Why is Haiwee Reservoir Still Closed to Fishing?

Haiwee Reservoir

Have you ever spotted an awesome body of water from the road and wondered if you could fish it? On a recent road trip to Bishop, I encountered Haiwee Reservoir and could not help but think about just that. After considerable research, emails, and phone interviews, I have a tale for you!

North and South Haiwee Reservoirs may be seen just to the east of 395, before Olancha and after Fossil Falls. Two picturesque bodies of water, they represent a tantalizing target for anglers and a symbol of the historic conflict over water that has haunted this region for years. 

Do they have fish? Absolutely, according to the LA Times, the lakes hold rainbow trout, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, brown trout, Sacramento perch, bluegill, carp, and more. The lakes were even stocked by DFG for several years (Daily News Outdoor). Sadly, while once open to anglers, these lakes remain closed for the last 10 years. Fortunately, concerned locals are pressing for the right to once-again be allowed to enjoy these public lands (under BLM and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) regulations). 

Click below to keep reading

Haiwee Reservoir from the air

California Water Wars

Before I dive into the murky conflict over Haiwee (pronounced HAY-wee), let's take a look at the general area. First, a quick primer on the California Water Wars or Owens Valley Water War. In the early 1900s, the Mayor of Los Angeles and the Water District (now known as the LADWP) realized LA needed a larger source of water if it was to continue to expand. Among the power-brokers in LA, and central to this plan was William Mulholland (whom the Santa Monica Mountains Mulholland Highway is named after). He and his compatriots decided to build a large aqueduct from the Owens Valley and divert water from the Owens River to LA. To do so, they "used underhanded methods to obtain water rights"(link) and eventually purchased large swaths of land from the farmers in the region. The purchases did not go unnoticed, sparking fierce controversy over the planned use of the land, and eventually led to violent conflict. The famous LA aqueduct was completed in 1913, and was the subject of armed takeover of portions of the duct and bombings by angry Owen's Valley residents. The once-famous Owens Lake dried up by 1924, completely transforming a once lush agricultural region into the dry desert it is today. There are several in-depth books on the topic, including Cadillac Desert, Water and Power: The Conflict over Los Angeles' Water Supply in the Owens Valley, among others. 

The LA Aqueduct (Wikipedia)

Fast forward to 2016. Since the events over 100 years ago, some water has been returned by the LADWP to the Owens Valley, allowing parts of Owens Lake to actually have water for the first time in many years. However, disagreement over water rights between LA and Inyo County is far from over.

(Cerda FB photo of Haiwee)

So, how does Haiwee Reservoir fit into all this? In short, after locals forced the LADWP to open it up for fishing in the 1990s, it was shut down again in 2005 after "terrorism" concerns and has since remained closed. Thankfully, several groups of Inyo County residents are now trying to draw attention to Haiwee's plight and reopen it for anglers.

First, a word about the initial opening of Haiwee, back in 1991. For years, LADWP had posted No Trespassing signs and blocked anglers from enjoying the scenic fishery of Haiwee. This was despite a signed agreement reached between Inyo County and the City of Los Angeles stating that:

"If such operations are allowed, the Department and the County shall develop a recreation plan for South Haiwee reservoir, and the Department shall open this facility to public recreation pursuant to the plan. The recreation plan will be implemented and operated by the County or by a concessionaire. In the event that the continued operation of South Haiwee is not allowed, the parties shall jointly develop a recreation plan for North Haiwee Reservoir and such plan will be implemented if it is feasible to do so. Any plan must take into consideration Los Angeles’ operating and security needs. The plan must also take into consideration the fluctuations of water levels and the requirements for water treatment." (Inyo/LA Long Term Water Agreement, Section XIII).

