Schade responds to LADWP

In recent days, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power issued a press release to complain about having to clean up the Owens Dry


APCD Director Ted Schade said of LADWP, "They are ignoring previous hard-fought agreements and they are breaking promises. The current LADWP leadership has drawn a line in the dust and is refusing to meet its obligations."

Lake dust, the worst pollution source of its kind in the Western Hemisphere.  LA water diversions created the dusty lake bed.  Although LADWP agreed to a systematic plan to clean up the hazard, now officials don’t want to finish the clean up.  The LA press release indicates they don’t want to spend any more money.  The following is Great Basin Air Pollution Control District Director Ted Schade’s response:

Why won’t LADWP finish cleaning up our air?

By Theodore D. Schade

Why is the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) not living up to the promises it made to the Owens Valley? In a recent press release, LADWP sings its own praises, yet makes excuses as to why it should not have to finish the job of controlling the dust caused by its water diversions from Owens Lake—the largest single source of particulate matter (PM) air pollution in the country.
LADWP has controlled the air pollution from 40 square miles of existing lake bed because the law requires it to. LADWP contractors built thousands of acres of infrastructure and LADWP field staff works hard to operate and maintain the controls. Their efforts have led to about a 90 percent reduction in air pollution levels. For this, all Owens Valley residents should be grateful. I am.
The Owens Lake effort is the largest dust control project in the country—it needs to be. Before LADWP started deploying controls in 2000, dust levels were 100 times the federal standard. Even with the current 90 percent reduction, PM levels are still 10 times higher than the standard. And when LADWP finishes the five square miles it is currently working on, dust levels will still be four times higher than the standard. To meet the federal clean air standard, dust levels have to be reduced by 99 percent and some additional areas of controls are required. Until that happens, Owens Valley air-breathers will be subjected to dust levels that are two to four times as high as the highest levels measured in Los Angeles. The work is nearly complete. Why is LADWP now unwilling to finish the job?
The LADWP editorial claims, “suddenly there seems to be no end.” This is not true. There is no “suddenly” and there is an end. In 1988, the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District (Great Basin) estimated that controls would be required on about 46.5 square miles of the dried lake bed. And in 1998, LADWP entered into an agreement with Great Basin and committed to reduce lake bed emissions so that the Owens Valley “will attain and maintain federal air quality standards.” They have known for 24 years how much of the lake bed would require controls and they have known for 14 years that the “the end” comes when they meet the clean air standards.
LADWP claims that “Great Basin has a responsibility to develop new dust control methodologies, but has not done so.” In the 1990s, Great Basin did develop the three currently-approved methods to control dust (water, vegetation and gravel). However, air quality regulators have no obligation to develop air pollution controls for air polluters. If the LADWP is unsatisfied with the current approved controls, they have a responsibility to their ratepayers to develop new, effective controls. It is Great Basin’s responsibility to review and approve successful controls.
Yet another of LADWP’s concerns regards “the methodology and accuracy of dust measurements.” The methods used by Great Basin to monitor PM emissions are the most sophisticated methods ever developed for such monitoring. LADWP does not mention that these methods were painstakingly developed with their input or that they signed an agreement that the methods are valid and reasonable. These agreed-upon methods now show that controls are required on an additional 2.9 square miles of dried lake bed. Why is LADWP going back on its promise to rely on these methods?
LADWP states that, at over $1 billion, the cost for dust control has been high. But, the amount of air pollution caused by their water diversions is enormous. Objectively looking at the cost of controls versus the amount of pollution controlled, the cost is reasonable. Over a 25-year period, the cost of controlling Owens Lake air pollution is estimated to be about $1,000 per ton. The South Coast AQMD (where Los Angeles is located) has set a feasible cost effectiveness limit of $5,300 per ton for PM control in its area. If Owens Lake were located in the San Fernando Valley, instead of the Owens Valley, LADWP would be expected to spend up to $5 billion to control the problem.
LADWP states, “We are not suggesting that we back away from these obligations.” But, this is exactly what they have done. They are ignoring previous hard-fought agreements and they are breaking promises. The current LADWP leadership has drawn a line in the dust and is refusing to meet its obligations.
At a recent Great Basin Board meeting, Board Chair and Mono Supervisor Larry Johnston asked LADWP General Manager Ron Nichols why they spend money on legal fees when it could be spent on dust mitigation. Mr. Nichols said, “The cost of legal fees pale in comparison to the cost of dust controls.”
And that is the problem, a historic problem LADWP has with its credibility in keeping promises. LADWP’s actions impact the residents of our communities—our parents and children, healthy and sick, the people the District is charged by law to protect. Its actions also impact our environment—our air is still 10 times more polluted than allowed by law. Rather than spend their resources to complete the job of controlling their pollution and protecting the public and the environment, it seems that LADWP’s leaders would rather pay attorneys to fight their battles.
Great Basin is convinced there is a middle ground where most of both sides’ needs can be met. We encourage City of Los Angeles leaders to engage in this conversation. The air pollution control at Owens Lake should be something we are all proud of, not something attorneys fight over.

