DWP Policy Switch Leads to Dry Grass at Cain Ranch
The green meadows of the Mono Basin are a cherished part of this region's arid, high desert landscape. So it is understandable that area residents would be unhappy to see formerly irrigated pastures turn brown.
This is particularly true of Cain Ranch, a large meadow area owned by DWP several miles south of Lee Vining and one of the verdant expanses of the Mono Basin. But in recent, wet years portions of the ranch below the aqueduct have received little or no water, causing these green fields to turn to brown by mid-summer.
The reason for Cain Ranch's brown luster is clear: DWP decided not to irrigate below the aqueduct with Walker and Parker creek water. Interestingly, this is in contradiction to their policy as stated during the Water Board's EIR process.
In a 1992 letter from DWP's Mitch Kodama to Jordan Lang of Jones and Stokes (the firm which prepared the Water Board's EIR), the DWP outlined its "future Mono Basin irrigation policy." During wet years, DWP stated that it would continue historic irrigation of Cain Ranch below the aqueduct; during normal years, DWP indicated irrigation below the aqueduct would be discretionary. Only during dry years did DWP specify that no irrigation would occur.
Since DWP owns Cain Ranch, how much land the Department decides to irrigate is ultimately its own choice. However, in late September, when local residents expressed their distress at seeing Cain Ranch's pastures turn brown again despite a second wet year, DWP responded by claiming that court orders won by the Mono Lake Committee in 1990 did not permit DWP to irrigate major parts of Cain Ranch below the aqueduct. This was not true.
Water Board staff member Jim Canaday set the record straight at an October community meeting. He explained that nothing in the 1990 El Dorado Superior Court decision or the 1994 State Board decision prevents DWP from irrigating Cain Ranch with water from Walker or Parker creeks, as long as required minimum stream flows and seasonal peak flows are met.
In fact, in most years there is water above the Water Board-ordered minimums that is available for irrigation on Cain Ranch. The Mono Lake Committee has prepared tables showing water availability in different types of years, and this information has been made available to all Mono Basin residents interested in seeing the pastures rewatered. The next move will be for locals, and the Committee, to pursue the matter with DWP. See the Spring 1997 Mono Lake Newsletter for an update on this issue.