THE DEPARTMENT OF WATER & POWER IN THE EASTERN SIERRA
In 1902 the City of Los Angeles purchased the City Water Company for $2 million, protecting the City’s lifeline in the face of tremendous growth – – the City’s population had doubled more than four times in 30 years. To solve the water problems associated with such growth, the City hired William Mulholland as their Superintendent of the Bureau of Water Works and Supply.
Seeing that the burgeoning population would continue to grow as the City flourished in a semi-arid environment, Mulholland’s concerns became divided between water conservation and the need for an additional water supply.
In March of 1905, Mulholland recommended to the Board of Water Commissioners that the Owens Valley was the only viable source of supplemental water for the City’s fast growing population. The following year the City submitted an application for rights-of-way across federal lands for the purpose of constructing an aqueduct. The application was approved and in 1907 Los Angeles voters approved a $23 million bond issue for the construction of the Los Angeles Owens Valley Aqueduct. Work began on the aqueduct in September and the City began to purchase private property and water rights in the southern pert of Owens Valley.
Acquisition of land continued through the aqueduct construction period (1907-1913) until the mid-1920’s. Following the passing by the California State Legislature of the Reparations Act of May 1, 1925, the Owens Valley Reparations Association was formed. That organization immediately began to pressure the State Senate to require the City of Los Angeles to purchase remaining Owens Valley property – – including business properties within the towns.
A Senate Investigating Committee submitted their “Report of Special Investigating Committee on the Water Situation in Inyo and Mono Counties”, and their finding was adopted by the State Senate on May 11, 1931. This cleared the way for Los Angeles’ purchasing of the remaining valley property from those who agreed to sell.
With the initiation of the Mono Basin Extension Project (1933-1941), which led to the diversion of four of the six streams tributary to Mono Lake, the construction of an 11-mile long tunnel beneath the volcanic Mono Craters to the headwaters of the Owens River, and the construction of the Long Valley Reservoir (Crowley Lake), Los Angeles purchased additional property in the Long Valley and Mono Basin areas of Mono County.
Today, the City of Los Angeles owns about 315,000 acres of eastern Sierra watershed land, which is administered by its Department of Water & Power (DWP). Los Angeles is, therefore, the largest taxpayer in both Inyo and Mono Counties.
Over the past seven decades, it has been the policy of the DWP to make these lands available for use by local farm and ranch operators, pack outfits, businesses, schools, city and county governments, state and federal agencies, and college and university researchers, as well as the many thousands of tourists who visit the eastern Sierra each year.
The 239,000 acres of DWP property leased for livestock grazing and alfalfa farming are leased with the written agreement that at least 75 percent of the property remain open for public access; e.g., for hunting, fishing, water sports, hiking, bike riding, photography, painting, bird watching, wildlife viewing, etc. Overnight camping, however, is restricted to developed campgrounds.
The DWP also leases property for airports, fair grounds, public golf courses, city parks, campgrounds, museums, visitor centers, parking lots, and radio, television and telephone facilities (relay stations, microwave stations, etc.).
In addition to leases, the DWP has sold numerous land easements – – to the Counties for roads, pipelines, and facilities; to the State of California allowing highway improvement projects; and to the City of Bishop for road drainage, water, and sewer facilities. Property has also been sold to Inyo County for a Senior Citizens Mobile Home Park, a low-income housing project, light industrial uses, school and pre-school expansion, a hospital skilled nursing facility and expansion of the existing hospital, and for sewer ponds for the local Indian Reservation.
In addition, permits are given to film companies for the production of commercials, documentaries, and feature-length films – – creating an economic boost for the local communities.
SEVEN DECADES OF BENEFICIAL ACTIVITIES
The DWP administers and manages their property in the eastern Sierra watershed with the goal of providing an adequate water supply to the City of Los Angeles while protecting water quality and maintaining the watershed in a healthy condition.
The following is a brief chronological overview of activities, programs and projects initiated by the DWP, or cooperative efforts supported by the DWP for the protection and enhancement of the eastern Sierra environment to provide for public use and enjoyment:
- In 1935, property along Convict Creek in Long Valley leased for a cooperative State and U.S. Government fisheries experiment station studying the survival of hatchery-raised trout in natural stream conditions (This site is now the University of California’s Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Laboratory).
- Property at Big Pine leased for use as a picnic area and community park.
- Following the completion of the Mono Basin Extension Project and construction of the Grant Lake Reservoir dam on Rush Creek in the Mono Basin in 1941, property and funding provided to the State for the construction of the Hot Creek Fish Hatchery – – in compliance with Fish & Game Code Section 5938.
- Long Valley Reservoir, dedicated as Crowley Lake and opened for public fishing and other water sports. Activities at Crowley Lake to be administered by the Los Angeles Department of Parks & Recreation.
- During World War II, property provided to the Federal Government for construction of the Manzanar Relocation Center and military air strip, south of Independence.
- In 1946, property leased to the State of California for construction of the Blackrock Fish Hatchery, nine miles north of Independence.
- In 1950, streamside meadow and riparian land along Bishop Creek, two miles west of town, leased to the local chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America. Today, Izaak Walton Park is leased to the County of Inyo as a popular day-use picnic area.
- Property now comprising the Bishop City Park leased to the City of Bishop and the Bishop Lions Club for use as a roadside park.
- In 1956, approximately 300 acres along the Owens River between Bishop and Big Pine leased to the California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech) for construction of an array of radio-telescopes. Additional acreage was leased in 1965 to expand the facility.
- Property east of Bishop, and east of the Owens River, leased to the University of California for construction of the White Mountain Research Station headquarters and study area.
- Property south of Bishop leased to the Bishop Golf Club for use as a 9-hole public golf course. Additional property was leased to the golf club in 1983 for construction of an additional nine holes.
- Property south of Lone Pine, west of highway 395, leased to the Lone Pine Golf Club for use as a public golf course.
- In 1960, property immediately north of the Bishop Golf Course leased to the County of Inyo for use as a roadside park and campground. In 1982, the County sub-leased the site to a concessionaire.
- In 1962, property north of the old Lone Pine Town Plaza leased to the County of Inyo for use as a roadside park.
- Creekside property in north Independence leased to the Independence Business and Professional Men’s Club who maintained a roadside park with local Girl Scout meeting house. Property now leased to the County of Inyo for use as a day-use park and picnic area.
- Property encompassing Diaz Lake, south of Lone Pine, leased to the County of Inyo for use as a public campground and boating facility.
- Because the construction of the Pleasant Valley Reservoir dam in 1953, prevented the movement of trout to their historic spawning area above the reservoir, DWP in cooperation with the Department of Fish & Game, constructs an artificial spawning channel adjacent to the Owens River below the dam.
- Property along Baker Creek, west of Big Pine, leased to the County of Inyo for use as a public campground facility.
- Approximately 96 acres, two miles west of Big Pine, leased to the County of Inyo for use as a Special Education facility (Bernasconi Center).
- In 1966, property adjacent to the Owens River below Pleasant Valley Reservoir leased to the County of Inyo for use as a public campground facility.
- Property at Laws, five miles northeast of Bishop, leased to the County of Inyo for the site of the Laws Railroad Museum.
- Property at Fish Springs, south of Big Pine, leased to the State of California for construction of the Fish Springs Fish Hatchery.
- Property adjacent to Independence Creek, west of the town, leased to the County of Inyo for use as a public campground facility.
- Property adjacent to Taboose Creek, west of highway 395, leased to the County of Inyo for use as a public campground facility.
- Property adjacent to Tinemaha Creek below the old Red Mountain Orchards, west of highway 395, leased to the County of Inyo for use as a public campground facility.
- Property at the intersection of highway 395 and state route 168, north of Big Pine, leased to the County of Inyo for use as a public campground facility.
