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Garcetti Declares State Of Emergency To Protect Owens Valley From Record Snowmelt

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Mayor Eric Garcetti and representatives from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. (Photo by Julia Wick/LAist)
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After years of drought, authorities are preparing for the largest amount of snowpack runoff in the hundred-plus year history of the Los Angeles Aqueduct to make its way through the aqueduct system this spring and summer. On Monday, Mayor Eric Garcetti declared a local state of emergency for the Los Angeles Aqueduct system, which will allow the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to take immediate steps to protect infrastructure and avoid flooding in the Owens Valley.

Snowpack levels in the Eastern Sierra are currently at 217% of normal, which means that up to 1 million acre feet of water—or approximately twice what Angelenos consume in a year—could flow through the system. The city of Los Angeles owns hundreds of miles of land in the Owens Valley (fun fact: the actual footprint of land that we own up there is as big as the entire city of Los Angeles itself). Located east of the Sierra Nevada and west of the White Mountains, Owens Valley is about 200 miles away from Los Angeles.

We were out of water, and now we have a bunch of water, so what's the problem? Well, 1 million acre feet of water would exceed the storage capacity of the entire aqueduct system, and the runoff will likely threaten local communities, hydroelectric power plants, and dust mitigation infrastructure in Owens Lake with destructive flooding.

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Owens Lake (or what's left of it—remember Chinatown?), where the LADWP has invested more than $1 billion in dust mitigation efforts since 2000, is also the natural terminus for the snowmelt flowing down the Owens River through the Owens Valley. Any water that doesn't make it into the aqueduct system or local aquifers will make its way to Owens Lake, where it would cause significant flood damage to the dust control infrastructure that we spent all that money on. The measures in question have effectively reduced dust pollution in the Owens Valley by 96% over the past 17 years, according to the LADWP. The destruction of all or part of that infrastructure would generate air pollution that could threaten the health of the public in the Owens Valley after the runoff evaporates over the next 12 to 18 months.

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(Courtesy of the LADWP)
“I am declaring a local State of Emergency today because we have a responsibility to protect Angelenos and the people of the Owens Valley — we must act quickly to address this threat,” said Mayor Garcetti. “I have also requested that Governor Brown help us coordinate our response with state agencies.”


"This declaration covers land that sits adjacent to the Los Angeles Aqueduct and will impact the city as well as the Mono, Inyo, Kern and Los Angeles counties," Garcetti said, adding that this was the first time he'd declared any type of emergency since taking office.

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The declaration of emergency, which still needs to be approved by City Council, will allow the LADWP to respond to the immediate threat of flooding in the Owens Valley and trigger special rules that enable the utility to contract for the goods and services it needs more quickly, according to the mayor's office.

In addition to the emergency measures at Owens Lake, the LADWP is taking a number of actions to prepare for the record runoff, including armoring and repairing certain L.A. Aqueduct facilities from floodwater impacts, cleaning out water conveyance and delivery facilities of debris, increasing water storage at certain locations, increasing water flows in certain controlled waterways, constructing flood control projects throughout the aqueduct system to mitigate potential harm and maximizing the amount of water delivered to Los Angeles "while ensuring all water available is put to the highest and most beneficial use," according to a department fact sheet.

“LADWP has made a commitment to the residents of the Owens Valley to control dust emissions that can be harmful to breathe, and have spent over $1 billion on infrastructure to mitigate this dust. As storm waters threaten to destroy much of this investment, we must honor our commitment to the residents of the Owens Valley to reduce this form of air pollution, just like we honor our commitments to rate payers in the L.A. Basin," LADWP General Manager David H. Wright said during the press conference.