By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
After the DWP approved change orders up to the contingency limit on Phase 1, the next several phases were more successful, most agree, except for a costly grading of the lakebed and the use of expensive pumps that could not withstand the toxic soil conditions. But by then the DWP expected to pay a premium for brute force and water. Consequently, the City Council was forced to sign off on several retroactive funding increases approved by the DWP commissioners appointed by former mayor Jim Hahn.
Scheidlinger and Stradling are just two of many who “were ignored and had our feelings hurt.” But that doesn’t explain why the DWP and CH2M Hill plunged down the path they did together. “I have a briefcase full of unfunded research proposals that have been submitted and rejected,” Scheidlinger says. “They didn’t listen to their own inspector, they didn’t listen to us and they didn’t listen to Ted,” Stradling adds. “Why?”
Long ago, before Great Basin and the DWP settled their differences and CH2M Hill came on the lake, the DWP was still clinging to legal stall tactics and was vehement that aqueduct water not be part of any dust solution. Schade says he finds it ironic now that potable water is the magic bullet the DWP has chosen. “I just remember this guy from the City Attorney’s Office, Ed Schlotman, storming out of court one day saying, ‘Not a drop of water out of that aqueduct. Over my dead body.’?”
Lawmakers and observers in Sacramento are skeptical of the Owens Lake project. Great Basin remains the poster child for dust pollution. Even some of Great Basin’s fellow combatants in the water wars against the DWP are wondering if both sides didn’t take a shortsighted view that has taxed natural resources and DWP ratepayers unnecessarily.
Last month, state Senator Dean Florez convened a Senate Select Committee on Air Quality to challenge the EPA’s proposal to exempt rural areas from federal PM-10 standards. Advocates and regulators testified that the Bush administration would be ignoring its own science experts if it left rural areas unprotected from coarse-particle air pollution. Schade wowed the audience with a time-lapse video display of a recent dust storm that looked more like a small tornado. In a sense, he was the guest of honor.
Afterward, in an interview in his office, Florez said Owens Lake is the main reason he wants to defeat the EPA proposal. “The proposal sends a message that people who live in a rural district like Great Basin are in a wasteland, and that they don’t matter.” Florez has introduced his own bill to put teeth in California’s clean-air laws, just in case the EPA proposal, pushed heavily by the mining and farming industries, survives. So, what about the 98 percent dust reduction standard that Great Basin has set, and that the DWP is spending hundreds of millions of dollars trying to meet, he is asked. “I don’t think Great Basin has given us a real answer on where they got that number.” Are these unrealistic expectations? “That’s a tough question. It may be too soon to make a value judgment.” Then how do you reconcile the project as a success, when Great Basin holds itself out as the most ravaged spot in the world for PM-10? “I don’t know how to answer that,” Florez says.
The senator winces when he hears how much water the DWP pours on Owens Lake — 50,000 acre-feet per year is more than most cities in his district use. “Even if they meet the air standard I can see more hearings on this,” he says, noting the DWP’s absence from his hearings that morning. Then Florez is asked if Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s plans for a “green” Los Angeles signals a policy shift at the DWP and in the Owens Valley. “No,” he says. “His administration has been captured by the bureaucracy that surrounds them. It’s going to take him spending some actual time there if he wants to improve it. He can’t just say he wants it to be better.”
State agencies are bracing for more controversy regarding the DWP, which has approved a $600,000 contract for the law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips to provide environmental and regulatory advice for the next three years. Schade admits his demand for nine additional miles of dust mitigation could be “the tipping point” of the entire deal.
Michael Kenney, former director of CARB, has seen it all before. Now a judge in Sacramento Superior Court, Kenney was rebuked by Great Basin in the 1990s when he opposed its plan to end the battle with the DWP. His own board deadlocked on a proposal and appeared ready to side with Great Basin. “Great Basin came out pretty well on that deal, didn’t they?” Kenney said recently in a telephone interview. “We were looking at a feasible plan for mitigating dust, and Great Basin was looking at water being taken from Owens Valley for 80 years. My staff had issues with the technology and the cost.”