Southern California environment news and trends

LADWP ordered to implement dust controls on Owens Dry Lake

Molly Peterson/KPCC

The Owens Dry Lake is about 110 square miles, a portion of which is covered by a remnant brine pool. LA is responsible for mitigating dust on about 42 square miles of the terrain.

In a decision that’s little surprise to anyone who has followed the issue, the California Air Resources Board decided Monday that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power must implement more dust controls on the Owens Dry Lake in the eastern Sierra. If finalized, the decision means more costs passed on to L.A. ratepayers, too.

Back in June, I reported on the escalating tensions among DWP, CARB, the State Lands Commission, and the Great Basin Air Pollution Control District. 

The news peg was a hearing at the state air resources board in Sacramento, to resolve a dispute between DWP and Great Basin about what exactly the utility needs to do to clean up the air enough. 

This decision released Monday is the consequence of that hearing. The ARB decision finds procedurally that DWP has the burden of proving it has met dust controls; that DWP cannot bring in extra evidence late in the process (though even if that evidence were admitted, it’s suggested it would make no difference); and that DWP had plenty of notice about the proceedings.

More substantively, the ARB finds DWP’s arguments about the Clean Air Act unpersuasive. The decision waves away DWP’s concerns that controlling more dust is impossible, and the ARB isn’t concerned that DWP meeting its responsibilities will be bad for climate change, either.

Ted Schade, the executive officer of Great Basin, has already released a statement:

The State Air Board found in favor of Great Basin on every one of the issues. … 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.  Great Basin encourages LADWP to move forward immediately to protect the air quality of the Owens Valley.

LADWP has objected fairly consistently to the authority both of Schade and the Air Resources Board. Most recently, the DWP filed a federal lawsuit challenging Schade and the ARB’s process. I observed at the time that suing Great Basin, the state Air Resources Board, State Lands Commission, BLM and the U.S. EPA is a tall order.

The crux of DWP’s objection to dust controls on the lakebed is that it costs increasingly scarce water in large volumes to do so. DWP’s Marty Adams figured out that the amount of drinking water being used to control dust on Owens Lake each day would overflow the Rose Bowl every day of the year.

In a Q&A about the federal lawsuit posted on its website, DWP argues that Schade is “seemingly accountable to no one” and that over 11 years L.A. ratepayers have paid for the largest dust mitigation project in American history. 

This is a developing story, and I’ve reached out to both DWP and Great Basin seeking comment for broadcast. In the meantime, read the decision: 

CARB decision in Owens Dry Lake dispute between Great Basin APCD and LADWP

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