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More concern at Owens Dry Lake

February 27, 2012

As the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power continues spreading water on Owens Lake to mitigate dust impacts, it is encountering archeological sites the Lone Pine Paiute Shoshone Tribe would like to see preserved. File photo/Inyo County Water Department

As the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District debate the future of dust mitigation on Owens Lake, another issue has come to light that may delay projects currently in the works.
Kathy Bancroft, historical preservation officer for the Lone Pine Paiute Shoshone Tribe, said Owens Lake and its surrounding area are home to a number of historical sites with tribal significance.
As the LADWP has implemented dust mitigation measures across more than 40 square miles of the dry lake, it has not been uncommon for workers to encounter the historical sites.
According to Bancroft, when a site is discovered, the LADWP has two options, either request that Great Basin identify an alternative site for the mitigation projects, or attempt to preserve the artifacts by having archeologists catalog and remove them.
Bancroft said she thinks the problem the department is running into is finding the time and money to have the sensitive sites handled properly so the dust mitigation can be completed by its Dec. 31, 2013 deadline.
The LADWP recently contested Great Basin’s latest, unrelated suggestions for ongoing mitigation projects, but continues to work on previous mitigation areas identified by the air pollution control agency.
It’s in those areas, where the lake bed has previously been inaccessible, Bancroft said, that the LADWP is finding new archeological sites.
“The shoreline and several parts of the lake that are known as the playa have always been archeological sites,” Bancroft said. “People have lived all along the lake for thousands of years, and now they’re (LADWP) in areas they haven’t had access to.”
Ted Schade, director of the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District, said Great Basin has taken a general stance that all archeological sites on the lake should be avoided if possible.
“We want to avoid these areas, and maybe fix other areas” in their place, Schade said.
He added that earlier this week, the LADWP notified Great Basin that it had discovered an archeological site that may cause significant delays in progress on the dust mitigation project.
“The concentration of artifacts they’re finding at these sites makes it almost impossible to do avoidance,” Bancroft said, explaining that working around the site will not be easy.
Schade said LADWP may request an extension on the mitigation deadline that would allow the department to catalog and remove the artifacts.
“Great Basin has the power to extend, or not to extend, the deadline,” Schade said. “But we need to sit down with the tribe and archeologists and find a solution.”
Bancroft said the solution is relatively simple: pick a location for mitigation that does not have historical significance to the local tribe.
“This has been a problem in the past,” Bancroft said. “The tribe just can’t stand for any more destruction of our history. There are federal, state and county laws that protect these sites.”
Currently, Great Basin, the LADWP, the tribe and the State Lands and Water Resource Control Board, which technically owns the lake bed, are attempting to coordinate to discuss how to proceed with as little impact to sensitive sites as possible.
“State Lands were very receptive,” Bancroft said. “They understand this isn’t like any other project and may not need to be addressed the same way.”

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