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Eminent Domain Used in Owens Valley Water Rights Fight


Inyo County has begun eminent domain proceedings in attempt to take back property bought up by Los Angeles in the 1900s. The land in question was quietly purchased by agents from LA who were posing as ranchers and farmers. Sound familiar? That’s because the events became a key part of California’s history and was also the subject of the classic 1974 film “Chinatown.” Los Angeles would go on to drain the water from Owens Valley to fuel the city’s metropolitan growth.

This marks the first time that Inyo County has used eminent domain against the LA Department of Water and Power, a company that owns 25% of the Owens Valley floor. Past battles with DWP emphasized the environmental and economic damage caused by the pumping of local water supplies. However, the county hopes to use the newest strategy to seek market value for property and water rights needed for landfills, parks, commerce, and ranchlands along a 112-mile stretch of Highway 395 east of the Sierra Nevada.

According to Inyo County Supervisor Rick Pucci, “We're using a hammer the DWP has never seen before in Owens Valley…Our goal is the future health and safety of our communities." Fair market value for the total 200 acres was determined to be $522,000 by county appraisers. DWP declined the offer because it had yet to complete its own appraisals.

Although the Inyo County official’s efforts are an important step in restoring local control, DWP has acknowledged that such efforts can lead to a slippery slope. According to chief operating officer, Marty Adams, “The county also wants the water rights on certain properties, which could have a cascading effect. We're very concerned about that."

Want to learn more about eminent domain? Contact our San Diego eminent domain attorneys to get help today.