News

11/18/2008 On the agenda: Owens Lake
The Owens Lake is on next week's agenda for the Inyo County Board of Supervisors.

The Inyo County Board of Supervisors has invited Ted Schade of GBUAPCD to give a presentation on Owens Lake dust control measures at 10:30 a.m., November 18, 2008 (see item #16 on the Board agenda at http://www.countyofinyo.org/Board_of_Supervisors/Agenda/2008-11-18.pdf). Specifically, the Board of Supervisors will be discussing the cost of water used for dust control measures at Owens Lake.

Although water once flowed into the lake from the Owens River, the lake became "possibly the greatest or most intense human-disturbed dust source on earth" (Hinkley, U.S. Geological Survey) after the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) diverted the lower Owens River to the Los Angeles aqueduct in 1913. Windblown dust from the lakebed--a toxic cocktail of arsenic, cadmium, nickel, and sulfates--has been found across the West.

A 1999 Memorandum of Agreement with GBUAPCD, a 2003 State Implementation Plan, and an additional 2006 agreement between GBUAPCD and LADWP require Los Angeles to implement dust control measures on the lakebed in order to meet federal air quality standards, a goal for which the most recent deadline is 2010.

To date, Los Angeles has met most of those requirements with shallow flooding for dust control measures, but the agency could, in theory, greatly reduce shallow flooding on the lakebed in favor of other approved dust control methods--vegetation or gravel--as long as emissions from the lakebed comply with federal air quality standards. LADWP is also investigating a method of dust control known as "moat and row"--a method which would not require water--for its effectiveness in controlling lakebed dust.

Since the initiation of shallow flooding dust control measures in 2001, the lake (a stopover for millions of migratory waterfowl before water diversions) has become a significant migratory stopover once again. Mike Prather, a longtime member of the Eastern Sierra Audubon Society and the Owens Valley Committee, noted that during an April 2008 "Big Day" bird counting event, 49 volunteer birders observed 112 species and a total of at least 46,650 birds--including black-bellied and snowy plovers, western and least sandpipers, and long-billed curlews--at the Owens Lake. During a smaller "Big Day" event in August, 13 volunteers recorded 42,754 birds of 71 different species--including white-faced ibis, American avocets, and red-necked phalaropes--patronizing dust control areas.

"No one argues on the need to use water responsibly at Owens Lake," Prather said. "The dollar cost to replace that water through outright purchases or for the cleanup of polluted aquifers in Los Angeles is significant. However, my concern, as a supporter of wildlife, is that the 'opportunity to balance' the needs of wildlife at Owens Lake--a California public trust--and the needs of water for Los Angeles must not be missed. The enormous wildlife population at Owens Lake was lost 80 years ago and shouldn't be allowed to be lost a second time."
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