7/25/2005 Judge threatens to stop exports
In a July 25 hearing to discuss sanctions against the City of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) for delays in implementing the Lower Owens River Project (LORP), Inyo County Superior Court Judge Lee Cooper, Jr., outlined an order that will stop water exports from the Owens Valley to Los Angeles via Los Angeles' second aqueduct if Los Angeles fails to commence flows to the Lower Owens River by January 25, 2007.

The project, which would restore 62 miles of the Lower Owens River, is partial mitigation for decades of groundwater pumping to fill the second aqueduct. Los Angeles diverted the Lower Owens River to its first aqueduct in 1913.

Cooper ordered that until flows in the river reach 40 cubic feet per second--the level agreed upon in a 1997 Memorandum of Understanding-- LADWP will provide 16,294 acre feet of water a year to replenish groundwater tables in the Owens Valley, restrict groundwater pumping to 57,412 acre feet per year, and beginning September 5, 2005--the most recent deadline for flows to commence to the river-- pay $5,000 per day until base flows in the river reach agreed-upon levels. If LADWP does not meet these conditions in addition to commencing flows by January 25, 2007, the judge's order to enjoin and restrain LADWP from exporting water from the Owens Valley through its second aqueduct will be implemented permanently.

"No excuses will be accepted," Cooper said. He added that it was "incredible" that LADWP had been in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act for more than 30 years.

The California Attorney General's Office, the Sierra Club, and the Owens Valley Committee (OVC) all requested during the hearing that the judge implement both deadlines and groundwater sanctions against LADWP. Gordon Burns, Deputy Attorney General for California, observed that LADWP had a "perverse incentive" to miss deadlines because the agency saved millions of dollars from delays.

"Now is not the time to take the foot off the gas," he said, pointing out that LADWP had become much more "creative" in seeking solutions since Cooper's June 24 ruling that LADWP should face sanctions for delays.

Los Angeles Deputy City Attorney Joseph Brajevich argued that sanctions against LADWP were inappropriate because it was other parties who were slowing the project. "Lead, follow, or get out of the way," he said. "....We're prepared to lead if others will get out of the way."

If LADWP was, after years of delay, now prepared to lead, replied OVC attorney Don Mooney, it was "because we're behind them pushing."

Ultimately, Cooper concluded that "virtually every order ha[d] been violated" by LADWP. "It's time that stopped," he said.

--Ceal Klingler

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