While I was in Lone Pine, eastern Sierra officials and conservationists struck a friendly tone about their work with the LA Department of Water and Power - at least about the lower Owens River restoration. But the lower Owens is just a part of a document called the Long term Water Agreement between the LADWP and Inyo County. And that document makes for long term problems as well as long term solutions.
A few days after my visit Inyo County initiated legal action asking the DWP to pump less water out of the ground in Owens Valley over the next 12 months. It wasn't sudden. The disagreement has been brewing for a bit. Essentially, under the terms of the deal, LADWP tells Inyo what it wants to take from underground water aquifers via pumping. This year, the utility proposed pumping 91,000 acre feet of water - which is the amount of water it would take to cover an acre of land a foot deep. Inyo County wrote back, said vegetation conditions were poor, water tables where they'd take from were low: they recommended 68,510 feet - about 25% less.
The Long-Term Agreement gives LADWP deep rights to pump water - a lot of it - twice as much as what they're asking for, at least. But the impacts that could have on Inyo County's environment could be significant. One problem with figuring out how significant? We don't know everything we need to know about groundwater storage - how water behaves when it's stored between rocks and layers of sediment below the surface.
Groundwater is going to matter more - as the LADWP itself has said - as users of the Colorado River contend with competition for resources limited by agreement, drought, and climate change. LADWP says over and over - most recently in its presentations about rate increases - that water's hard to come by. They're stepping up their purple-pipe - water recycling - systems. But no matter what LA does, we're heading in a direction where our demand for water continues to outstrip our supply.
The legal action Inyo County started will now go to a technical group that meets about eastern Sierra/Owens Valley water issues - one that includes Inyo and the LADWP. If they can't resolve the dispute over groundwater pumping, it could go to court.
Maybe nobody's fomenting an armed rebellion at the Alabama gates like during the Water Wars. And for some issues, as Mike Prather said this morning and this afternoon in a story, maybe historic tensions between LA and the eastern Sierra are "blood under the bridge." But it ain't all Kumbaya around here either - and where diminishing water resources, it probably won't ever be.