(Signing of Long Term Water Agreement)

The LA Times details how a local angler, Francis Pedneau, in an act of protest, publicly fished Haiwee "using himself as bait." When the LADWP attempted to have local law enforcement remove Pedneau, the sheriff deputy refused to cite the stalwart angler, given the conflicting status of Haiwee. Since then, anglers began fishing it regularly, with amazing catches of both coldwater (trout) and warmwater (bass) fish. In an interview with Francis, he recounted to me how he once caught over 100 fish in a short trip, including many largemouth bass at Haiwee. At the time, Francis and Bob Hayner were active co-founders of the Owens Valley Warm Water Fishing Assn. They utilized the state's constitution (Article 1, Section 25) to argue that access to Haiwee was a right and not something the LADWP could lock away. With anglers flocking to fish the lake, the LADWP reportedly delayed any official opening and placed various restrictions on access, including blocking angler during bald eagle nesting (although other similar lakes were not restricted per the late angling advocate Patrick Marley(source). The LA Times noted "DWP maintains its intent to permit "recreation uses" at Haiwee, although apparently at no great speed."  

This odd situation continued for several years, with anglers fishing the reservoir despite LADWPs protests and without tickets or fines issued by local law enforcement. Eventually, greater public access was granted, with the LADWP even devoting a website detailing the various amenities and regulations for fishing at Haiwee. It's still available as of this article but I wouldn't be surprised if it is removed soon. Take a look at this map of Haiwee they released:

Unfortunately, this victory of anglers was short-lived. Several years after the horrific events of 9/11, the LADWP decided to completely close the reservoir to all public access. They cited security concerns as the reason for doing so. The actual text of the assessment is not readily available.

With the Haiwee closure announcement, various angling sources voiced concern over the effect of such a closure. Some even wondered if the reasons cited for closure were just an easy excuse for an agency that was happy to have a reason to finally keep anglers out for good. At least one group suggested legal action was the best way to maintain access to the lake, although it's not clear if any filings actually occurred. Jim Matthews with Western Outdoor News summed up the issue well:

"If the LADWP can close
Haiwee, will the Department of Water Resources and Metropolitan Water District
start closing the reservoirs they manage? They both have also has done
assessments on the danger waters in their systems face from terrorism. How about
Quail Lake for starters? Then maybe Silverwood? Could Diamond Valley Reservoir
be closed?" (WON)

I reached out to Francis Pedneau, the Lone Pine resident angling advocate who initially helped open Haiwee. He reported attending the Inyo County meetings prior to Haiwee's closing and attempted to rally local support against the loss of access. Unfortunately, while many local anglers voiced support to him, he noted only a few actually provided input during the LADWP comment period. Sadly, he recalled amazing fishing at the reservoir prior to the closure and his frustration over the continued access battle.

Haiwee Reservoir (HRPAN FB)

Where are we now?

It has now been over 10 years since Haiwee was closed and there has been no sign of the LADWP thawing the restrictions in the least. However, all is not lost. Just this September, the Owens Valley Committee (website) sent a letter to LA Mayor Eric Garcetti detailing their request for cooperation in re-opening Haiwee and moving forward with the previously-signed Long Term Water Agreement. A Facebook group, "Haiwee Reservoir Public Access NOW" has sprung up as well.

Here is the text of their letter

I spoke with Mary Roper, the President of the Owens Valley Committee. She reported they have not received any response from the Mayor's office or the LADWP to their letter. She noted the lopsided balance of power, with just 18,000 people in Inyo County, over 10 million in LA County, and the difficulty moving forward in such a David-vs-Goliath environment. As I listened to her, I could feel the frustration to be in such a situation, with the ever-thirsty LADWP continually moving water out of the region with seemingly impunity. It's unfortunately yet another chapter in California's Water Wars, albeit many year from the initial draining of the Owen's Valley.  

