For 100 years, the legendary L.A. Aqueduct has been a key source of water from the Owens Valley and Mono Basin. It currently provides about one-third of the City of Los Angeles’ water supply for the nation’s second largest water utility. A landmark public trust court decision over three decades ago seriously curtailed this source of supply from the Mono Basin. Today, drought imperils much of California’s water supply. Yannotta’s presentation will discuss how the Department is dealing with their current and future water supply within their strict environmental regulations.
A: Let me first say that everything we do in California has to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Regarding a public trust- when we were seeking to renew our water rights license in the Mono Basin, we were challenged by a number of environmental organizations that claimed that our diversions caused an issue with the public trust. Everything we do has to be done in a manner that provides our service of high quality, low cost electricity and water, but also done in an environmental and publicly responsible manner.
Q: Is this a strategy you have had to re-think as a result of the Public Trust Doctrine?
A: That’s how we have to deal with all of our operations, whether they are ongoing operations and maintenance, or construction. We have to follow the requirements of CEQA. If we are causing environmental concerns, we have to look at what sort of mitigation we need to implement to minimize those effects.
Q: Are those regulations a result of California’s Public Trust Doctrine?
A: CEQA was enacted a few decades ago. It dictates that for any entity proposing to do work, if there are significant environmental and community-based effects associated with the work, there are a number of things that need to be considered to decide whether or not mitigation needs to take place. In California this is a very stringent process. The Public Trust Doctrine was implemented in California when we were challenged in the 1970’s and 80’s for our exports out of the Mono Basin into the L.A. aqueduct system. It was the 1990’s when the State Water Resources Control Board had to mandate new restrictions for us. As part of reaching that agreement we had to consider the Public Trust Doctrine.
Q: Is the Public Trust Doctrine an active part of the conversation as you deal with the current drought in California? Does anybody ever mention it specifically?
A: That to me isn’t at the forefront of the conversation, but it’s something we always have to be aware of in our business. Part of my presentation will focus on how L.A. is getting through periods of drought. Certainly it affects our limitations on importing water from outside the city. There’s’ no new water to tap, so we’ve been aggressive in developing local water supply programs such as storm water collection. We have to better improve our groundwater basin in the city of Los Angeles and discuss what additional conservation we need to move forward. Those are programs we’ve been working on diligently over the past 5-10 years. Those programs will reduce our need for imported water. Whether we’re in a drought or not, we need to do this because as we get further into the future, there could be more challenges on imported water coming from the Colorado River and the State of California Water Project. There are issues associated with all of these supplies that may not allow us to continue to receive the same amount of water.
Q: As a state that doesn’t currently have a Public Trust Doctrine but faces that threat and that of drought, what advice do you have to give to Colorado in terms of water supply management?
A: I am not an expert on the Public Trust Doctrine in Colorado, but I would say that whether it’s a new project that a utility in Colorado is proposing to implement or whether it’s their ongoing operation I would be cautious to look at what potential environmental impacts the project may have. Will it affect a certain portion of the public? This is not to say that you shouldn’t move forward, but you need to look at what those issues are and determine whether there is something you can do to minimize your impact. The mere fact that Colorado doesn’t have an Environmental Quality Act like California’s means that it’s important for you to identify the potential ramifications of your project. If you are a water utility in Colorado and want to move forward, you most likely have a darn good reason, but be mindful of the consequences. Identify what you can do to minimize impacts.
Since you don’t have a Public Trust Doctrine or the equivalent of CEQA, if you move ahead with a project and you are able to address those environmental concerns, you are less likely to be hamstrung by future regulations that are not yet in place.
Q: The title of your presentation is, “Developing Reliable Water Supplies- Los Angeles’ Experience.” How do you define “reliable water supply”?
A: That we would, from year to year, always be able to depend on that supply as a key source. When we say reliable in the City of Los Angeles: We have a demand of 600,000 acre-feet a year. That’s 20 billion gallons of water every year. We need to have a portfolio, a number of sources, so we know that we can reliably meet our demands. In times of severe drought there will be a reduction in the surface water portions of that supply- the imported water- so then we have to make up the difference with conservation. The more we’re able to conserve the more we reduce our need to acquire water. All the efforts we’re making, whether it’s better management of our current resources or development of local water supplies need to include conservation.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
I am going to talk a lot about our Eastern Sierra Supply (that’s the L.A. aqueduct system). The Mono Basin is the North-end supply of that system. I’ll talk a bit about Mono Lake including the background and history of the aqueduct system itself and the court decision of 1983 regarding a Public Trust Doctrine. I’ll talk about what we’re doing to comply. Then I’ll talk about our water supply in the past and future and how were going to reduce dependence on imported supply. I’m also going to talk about the California Environmental Quality Act.