near Highway 395 to better understand the groundwater basin beneath the lakebed and protect habitat on the surface during the implementation of the Master Project.

The Airborne Electromagnetic Survey consists of state-of-the-art measuring equipment, resembling a webbed oval dangling 100 feet below a helicopter, sending radio signals into the ground then measuring the returned signal to determine the geological materials. The practice is completely nonintrusive to the landscape and provides scientists with a clearer picture than previously-used underground mapping methods. Traditional underground mapping consists of drilling a series of test holes – up to 1,500 feet deep and up to several  miles apart – across the desired area’s surface, taking samples from deep inside the holes and testing them for a “best guess” look at what lies beneath the surface.

“The data gathered from this pilot study will be useful as we work to better model the Owens Lake groundwater as part of the Master Project,” Eastern Sierra Hydrologist and Project Manager Saeed Jorat, Ph.D. said. “By protecting the landscape while gathering this data, we ensure the safety of the habitat and the species residing there in a cost effective manner.”

Data gathered from the study will be used by LADWP to map the location of bedrock, fault lines and groundwater depth. This information will assist the Department as it works to model the Owens Lake Master Project and protect resources that utilize groundwater in the area – private wells, vegetation and habitat – while also preventing potential land subsidence.

If the pilot study goes well, LADWP will utilize the new technique for future projects in the Eastern Sierra region.

Native American Helicopters LLC (NAH) will be conducting the flights using an Astar 350FX2 helicopter. The helicopter will fly parallel to Highway 395 over the North East corner of Owens Lake for a three day period from approximately 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The equipment will be approximately 100 feet above the surface while in flight. During that time, the helicopter will not fly over the Highway, power lines and other structures so as to protect the safety of all involved during the operation.

Owens Lake Helicopter
Native American LLC helicopter flying the SkyTEM system to obtain geological measurements for LADWP over Owens Lake on July 26, 2015. (Photo by LADWP)
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Inyo LA standing committee meets

Standing Committee talks irrigation

The mood was light and casual Thursday as the Inyo/Los Angeles Standing committee discussed serious business.  The meeting was scheduled to begin at 11am in the Independence board of supervisors chambers, but the pledge of allegiance did not start the session until 11:22.  After the delayed start there was little tension in the meeting, as Inyo and LA representatives agreed on all fronts.

The session opened with the two parties agreeing to a reduction in water supplied to the McNalley ponds and pasture enhancement/mitigation project.   Inyo Water Department Director Bob Harrington noted that the potential pumping wells that could supply the project are in “off” status, and Owens River diversions are not a viable option.

LADWP Aqueduct Manager Jim Yannotta presented the grim numbers associated with runoff and operations.  Yannotta relayed the fact that the anticipated runoff for the first 6 months of the water year are at 25% of normal, and just 36% for the entire year. Yannotta notes this is less than half the flow of the worst year on record.

The operations and runoff update led into the big item before the standing committee, that being irrigation.  Back on On April 27th the LADWP had written ranchers notifying them that all irrigation would end on May 1st, that order was later lifted. At the time the LADWP’s spokesperson Amanda Parsons said, “Collaboration with local partners” will allow the LADWP flexibility with how they distribute water for in-valley uses.  Thursday LA indicated they are able to continue irrigtion to local leases due to approximately 2 thousand acre feet in savings at Owens Lake and by adding 3 thousand acre feet from pumping.  Yannotta indicates the pumping plan is “conservative, and will not affect vegetation or groundwater levels.” Yannotta also noted there is an additional 3 thousand acre feet stored in Crowley Lake that will be released for irrigation.

Staff from both LA and Inyo County indicated they are continuing to work with Memorandum of Understanding members to shift water from the Lower Owens River Project and Owens Lake.  The Sierra Club, California fish and wildlife, the state lands commission, the Owens Valley Committee , and the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District are all a part of the MOU group.   All MOU members need to sign off on any changes.  Between the Lower Owens River Project, Owens Lake, and not supping water to Warren lake, the best estimates show four thousand acre feet of water could be shifted to irrigation. Between projected savings and the revelations of an additional 3 thousand acre feet at Crowley Lake, irrigation water will flow until august. This was certainly good news for ranchers who were in attendance.  Supervisor Matt Kingley was relieved to provide some bit of assurance to local ranchers, “We have bought time, but that’s really important for lease holders, our ranchers. To know that their irrigation is good through the end of July, except for those on creeks that may dry up, that we have no control over.”

Overall,  a clear feel of cooperation dominated the day, as light rain fell in Independence.   “I think the tone of the meting was really positive, obviously we have tough issues we are trying to work though with the city. One thing that I think is important to recognize is that we are all working sort of on one common goal, and that is to figure out the best way to use the water that we have to the best advantage of everyone here in the Owens Valley.”  Said Kingsley.