February 28, 2012

(Ted Schade is the Air Pollution Control Officer for the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District and has worked on solving the air pollution problem at Owens Lake for the last 22 years.)

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20 Responses to Schade responds to LADWP

  1. Pat Rowbottom March 1, 2012 at 6:24 am #

    Valkyrie (above) states assessment of LADWP exactly. Bennet needs to have the Inyo Register subscribe to her research and Inyo County Supervisors had BETTER quit enabling LADWP!

  2. Durrell Coleman February 29, 2012 at 4:47 pm #

    When I give people a short explanation of the situation at Owens Lake, I say that the LADWP has controlled most of the dusty areas, but they have to keep going until the National Air Quality Standard is met. This is the spirit of the 1998 SIP and the 2008 Revised SIP, which essentially gave them more time to complete the mitigation project.
    I believe that these agreements will survive the latest attempts to make the rich richer at the expense of the environment and the health of the people of the Eastern Sierra. Air Pollution affects everyone.
    Stand strong, Ted Schade!

  3. Valkyrie February 29, 2012 at 9:42 am #

    It appears that DWP is launching a new offensive on all fronts to beat down the opposition, a tactic that has generally worked well through the last hundred years of occupation. The timing is superb – sue the State when economic chaos reigns in Sacramento, attack water rights in Mammoth while the Town is considering bankruptcy, and increase “delay and confuse” techniques over ground water management in the Owens Valley. There is a new DWP general manager, and there will be a new northern district engineer soon, perhaps to enforce this mindset. Time for Inyo to gird its loins – and consider dumping the stipulated agreement (the Water Agreement) that settled the court fight over Inyo’s ground water ordinance. What would the Court of Appeals say about the petty semantics concerning Black Rock pumping when obvious damage is occurring? Is that a sign of a successful Water Agreement? The Water Agreement was a mitigation measure, and its success must be monitored per CEQA. If it’s a failure, substitute mitigation should be required, perhaps the existing ground water ordinance.
    As long as local Los Angeles planning entities are allowing growth and development, the DWP will seek water aggressively – in a single-minded, secretive and undemocratic way. It’s time for Inyo County to examine the political landscape and launch its own offensive.

  4. Steve February 29, 2012 at 12:12 am #

    Once upon a time, the residents in the Owens Valley took care of business at the Lone Pine spillway. I wonder if history will repeat itself.

  5. Chris February 28, 2012 at 6:18 pm #

    Excellent response, Mr. Schade. You laid it out and said it the way it is. LADWP doesn’t want to meet its obligations, doesn’t care about the health of people in the OV, and doesn’t understand the hard fought agreements because it drags its feet working on these projects so long that new players are constantly coming on board who have no sense (common or otherwise) of history of the agreements. Thank you for staying strong for the Owens Valley.

    • Ted Schade February 29, 2012 at 9:51 am #

      It is my pleasure. What I need is the strong support of the public.

  6. Michael Prather February 28, 2012 at 12:59 pm #

    There is a recognizable pattern of behavior by LADWP that is taking us back to the bad old days I worry. They are resisting their mandate to clear the air at Owens Lake, they are fighting Inyo County’s efforts to defend the damaged vegetation in the Blackrock well field, DWP is suing the City of Mammoth Lakes over water and in dispute with restoration efforts taking place in the Mono Basin.

    The costs to the rate payers of Los Angeles will grow as a result of poor decisions by LADWP on behalf of the city that they represent. By responsibly cooperating with orders for GBUAPCD and by respecting agreements that have been made with Inyo County and others, LADWP can virtually be done with the major environmental hurdles in the Eastern Sierra. They have the opportunity to ‘wear a white hat’ and receive praise that is due rather then continued anger and frustration.

    • Ken Warner February 28, 2012 at 4:41 pm #

      There’s no pattern to recognize. It’s what they are. They are mean to the bone.

  7. Lisa Schade February 28, 2012 at 11:18 am #

    Very well said! Glad you’re protecting the air we all breathe.

  8. ana February 28, 2012 at 11:00 am #

    And this is why it matters. It isn’t just aesthetics, although that aspect is also important for those of us who live here:

    Also, I’m sure most are aware that the Owens Lake dust is its own unique special toxic mix.

    Kudos to LA DWP for the work they have done. Watch what happens on the lake tomorrow when the high winds hit the untreated sections. LA DWP must complete the mitigation of the lake dust for the health of the residents and visitors to our valley.

