With positive staff recommendations and no one in opposition, the Great Basin Unified Air Quality Control District hearing board granted the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power a variance to initiate a late ramp-up of shallow flooding on 14.79 square miles of the Owens Lake. The result is a water savings of 7,400 acre-feet this fall.
Not all the water will be allocated to agricultural irrigation; the department will now sit down with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the State Lands Commission to determine what water will be required for habitat resources but the balance will help Owens Valley ranchers and farmers weather the fourth consecutive year of historical drought.
Under the 2008 State Implementation Plan, LADWP is required to begin water deliveries to specific Dust Control Areas and be in full compliance for shallow flooding by Oct. 15. The variance request identified four DCAs, for a total of 1.12 square miles, to reach full compliance by Dec. 1. Twenty two DCAs totaling 13.67 square miles will reach full compliance by Jan. 16. Dust control methods will not be changed on the balance of the 42-square mile lake bed. The majority of the DCAs are on the northeast side of the dry lake; one DCA is on the south shore, another on the southeast edge.
According to LADWP’s variance petition, the data collected over the past 15 years indicates “it is extremely unlikely for surfaces of these DCAs to become emissive during the Fall Shoulder Season.”
While LADWP Aqueduct Manager Jim Yannotta focused on the drought as the reason for the variance; Great Basin Air Pollution Control Officer Phillip Kiddoo went on the record as identifying the variance as a test because drought was not a cause for a variance.
With minor changes to the Great Basin’s staff recommendations, the variance went through almost seamlessly. One recommendation by Kiddoo was the time period necessary to get water on an area that did become emissive prior to Oct. 16. The staff recommendation wanted a 15-day notice; LADWP wanted 21. Yannotta explained the department could deliver water quickly to a small impacted area but wanted an extended time period to avoid non-compliance. The compromise: LADWP would have 15 days if the area was 3.75 square miles, or 25-percent of the total variance area and 21 days if the area was larger than 3.75 square miles.
Testimony by Mike Prather and Lacey Greene of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife sent Great Basin attorney Lisa Brown on a search of the legal documents governing the dust mitigation mandate. Both spoke in support of the variance but wanted to ensure consideration of habitat values. Prather pointed out migratory bird patterns run from August to October, during which time under the variance the 22 DCAs would be dry. He beefed up his point with bird numbers on those specific DCAs. “If habitat values are lost in these areas, they should be transferred to other areas,” he said. When Brown pointed out that habitat considerations were outside the scope of the hearing board, Prather agreed. “I just want some latitude,” he said, “to avoid clumsiness in the operation of governments, to avoid mistakes.”
Greene added that Habitat Suitability Models allowed flexibility to move habitat values from one area to another, but the work on the models had not advanced to the point where impacts could be assessed.
Hearing chair Peter Pumphrey asked if the board could consider natural resource impacts as a condition for the variance. Following a short break, Brown found a reference to the petitioner being in compliance with all other agencies related to impacts from the variance. “DWP is not seeking relief from obligations to other agencies,” she said.
“Birds are not our mandate,” Kiddoo said, but he requested the condition that LADWP receive appropriate permits from CDF&W and the State Lands Commission by Aug. 30. At the request of Yannotta, the wording was changed to “apply for permits by Aug. 30” with permits in hand by Oct. 16.
With the wording on the changes finalized, the motion was made, seconded and approved to grant LADWP its variance.