The next standing committee meeting is set for July 24th, in Los Angeles.

cover photo by Gary Young

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Historic Drought Requires Historic Solutions

Historic Drought Requires Historic Solutions

Op-Ed by Amanda Parsons, LADWP Spokesperson

When gazing at the Sierra Nevada Mountains this year there is a harsh reality staring back: California is in the midst of a four-year drought – a drought so dire that it is unparalleled by any in the recorded history of the State. Snow pack in the Eastern Sierra was measured at only 4 percent of normal and runoff this year is only 36 percent of normal, far shattering the previous lowest year.
Many in the community are pleased that virtually no water from the LA Aqueduct will be exported south of Owens Lake, likely until November. But the harsh reality is, this year, there simply is not enough water to meet all of our obligations in the Owens Valley for the environment, local agriculture, tribal lands, irrigation, stockwater, recreation, and dust mitigation on Owens Lake. This reality is further complicated by the fact that required legal obligations and stipulated judgments have bound the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) to use what little water is available to fulfill certain mandates, causing others to receive less.
For those who attended the County Board of Supervisors workshop meeting last Tuesday to discuss the lack of water, we want to thank you for voicing your opinions and making yourself heard. Constructive suggestions were brought up by the County Supervisors and the community.
Jim Yannotta, LADWP Manager of Aqueduct, is pleased to report that with cooperation of the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District (Great Basin), irrigation to LADWP leaseholders will not be shut off on May 1st as previously considered. This collaboration between Great Basin and LADWP allowed us to reach a mutually agreed upon solution for water savings on Owens Lake this spring, providing additional water for irrigation to continue for the near term, and helping local agriculture and the Owens Valley economy in the process.
This agreement with Great Basin couldn’t have been achieved without the help of the community and their participation in this complicated discussion. As the discussion continues, there is opportunity for further water savings that could be made available for irrigation or other uses. However, several questions remain in the community – questions about LADWP’s timing, reasoning, and numbers.
We understand that the timing of our letter to our leaseholders notifying them of our need to shut off irrigation water appears to have been done with too short of notice.
LADWP wants to emphasize that staff made efforts prior to the release of that letter to alert our stakeholders of the impacts this drought would have on local operations. A letter was sent to all our leaseholders in March informing them that irrigation amounts would be greatly reduced this year. We also invited a number of the members of the ranching community to our Bishop office almost two weeks ago once the final runoff numbers for this year were calculated showing an extreme shortage of water and lack of water for irrigation. The Department’s Annual Owens Valley Operations Plan is due to Inyo County on April 20 each year. Immediately, discussion with Inyo County Water Department and County officials ensued regarding the severity of the situation.
Continuing irrigation on our lease lands at the level it occurred during April would leave the Department short of water to meet all demands and our many legal obligations. LADWP staff worked to find solutions, but once the reality of the long list of legal obligations the Department faces came in to play, we had to show in the Operations Plan where the extremely limited amount of water would be used on LA-owned lands. Unless we neglected our legal requirements to the environment and for clean air by controlling dust on Owens Lake, we would not have enough water available for both the agricultural/ranching economy and environmental obligations in this Valley. We needed to inform all of the lessees as soon as possible about this dire situation.
As for our numbers provided in the Operations Plan, every year water engineers across the globe account for a certain amount of losses from snow pack to tap. These losses can be attributed to ground infiltration, evaporation, plant transpiration, etc. This year, LADWP’s Water Engineers predicted a loss of 119,400 acre feet as this water seeps into the ground of the Owens Valley, evaporates into the air of the Owens Valley, is transpired by plants in the Owens Valley, and is used by private landholders in the Owens Valley.
To put that into context, during the last runoff year – the second-lowest year ever – 147,000 acre feet was lost due to these miscellaneous uses and losses. The Inyo/Los Angeles Water Agreement signed in 1991 by both the City of Los Angeles and the County accounted for 122,000 acre feet for these uses and losses. Both the City and County have operated under this mutually agreed upon expectation, derived from historical averages, for over twenty years. LADWP’s predicted loss amount is considerably less than last year’s actual losses. Meaning LADWP’s meager predictions for available water in the Valley and for export may be further reduced as the year progresses.
Each Annual Operations Plan is calculated using a runoff-year, April 1 through March 31. In order to account for our annual allotment numbers, predictions must be made for the second half of the runoff year, October through March. In our predictions LADWP is forecasting normal winter precipitation levels during the remainder of this runoff year. The 2015-16 Plan states LADWP will deliver 42,000 acre feet of water from the Eastern Sierra to LA this runoff year (10,000 of which is already in storage from previous years and is not a result of current runoff). This represents only about 15 percent of the Eastern Sierra water that is typically exported to Los Angeles. However, if we do not achieve normal precipitation levels during that period, then less water will come down the creeks next winter and less will be available to the Owens Valley and Los Angeles.
Although this reality is far from ideal for any of us, it has resulted in a positive outcome to address this critical situation in the near term thanks to responses from the community, the Inyo County Board of Supervisors and Great Basin.
For better or worse, Los Angeles is connected to the Eastern Sierra by the aqueduct that binds us. We are a huge part of the Valley’s history, the reason for its pristine present, and a valuable partner in the shaping of its successful future.
This is the worst drought on record. Los Angeles is feeling its impacts just like the Owens Valley, and the rest of California. We are all in this together. If we continue to work collaboratively, listen to one another and accept the current reality, together we can develop productive solutions to this unprecedented situation. Let’s make history together.

Amanda Parsons is the Public Relations Representative from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power in the Owens Valley. If you have any questions regarding this issue or any LADWP operations, please don’t hesitate to contact her. She can be reached at 760-873-0264 or

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