WETLAB’s Insight into Water Wars
A Little Bit of History Repeating: California Water Wars
Look throughout history, and water’s vital importance has played a key role in shaping our planet, our societies and our politics. That’s why making sure what water we have is useable is so important, and why we take our water quality work seriously at Wetlab. Just look to our neighbor to the west – California’s history with water has occasionally been a contentious one. The center of the conflict is just a few hours south on Highway 395 along the Eastern Sierra.
In the beginning of the last century as Los Angeles started to outgrow local water sources, William Mulholland, head of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, acquired water rights throughout the Owens Valley and up to Mono Lake.
This heavily impacted agriculture and ranching in the area, turning Owens Lake into a dust bowl, leading farmers to try to destroy the aqueduct. This was the backdrop for the 1974 film Chinatown, staring Jack Nicholson, which fictionalized unscrupulous dealings that brought water from the Owens Valley to Los Angeles via the Los Angeles Aqueduct.
Environmental groups worked to mitigate the damage, and the Mono Lake Committee through litigation was able to stop Mono Lake from the same fate as Owens Lake to the south in the 1990s with a plan that should partially restore the receding body of water.
But tension still exists over the century-old water dispute, with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power recently challenging the Mammoth Lakes Water District, filing suit over water rights to Mammoth Creek, according to www.sierrawave.net.
“The Mammoth Creek flow is approximately 25% of the City’s water export from the Eastern Sierra,” says the agency in a complaint filed in Mono County Superior Court, as quoted in www.courthousenews.com.
“The citizens of Los Angeles depend on flows from Mammoth Creek, and the L.A. Department of Water and Power has a responsibility for protecting the city’s water rights,” said DWP Director of Operations Marty Adams, in a written statement as quoted by the www.northhollywood.patch.com. “Taking water from Mammoth Creek reduces the volume of water to which Los Angeles has prior rights, that can be delivered to the citizens of Los Angeles, directly translating to our customers who pay our water rates.”
The head of Mammoth’s water district Greg Norby disputed the claim in the same article: “It’s fundamentally false and without merit,” he said. “Less than 1 percent of their water is exported from here. We’ve told them the amount is immeasurable, but they won’t listen.”
But the effects on Mammoth would be more damaging, Norby said. We’ll have to wait and see what the resolution is to this latest chapter in just one of the ongoing water rights sagas of the west.