Water diversion paused

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Water diversion pausedWater diversion was temporarily halted earlier this week, but not before the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power had diverted nearly 70 million cubic feet of water into the Indian Wells Valley.

In the 18 days of water diversion, IWV received an additional 1,600 acre feet of water — about enough to serve the needs of some 3,200 households for an entire year.

But as communities across the state prepare for an epic influx of water as the winter’s tremendous snowpack melts into runoff, the valley is among those that may not see any long-term benefit from the much-needed water.

LADWP manager of media relations Amanda Parsons reported that a few weeks ago, the Crowley Lake reservoir was nearing capacity. To draw down that level, in order to make way for the anticipated snowmelt, LADWP began diverting 45 cubic feet per second of water through Freeman Gulch on Feb. 25, located just north of Robber’s Roost.

The water follows a series of washes and gullies to collect on the China Lake ranges, reportedly just northwest of SNORT.

Naval Air Weapons Station Public Affairs Officer Margo Allen reported that water does not pose an immediate threat to facilities, but “We are definitely keeping an eye on it.”

The more pressing concern for many is, how can the Indian Wells Valley capture that water? The same question faces property owners in Rose Valley, which has seen a similar influx of water diverted by LADWP out of the Haiwee Reservoir.

The problem, apart from evaporation, is that little water is expected to percolate down to the groundwater table — located anywhere between 200 and 400 feet below the surface in the IWV.

While the Owens Valley is much closer to the surface, water reportedly cannot be released onto the dry lakebed without destroying ongoing dust-mitigation operations.

Government officials are quick to point out that no funds are available to put emergency measures in place for capture. Allen adds that while the water is collecting on the Navy’s property at China Lake, she believes it still belongs to the LADWP.

Representatives from Kevin McCarthy’s office note that, in light of a recent rescinding of the Environmental Protection Agency’s earlier ruling that brought into question water rights, the Navy may once again has claim to any surface water found on their property. At press time, Allen said that she was exploring recent federal action, but had not yet obtained a legal opinion on it.

Neither NAWS nor LADWP could recall precedent for diversion into the IWV from the aqueduct, but a report written in 2004 by Colorado School of Mines geologist David Williams cites at least one other instance.

“In 1977, while the Elizabeth Tunnel [which transports water across the San Andreas Fault] was closed one week for repairs, Indian Wells Valley and U.S. Navy officials convinced LADWP to dump the entire aqueduct flow into Freeman Gulch and Little Dixie Wash,” reads the paper.

“Annual flow in the aqueduct that year was estimated to be 507,245 acre feet per year. This, in turn, contributed approximately 9,730 acre feet of potential recharge to the Indian Wells Valley groundwater basin.”

LADWP officials anticipate additional diversion as snowmelt continues to exceed storage capacity. Using the current rate of egress, this means the valley could see upwards of 15,000 additional acre feet before the summer ends.

Don Zdeba, general manager of the IWV Water District, said the district approached LADWP in 2008 to propose a water banking project which would increase storage for the aqueduct while yielding additional water for the valley.

At the eleventh hour, that project was scrapped by LADWP. However, Zdeba said he has already pointed to the current diversion as cause for revisiting the partnership — which would contribute to a long-term solution for the valley’s water supply.

“What’s happening now is a clear wake-up call for the need for investment in infrastructure,” said Assemblyman Vince Fong, who in the few short months since being elected has made a strong case for improving roadways and water storage.

“In the past six years, our general fund spending has gone up 36 billion dollars. None of that has gone to transportation, and very little has gone into water projects,” he said.

“With the storms the last few months, I think there is a little more focus on this issue, but the legislature as a whole has not taken any real action. If we had done the responsible thing years ago, we would have had the resources to deal with what is happening today.

“We cannot continue to procrastinate and try and manage our water needs season by season. We have to take a step back and plan for the long haul. We need storage for wet years like this one.”

Despite having 200 percent snowpack this year, much of the water will run out into the ocean — or simply evaporate and soak into topsoil, like in the IWV.

Parsons said that the LADWP is currently evaluating the need for additional storage, but has no specific plans at this time.

Story First Published: 2017-03-17