dry lake

As part of an agreement to clean up dust, DWP provided $5 million for clean air projects.

LADWP Chooses to Use Water at Owens Lake by Ted Schade, GBUAPD Director

           The residents of the Eastern Sierra want clean air and a healthy environment for their families. They want the City of Los Angeles and its Department of Water and Power to finish the work started at Owens Lake and they want LADWP to control the last of the air pollution caused by the its water diversions. The Great Basin Air Pollution Control District appreciates the spirited public response to some recent articles on the Sierra Wave website regarding these issues (Articles on February 23, 24 and 28, 2012 generated 147 comments).

However, a few members of the public have expressed concerns about the use of fresh, potable water to control air pollution emissions from a dry, salty lake bed. The District recognizes there is competition for water, and that our agricultural community is an important contributor to our local heritage and economy. There seems to be a perception that Great Basin is ordering the LADWP to put Los Angeles Aqueduct water on the lake bed and that Great Basin is somehow responsible for the LADWP’s withdrawal of irrigation water elsewhere in the Valley for use on the lake bed. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Great Basin has never required the LADWP to control Owens Lake air pollution with fresh water. The decisions that led to the current situation where the LADWP claims to put enough Aqueduct water on the lake bed to serve half a million people were decisions made solely by the LADWP.

Great Basin identifies areas on the lake bed that cause excessive dust emissions and orders the areas controlled. LADWP has the choice to control the emissive areas with flooding, salt-tolerant vegetation or gravel—the three approved controls (two additional low- to no-water-use controls are currently being tested). Vegetation uses half as much water as flooding and gravel uses no water. Great Basin plays no part in the LADWP’s choice of control measures. In fact, we are surprised the LADWP continually chose to deploy mostly flooding in phase after phase of controls. It was only in the latest dust control phase that LADWP finally opted to apply gravel instead of flooding or vegetation.

However, the water put on the lake bed over the last dozen years has created an amazing place for wildlife. There is now year-round habitat on areas that were completely lifeless just a few years ago. During fall and spring bird migrations, tens of thousands of birds can be seen resting and feeding on wetted areas. Great Basin supports this beneficial consequence of the dust control effort, but we believe existing habitat values can be maintained with much less water.

The truth is that LADWP can comply with air quality laws, just as all Owens Valley residents are required to do, and be smarter about how they control dust, how efficiently they use water, and how cooperatively they work with the technical experts at the District.

We should acknowledge all groups’ needs. We should not respond in kind to promote our own self-interest over LADWP’s, but rather work as a unified community, with a broad and balanced view of protecting public health and the environment, as well as conserving water and other scarce resources. Both Eastern Sierra and Los Angeles residents should ask why leaders from the City of Los Angeles, including their “otherwise-green” mayor, have been putting so much money and effort into attorneys who fight against completing the job of controlling Owens Lake air pollution. Instead, the money and effort should be put into cooperation and communication to control the last of the dust, increase water-use efficiency and maintain existing habitat values throughout the Valley. There is still hard work to be done. Why are we fighting instead of working together?


Ted Schade

Air Pollution Control Officer

Great Basin APCD


(760) 872-8211