LADWP Will Continue to Protect Sensitive Tribal Areas and Work with Local Tribal Representatives at Owens Lake
Sept. 30, 2022 (LOS ANGELES) — On September 27, 2022, the Sacramento Superior Court issued a ruling that rejected Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District’s (Great Basin) argument that it had unlimited regulatory control over LADWP. The Court also refused to uphold more than $1 million in fines assessed by Great Basin that would have been paid by LADWP customers.
The court ruling is a result of a legal action brought by LADWP after Great Basin issued an order requiring LADWP to construct non-EPA-approved dust control projects within an Eligible Cultural Resource site, which is an area containing significant cultural resources or artifacts. Consistent with the 2014 Stipulated Judgment, which was developed in concurrence with Great Basin, LADWP has avoided disturbing these sites. The Order issued by Great Basin remains draft, by its own terms, until consensus by the five sovereign Tribal nations of the Owens Valley. One of those tribes, the Fort Independence Tribe, has refused to provide concurrence because of the potential disturbance to environmentally sensitive cultural resources and stated it felt disenfranchised by Great Basin Air Pollution Control District’s actions.
When LADWP refused to comply with the order, Great Basin issued a Notice of Violation, levying fines against LADWP ratepayers at a rate of $5,545.77 each and every day — fines associated with the order total $1,125,791 and counting. The court ruling waived these illegal fines against LADWP ratepayers.
“LADWP is pleased that the court rejected these unwarranted fines levied by Great Basin’s air regulator. LADWP has been a committed partner in the Owens Valley for decades, collaborating with local tribes and regulators to efficiently manage the region’s cultural and environmental resources. Public stewards of the land and public agencies like LADWP should not be penalized for respecting the concerns of Native American tribes” said Paul Liu, Manager of the Owens Lake Dust Mitigation Program.
- Great Basin is the agency responsible for regulating the Owens Valley Planning Area (OVPA), a 1,400 square mile area containing Owens Lake and its watersheds.
- For the last 20 years, LADWP has been funding and implementing the program, utilizing EPA-approved dust control methods or Best Available Control Methods (BACMs), including shallow flooding, managed vegetation, gravel, tillage with shallow-flooding backup and brine with shallow-flooding backup. Since the program’s inception, LADWP has successfully reduced dust emissions from Owens Lake by 99.4%.
- LADWP has invested more than $2.5 billion into the project to date.
- Dust control infrastructure in the Owens Valley is expansive: the program covers approximately 48.6 square miles of lakebed, an area slightly larger than San Francisco. The project currently requires approximately 60,000 acre-feet of water for dust control annually, enough water for more than 500,000 people.
- In 2016, Great Basin developed the 2016 State Implementation Plan (SIP), an agreed-upon approach for bringing the OVPA into attainment with national air quality standards as outlined in the 2014 Stipulated Judgment.
- The plan stated that there are no significant sources of windblown dust within the OVPA outside of the immediate area of the lake, and set forth a series of EPA-approved, Best Available Control Measures (BACM) to most effectively mitigate dust within this area.
- Despite this agreement, Great Basin has now continued to search for dust emissions occurring outside the immediate area of the lake to prevent LADWP from claiming attainment of dust control compliance.
- In 2021, Great Basin issued an order mandating that LADWP construct a non-BACM, and not legally-compliant, project within a well-known ECR site, which is an area found to contain resources and artifacts of cultural significance.
- In 2017, the Cultural Resources Task Force recommended that all construction be avoided in the ECR.
- LADWP has since submitted evidence to Great Basin demonstrating air quality attainment in the OVPA that will enable the massive dust control project to move into a new maintenance phase if Great Basin concurs.