LOS ANGELES and BISHOP, CA – Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, LA City Attorney Mike Feuer, DWP Commission President Mel Levine and Owens Valley air pollution control representatives Ron Hames, Linda Arcularius and Matt Kingsley announced today that the City of Los Angeles and the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District (Great Basin) have reached an historic agreement over the implementation of dust control measures on Owens Lake.
The successes achieved at controlling dust at Owens Lake have come at a real cost to Angelenos. Currently, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) uses about 25 billion gallons of water annually and has spent $1.3 billion since 2000 to control dust at Owens Lake. The equivalent of nearly two months out of every Los Angeles ratepayer’s annual water bill is spent on Owens Lake dust mitigation, including the cost of replacing the water used there.
Today’s agreement will allow the LADWP to use waterless dust control methods, including tillage, at Owens Lake, resulting in significant water and monetary savings for Los Angeles. The agreement also provides Los Angeles with the certainty of knowing the full extent of its liability for dust mitigation at Owens Lake. Great Basin will also maintain its full regulatory authority with the assurance that LADWP will continue to meet its obligations to control dust on Owens Lake.
“After years of conflict, we finally have an agreement that will save billions of gallons of water and millions of dollars for LADWP ratepayers and will address environmental issues at Owens Lake,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. “With this agreement, Los Angeles is taking its responsibility seriously at Owens Lake, while saving money and allowing more water to flow to Los Angeles to help our city respond to our record drought. This is a significant win for ratepayers and our environment in both Los Angeles and the Owens Valley.”
"Today is a victory for LA's ratepayers and for Owens Valley residents,” said City Attorney Mike Feuer. “By collaborating rather than fighting, we will reduce water usage, contain costs and improve air quality near Owens Lake.”
The agreement was reached following years of negotiations between the parties over LADWP’s responsibility to control dust caused by water gathering activities in the Owens Valley following construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct. The negotiations were led by LADWP Commission President Mel Levine and Commission Vice President William Funderburk together with Great Basin Board Members Ron Hames, Matt Kingsley and Linda Arcularius, and Air Pollution Control Officer Ted Schade.
The LADWP and Great Basin agreed to jointly ask the Sacramento Superior Court to approve a Stipulated Judgment agreed to by the parties (Judgment) that requires the LADWP to complete the implementation of dust control measures on 3.6 sq. mi. that have already been agreed to, bringing the total project to 48.6 square miles. Under the Judgment, Great Basin will have the authority to issue dust control orders on an additional 4.8 square miles within what is called the “Maximum Controlled Area,” bringing the total potential Owens Lake dust control project to 53.4 square miles. The Judgment limits the issuance of additional dust control orders by Great Basin, and allows the LADWP to use newly-developed and less water-intensive and waterless dust control measures, and will maintain existing wildlife habitat on the lakebed.
As a result, LADWP expects to save nearly 8,600 acre feet, or nearly 3 billion gallons, of water this year. That is enough water to serve 43,000 people. And the path is set to significantly expand those savings in the future.
The Agreement stems from the recognition that the enormous Owens Lake dust control project that LADWP has implemented on more than 45 square miles of the lakebed over the past 15 years at a cost of over $1.3 billion has eliminated more than 90% of the excess blowing dust.
“We are extremely pleased to approve this historic agreement that is the result of the hard work of many people over many years,” said LADWP Commission President Mel Levine. “With California in the midst of an unprecedented drought, this agreement is especially important in that it will save the City an enormous amount water and money. The LADWP now knows that there is a limit to the dust control area for which it will be responsible, and has agreed to meet its obligations to meet air quality goals. LADWP also gets the assurance that new waterless control methods will be allowed, and existing control areas where water is now used could be converted to less water-intensive methods, while continuing to maintain wildlife habitat.”
“The first rule of ecology is that everything is connected to everything else” said Great Basin Board Chairman Ron Hames. “The Owens Valley will forever be connected to the City of Los Angeles by the water from the Owens Valley. We know Los Angeles relies on that water, but we also need clean air and it is Los Angeles’ responsibility to comply with the clean-air laws and protect public health. This agreement allows for both clean air for the families in the Owens Valley and clean water for Los Angeles.”
“This agreement provides a promising path forward based upon both agencies' most basic needs, said Air Pollution Officer Ted Schade. “DWP needs more certainty regarding the maximum amount of lakebed it will ever be required to control. Great Basin needs to have the ability to comply with its legal duty to require a regulated party to meet the federal and state air quality standards. We are very pleased to support this agreement that meets the needs of both the LADWP and Great Basin.”
While both the LADWP and Great Basin have worked closely over the past two decades to solve the dust control problem at Owens Lake, previous agreements and settlements did not limit the amount of lakebed LADWP is responsible for mitigating. Because LADWP's efforts to control dust have been so successful, both parties are now confident that the current agreement will allow the parties to move forward cooperatively to complete the job.
Unique in this agreement is the establishment of the Owens Lake Scientific Advisory Panel (OLSAP), to be staffed by the National Academy of Sciences. The OLSAP will review scientific issues relating to controlling dust using waterless and low-water use methods, among other related matters. The panel’s first task will be to study the effectiveness of less water-intensive and waterless dust control methods at Owens Lake. The agreement also importantly sets forth a process related to future discovery of Native American artifacts, which have been found on and around Owens Lake. Under the agreement, dust control measures may be delayed without penalty in the event additional significant Native American artifacts are discovered in the future.
“The dust has settled on Owens Lake,” said LADWP Commission President Levine. “Over the years LADWP and Great Basin have learned that working together we can best resolve issues. We are gratified that today we continue to move forward in a renewed spirit of cooperation.”