Mayor Eric Garcetti. Photo
Mayor Eric Garcetti. Photo

In something of a drought irony, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti declared a state of emergency Monday in the Owens Valley, where extremely high snowpack runoff levels are threatening to cause flooding and damage infrastructure in the coming months.

The declaration allows the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to take immediate steps to prepare for the expected surge in runoff water. The city owns hundreds of square miles of land in the Owens Valley, which is more than 200 miles away from Los Angeles and feeds the city’s aqueduct system.

After a years-long drought in California and Los Angeles forced residents to save massive amounts of water, there may be some irony as the LADWP predicts that the snowpack runoff level from the Eastern Sierra Nevada will be one of the largest in the 100-plus year history of the Los Angeles Aqueduct.

This is the first state of emergency Garcetti has declared since becoming mayor in 2013.

“The reason we are doing this now is when we see a potentially disastrous situation, a situation that could hurt our economy, our family and our environment, we don’t wait,” Garcetti said at a news conference at City Hall.

The city gets up to a third of its water supply from the aqueduct, depending on the year, but has received little from it since 2015 as a result of the drought. But record levels of rainfall and snow this winter have resulted in the opposite problem, as up to 1 million acre feet of water — or about twice the amount that Angelenos use in a year — is expected to flow through the aqueduct system this spring and summer.

The state of emergency allows the LADWP to quickly hire subcontractors and procure materials needed to prepare for the expected increase in water. The state of emergency will need to be approved by the City Council within seven days to continue, and will require further council resolutions on a regular basis to stay active.

The LADWP has spent more than $1.1 billion since 2000 constructing dust control measures around Owens Lake, and the high water levels could damage the infrastructure and vegetation that have been put in place, as well as cause flooding in the area.

Richard Harasick, senior general manager of the water system for LADWP, said up to $500 million in damage could occur as a result of the increased water runoff. However, he said there are funds already in the department’s budget, including for dust control, that can be redirected to help pay for the cost of the expected damage.

—City News Service

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