In the October 20, 2012 Inyo Register newspaper, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power General Manager, Ron Nichols, authored an editorial regarding the LADWP’s recent lawsuit against the Great Basin APCD and others. The title of the editorial is “No choice but to file suit against Great Basin” (a copy is attached). Mr. Nichols claims that LADWP had no choice but to file a lawsuit in federal court against the Great Basin APCD, the Calif. State Lands Commission, the Calif. Air Resources Board, the U.S. EPA and the U.S. BLM. I argue otherwise. He also claims that “Great Basin continues to mandate wasting billions of gallons of drinking water to control dust at Owens Lake.” This is completely untrue (as are many other statements in the piece).
Then, in the October 21, 2012 Los Angeles Times, three Los Angeles area business associations took out a full-page ad that parrots the LADWP’s recent propaganda, including strip-quoting out of context a comment made by me in 2009. The LA-area organizations never contacted Great Basin to check any of the allegations they signed their names to. See the ad at: http://eeditionmobile.latimes.
In response to LADWP, I wrote (because I don’t have a PR department) the following response:
LADWP could choose to obey the law
By Ted Schade, Great Basin APCD
Last week, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power filed a federal court lawsuit that seeks to prevent enforcement of current federal and state clean air laws regarding its water diversions in the Owens Valley. These diversions have created the dried Owens Lake bed, the largest source of particulate air pollution in the United States. Particulate air emissions of 10 microns or less are regulated by federal and state laws as a danger to human health and the environment. This fine dust lodges deep in our lungs, causing respiratory injuries and special risks to children and the elderly. Over the past year, LADWP’s operations have created dust storms exceeding the federal standard on 25 separate days and the more restrictive state standard on 87 days.
In 1997 and 2006, the LADWP entered into a series of agreements to control the dust emissions caused by its operations. Those agreements resulted in regulations approved by federal and state regulators that require the LADWP to implement control measures that can include, at its option, gravel, vegetation or flooding on areas that its water diversions have left dry.
In 2011, the LADWP walked away from its agreements and initiated a series of actions to avoid the cost of these controls, while continuing to divert water and profit from their diversions. In an attempt to avoid legal requirements, the LADWP has now sued every federal, state and local air quality regulator, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the California Air Resources Board, and the Great Basin Air Pollution Control District.
Along with its lawsuit, the LADWP has engaged a media campaign. In the October 20, 2012 “Top of the Morning,” the LADWP spends considerable effort painting the Great Basin as the problem in the latest disagreement. LADWP concludes that because of Great Basin it “has been left with absolutely no choice but to file a lawsuit in federal court.” I disagree. The most obvious choice for LADWP is to comply with the air pollution laws. This is certainly the choice that any responsible public utility would make, not just to avoid the legal costs and penalties for violating the law, but because it is the right thing to do in order to protect the people affected by its air pollution. The District is asking the LADWP to keep its past promises and comply with the law.
Previous leaders at the LADWP and the City of Los Angeles have repeatedly agreed to their responsibility to control the dust caused by their water diversions. They shared the understanding that the LADWP’s need for water comes with a responsibility to protect the environment and the health of the communities it impacts. These past leaders undertook one of the largest air pollution control projects ever attempted and have controlled almost 90 percent of the air pollution emitted from the Owens Lake bed. The problem is, Owens Lake dust emissions levels were more than 100 times the standard and, in order to meet clean air requirements, dust levels must be reduced by 99 percent. The dust levels are ten times lower than they were 15 years ago, but they are still ten times too high.
However, with the end in sight, current LADWP leaders have apparently decided “enough is enough.” They have concocted a list of reasons why they should not have to comply with past agreements and the law.
LADWP falsely claims that Great Basin “keeps moving the goal posts.” The “goal posts” are the federal and state air pollution standards. Great Basin does not make these standards. The current dust control plan was adopted in 2008 after intense negotiations and collaboration between Great Basin and LADWP. The plan requires LADWP to continue, step by step, to deploy dust controls until the Owens Lake bed meets the standards. The LADWP has now unilaterally decided to break these hard-fought agreements because its current leaders find them too expensive or too difficult to comply with.
The LADWP’s most outrageous claim is that “Great Basin continues to mandate wasting billions of gallons of drinking water to control dust at Owens Lake.” All the water used on Owens Lake is there because LADWP solely decided or agreed to put it there. Great Basin does not order LADWP to deploy any one type of dust control. Great Basin only identifies areas on the dried lakebed that cause air quality standard exceedances. LADWP selects and deploys the approved control measures. Approved measures include gravel, vegetation and flooding. When LADWP says it is wasting water, it ignores the fact that it could have deployed low-water use vegetation, or gravel, which uses no water at all.
In fact, the most recent dust control project completed by the LADWP consists of two square miles of gravel. The project was completed well ahead of schedule and will now control dust with no water and virtually no operation or maintenance costs. LADWP claims that they cannot get permission from the state to construct gravel controls, but their recent gravel success proves this claim is false.
Great Basin has repeatedly committed to work with LADWP to make dust controls more water efficient. In 2003 and 2008 Great Basin adopted plans that included special provisions to test reduced water controls. The latest agreement signed by both agencies in 2010 reiterates Great Basin’s commitment to efficient water use. Yet, LADWP has yet to take advantage of these provisions. Los Angeles water ratepayers should ask why.
LADWP makes the remarkable claim that the dust is not coming from Owens Lake. To the contrary, the Great Basin, using a monitoring system that was developed with the agreement of the LADWP, collects about 50 million data records per year that prove the dust comes from the dried lake bed.
The LADWP editorial claims that “LADWP and its customers are absolutely committed to fulfilling our obligations to control dust at Owens Lake.” But, what LADWP wants is for past agreements to be ignored and current laws to be changed to relieve the LADWP from its responsibility to clean up after itself.
LADWP appears to hope that the mere brashness of repeating these falsehoods over and over again will be enough to get the public to believe them. The Great Basin staff is comprised of scientists, not public relations experts, and we can only respond with the facts. The fact is that LADWP can both comply with law and save water. It can produce water for its ratepayers and protect the environment and the residents of the Owens Valley from the harmful effects of its water diversions. None of LADWP’s lawsuits or public relations efforts will change those facts.
The citizens of both the Owens Valley and the City of Los Angeles deserve to know the truth. They deserve a public utility that obeys the law. And most of all, they deserve clean air.
(This editorial was written by Ted Schade, Air Pollution Control Officer and 22-year employee of the Great Basin Air Pollution Control District.)
Theodore D. Schade
Air Pollution Control Officer
Great Basin APCD