DWP and Owens Valley agree to finally agree on the dust

keeler-beach-tight-lao.jpgThe former "Keeler Beach" on Owens Lake. More Owens Valley photos from LA Observed on Facebook

I first wrote about negotiations between the Owens Valley and Los Angeles over the noxious dust that blows off of Owens Lake back in 1989, so it seems a little bizarre that 25 years later, the giant city and the lightly populated region tied to us by an aqueduct are finally signing a formal settlement. Los Angeles created the dust problem by drying out the lake where the Owens River terminates about 200 miles north of the city limits. When the city's aqueduct took the water, lakefront communities such as Keeler and Lone Pine began to weather thick huge clouds of alkali dust kicked off the crusty dry lake bottom by fall and winter winds. The DWP grudgingly began putting water back on the lake in the 1990s to control some of the dust, but the two sides kept fighting over how much mitigation Los Angeles should be responsible for. The new agreement announced Friday commits the DWP to mitigate the dust problem on 53 square miles of lake bed, about half of the lake's total area, but the city will not have to spread as much valuable fresh water as in the past. The savings in water will be substantial for the DWP, but will still leave a lot of water on the lakebed for the migrating birds and other wildlife that benefit from the lake, even mostly dry.

The solution is creative, Louis Sahagun reported in the LA Times.

The new solution is relatively inexpensive and nearly waterless, DWP officials said. It involves using tractors to turn moist lake bed clay into furrows and basketball-sized clods of dirt. The clods will bottle up the dust for years before breaking down, at which point the process will be repeated.

The method was first tested in the early 1990s, then tabled out of concern the furrows and clods would disintegrate after a few rains. Two years ago, the DWP resurrected the idea and tested it on several acres of lake bed, but on a much larger scale, with furrows 2 to 3 feet deep. The results showed promise, provided the treated area has clay soil and flooding infrastructure in place…

The new process, which starts in December, is expected to save nearly 3 billion gallons of water its first year, rising to nearly 10 billion gallons three years later. Most of that water will be put back into the aqueduct. But the plumbing system for spreading water on the lake will remain in place as a backup.

Sahagun notes that just a few years ago, the tactics used by Los Angeles to prevent just such a settlement included personal attacks on the chief regulator in the Owens Valley, Ted Schade, executive officer of the Great Basin Air Pollution Control District. On Friday, he was praised by Mayor Eric Garcetti as a "great environmentalist." For his part, Schade said Friday, "I've been at war with the DWP for 24 years, two months and 15 days. The fighting is over, and the path forward is clear. So, I'm resigning in December. My job here is done."

Local activist Mike Prather posted on Facebook that "Ted Schade, our local dust control officer, is a true Inyo County hero, who stood up to the enormous power of the City of Los Angeles and prevailed. My sincerest thanks to you Ted."

Garcetti praised the deal, though he isn't the first Los Angeles mayor to go up into the Eastern Sierra and talk nice.

“After years of conflict, we finally have an agreement that will save billions of gallons of water and millions of dollars for LADWP ratepayers and will address environmental issues at Owens Lake,” Garcetti said. “With this agreement, Los Angeles is taking its responsibility seriously at Owens Lake, while saving money and allowing more water to flow to Los Angeles to help our city respond to our record drought. This is a significant win for ratepayers and our environment in both Los Angeles and the Owens Valley.”

The Inyo County perspective from the Sierra Wave:

“The first rule of ecology is that everything is connected to everything else” said Great Basin Board Chairman Ron Hames. “The Owens Valley will forever be connected to the City of Los Angeles by the water from the Owens Valley. We know Los Angeles relies on that water, but we also need clean air and it is Los Angeles’ responsibility to comply with the clean-air laws and protect public health. This agreement allows for both clean air for the families in the Owens Valley and clean water for Los Angeles.”

“This agreement provides a promising path forward based upon both agencies’ most basic needs, said Air Pollution Officer Ted Schade. “DWP needs more certainty regarding the maximum amount of lakebed it will ever be required to control. Great Basin needs to have the ability to comply with its legal duty to require a regulated party to meet the federal and state air quality standards. We are very pleased to support this agreement that meets the needs of both the LADWP and Great Basin.”

Previously on LA Observed:
LA and its Owens Valley water
Book excerpt: The Valley rises as Mulholland falls
Aqueduct bomber talks: he now works for DWP
Chinese dust brings better snow to the Sierra
Lewis and Clark and Antonio

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