Retired Judge to Bring Water Fight Neutrality

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – A retired judge from Placer County will sort out the tense legal battle between the city of Los Angeles and the small mountain community of Mammoth Lakes over water rights.
     The dispute concerns an attempt to move the point on Mammoth Creek where water flow rate for the fishery bypass is measured. Though the Mammoth Community Water District thinks the gauge will be more effective inside the district’s service area, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power says it has senior water rights on Mammoth Creek and that it receives 25 percent of its water from Eastern Sierra sources.
     The department also says the district’s 2010 water management plan encroaches on its water rights.
     Before the appointment of Judge James Garbolino, formerly of Placer County Superior Court, Judge Stan Eller had presided over the case in Mono County. The parties settled on a new judge after the city tried unsuccessfully last month to have the case head in Fresno County.
     Garbolino will step in to maintain neutrality in a case that has swept the public interest.
     The water district met the news favorably.
     “He’s very respected, and we have every reason to believe that he will be fair in considering this case and will rule appropriately,” the water district’s attorney Alan Lily told Courthouse News.
     Eller, a former Mono County district attorney who once handled cases against the water and power department, said he could be impartial, but he reportedly stepped aside since both the water district and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power supported the idea.
     At a May 10 hearing to choose Eller’s replacement, the water district fought the city’s recommendation of retired Kern County Superior Court Judge Roger Randall. Lily refused to comment on that strategy.
     The district says it has valid water rights, including the right to divert water from local sources.
     “The plan was compiled by law and appropriately adopted,” Lily told Courthouse News.
     A section of the district’s website also says that Mammoth Lakes water diversions have been ongoing for the last six decades, and that the city never objected before December 2010.
     Lily said he could not comment on why the city has apparently changed course on Mammoth Creek water use.
     Chance of Rain, an environmental website, reported that the water department’s new general manager, Ron Nichols, is responsible for the agency’s aggressive strategy. A former energy broker, Nichols was appointed in December 2010 by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
     Lily said the case is still in its preliminary stages, but a possible schedule for future actions may be discussed at a June status conference.
     Attempts to settle the case out of court have not proved successful, with the district rejecting an offer that the district replace the creek as its water source and cover the cost of sending the water to Los Angeles.
     Sierra Wave reported that the city paid well-known environmental law firm Myers-Nave $450,000 to handle its lawsuits against Mammoth.
     The water department could not be reached for comment.

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