    This is my post on a related story that I posted last week. I am still wondering about the questions that I raised, and haven’t heard any comments relating to the specific topic of the higher Incidence of lung disease in southern Inyo.

    “I always wondered why the CDC hasn’t investigated the high incidence of lung diseases afflicting the people of southern Inyo. I’m sure that those of us who live within 35 miles of the Owens Dry Lake can think of several people we know who either had lung disease and passed on, or have been diagnosed with lung disease and are dealing with the effects of the condition. I always wondered if Erin Brockovich would be interested in investigating this very disturbing phenomenon. It is like the elephant in the room. Also, as the underground aquifers are drawn down by pumping, and the alkali flats increase in number, that particulate matter will also be circulating during wind storms. Nobody talks about that effect either. It is not just the Lake. The increases in the alkali flats that were previously somewhat stabilized by vegetation coverage, are also the direct result of underground pumping by LA DWP. I think it will take somebody with courage and conviction to pursue this angle.”

    • Airman February 28, 2012 at 5:26 pm #

      Do you actually have any statistical data on the incidence of lung disease and illnesses in Inyo County? Or are you just making an assumption?

      • Michael Prather February 28, 2012 at 7:05 pm #

        The sample size for health hazards around Owens Lake is too small. We do have anecdotal reports from ER rooms in Lone Pine and Ridgecrest where people with respiratory challenges such as asthma and emphysema come in during major dust events.
        We know the harmful effects of small particles on young people and people at risk. Young people pull more air through their lungs in a day than adults and they have actively growing lung tissue – young lungs. PM-10 particles are small enough to travel to the smallest alveoli in the lungs of all people. These particles can pass through the tissue membranes and enter the blood stream – traveling to the lungs, brain and all parts of the body. These impacts have been well documented through lab studies.

        • Ted Schade February 29, 2012 at 9:43 am #

          I couldn’t have said it any better. PM-10 is bad for you wherever you live. The state of California has established that particulate air pollution is “among the most harmful of all air pollutants.” (

      • ana February 28, 2012 at 7:29 pm #

        No data…just empirical observations made over years living in close proximity to the Lake dust and first and second hand knowledge of those that suffer with lung diseases of various types. That is why I would hope that somebody a lot smarter than I am would pursue this. I don’t even know how you would begin to collect data other than doing an exhaustive study of cause of death of those that lived within a 50 mile radius of the Lake. I have no idea whether or not it is a current requirement for those people working on the Lake to wear dust masks…that would be interesting to know.

        • Valkyrie February 29, 2012 at 9:52 am #

          Why don’t you contact the CDC to see if they are interested? Though the statistics are small, it is possible that there has been a spike of unusual lung disorders in people raised or living in the area of dust impact. I wonder if persons with dust-related lung disorders, and a clear nexus of residency, could sue based on their injury. That might force an examination of the issue.

    • Trouble February 28, 2012 at 9:47 pm #

      Ana your good!

    • inyoindian February 29, 2012 at 8:56 am #

      how can anybody question negative affects of groundwater pumping and owens dry lake dust. @ Ana and Michael, I agree 100 %. You have me on board!

    • Airman February 29, 2012 at 11:13 am #

      Great Basin APCD has characterized the composition of the dust from Owens Lake, it is not a mysterious “unique toxic mix” perhaps Mr. Schade would provide the information to Bennet Kessler. I believe the dust is primarily mineral in nature, primarily Sodium salts and fine clay particles. The salts will dissolve in water and dissipate, the clay won’t. I also believe it is mostly PM10 greater than 2.5 microns, 2.5 microns and smaller (as you find in woodsmoke, car exhaust, etc.) is now believed to be more hazardous.
      Great Basin APCD has also compiled anecdotal and statistal data on respiratory illness in our vicinity, particulates are indeed responsible for more doctor and ER visits by people who already have compromised lung function. People with normal lungs experience irritation and annoyance. Most people experience eye and nasal irritation also.
      It is well documented that particulate pollution at constant intermediate or high levels as you would find in LA is far more damaging to the lungs than infrequent exposure to high levels, as we experience here in the valley.
      Not saying that particulate pollution isn’t a problem, but it isn’t a mystery either. The elephant left the building long ago, after being studied to death. Instead of wondering or making assumptions what is in the dust or what it is doing to people around here, just ask Great Basin APCD, they have all that information, and then some!

      • Ted Schade February 29, 2012 at 7:26 pm #

        Yes, we do know what is in the dust. In addition to inert minerals (clays) and a cocktail of salts, the dust has elevated levels of arsenic, cadmium and nickel. The arsenic is of particular concern because the residents of Keeler suffer with high levels of arsenic in their water. Adding arsenic to their air gives them an arsenic “double whammy” (technical talk).


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