I also reached out to the LADWP regarding the continued closure of Haiwee. Amanda Parsons, Media Relations Manager explained this was due to the initial concerns for the security of the water and the closure remained in place at this time:

"Thank you for your inquiry. Haiwee Reservoir Complex is closed to public access for the following reasons:
 - Need to protect the City of Los Angeles water supply due to security, health, safety, and water quality concerns. Water from Haiwee Reservoir Complex can reach Los Angeles within hours.
 - A security assessment performed by an expert security consultant, who formerly worked for the Federal Bureau of investigation (FBI), identified the need to close the Haiwee Reservoir Complex due to vulnerability to threats. If North and South Haiwee Reservoirs are open and accessible to the public, this could impact our ability and obligation to provide high quality, reliable, and competitively priced water services in a safe, and environmentally responsible manner. 
- The Los Angeles Department of water and Power determined it was imperative to close the Haiwee Reservoirs to public access including fishing and hunting and other use due to the security, health, safety, and water quality concerns. The Board of Water and Power Commissioners approved closure of the Haiwee Reservoir Complex. This was done after a study of the environmental effects of the closing of the Haiwee Complex to public access. The study included CEQA documentation, Initial Study and Negative Declaration, that was performed along with receipt of public comments. The initial Study and Negative Declaration found any impacts would be less than significant. "

To follow up, I requested the documents she noted in their reasons for closure of the reservoir, but have not received a response. I also attempted to find out what part of the surrounding shoreline of Haiwee was possibly managed by the BLM, but have not received a response yet. 

Haiwee in happier times

The crux of the matter is how odd closing Haiwee for security concerns over water contamination from nefarious individuals is. Multiple other lakes along LA's water supply are wide-open (at least for now), including Pleasant Valley Reservoir, Lake Crowley, Klondike Reservoir, the Owens River, various creeks that feed Haiwee, Tinemaha reservoir, and even reportedly parts of the LA Aqueduct itself. Could Crowley be closed too, under similar concerns?

The situation in Haiwee illustrates a key conundrum in California for anglers: While the State Constitution guarantees the Right to Fish, Water District regulations appear to frequently trump this "right." The State's constitution is fairly clear on this matter:

The people shall have the right to fish upon and from the public lands of the State and in the waters thereof, excepting upon lands set aside for fish hatcheries, and no land owned by the State shall ever be sold or transferred without reserving in the people the absolute right to fish thereupon; and no law shall ever be passed making it a crime for the people to enter upon the public lands within this State for the purpose of fishing in any water containing fish that have been planted therein by the State; provided, that the legislature may by statute, provide for the season when and the conditions under which the different species of fish may be taken. (Source)

LADWP is certainly not alone in restricting angler access to reservoirs throughout the state. One needs to look no further than the likes of Lake Matthews, Morris, or Cogswell reservoir for nearby examples of such closures. The often cited region is drinking water security. This is despite the seemingly inconsistent regulations at lakes used for drinking water in the region. Matthews is completely closed (despite admirable attempts, such as a recently proposed legislative bill to open it by Rep. Kevin Jefferies), while Perris is open for boating and swimming, Diamond Valley Lake is only open to shoreline access with limited boating, San Gabriel Reservoir has severely limited access, Irvine Lake is privately-controlled and currently closed, Arrowhead is private while Big Bear is wide-open, Canyon Lake is predominately private-access only with swimming allowed, Silverwood is wide open, Skinner is open for limited shore access and boating. All these, including lakes where swimming is allowed, are sources of water for thirty Southern Californians. Yet, Haiwee, with its cattle grazing on the shore, is not open, not even for pure shoreline fishing. Here, water is king; consistent, logical, regulations and access less so.

Haiwee Reservoir

Did the closing of Haiwee herald a new round of lake closures? No. So far, such fears have thankfully not come to fruition. Still, it illustrates the enormous power water districts hold over angler access to most, if not all major freshwater fishing locations. Such power should remain a concern for anglers not just in Inyo County, but throughout the region. It's unfortunate we do not have a strong voice for angler advocacy, such as was present with the late Patrick Marley and the Southern California Bass Council. The Centers for Biological Diversity and other organizations have fiercely advocated through legal means to preserve their vision of public lands, often with detrimental impact on local fishing opportunities. Where is our voice? Why have anglers not united better, either behind existing organization or formed new ones? Consider the saga of Haiwee, and please support the people of Owens Valley as they try to re-open what should never have been closed.

Interested in doing something about this? Let your voice be heard--contact LADWP through their Facebook ( https://www.facebook.com/LADWP ) or Twitter ( https://twitter.com/LADWP ) today! Let them hear from YOU about re-opening Haiwee.

Special thanks to Frances Pedneau and Mary Roper for their contributions to this article

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March 25, 2016 at 10:38 PM delete This comment has been removed by the author.
March 25, 2016 at 10:40 PM delete

Every time that I drive by there I want to stop and fish.Maybe I'll hop the fence in an act of civil disobedience one day....Maybe.

March 26, 2016 at 3:46 PM delete

What a total shame it is closed. It always amazes me when the site fear of terrorist acts against the water, like a barbed wire fence would stop that. I have also driven up 395 and wished to be able to drop a line there. The same goes for Boquet Canyon Reservoir. it too is protected by the amazing barbed wire! Just pure politics in play!!!!

March 31, 2016 at 7:19 PM delete

I tried to fish Haiwee about 15 years ago with two buddies and shortly after we got our tubes on the water we were blown 1/2 mile across the lake. Didn't go back for a few years, then stopped on a whim on the way home from a Bishop trip. Fished the shore for about an hour and change and landed a few decent largemouth and hooked a rainbow that would have gone five pounds but lost it. I went back the next summer and tubed it with a buddy on two 100 degree dog days. All I can say is "OH MY GOD!" We caught big largemouth in the early morning and then parked over a school of 2-3 pound smallies and caught fish after after fish until our arms were tired. What fighters! Shortly after the closure was announced so we made one more trip and had a couple of really good days and then it was done. I've Googled Haiwee every six months or so to see if there is any buzz, and it looks like finally there is. I will actively support any movement (as will a few of my fishing friends) to gain access to this incredible fishery again. It's so remote and so far from any of the small towns, it takes some really dedicated fishermen to fish it. The reward is great tho! Keep us posted!!! I'm excited.

April 10, 2016 at 11:17 AM delete This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
May 17, 2016 at 5:51 PM delete

I fished there once. I grew up in Ridgecrest and stopped there with a couple buddies. We caught Largemouth Bass every cast and I caught my personal best Rianbow Trout... It was about 5 pounds. This was in 1997 and word on the street was it was closed. It was still kept a secret after they opened it. Whatever it takes to open it would be worth it. Not only for the big but for the kids in that area who have absolutely nothing to do in their spare time. Maybe it will keep them out of trouble.

May 17, 2016 at 5:51 PM delete

I fished there once. I grew up in Ridgecrest and stopped there with a couple buddies. We caught Largemouth Bass every cast and I caught my personal best Rianbow Trout... It was about 5 pounds. This was in 1997 and word on the street was it was closed. It was still kept a secret after they opened it. Whatever it takes to open it would be worth it. Not only for the big but for the kids in that area who have absolutely nothing to do in their spare time. Maybe it will keep them out of trouble.

May 20, 2016 at 3:31 PM delete

That sounds amazing. Such a wasted opportunity

May 20, 2016 at 3:32 PM delete

Thanks for your feedback--it sounds like a great place to fish and it is very sad that it is closed still. Fishing is a great, family-friendly activity that too few people get to experience

August 24, 2016 at 6:19 PM delete This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
December 30, 2016 at 1:39 AM delete

oh them large trout with pink meat were yummy. I loved fishing there as the hot days cooled and the began to set. So peaceful as it is....

April 22, 2017 at 9:50 AM delete

Great article. We have driven by this lake hundreds of times and wondered its story. Thank you for all the hard work researching it. Such a sad story.

April 22, 2017 at 1:36 PM delete

Thanks! I appreciate the feedback!

July 20, 2017 at 6:17 PM delete

Just pasted the res today on our way home and was wondering what was the situation I truly hope it opens so I can take my son there. thanks for your efforts.


Be nice.