Cleaner Skies Ahead in the Eastern Sierra
Bishop, CA – Recently, and in no uncertain terms, the World Health Organization declared that all types of outdoor air pollution, including dust and smoke, causes cancer. Last summer’s air was especially dangerous as smoke from burning forests filled local skies with dangerous levels of pollution for many weeks. Undeniably, when it comes to air quality and overall health, the cleaner the air the better.
In the Eastern Sierra, the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District is the agency responsible for protecting air quality throughout a 9 million-acre district encompassing Inyo, Mono and Alpine counties. Facing many challenges to this task, including fires and human-caused dust storms, the Great Basin’s mission is to protect and improve outdoor air quality across this vast region. Numerous projects it recently funded are now doing exactly that.
Using a $6.5 million payment from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, almost 30 different projects across the district were recently funded to measurably reduce and prevent harmful air pollutants. Administered as a joint project between Great Basin and LADWP, the Clean Air Projects Program enabled a large variety of air quality projects to be implemented that otherwise would not be possible.
Across all three counties over 475 old wood stoves and open fireplaces were replaced with more efficient and much cleaner heating systems. According to scientific studies, old, non-compliant wood stoves and fireplaces emit around 53 pounds of smoke per year. In comparison, new EPA-compliant stoves emit around 25 pounds and pellet stoves around seven. Clean burning propane emits even less. Accordingly, these 475 new systems will eliminate over 17,000 pounds of smoke from local skies every year.
Another funded project is a new semi-automatic watering system installed at the Bridgeport Rodeo Grounds allowing Centennial Ranch operators to easily control arena and parking area dust. At its public unveiling last summer during Labor Day competitions, spectators and riders alike were impressed by the new system that replaces an old diesel watering truck.
Wildfire smoke, wind-blown dust, cold temps and engine emissions are no longer a challenge for mechanics working inside five Mono County vehicle maintenance facilities. New vacuum systems are now connected to the tailpipes of vehicles being repaired, sucking up and filtering engine exhaust and venting it outside. Previously, shop doors had to remain open while engines were running inside, even in the depth of winter, to prevent dangerous gas buildups. Now the doors can be safely closed to keep warm or cool air inside, resulting in a safer and more comfortable working environment, as well as significant energy savings.
In Inyo County, residents, guests and travelers all benefit from several projects paving dusty dirt roads and parking lots in the Lone Pine area. Notably, the bumpy and dusty Lone Pine Hospital parking lot has been graded, paved and striped. Other parking areas in Lone Pine recently paved to everyone’s delight include the high school’s community Sports Complex Area at the north end of town, a downtown lot serving the Chamber of Commerce and nearby businesses, and the dirt overflow parking area at the Lone Pine Film History Museum. Kathleen New, Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce Executive Director, has been beaming over her much-improved lot, noting that the paving in and around Lone Pine has “definitely increased enthusiasm, energy and community pride.”
South of Lone Pine, the Boulder Creek Resort and Campground has newly paved interior access roads running between camp sites; the Hunter Road neighborhood in Alabama Hills was able to grade and pave their dirt road; and the community of Keeler paved a local, well-used previously dusty, dump-access road.
Several new clean vehicles were also funded throughout the Air District for air quality improvements and public benefit. Old and dirty diesel water trucks were replaced at Inyo County landfills with new trucks, helping to efficiently control the dumps’ wind-blown dust with fewer exhaust emissions. The Town of Mammoth Lakes and Inyo County bought new street sweepers to help control the airborne dust from road cinders used for traction control on local roadways, while Mono and Alpine counties purchased new snow plows to replace old, more polluting equipment. The new plows have far fewer emissions and plow significantly more miles in less time, leading to increased public safety as well as cleaner air.
Local agricultural also scored with a ‘new’ electric tractor (converted old diesel tractor) at Bishop Creek Farm that increases productivity by allowing the farmers to effectively work more area with virtually no direct engine emissions. The ‘Future Farmers of America’ at Lone Pine High School also benefitted by being able to plant a new fruit orchard and vineyard on ground that was previously barren dirt. Air quality at their school farm was also enhanced by covering the dirt driveway and parking area with locally sourced gravel.
Several projects providing public education about air quality issues have also been funded, including the new 2014 “Sierra Skyscapes” calendar by renowned local photographer and mountaineer Andy Selters. Now available at local book stores and visitor centers, the calendar features monthly images of breathtaking Eastern Sierra skyscapes accompanied by relevant air quality information and significant dates.
To date, about 25 projects funded by the Clean Air Projects Program have been successfully completed, literally preventing tons of potential air pollutants from entering local skies every year. According to Ted Schade, Great Basin’s Air Pollution Control Officer, “Great Basin is pleased to have been able to make CAPP funds available throughout the District. The funds have allowed a wide range of local air pollution sources to be controlled. These were sources that did not have alternative funding sources and would have continued to emit air pollution if the CAPP had not been able to help. We look forward to cleaner and healthier skies as a result of the program.”
Due to the air quality improvement projects funded through the Clean Air Projects Program, local pollutants have been measurably reduced with numerous benefits for all. Significant threats to air quality remain however, such as increased wildfires and dust storms caused by human activity and warming climates, but wherever it can reasonably be controlled, it must be controlled. For more information, go to HYPERLINK “http://gbuapcd.org” http://gbuapcd.org.
Theodore D. Schade
Air Pollution Control Officer