The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is claiming that it has met its obligations on Owens Lake by reducing dust blowing off the lakebed by about 96 percent. Great Basin Air Pollution Control District agrees the department has likely mitigated its impacts, but asserts that the utility agreed to do more. Photo by Darcy Ellis
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is saying it has fulfilled its legal obligation to mitigate impacts of dust blowing off Owens Lake.
In a presentation to Great Basin last week, the LADWP said that it is not solely responsible for dust blowing off the lake and that dust was an issue in the Owens Valley long before the Southern California utility began exporting water from the area.
In short, the LADWP said it believes it has done all it is required to on the lake.
Great Basin Air Pollution Control District Director Ted Schade said the LADWPâs position is ânonsense.â
Schade explained that in the 1990s, Great Basin used the most sophisticated technology available to determine what the level of Owens Lake would be if the LADWP had not began exporting water from the Owens Valley in the early 1900s.
LADWP Director of Water Operations Marty Adams said the Owens Valley âis a windy, dusty area, and to believe that the LADWP is the cause isnât consistent with history.â
In 2008, Great Basin and the LADWP agreed on the current plan for dust mitigation measures on the lake.
That plan calls for Great Basin to conduct regular âSupplemental Control Determinationsâ to see if there is dust blowing off the lake and, if dust is located, order the LADWP to conduct mitigation measures on the lake.
Currently, the LADWP is working on more than 40 square miles of dust mitigation measures on the lake. This yearâs Supplemental Control Determination calls for another 2.9 square miles of mitigation.
âIn April 2011, Great Basin notified the LADWP that it would issue a new order to once again expand the dust control area and require the construction of additional dust mitigation measures,â said LADWP Head of Water Systems and Operations Manager James McDaniel. âInstead of agreeing to the issuance of a new order, we expressed a number of concerns to Great Basin and proposed that the additional areas now under construction be measured before agreeing to another yet expansion.â
The LADWP appealed Great Basinâs latest determination to the State Air Resources Board.
âWe believe there is a fundamental misunderstanding of Los Angelesâ responsibility that needs to be reconciled,â the LADWP told Great Basin in a PowerPoint presentation last week. âThere are statewide impacts of diverting massive amounts of water onto the lake. There is a disconnect between expectation and Los Angelesâ actual responsibilities.â
Schade said the 2008 agreement calls for the LADWP to conduct dust control mitigation found necessary through the Supplemental Control Determination on all areas of the âhistoric lake,â basically the area of the lakbed located below an elevation of 3,600 feet.
The LADWP claims that the lake historically fluctuated in depth, and the 3,600-foot baseline is not in fact its area of responsibility.
McDaniel said that the LADWP is âconcerned that we are being required to control dust on areas that are higher lake elevations than pre-Los Angeles Aqueduct diversion levels and thus caused by nature or others.â
McDaniel said that, since beginning dust control measures, the department has reduced 96 percent of the dust blowing off the lake.
The department cited reports of dust in the Owens Valley dating back to the 1830s, long before the LADWP began operations in the area.
Schade said, regardless of whether dust was an issue in Inyo County before the department started operations, âthey agreed to a procedure to fix more than theyâve done when they agreed to the current plan in 2008, and there is no mechanism for them to change the game, itâs the law.â
Schade went on to say that he believes the LADWP doesnât like the way the game is going, and wants to change the rules. âThey just want out and they donât even care what happens to the air breathers in Inyo County,â he said.
Schade said that even if the State Air Resources Board accepts the departmentâs appeal, under the 2008 agreement, Great Basin would be obligated to continue its regular Supplemental Control Determinations and identify areas on the lake for the LADWP to work on to reduce dust.
âTheyâre done only when the historic lakebed isnât a source of dust,â he said. In an effort to resolve its concerns about the lake, the LADWP and Great Basin entered into unsuccessful mitigation. In November of 2011, the LADWP notified Great Basin that it would appeal its decision on the latest Supplemental Control Determination.
The LADWP has filed a lawsuit with the state, claiming that it has met its obligations on the lake.
âWe cannot continue to agree to a further expansion of the dust control area that isnât warranted,â McDaniel said. âThe manner in which the air quality compliance rules are presently applied by Great Basin has the potential to forever saddle us with additional dust control requirements beyond what are attributed to the cityâs water exports, and beyond the âreasonable measuresâ Los Angeles is required by law to undertake.â
If the courts determine that the department is correct in its belief, the LADWP would likely continue its current efforts to mitigate dust impacts on the 40 square miles of the lake it is currently working on, but no new mitigation areas will be added.
Adams said the department is looking for closure, hoping to see a light at the end of the tunnel. âItâs not our intention to walk away from what weâve done, we just want some recognition for what weâve done,â he said.