Written by: April Zrelak, Independence
I am dismayed at the comments made by Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District board (GBUAPCD) members during the September 16 meeting at Mammoth Lakes. On the agenda was change to the 2008 SIP and the Coso Maintenance Plan to adjust for the Phase 7a and Keeler Dunes Settlement Terms. This is a worthy settlement that was negotiated in good faith between this Board and the LADWP Commissioners. But, this simple and approved process was hijacked by Los Angeles. As usual, when LADWP wants to throw a wrench into the works, they manage to irritate the Board, who make some disapproving comments, then acquiesce. And, as usual, the City communicates volumes of demands and changes late on the evening of the workday prior to the meeting. It is rare to see the Board react with consequences for the intentionally, disruptive tactic. The Board mostly absorbs the disruption, then moves ahead incorporating (or at least entertaining) LA’s demands. At this meeting, LADWP decided to throw in an issue that is not part of the Phase 7a and Keeler Dunes Settlement Agreement. It is, however, something the City has been trying to get agencies and environmental organizations to support since the defunct Owens Lake Master Planning Committee was established in 2010.
Some background: In the negotiated State Implementation Plan (SIP), LADWP had certain options for dust control as well as the ability to test for new ones. They chose shallow flooding in many areas. As the City grew, polluted its own groundwater, lost options on other sources of clean water, and was forced to rewater the lower Owens River, it turned to the Owens Valley water that is currently used for dust mitigation at Owens Lake. Surprisingly, it was Eastern Sierra Audubon members who convinced LADWP that they could use much less water while providing better wildlife habitat and control dust emissions. This design has wide agreement within the Valley. Many areas are scheduled for “transition” from shallow flooding during the next mitigation phases and over several years. The benefit to Los Angeles is a return of nearly 40,000 acre feet of water export each year.
But, wait… making these transitions will cost Los Angeles a lot of money – up to $1 billion. The delicate process of transitioning from high water use to low or no water use has to be done without allowing a lot of dust (enough to violate air quality standards) to escape the lakebed perimeter. Recall that these areas are already mitigated. They are checked off the list of highly emissive sites. We thank LA and Great Basin for greatly reducing dust pollution over the last 12 years. Throughout the Owens Lake Master Plan and the ultimate Master Project processes LADWP has insisted that they should be immune from penalties for air quality violations during transition. This is, of course, not legal and not our problem. They do not have to transition. It is a choice that makes good business sense for LA and will improve bird habitat on the lakebed. Trading better bird habitat for a return to more air pollution over many years of construction is just not acceptable. Transition can be accomplished cleanly, but will cost Los Angeles more money than by not doing it cleanly. Reducing expenses is good, but not an acceptable trade-off for more air pollution.
Let’s go back many years to the Clean Air Act. This federal law requires that states protect us from air pollution sources. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) established separate airshed regional offices to regulate air pollution in their specific districts. GBUAPCD is here to protect our airshed. LADWP was deemed legally responsible for the extreme dust emissions off of Owens Lake bed due to their water diversion. Ultimately, a document was negotiated to mitigate the worst PM10 air pollution source in the entire country. David Freeman was General Manager back then. LADWP’s sense of environmental responsibility was more progressive in those days. Freeman recently said, “They [LADWP] don’t understand history. The Eastern Sierra can fight back…Show them you are not a door mat, up there.”
The citizens of southern Inyo are most impacted by dust from this source. Yet, at Monday’s meeting, our two Inyo County Supervisors who sit on the District board voiced their approval when LADWP’s attorney demanded relief from consequences for anticipated violations of air quality standards during transition. The Board has required that the District Staff craft some language for a revision to the SIP that will allow DWP to slip back to greater air pollution. Is this OK with you? Are you, as residents, willing to give up gains in cleaner air to save Los Angeles some money? Talk with your representatives about their roles in air pollution regulation. Better yet, send your team of attorneys to speak for you at the Board meetings. That seems to have more influence.
1st District Supervisor, Linda Arcularius: firstname.lastname@example.org , (760) 387-2692, (760) 937-2486 (Cell)
5th District Supervisor, Matt Kingsley: email@example.com , (760) 878-8508 (District Office and Cell)