- In 1967, in cooperation with the Department of Fish & Game, development of a warm water fishery and waterfowl habitat area, three miles east of Bishop, is initiated. The Buckley Ponds project is completed in 1971, and DWP commits 3,500 acre-feet of water annually to maintain ponds.
- In 1968, property in Independence, three blocks west of the Inyo County Courthouse, leased to the County Museum Department for construction of the Eastern California Museum facility.
- Property in the community of Crowley Lake leased for construction of the Crowley Lake Community Center and a Fire Department facility.
- In 1969, DWP cooperates with the Department of Fish & Game to construct the Owens Valley Native Fish Sanctuary at Fish Slough, six miles north of Bishop, for the protection of the endangered Owens Pupfish. Another smaller refuge developed at Warm Spring, seven miles southeast of Bishop.
- Property in the town of Lee Vining leased to Mono County for construction of a county museum.
- In 1970, DWP begins program of providing water, via historic irrigation ditches, to the Farmer’s Ponds, two miles north of Bishop, to offer increased resting and feeding areas for migrating waterfowl and shorebirds.
- DWP General Manager Paul Lane, along with Department of Fish & Game fisheries expert Phil Pister, organize the Interagency Committee on Owens Valley Land and Wildlife. This unique organization brings more than a dozen Federal, State, and local agencies, along with the University of California, together each month to discuss ongoing operations and projects, and to cooperate in the protection and enhancement of the eastern Sierra environment.
- Property at the site of the former Inyo Lumber Company, five miles northwest of Bishop, leased to the County of Inyo for use as the Millpond Recreation Area.
- DWP provides property and cooperates with Interagency Committee members to construct a Tule Elk viewpoint at Tinemaha Reservoir, south of Big Pine, and a Sage Grouse viewpoint north of Crowley Lake.
- In 1972, additional warm water fishery and waterfowl habitats developed in cooperation with the Department of Fish & Game at Duck Pond and Saunders Pond southeast of Bishop, and at Lone Pine Pond on the Owens River north of the old Lone Pine Railroad Station.
- Water diverted from a ditch supplying the Blackrock Fish Hatchery, to maintain a pond and wetland habitat at Little Blackrock Spring.
- Waterfowl pond and wetland habitat created between Well 349 and the Owens River south of Tinemaha Reservoir, to mitigate loss of flows from the Seeley Springs.
- In 1974, property west of Lone Pine and adjacent to the Los Angeles Aqueduct leased to the County of Inyo for use as a public campground facility.
- In 1975, DWP hires first Range & Wildlife Management Specialist to initiate studies to analyze impact of groundwater pumping and water export from Owens Valley on valley floor vegetation and wildlife, develop livestock grazing programs, and prepare habitat management plans for designated sites between Mono Lake and Haiwee Reservoir.
- DWP biologist initiates 25-year study of Owens Valley plant communities’ response to water export activities, timing and amount of precipitation, and livestock grazing pressure – – using Photographic Range Trend Plot data.
- In 1976, the first experimental release of water into the Owens River below the Los Angeles Aqueduct intake is initiated, designed to provide flows necessary to re-water the lower portion of the Owens River channel in southern Owens Valley.
- In 1977, DWP biologist co-authors Interagency Tule Elk Habitat Management Plan in cooperation with the Department of Fish & Game, Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Forest Service.
- In 1978, in cooperation with local botanists and state agencies, a program of protecting an endangered plant species found on DWP property in Owens Valley is initiated. In 1981, this program is expanded to one of inventorying and monitoring populations of all rare, threatened, or endangered found on DWP property in Owens Valley, Long Valley, and Mono Basin.
- In cooperation with the Department of Fish & Game, DWP personnel construct several artificial nesting platforms in tree snags in Tinemaha Reservoir to enhance the breeding success of the American Osprey in Owens Valley.
- In 1979, property and building design expertise provided for construction of the Interagency Visitor Center near Lone Pine. This center provides informational materials for all of the scenic and recreational resources in the eastern Sierra, as well as for Death Valley and Yosemite National Parks.
