Water, Water, Nowhere
Although its “death” was 80 years ago, Owens Lake [“The Eternal Dustbowl,” March 24–30] painfully demonstrates the imperative that Los Angeles should avoid impacts from its LADWP water-gathering simply because it is cheaper in terms of water and money. The dust policy of Los Angeles at Owens from 1913 to 1998 was, “Let them eat lake.”
Currently the same behavior by LADWP in managing ground-water pumping throughout the Owens Valley once again risks costs in terms of money and water for the city of Los Angeles as a result of not avoiding impacts to the environment. Vegetation, wildlife and air quality continue to suffer because of actions by LADWP; and the city will pay the bill unless real change occurs in LADWP. Everyone needs to ask that the mayor, through his LADWP Commission president, Mary Nichols, make all necessary changes in policy and staffing within DWP so that the city can reduce the budgetary bleeding and enjoy a more predictable and less painful future.
As for Owens Lake being a boondoggle, that depends on the point of view. Anyone who lives in the dust area deserves and expects clean air as per the Clean Air Act. In addition, wildlife is returning to the lake in staggering numbers, attracted by the food web created by water used in controlling dust. On March 27, I did a bird survey in one large dust-control zone and counted approximately 10,500 American avocets! Many will nest here. Owens Lake represents the largest inland nesting site for the snowy plover in California. Our hope locally is that, by curing the regional dust hazard, Los Angeles will allow Owens Lake to take its place once again as a major wildlife stopover in the eastern Sierra. A balance is sought.
For as long as I can remember (I’m only 17), I have been taking trips up to Mammoth, and have driven past Owens dry lake over 150 times. By now I know the 395 like the back of my hand, but I can still remember when I was a mere 9 years old, saying, “Daddy, why does that lake have no water in it?” He would tell me the story over and over again, and with every trip up to Mammoth, as I grew older I understood what a huge problem it was. I would stare out the window and imagine a beautiful blue lake, as far as the eye could see, but thanks to Mr. Mulholland that is something my eyes will never see.
Although Jeffrey Anderson did a fair job of reporting on the long-running and complex issue of dust emissions from Owens Lake, as the current and retired air pollution control officers for the Great Basin Air Pollution Control District, we were disappointed that a number of important points were presented as matters of conflicting opinion, when the facts were easily obtainable. For example:
1. The 98 percent control requirement at Owens Lake was presented as an unreasonable demand of Ellen Hardebeck’s, when in fact it is required by the Federal Clean Air Act in order to meet the PM10 air quality standard.
Great Basin did not reject other simpler scientific approaches that would have worked. Great Basin had to pick control measures that would meet the standard and that could be implemented before EPA’s deadline of 2006.
2. The Article says that no one can claim that 98 percent dust reduction is or ever will be attained, but shallow flooding has been shown to meet the 98 percent requirement. After the LADWP flooded 12 square miles near the town of Keeler, they attained 98 percent control.
3. Continuing dust storms do not demonstrate that shallow flood does not work and is a “boondoggle,” as claimed in the headline. Wet years have more, not less, dust emissions, because when the lake is wetted and then dries in cold weather, salts form on the surface. Shallow flood does not allow the surface to dry and wet soil does not blow.
4. Ellen Hardebeck did not force the LADWP to construct shallow flooding to create bird habitat or to bring about the return of the snowy plover. Great Basin gave the DWP three options—shallow flood, vegetation and gravel — and they were completely free to choose any one or a combination of them.
Air Pollution Control Officer
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Retired Air Pollution Control Officer
The Nominees Are . . .
Jeffrey Anderson was named a finalist in the Investigative Reporters and Editors contest. Anderson was cited for “The DWP Files,” his series of stories on L.A.’s Department of Water and Power.
And Jonathan Gold is once again a finalist for the James Beard Award in newspaper restaurant criticism. This is his seventh nomination for the award, and he has won three times.