Environment & Science

California drought: LADWP's Owens Valley pumping might suffer without snowpack runoff

About 30 miles south of Bishop, Calif., the Owens River is diverted into the Los Angeles Aqueduct intake (left), while some of the water continues to flow in the Owens Valley (right).
About 30 miles south of Bishop, Calif., the Owens River is diverted into the Los Angeles Aqueduct intake (left), while some of the water continues to flow in the Owens Valley (right).
Mae Ryan/KPCC

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A possible consequence of another dry winter in California: the water supplies Los Angeles can take from Inyo County may be limited.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has oversight of the water it derives from the area. Today, it releases its plan for pumping groundwater out of the Owens Valley over the next six months. 

In wet times — as in the winter of 2011-2012 — about a quarter of the L.A.'s water supply can come from Owens Valley's below ground reservoirs. But the city’s right to pump water from the area fluctuates with the amount of snowpack runoff the valley sees, meaning that the city’s reliance on water from Inyo County fluctuates year by year. 

This year, L.A. officials have reported to Inyo County that the snowpack runoff forecast is the bleakest ever on record.

L.A. is expecting just 36 percent of the historical average set over the last half century. Last year was the previous record low – 50 percent. Just two other years have been that bad in recorded history: 1961 and 1990.

The runoff forecast doesn’t just inform how much water L.A. will pump from the ground. Inyo County uses it to figure out how the DWP’s pumping could change the water table and affect the health of local vegetation and trees.

Disputes between L.A. and its Inyo County neighbors have gone to legal proceedings in the past. With the drought dragging on, some in Owens Valley worry that might happen again this year.

Once the pumping plan is out, Inyo County has ten days to offer its comments.