- DWP staff cooperates with the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service to prepare the first Interagency Off-road Vehicle Plan for the protection od open range lands in Inyo and Mono Counties.
- Property on the northwest shore of Mono Lake leased to Mono County for use as a day-use park and picnic area, with an informational kiosk for the unique Mono Lake ecosystem.
- DWP cooperates with the Inyo County Road Department in a program to water and maintain trees along highway 395 through Independence.
- In 1980, funding and staff assistance provided for studies of Mono Lake bird life, brine shrimp, alkali flies, algae, water chemistry, and air quality. DWP biologist coordinates annual interagency census of California Gull rookery on islands in Mono Lake.
- DWP participates in the formation of the first Owens Dry Lake Task Force, to investigate possible solutions to fugitive dust problem through revegetation of the lake-bed, or by other dust control measures.
- In 1981, two additional biologists as well as another biologist working via a personal services contract are added to the DWP Range & Wildlife staff.
- DWP biologists, in cooperation with the Inyo-Mono Farm Advisor and specialists from the University of Nevada – Reno Agricultural Research Station, initiate studies on revegetation of abandoned Owens Valley cropland with native plant species. The DWP also provides materials and expertise for the construction and operation of an Interagency greenhouse at the California Department of Forestry’s Owens Valley Conservation Center to grow native plants species to be used in revegetation efforts.
- DWP biologists, in cooperation with the Inyo-Mono Farm Advisor, initiate study of soil moisture on the valley floor, using gypsum blocks placed at varying depths, to determine available soil moisture in various plant communities throughout the growing season.
- In 1982, DWP biologists provide assistance to the Department of Fish & Game in the blasting of potholes in meadow areas adjacent to Crowley Lake and Mono Lake, to provide suitable nesting sites for Canada Geese.
- In 1983, property and irrigation water provided for a 40-acre experimental wood lot, four miles north of Bishop, as part of an Interagency Committee investigation to determine which fast growing tree species may become a source of firewood for Owens Valley communities – – should future fuel wood supplies become limited on National Forest lands.
- DWP staff botanist initiates a 2-year project of intensive inventory and mapping of vegetation communities on DWP properties, first in Owens Valley and then in Long Valley and Mono Basin.
- DWP, Inyo County, and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) join in agreements to conduct cooperative 5-year groundwater and vegetation studies to evaluate the Owens Valley hydrologic system and assess the impact of groundwater withdrawals on native vegetation.
- In 1984, land and staff assistance provided for the construction of a “Hack Tower” in a wet meadow adjacent to Crowley Lake, in a cooperative effort with the Department of Fish & Game and UC-Santa Cruz to successfully reintroduce the Peregrine Falcon into the eastern Sierra ecosystem.
- Following a series of public hearings, DWP and Inyo County sign a 5-year groundwater pumping agreement, with the primary goal of developing a long-term groundwater management plan, and requires that numerous mutually agreed upon Enhancement/Mitigation projects be implemented to improve the Owens Valley environment. The agreement also places a temporary hold on groundwater litigation and cuts all Owens Valley water rates by 50 percent. Los Angeles agrees to fund all cooperative groundwater-vegetation research. Also, DWP and Inyo County will jointly determine the DWP’s annual pumping rate.
- In 1985, the courts approve the Inyo/Los Angeles Agreement. A list of Enhancement/ Mitigation projects, along with several additional projects and studies are proposed:
- In 1991, DWP opens Haiwee Reservoir for recreational fishing. This activity is restricted to shore fishing, fishing with sealed waders, or fishing from float tubes with sealed waders – – motor boats are not allowed. To preserve the natural setting, camping and vehicle access is not permitted on the reservoir property.
- DWP provides funding and expertise (staff and consultants), and restricts livestock grazing, for the restoration of the fishery and riparian vegetation along Rush Creek and Lee Vining Creek in the Mono Basin.
- In 1992, a land exchange between DWP and the U.S. Forest Service provides site for the construction of the Mono Basin Scenic Area Visitor Center north of Lee Vining.
