Track 16: Bill VanWagoner, LADWP
With the diversion of the Owens River into the Los Angeles Aqueduct beginning in 1913, Owens Lake (the river’s natural terminus) became dry by 1926. Shortly thereafter severe alkali dust storms arising from the 100 square-mile dry lakebed began to plague the region—as much as four million tons of dust per year has been reported to have traveled as far as San Bernardino and other southern locations. 
By the 1980s, national air pollution standards were set by the EPA for windblown particulate matter ten microns in diameter or less (PM-10) usually associated with dust, smoke, and haze resulting from natural fires, motor vehicles, industry, or agriculture practices. Owens Lake is considered to be the largest single source of PM-10 in the nation.
With the passing of California Health and Safety Code 42316, a series of negotiations with the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District (GBUAPCD) resulted in late 1990s. The City of Los Angeles and GBUAPCD entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) in July 1998 requiring that dust control mitigation measures designed to meet state and federal air quality standards were in place by the mid-2000s. It was agreed that LADWP would remediate 40 square-miles of the dry Owens lakebed—initiating the largest dust control project of its kind in North America.
Although the MOA did not require LADWP to rewater Owens Lake, it did stipulate that the department needed to begin trials of three approved dust control remediation strategies; shallow flooding, managed vegetation, and gravel or other approved “reasonable measures.”
Shallow flooding with bubblers or sprinkler systems was the first dust control method implemented when testing on the lakebed began in 2001. A positive by-product of the flooding was the creation of marsh and shallow lake habitat for birds and other wildlife. Although flooding is an obvious choice for dust abatement, it is costly and uses a lot of water—LADWP claims that up to 95,000 acre-feet of water per year is currently used in Owens Lake remediation efforts, which it states is equal to the entire annual water supply for the city of San Francisco. Of course, returning water to the lakebed inherently goes against LADWP’s ultimate mission—to deliver water and power from the Eastern Sierra to the city of Los Angeles.
Managed vegetation involving the planting of native grasses and other rhizomes to control dust emissions is the second control method. This technique has been successful at some locations but only works where soil and drainage conditions are optimum. In contrast to shallow flooding, this method uses a third of the water to implement.
The third method involves the spreading of large swaths of gravel four inches thick on a type of industrial fabric. This particular approach has been difficult to gain approval for use, as it fails to provide any viable habitat for wildlife. Gravel is also terribly expensive—it costs $30 million to apply one square-mile onto the lakebed and presents its own set of problems; heavy machinery used to move the gravel has sank into the unstable lakebed in the past.  Still, gravel has been used on 1.4 square-miles of the lakebed to date.
One of the mitigation methods proposed by LADWP that failed miserably was a “moat & row” plan which attempted to create staggered “speed bumps” of tilled dirt with the purpose to slow wind erosion leading to dust storms. The California State Lands Commission, which owns the entire lakebed ultimately ended up turning down this proposal.
VanWagoner stated in his interview that the department has spent up to 1.2 billion dollars on the Owens Lake remediation project, which includes construction, operation, and maintenance of the mitigation measures as well as the cost of the city’s replacement water that must be purchased from other sources such as the Metropolitan Water District.
In recent news, an attorney for LADWP announced that it is ‘done’ with furthering its dust mitigation efforts on Owens Lake. A news release dated on February 23rd, 2012 stated that the department plans to fulfill and maintain its current remediation obligations but will basically fight any additional future mitigation measures brought to court by GBUAPCD or other entities. The release also stated its concern over how “less water-intensive control measures approved has proved unnecessarily difficult, if not impossible” suggesting that LADWP will continue to fight aggressively to provide far less water to this project in the future.
 Molly Peterson, “Owens Lake dust kicks up questions about DWP’s eastern Sierra efforts,” 89.3 KPCC: Southern California Radio, December 12, 2010.
 Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District website: http://www.gbuapcd.org/Information/OwensLakeParticulateMatterHealthEffects.htm. Last accessed on 9/17/12.
 Interview with William VanWagoner, Manager of the Owens Lake Dust Mitigation Program on 8/17/12.
 Molly Peterson, “LADWP says Owens Lake’s ‘Owengeti’ could suggest new modes for dust control,” 89.3 KPCC: Southern California Radio, June 15, 2012.
 Mike Gervais, “DWP tells state board it’s ‘done’ at Owens Lake,” The Inyo Register, June 25, 2012.