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Friday, February 15, 2008

Owens River is Flowing Again

OWENS RIVER INTAKE, INYO COUNTY, CA--Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa let the
Lower Owens River sweep him off his feet Wednesday, February 13.

After presiding over a ceremony to celebrate the beginning of the first artificial
seasonal habitat flow since the river's official rewatering in December 2006, the mayor
climbed into a yellow canoe and rowed gently downstream. Many others joined him in a small
celebratory flotilla, including Mark Bagley, local Sierra Club representative, and David
Nahai, new DWP general manager, who sat elbow-to-elbow at the bow of a drift boat.

The Lower Owens River Project partly mitigates environmental damage from groundwater
pumping from 1970 to 1990. Yearly seasonal habitat flows--including this, the first for
the newly rewatered river--are meant to imitate natural flooding by redistributing muck
from the river bottom, helping to distribute and germinate seeds from riparian vegetation
such as willows and cottonwood, and recharging groundwater tables in the flood plain,
among other purposes.

Several speakers at the ceremony wryly acknowledged that mitigation projects for Los
Angeles' water exports from the Owens Valley have often been a labor of law more than a
labor of love.

"We recognize that Los Angeles was a desert before we came to the Owens Valley and
that the Owens Valley was an oasis," the mayor said. "....Today we say we're
going to share the prosperity....We're here to be the neighbors we should have been one
hundred years ago."

"We've done this together," said David Nahai, who served on the Los Angeles
Board of Water and Power Commissioners before becoming LADWP's new general manager in
December 2007. "....While the past is immutable, the future is there for anyone to

That future is still written in water. Although the Lower Owens River Project partly
mitigates groundwater pumping damage from 1970-1990, damage to the Owens Valley from
ongoing groundwater pumping is still a source of conflict. In spite of joint groundwater
management agreements, Los Angeles' average yearly groundwater pumping exceeded
sustainable levels until 2005, when a court order temporarily reduced Los Angeles'
groundwater pumping in the Owens Valley until minimum flows in the river were well

Inyo County and Los Angeles are still negotiating the terms by which groundwater pumping
in the Owens Valley will be managed to avoid additional environmental impacts.
Desertification and damage to the valley's groundwater-dependent meadows are a deep and
ongoing concern. And, as Owens Valley Committee president Carla Scheidlinger noted during
the habitat flow ceremony, the Lower Owens River Project's degree of success will rest on
an as-yet-to-be-determined monitoring and adaptive management plan for the river.

Habitat flows to the Lower Owens will be ramped up slowly during a seven-day period from
the river's base flow of 40 cubic feet per second to approximately 200 cubic feet per
second at the Aqueduct Intake by about February 20. A peak flow of 200 cubic feet per
second will be maintained for 24 hours, and then flows will slowly drop again by about 20
percent per day to the 40 cubic feet per second base flow. Increased flows will take
approximately two weeks to travel down the river to the Alabama Gates area, where flows
will then be supplemented to maintain a 200 cfs flow for several days in the Lower Owens
River below the Alabama Spill Gate.

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