- DWP implements a fencing project to protect stream banks and enhance streamside vegetation, and provide alternative strategies for livestock grazing activities along four major streams tributary to Crowley Lake. Walk-in fisherman access points are provided.
- In 1993, DWP implements a cooperative project between the DWP, Mono County, and Department of Fish & Game, which provides managed flow releases to restore the riverine-riparian ecosystem in the Owens River Gorge, between Crowley Lake and Pleasant Valley Reservoir.
- During development of the Owens Gorge Restoration Project, DWP designates a portion of the Owens River, below the Crowley Lake Dam, as an Owens Tui Chub sanctuary.
- DWP staff biologists take lead in efforts to control a recently discovered invasive noxious plant, tall whitetop (Lepidium latifolium). Control efforts are coordinated with the Inyo-Mono Agricultural Commissioner.
- In 1996, fifteen miles of fence, with walk-in fisherman access points, constructed along the upper Owens River above Crowley Lake for the protection of the river bank and enhancement of river-bank vegetation.
- MILLPOND RECREATION AREA – DWP to provide funds to purchase energy to operate the area’s sprinkler system that waters 18 acres of the community park including two baseball fields.
- McNALLY PONDS AND PASTURELANDS – DWP to provide water for 60 acres of ponds during the fall months for waterfowl habitat, and to 300 acres of native pasture during the spring and summer months.
- LAWS MUSEUM – DWP to provide a regular water supply to improve native vegetation on a 21-acre parcel, and establish irrigated pasture on 15 acres and windbreak trees adjacent to the Museum.
- LAWS-POLETA NATIVE PASTURELANDS – DWP to provide water for irrigation of 220 acres of sparsely vegetated land (two parcels, 120 and 100 acres northeast and southeast of Laws respectively) to reestablish native vegetation on abandoned lands and increase livestock grazing capabilities.
- KLONDIKE LAKE – DWP to provide a year-round water supply to sustain a 160-acre formerly seasonal lakebed area north of Big Pine. The lake provides nesting and feeding areas for waterfowl, and permits water skiing and other water sports during the summer months.
- BIG PINE REGREENING – DWP to provide water to flood irrigate up to 30 acres of abandoned agricultural lands northeast of Big Pine.
- BIG PINE TREE PLANTING – DWP to provide and maintain ornamental and windbreak trees at the Big Pine school and at the baseball field.
- INDEPENDENCE WOOD LOT – DWP to provide funding and irrigation water to establish a 20-acre wood lot at the northeast edge of Independence – – to provide future fuel wood, to re-green an area near the town, and to mitigate blowing dust from a parcel of abandoned agricultural land.
- INDEPENDENCE SPRINGFIELD – DWP to provide water to a 300-acre area east of Independence that had been “denuded” of vegetation and had become a source of blowing dust, in order to establish irrigated pasture.
- INDEPENDENCE PASTURELANDS – DWP to provide water and equipment for irrigation of approximately 600 acres of abandoned cropland and sparsely vegetated native pasturelands northeast of Independence – – to mitigate blowing dust and improve livestock grazing capabilities.
- INDEPENDENCE DITCH SYSTEM – DWP to reestablish flow during the growing season in an abandoned ditch which runs through the town of Independence.
- INDEPENDENCE REST AREA – DWP to provide, labor, equipment, trees, and an irrigation system for a roadside rest area, with picnic tables and associated hardware, adjacent to highway 395 on the south end of Independence.
- INDEPENDENCE REGREENING – DWP to provide labor, equipment, and water to reestablish vegetation on a parcel to the west of the Independence Wood Lot.
- EASTERN CALIFORNIA MUSEUM – DWP to provide whatever is necessary for enhancing the appearance of the museum grounds.
- SHEPHERD CREEK ALFALFA FIELD – DWP to provide equipment, fencing, sprinklers and water for irrigation of 198 acres of alfalfa and windbreak trees near Shepherd Creek south of Independence, to provide scenic enhancement along highway and to minimize soil erosion and blowing dust.
