April 10 2012

City of Los Angeles, California Files Lawsuit for Ownership of Mammoth Creek


Mammoth CreekWater is an important resource and all too often it is taken for granted. We all expect water to be there when we need to do the dishes, take a shower, or rinse our food. While a renewable resource, only 3% of the world’s supply is fresh water and unfortunately, demand already surpasses supply. What happens when there isn’t enough water to go around and communities begin to battle over who the water belongs to? Here is a story about a contemporary water war in California.

On January 6, 2012, the City of Los Angeles filed a lawsuit against the Mammoth Lakes Water District (MLWD) claiming ownership of Mammoth Creek. The lawsuit asserts that residents of Mammoth Lakes, CA do not have the right to use water from Mammoth Creek, the Town’s only reliable water supply, for drinking or any other domestic uses.

The lawsuit was filed after MLWD completed a sustainable creek fishery management plan which proposed using water from Mammoth Creek to support a 50% increase in water use by Mammoth Lakes’ 7,900 residents (and thousands of tourists) by 2030. Los Angeles believes that the plan factors in water that Mammoth Lakes has no right to use. In the early 1900’s, Los Angeles water czar, William Mulholland, purchased nearly all of the private land in the county, in an effort to secure the water rights.

The Town of Mammoth Lakes, a small municipality with an urban growth boundary of 4 square miles, lies approximately 300 miles to the east of Los Angeles. Despite it’s size, the town is the only incorporated village in Mono County and is home to roughly 60% of the county’s population. According to Marty Adams, Director of Operations for the L.A. Department of Water and Power, “The citizens of Los Angeles depend on flows from Mammoth Creek, and the L.A. Department of Water and Power has a responsibility for protecting the city’s water rights.”

Both sides dispute the claims of the other and appear to be at a standstill. The Department of Water and Power has offered to temporarily hold off pursuing the lawsuit if the Mammoth Community Water District negotiates a solution acceptable to Los Angeles.

How long should legal claims to natural resources remain upheld? What happens when communities sell their rights to resources during an economic upswing or resource rich period only to realize later that they need it?

What water wars are you familiar with and what lessons can we as architects, engineers, environmental non-profits, and urban planners learn from them as we develop sustainable management strategies for the future?

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

Patricia Kent

Patricia Kent wrote for The GRID between October 2011 and October 2012. During this time she was a graduate student in Community & Regional Planning with a concentration in Latin American Studies at the University of New Mexico. She was also a recent transplant to Mammoth Lakes, CA. Her interests ranged from political theory and public policy to sustainable tourism. A strong advocate for participatory planning practices, her studies focused on community capacity building and economic development. She believed in fostering entrepreneurship in communities. Currently, Patricia is working on economic sustainability policies that benefit both the preservation of the Eastern Sierras as well as the ever-increasing tourist population.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, April 10th, 2012 at 7:44 am and is filed under Community/Economic Development, Environment, Environmental Design, Environmental Non-Profit, Government/Politics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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2 Responses to “City of Los Angeles, California Files Lawsuit for Ownership of Mammoth Creek”

  1. Adnan Kabir Says:

    So the actual summary of this is that water is one of the most important elements of nature as well as our everyday life. But water that useable is not in excess amount(less than 3%) that you said. But time can be changed and there may be war between the two Nations for the ownership of water. The world is now seeing this situation. By filing the lawsuit against the MLWD, California shows the inhuman behavior to general people of MLWD although Los Angeles water czar, William Mulholland, did some unique thing to secure the Water right. This has just damned the future project just taken by MLWD. But the most important thing is that this situation now comes to a static position. After all, the natural right of general people of Mammoth community to this creek should not be spoiled. And I think L.A. Department of Water and Power should do the entire necessary thing for the welfare of the people.

  2. Patricia Says:

    Thank you for your comment Adnan!

    There is so much at stake when it comes to water rights. Due to the very controversial nature of the issue (and other resource scarcity issues as well) I think that urban planners everywhere NEED to investigate alternative avenues for securing resources. In the case of water, I think a viable option for Mammoth Lakes AND Los Angeles may be the construction of desalination plants. What other alternatives can you think of to secure necessary natural resources aside from war?

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