A letter issued this week by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power looked to some like a new, over-arching strategy by DWP to accomplish its Owens Dry Lake goals. What had been on the back burner now stands front and center – a Master Plan for the Owens Dry Lake but only if dust controls cost less money and use less water.
In his letter, DWP Water Operations Director Martin Adams laid out new details to push ahead with an Owens Lake Master Plan but with some Catch-22s. DWP wants guarantees of less dust control and less water use on the dry lake before spending the money for bird habitats and other items at the lake bed. This new and obvious quid pro quo gives LA a broader goal for opposing parties to consider.
The Master Plan group has no power over dust controls. That’s the exclusive bailiwick of the Air Pollution Control District, State Air Board and State Lands Commission – the parties LADWP is suing to stop their dust control requirements. Although Adams said he’s not “asking the Master Plan group to leverage anybody,” his letter and proposal does repeatedly pit bird habitat against dust control.
Asked about Adams’ letter, Air Pollution Control District Director Ted Schade said, “Any project DWP intends to undertake must comply with local, state and federal air quality requirements.” Said Schade, “The Master Plan process or any project does not supersede the Great Basin requirements and controls over air pollution.”
Adams made himself available to Sierra Wave Media for questions on his letter. With a relaxed and friendly manner, he said, “If we spend a half million dollars on habitat and recreation at the lake bed, we can’t afford to do that and do dust control.” Adams said, “For us to commit to the Master Plan, we need the ability to use other dust clean-up methods.” Adams said he would like to take “all everyone wants to see and put together a project. If we don’t have to spend another billion dollars on dust controls and can come up with more creative ways to control dust, then we can do the Master Plan project.”
Adams said he is not trying to bypass the Master Plan process that has gone on through meetings with as many as 40 agency and environmental group people over the last two years. His letter says that it may appear LADWP is “abandoning the master planning process or perhaps ‘running off’ with the work of the group. In fact,” he writes, “we are trying to be realistic and deliver a real project in our lifetime.”
Adams talks about transforming the Owens Lake with the use of a “Habitat Suitability Model” already developed by the Master Plan group. Adams said, “We’re pitching an overall solution.” The DWP idea still resorts to divide and conquer, although Adams sees it as the way it is. He said with more water use on the dry lake there has been less water spreading in the Owens Valley for ranchers. With less water down the aqueduct, LA has to buy more state water, he said. As for the Owens Lake dust, Adams said, “We believe we’ve mitigated our impacts.”
Audubon Society official, Andrea Jones, called LADWP’s plan to develop a project proposal that conserves water, saves habitat and uses the Master Plan process a “positive step” that the Audubon Society will review. The DWP letter is posted below: