After two years of dispute, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the Mammoth Lakes Community Water District on Thursday announced that they have reached a compromise settlement over use of the High Sierra ski town’s water supply.
In return for a payment of $3.4 million now -- and a payment in about 50 years of $2.4 million, adjusted for inflation – the DWP has agreed to drop two lawsuits and both sides have agreed never to challenge each other’s water rights.
The DWP will use the money for water-saving improvements designed to increase flows in the Los Angeles Aqueduct system by 1,779 acre-feet of water annually.
The district will continue to divert up to 2,760 acre-feet of water annually from Mammoth Creek, which tumbles through town. It can also meet the projected water needs of the community and the local travel and tourism economy.
“The Mammoth Lakes community is assured of the water it needs to flourish,” DWP General Manager Ron Nichols said in a prepared statement, “and the water conservation efforts funded by MCWD will return water to LA DWP’s water system,” effectively replacing water that would have been used by the district.
The district, which serves 7,700 year-round residents who are largely working-class employees catering to vacationers who travel 300 miles north from Los Angeles, has run up more than $600,000 in legal expenses in the case.
The DWP argued that it has owned the water since 1905. The water district claimed that it is entitled to as much as 2,760 acre-feet of water annually under licenses and a permit granted by the state dating to 1949.
The district also argued that the DWP should not be allowed to claim the water after allowing the community to become dependent upon it for decades by relying on those licenses and permit.
DWP officials said the district wasn’t a big concern when the community was small. But after decades of growth that included condos and golf courses, the district’s water diversions grew to 1% of the flows in the century-old aqueduct carrying water from the Eastern Sierra to Los Angeles.
“We appreciate the rational approach that LA DWP took in resolving these matters,” Tom Smith, president of the Mammoth Community Water District Board, said in a prepared statement. “Even though this is a minimal amount of water for L.A., it is critical to our community’s future.”