Southern California environment news and trends

LADWP says Owens Lake's 'Owengeti' could suggest new modes for dust control

KPCC/Molly Peterson

LADWP's Marty Adams says he calls one parcel of the Owens Dry Lake "the Owensgeti," after the grass and woodland Serengeti.

KPCC/Molly Peterson

In one 600-acre patch of the lake, LADWP has begun to mimic nature as an experiment. "We took this area and we releveled it so we put better angles on the dirt, and it worked well," Adams says.

Molly Peterson/KPCC

Using bulldozers, LADWP has been trying a new technique called "tillage." Putting a bulldozer at an angle, operators plow in a straight line several feet deep through soil to turn up a layer of clay that can hold salty particles down.

I went out to Owens Lake for a story on dust mitigation with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power back in April. When I did, Marty Adams and pretty much everyone else from the DWP I encountered were all eager to show me an area on the northeast side of the lake. Adams called it "the Owengeti."

The Serengeti is a grass-woodland in Tanzania and other countries in Africa, legendary for its beauty. (See, e.g., Toto, "Africa.") This 600-acre "Owengeti" is on the far side of the lake, away from Highway 395--unfortunate, says Adams, "because it's far from traffic. The average person sees the salt flats; they don't see the beautiful part on the east side." 

There's plenty of crusty white powder near the "Owengeti," too. It crunches satisfyingly underfoot, though I also was immediately burdened knowing that I contributed to the possibility of the particulate, PM10, flying through the air. "It's like walking on the moon. except i thought the moon would be firmer," Adams said. "It's like a powdered sugar donut." (Though I sort of think it's more like Entemann's crumb cake.)


Buscaino elected to LA Council with help of DWP's powerful union

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Chris Hall/Flickr (Creative Commons-licensed)

Los Angeles City Council Building

Independent committees spent more than half a million dollars toward helping Joe Buscaino take his city council seat. As Frank Stoltze points out this morning, Buscaino joins the growing ranks of city council members with close ties to the LAPD. (Actually being a sergeant counts.) 

It's worth remembering that Buscaino is closely connected to the DWP's union too. The Local 18 Water and Power Defense League Committee is the driving force behind Working Californians to Support Buscaino for City Council 2012. They poured in almost 190,000 of the 511,000 dollars "independently" spent in this election. And they were registered with the state in December by Brian D'Arcy. 

Buscaino, taking Janice Hahn's old seat, fashions himself a political outsider. "Folks were thirsting for a political outsider," he told the LA Weekly. "I'm hoping this campaign will inspire others and show that someone from the community can be successful in an election."


I nerd out with EPA's new greenhouse gas database so you don't have to

(Piotr Fajfel/Oxfam)net_efekt/Flickr

Carbon footprints designed by Christian Guthier for a climate change campaign at the UN Global Climate Change conference in Poznan.

It's a start, anyway. Today, the Environmental Protection Agency releases a new national greenhouse gas database, made up of self-reported data from 9 groups of polluters around the country: refineries, power plants, chemical facilities, "other industrial" facilities, landfills, metals, minerals, pulp and paper plants, and government and commercial sites. We've got plenty of those here, and it's a fun tool to play around with if you're interested in the climate impacts of industry.

Though it probably won't surprise you. Let's give it up for the BP Carson refinery…which reported 3,960,504 metric tons of carbon dioxide released and 492.652 metric tons of hydrogen produced in 2010. LA County's big footprint winner! Orange County can barely compete: combined GHG emissions for AES Huntington Beach, the biggest polluter behind the Curtain, are just over 14% of that: 572,203 metric tons of greenhouse gas released in 2010. 


Recruiting the LADWP Ratepayer Advocate

Molly Peterson/KPCC

Hope Street Headquarters, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

If you've heard it once, you've heard it a hundred times since last year. We're just about to have a ratepayer advocate for the DWP, it's just around the corner. Well, according to what the citizens committee said back in December, it IS around the corner. They expect to have a name to announce this week or next, with committee and city council hearings to follow.

So what has happened since the last time we all paid attention to the Office of Public Accountability?

Well, the citizens committee has met at least a few times. It's sort of impossible to find their records on the city of L.A.'s website, but there aren't many anyway; state law allows them to meet in closed session to interview and consider hires for the job of ratepayer advocate. 

Sacramento-based headhunters Ralph Andersen and Associates consulted consumer groups, the Office of the Ratepayer Advocate at the CPUC, TURN (The Utility Reform Network), and Public Citizen. They talked to Bank of America, Caltech, McKinsey, Occidental, Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe, the Central City Association, the Chamber of Commerce, and several public finance firms, among others.


The road to understanding the LADWP's feed-in tariff plans

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David McNew/Getty Images

The LADWP proposes a "feed-in tariff" policy to put more solar on rooftops.

Today’s talk in the LA City Council’s Energy and Environment committee underlined the absence of a ratepayer advocate in Department of Water and Power territory.

The council committee was discussing the idea of a “feed-in tariff.” (Terrible name.) It's a policy mechanism that lets people who own rooftop solar installations of a certain size to sell back energy those panels generate to the Department of Water and Power. It’s different from “net metering,” what we have with solar-topped homes right now, whose meters spin forward and back depending on use and generation. Renewable energy advocates and champions of solar power argue a feed-in tariff could help the U.S. get to grid parity faster: that’s a state where renewables are no more costly than their old-school counterparts.

Pushed in part by California's greenhouse gas reduction and renewable energy mandates, the DWP has begun to seek permission to enter into a sort of contract, a sort of "Standard Offer Power Purchase Agreement," with owners of solar projects that qualify for the feed in tariff policy. Last week, DWP board members heard about the pilot project to make this happen with a publicly-available PowerPoint presentation that’s still available on the DWP’s feed-in tariff website.