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LA, Great Basin continue dust-up over Owens lakebed pollution



When the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power took water from Owens Lake in 1913, it left a dry lake bed and swirling dust. Today, nearby towns worry about the effects of airborne pollution that sweeps off the lake.
When the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power took water from Owens Lake in 1913, it left a dry lake bed and swirling dust. Today, nearby towns worry about the effects of airborne pollution that sweeps off the lake.
Mae Ryan/KPCC

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The latest round in the fight between Los Angeles and the Owens Valley takes place in Sacramento Friday. Regional air officials and the Department of Water and Power will square off over L.A.’s responsibilities to control particulate pollution swept off of the dry Owens lakebed.

In 2012, the Great Basin Air Pollution Control District determined that LA was required to tamp down about three-quarters of a square mile of the lake bed’s dust in addition to the 45 or so square miles it already covers.  

LA mostly uses giant sprinklers and gravel to keep the dust down.

DWP director of water operations Marty Adams says the utility is appealing the decision to the state’s top air officials. 

“We believe very strongly that we’re being asked to do things the city has no responsibility for. And in effect mitigate Mother Nature,” he said. “And it’s cost our ratepayers a tremendous amount of money, right now one out of every 7 dollars we collect from our water ratepayers is spent on Owens Lake.”

Adams says ratepayers in Los Angeles have paid $1.2 billion so far toward pollution controls. And he argues that using LA’s water in Owens Valley increases LA’s thirst for water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Great Basin's executive officer, Ted Schade, says DWP twice signed agreements to clean up the dust. And he says federal air quality standards the utility agreed to aren’t being met.

This appeal, he says, delays cleaner air for people living near the lake.

“Until the appeal is resolved, the people in the Southern Owens Valley continue to experience this air pollution," says Schade. "We think it’s important that it be resolved sooner rather than later.”

The California Air Resources Board is expected to decide on DWP’s appeal within a couple of months.