The only long term solution to Owens Valley resource management problems is to solve the underlying political injustice of colonial rule. So long as a city of four million people depends on Owens Valley water and effectively owns the valley, exploitative management will be an irresistible temptation regardless of the content of management agreements and promises of political leaders.
Fortunately, the idea of LA giving up its colony is not as far-fetched as it might seem. Rhetorically, the battle is already won. Mayor Garcetti has hired a “sustainability officer” and seeks to “reduce the amount of imported water” on which LA relies. The mayor has stated that 85% of LA’s water is imported and “we wash out 60% of our daily water to the ocean every day. Imagine if we recycled…” The water washed to the ocean is treated almost to drinking water standards. By upgrading the treatment and building a pipe that runs to a reservoir instead of the ocean LA could reduce its dependence on imported water by 60%.
By investing in storm-water capture facilities, fixing leaky pipes, and making current conservation measures permanent, LA could certainly reduce demand for imported water by another 25%. Combined with the 60% reduction from recycling, by the mayor’s own numbers there would be no need for imported water, and his goal of sustainability would be attained.
While this will certainly require a large financial investment, under the status quo the city is committed to endless (and extremely expensive) bulldozing and manipulations to mitigate dust at Owens Lake. Investment in infrastructure in LA to reduce demand for Owens Valley water would eventually free enough water to fill Owens Lake and obviate the need for the expensive dust-control measures. At some point political leaders will recognize the absurdity of the status quo: endlessly bulldozing the bed of Owens Lake instead of investing in recycling/stormwater-capture/conservation and creating jobs in LA.
With no need for Owens Valley water, DWP could phase out its use of the aqueduct and consider a just way to dispose of the land in its colony. Returning land to local tribes and/or placing it in conservation easements could address concerns about protecting open space and some of the injustice of colonial rule. It is entirely possible for DWP to leave the valley without the valley turning into suburban nightmare. It all depends on the will of the colonial rulers in LA and the determination of Owens Valley residents.
Until Owens Valley attains its independence, the LTWA/EIR/MOU will remain the only constraints on DWP’s management (assuming DWP land continues to be exempt from the state groundwater law). The single most effective way to improve management under the LTWA/EIR/MOU would be to take the suggestion of Gary Bacock, (former Administrator of the Big Pine Tribe) and others, and add a tribal representative to the Standing Committee. Adding any third party to the Standing Committee would break the 1:1 gridlock that so often happens. Of all possible third parties, Owens Valley Paiute have the strongest claim as they successfully managed Owens Valley water for centuries before Los Angeles or Inyo County existed. This would be a historic step toward justice as well as improved resource management.