- MANZANAR CLEANUP – DWP responsible for the pruning of remaining fruit trees and the clearing out of debris adjacent to highway 395 at the historic World War II Manzanar Relocation Center south of Independence.
- TREE PLANTING ALONG ROADS – DWP to provide, plant, water and maintain trees along streets in Independence and Lone Pine.
- NORTH LONE PINE CLEANUP – DWP responsible for removal of old fencing and other debris from a parcel adjacent to highway 395 north of Lone Pine and adjacent to the Lone Pine Cemetery.
- RICHARDS AND VAN NORMAN FIELDS – DWP to provide water to two 160-acre parcels of abandoned and sparsely vegetated pastureland northeast of Lone Pine, to enhance vegetation growth and improve livestock grazing capabilities.
- LONE PINE RIPARIAN PARK – DWP to return water to an abandoned ditch running through the Lone Pine Park which will enhance vegetation along the ditch.
- LONE PINE WOOD LOT – DWP to establish a 12-acre wood lot which will provide future fuel wood for town residents, re-green an area near the town, and mitigate blowing dust from a sparsely vegetated area.
- LONE PINE REGREENING – DWP to provide irrigation water to 8 acres of abandoned pastureland along Whitney Portal Road west of Lone Pine.
- LONE PINE SPORTS COMPLEX – DWP to convert portions of the Lo-Inyo Elementary School and vacant DWP property into an outdoor sports complex consisting of baseball fields, soccer fields, bleachers, and associated parking, picnic and park areas.
- LOWER OWENS RIVER PROJECT – DWP to provide water to a previously dry 50-mile portion of the Owens River in southern Owens Valley. This greatly expands the experimental release of water conducted in the 1970’s. Water is also provided to five small lakes west of the river, and to oxbows adjacent to the river providing habitat for native fishes and upland game species.
OTHER PROJECTS AND STUDIES
- DWP to re-vegetate impacted acreage as identified in the IER on Groundwater Pumping
- DWP to accomplish on-site mitigation efforts at Hines Spring
- DWP to fund a saltcedar control program
- Development of a GIS program for Owens Valley
- Development of a Livestock Grazing Management Plan
- Development of a Land Management Plan for DWP lands
- Development of a Recreation Plan for Haiwee Reservoir
- Continuation of payments by DWP to the Inyo County General Fund
- Continuation of payments by DWP to the Inyo County Water Department
- DWP to provide funds to City of Bishop for Parks and Environmental Assistance
- DWP to provide funds for County Parks Rehabilitation, Development, and Maintenance
- Release of DWP properties to Inyo County
- Transfer of Town Water Systems from DWP to local control
- Potential expansion of some elements of the City of Los Angeles’ Water Conservation Program
- Analysis of Air Photos to detect possible changes in plant communities, prior to and since the completion of the Second Los Angeles Aqueduct
- Analysis of habitat conditions for the threatened Yellow-billed Cuckoo along Baker and Hogback Creeks.
- Detailed inventory of flora and fauna at Owens Valley springs and seeps
- Evaluate feasibility of establishing waterfowl habitat east of highway 395 at Diaz Lake
- Develop mitigation plans for impacts identified in the EIR and Inyo/Los Angeles Agreement
- In 1987, property at the site of a seldom used primitive campsite at Benton Crossing, on the Owens River north of Crowley Lake, leased to a concessionaire for use as a modern campground facility.
- In 1988, property adjacent to the Mono County Museum in Lee Vining leased for a day-use park and picnic area
- In 1989, DWP installs fencing around Layton Spring, on the east shore of Crowley Lake, to protect the site from impacts caused by indiscriminant camping and by large numbers of livestock driven through the area on public-participation cattle drives.
- DWP biologist conducts first field studies to determine the extent of saltcedar (Tamarisk) infestation in the Owens Valley, and prepares report documenting the most effective control methods.
- DWP Public Affairs Office establishes Public Information Officer position in Bishop Administrative Office, to improve public contact in Northern District (Inyo & Mono Counties)