On Friday, a new measure settling a long-standing dispute was announced between Owens Valley and Los Angeles, Calif. over what to do with dust in Owens Lake. The agreement could save the drought-stricken state billions of gallons of precious water and control one of the country’s worst areas for dust pollution. According to NBC, the Great Basin Air Control District and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) have come to a historic and cost-effective agreement in a 100-year-long battle.
The disagreements began when an aqueduct was built to carry water to the San Fernando Valley from Inyo County in the early 1900s. The lake, now dry, has been a source of huge amounts of dust pollution which has led to health problems for the area’s citizens. The particulate, once inhaled, can become lodged in the lungs, often causing serious respiratory damage. The EPA refers to the Owens Lake dust problem as the worst particulate air pollution in the nation.
Multiple agreements between Owens Valley’s Great Basin Air Control District and the DWP have been reached since the early 1990s, but there have been about as many disagreements about how to handle the dust problem as solutions. Since 2000, the DWP spent roughly $1.3 billion to control the pollution, flooding the lake bed with 25 billion gallons of water every year to settle the dust. However, local dust storms caused by the drained lake work to keep the basin dry, reports the Los Angeles Daily News.
Following a series of agreements beginning in 1997, emissions in the lake have been reduced by 90 percent. Still, in 2012, the Great Basin Air Control District ordered additional action from the DWP to mitigate the dust, prompting a lawsuit from the DWP. According to Great Basin air pollution control officer, Ted Schade, 12 lawsuits and appeals have been filed between the two organizations in the past three years regarding Owens Lake dust management.
The new measures place the Los Angeles DWP in charge of tilling Owens Lake to settle the dust in the 110-square-mile bed. Officials at the DWP and the Great Basin Air Control District expect to see savings for Los Angeles taxpayers, as well as more effective mitigation of dust in Owens Lake. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti says the tilling has been tested and approved by both sides and that he’ll be glad to see money saved.
Garcetti also noted the water spent tamping down soil is a catastrophic loss to a state in the midst of a severe drought. Garcetti says the state could see as much as 3 billion gallons of water saved in 2015 alone, or about as much as 43,000 people would use in the same time. The mayor hopes to see Los Angeles cut its water consumption as much as 20 percent by 2017.
Some Owens Valley citizens remain skeptical of the agreement. Local Daniel Pritchett said he had seen many agreements between the two parties fall apart and that whether the measures will truly be enacted remains to be seen. Linda Arcularius, Inyo County Supervisor, seems confident, calling the settlement a “way forward,” and deputy senior assistant general manager with the DWP says the department is committed to moving forward with the Owens Lake dust measure.
By Sree Aatmaa Khalsa