In a long-awaited decision, the California Air Resources Board Monday ruled that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is required to continue dust mitigation measures on dry portions of Owens Lake.
The decision comes in response to an appeal filed by the City of Los Angeles and means that the state agency agrees with the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District’s claim that the LADWP has not met its dust-control obligations. A lawsuit filed in federal court by the City of L.A. against both Great Basin and its Air Pollution Control officer, Ted Schade, is still pending.
“The State Air Board found in favor of Great Basin on every one of the issues,” Schade said Tuesday. “Having across-the-board support from the premier technical and legal air quality organization in the state is very gratifying. The ARB spent an entire year carefully evaluating all the LADWP’s objections and found no grounds for the LADWP’s claims that no additional controls are required.”
The LADWP said Tuesday that the CARB’s decision was anticipated, and it will await a decision regarding a federal lawsuit it filed against Great Basin earlier this year.
“The decision by CARB to not look into this issue and simply accept Great Basin’s position was not unexpected,” LADWP Public Information Officer Chris Plakos said in a press release. “This decision doesn’t change the fact that a common-sense solution is needed to stop both the senseless waste of water in the Owens Valley and the orders by Great Basin that attempt to force L.A. water customers to pay for additional dust control for dust emissions that LADWP didn’t cause. That is why we filed a federal lawsuit – to stop the unlawful orders by Great Basin and to bring all of the responsible parties to the table to agree on a sensible solution.”
It was in February of this year that the LADWP appealed a late-2011 order from Great Basin, the agency responsible for enforcing dust control measures, to conduct controls on 2.86 square miles of the lake.
“The most recent order by Great Basin would cost our customers another $400 million on top of the $1.2 billion already spent and do nothing to save water – that’s unacceptable,” Plakos said. “Great Basin’s recent orders for incremental dust mitigation also require new areas of dust control for areas not impacted by LADWP’s water diversions.”
In 2008, Great Basin and the LADWP agreed on a plan for dust mitigation measures on the lake that would minimize the impacts of wind-driven dirt coming off the lake as a result of the LADWP’s water gathering efforts in the Owens Valley.
Since the agreement, the LADWP has completed dust mitigation on more than 40 square miles of the lake bed that scientists from Great Basin identified as problem areas.
In February, with Great Basin preparing to issue mitigation orders for additional sections of the lake, the LADWP balked, saying that it has reduced dust blowing off the lake by 96 percent and has met its obligation for dust mitigation. The LADWP then appealed to the California Air Resources Board.
“Billions of gallons of drinking water continue to be wasted every year controlling dust on Owens Lake, despite non-water or low-water options that can control dust,” the LADWP said.
Among LADWP’s arguments is that the 2008 agreement does not indicate any stopping point for mitigation measures, and, if unchecked, Great Basin would have the ability to mandate a never-ending list of costly dust-control projects.
The LADWP has also claimed that Great Basin has provided “no evidence of Los Angeles being responsible for the incremental areas, and yet has denied Los Angeles the ability to present our own evidence that demonstrates that dust from these incremental areas are not caused by Los Angeles.”
The State Air Resources Board held a hearing to hear evidence from both sides in June, before making a decision on the appeal.
According to Plakos, an environmentally preferable solution does exist, and can be implemented if the relevant state and federal agencies come together and work with LADWP.
As both agencies await the decision on the lawsuit, Schade said, “Great Basin encourages LADWP to move forward immediately to protect the air quality of the Owens Valley.”