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Lower Owens River Project

The Sierra Club and the Owens Valley Committee (OVC) have been involved in the court-mandated project by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to rewater the Lower Owens River, as well as to restore Owens Lake. The dried-up Lake is a huge source of air pollution. The Sierra Club and OVC have commented on the EIR for the Lower Owens River Project. The comment document (181 pages) is posted as a pdf file on the OVC website along with other info.  A new lawsuit over monitoring issues was filed in September, 2008. The good news is that the rewatering of the Owens River and the dust mitigation project in the Owens Lake has resulted in return of flora and fauna as documented in the Big Bird count made in April, 2009.

Water Release into Lower Owens River to Mimic Spring Flow

In early February 2008, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Los Angeles Dept. of Water and Power (LADWP) General Manager David Nahai flew in by helicopter for a brief ceremony to release additional water into the Lower Owens River from the Los Angeles aqueduct. The additional water release is part of the largest river restoration project in the US. and is a result of the Sierra Club's and the Owens Valley Committee's successful lawsuit against LADWP. The first water release of a minimum flow into a river that had been dry for 95 years was celebrated in December 2006. Almost a century ago, water that had been flowing in the Lower Owens River was diverted into the aqueduct supplying water to Los Angeles, resulting in a dry river bed and loss of riparian vegetation.

The river is recovering now and additional seasonal releases should ensure a transformation into a lush habitat for waterfowl, shorebirds and fish. Without the dedication and hard work of people who care about the Owens Valley, this could not have happened. Mark Bagley of the Sierra Club and Carla Scheidlinger, President of the Owens Valley Committee (OVC), are leaders on this project and Mayor Villaraigosa recognized them for their contributions to this great environmental achievement. Ceil Klinger of OVC also provided invaluable assistance in the success of the Lower Owens River Project (LORP). This effort has a long history going back more than twenty years and involved many people, including the late Mary DeDecker.

After the short speeches, Mayor Villaraigosa and General Manager Nahai, together with Mark and other invited guests floated down the Lower Owens River. The restored river now provides opportunities for bird watching, kayaking, canoeing and other nature activities. 

Mark Bagley, Sierra Club Representative for LORP, also works closely with OVC on LORP. In 2006 the National Sierra Club gave Mark a special recognition award and the California/Nevada Conservation Committee awarded him the Les and Sally Reid Award for his extraordinary service over many years on the Lower Owens River Project. Thank you, Mark.

Historical Information -- Lower Owens River Project Update -- Lawsuits moving forward as the Owens River rewatering project is delayed again

The long delayed Lower Owens River Project (LORP), designed to rewater over 60 miles of river channel, will be delayed once again. In a recent court status report, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) admitted that the September 2005 deadline to begin the rewatering would not be met. This deadline was agreed to in a February 2004 Stipulation and Court Order in the Sierra Club lawsuit against LADWP.

Two main factors are holding up the project. First, an EIS needs to be completed and approved by EPA in order to provide needed federal grant funds and for wetland permitting by the Army Corps of Engineers. Second, the Lahonton Regional Water Quality Control Board has not yet issued required water quality and waste discharge permits.

However, the Sierra Club lawsuit, filed in conjunction with the Owens Valley Committee and joined by the State of California, has moved forward. After lengthy preparations, three days of Court hearings were held in late April over alleged LADWP violations of the 2004 Stipulation and Order.

These violations include the Final LORP EIS not being released and LADWP not working diligently with EPA to make that happen, complete permit applications not being filed with the Lahonton water board within the required time, and related studies of Yellow-billed Cuckoo habitats and additional mitigation not being completed.

Hopefully, a ruling will be issued by early June. If the Court finds in our favor, a hearing on sanctions is likely. In addition to new deadlines, we have asked for financial penalties or reductions in groundwater exports to take away LADWP’s financial incentive to delay.

Sierra Club has a second lawsuit over the adequacy of the Final LORP EIR, the state environmental document. A hearing on that is scheduled for late July.

A third lawsuit, filed by Sierra Club and Owens Valley Committee, alleges that the LORP management plan is not consistent with the requirements of the 1997 MOU. The main issues are management of the project after implementation, through a required monitoring and adaptive management program. A status conference on this case has been set for late July.

May 5, 2005
By Mark Bagley, Sierra Club
Owens Valley MOU Representative

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Page Last Updated February 22, 2014