December 6, 2006

Mayor Villaraigosa, LADWP, Inyo County Send First Water Flow into the Lower Owens River

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Inyo County Board of Supervisors Chair Susan Cash made history today as they released the first flow of water into the Lower Owens River since the City of Los Angeles began diverting water from it nearly a century ago.

"By opening these gates today, we will demonstrate to the world that the great City of Los Angeles is prepared to own up to its history and that we can thrive in partnership and in balance with our neighbors and with the environment of the Eastern Sierra," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said. "Today, I will push a button that will move the waters of the Owens River back into their natural channel to the south. We are here today because we need to change course. We need to move with these waters."

The Lower Owens River Project (LORP), a cooperative effort of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) and the County of Inyo, will provide a steady flow of water to 62 miles of the Owens River below the Los Angeles Aqueduct Intake where the river has been essentially dry since the Aqueduct opened in 1913. From the Aqueduct Intake, water will be released through automated gates, and follow its natural route down to the Delta of Owens Lake just south of Lone Pine. Additional water will spread into basins at Blackrock and the Owens Lake Delta to create hundreds of acres of wetland habitat and maintain off-river lakes and ponds for waterfowl, shore birds and fisheries.

LADWP Board President H. David Nahai called the water release a momentous event in the City's water history and its relations with the residents of Owens Valley, who have been at odds with the City over its water-gathering activities since the early 1900s.

"The rejuvenation of the river demonstrates the Board of Water and Power Commissioners' commitment to enhancing the Owens Valley environment," Nahai said. "But there are many other benefits. We expect the Lower Owens to become a haven for naturalists and outdoor activities such as birding and fishing, and to help boost the local economy. It will also be a remarkable educational opportunity for school kids and scientists alike to watch and study the progress of a major river restoration."

Susan Cash, chair of the Inyo County Board of Supervisors, said: "This is a momentous day for Inyo County and Los Angeles; this is a project that will set a standard for restoration projects throughout California and the southwest. Turning the valve today is the capstone of all of the hard work to date by both of our agencies, their employees, citizen groups, and many other stakeholders.

"It is only the beginning of the Lower Owens River Project -- Inyo County and Los Angeles are charged with jointly maintaining the project in perpetuity, which requires that we cooperate for centuries to come. We've learned many lessons from those who have fought the water wars before us; now we can move forward to ensure this project is successful," Cash said.

LADWP is releasing the first water into the river nearly two months ahead of schedule. Inyo County Superior Court had set deadlines for the LORP implementation requiring flows to commence by Jan. 25, 2007, and the full flow of 40 cubic feet per second (cfs) by July 25, 2007.

LADWP officials said they expect to meet the target flows before that deadline. Since beginning the $24 million construction project in January 2006, LADWP crews have built a new water release structure and dredged almost two miles of the river channel near the Los Angeles Aqueduct Intake. At the same time, work has been underway to construct a 50 cubic-feet-per-second pump station just north of Owens Lake.

The pump station will return a portion of the water to the Los Angeles Aqueduct or deliver it to the Owens Lake Dust Control Project. In addition, work has involved construction of a diversion channel, service roads, electrical service, settling basin, fencing for grazing and recreational management, and water control and measuring structures.

LADWP General Manager Ron Deaton said that once target flow is achieved and the pump station is operating, the LORP is expected to require about 9,000 acre-feet of water per year, worth about $3 million. "We expect to be able to achieve this flow without impacting the supply of water for Los Angeles. We will offset the water losses partially through water conservation, which has reached an all-time high in the City, and through additional water purchases."

The City's successful water conservation efforts are reflected by the fact that water usage is approximately the same today as it was 25 years ago, despite a population increase of over 1 million people, said James McDaniel, chief operating officer of LADWP's Water System.

The LORP evolved from an idea conceived nearly 25 years ago by the LADWP and Fish and Game biologists. The 1991 Los Angeles/Inyo County Water Agreement and Environmental Impact Report on the construction of the Second L.A. Aqueduct formally identified the LORP as mitigation for Owens Valley groundwater pumping by Los Angeles between 1970 and 1990. The LORP was further defined in a 1997 MOU among the LADWP, Inyo County, the State Lands Commission, the California Department of Fish and Game, the Owens Valley Committee, and the Sierra Club.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the nation's largest municipal utility, provides reliable, low-cost water and power services to Los Angeles residents and businesses in an environmentally responsible manner. LADWP services about 1.4 million electric customers and 680,000 water customers in Los Angeles.

For more information, please visit