LOS ANGELES (CN) – In the latest blow in a decades-old saga, Los Angeles claims the state did not give it a fair chance to challenge its demand to do more to reduce toxic dust pollution in Owens Lake.
Los Angeles and its Department of Water and Power sued the California Air Resources Board and the Great Basin Air Pollution Control District in Superior Court.
Los Angeles’ ruination of Owens Lake began nearly a century ago, in 1913, when the city began pumping the lake dry, through the Los Angeles Aqueduct to satisfy the growing metropolis’ need for water. Most Americans are familiar with the chicanery involved only through the Jack Nicholson movie “Chinatown,” but ecologists and nature lovers have churned out reams of studies and books about the city’s machinations.
California’s water wars predate that by decades, however. Mark Twain wrote in his 1872 book, “Roughing It,”: “In California, whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting.”
In February this year, Los Angeles challenged the validity of Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District’s 2011 dust pollution control program, under a section of the Health and Safety Code.
In that lawsuit, Los Angeles blasted the state for introducing what it called one of the world’s most expensive dust control programs.
Claiming that the program’s price tag might total $1.5 billion, the city claimed it had spent $1 billion to mitigate dust over 40 square miles of Owens Lake’s dry bed, and planned to spend more than $216 million for an additional 5 square miles.
The people of Inyo County have claimed for decades that politically powerful Los Angeles stole its water and ruined the once splendid lake.
Owens Lake once covered 108 square miles and was up to 50 feet deep.
Today much of the old lake bed is a mud and salt flat, where alkaline dust is stuffed up by dust storms that carry away as much as 4 million tons of dust and dirt from the lakebed each year. The lake itself, much shallower than it was, covers no more than 27 square miles today.
Now, Los Angeles claims, the California Air Resources Board, its executive officer James Goldstene and the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District have pushed through new dust control measures without giving the city a fair hearing.
The city again calls the supplemental dust control requirements “unlawful” and claims they were rubber-stamped without “sufficient evidence.”
“To date, the city has been denied a fair opportunity to challenge these unlawful measures,” the city says in its 35-page complaint.
It also calls the Air Resources Board’s Nov. 19 validation of the program “prejudicial and unsupported.”
In the complaint, the city outlines how the measures might place a burden on Angelenos, and even cause climate change.
“The vast majority of dust controls ordered by the district, and constructed by the city on Owens Lake, involve placing high quality water on the saline lakebed to control dust,” the complaint states. “To satisfy municipal water demands, while its Los Angeles aqueduct supplies have been reallocated to implement dust control projects pursuant to the district’s orders, the city has been forced to increase its dependence on imported water supplies from the State Water Project (SWP) and the Metropolitan Water District (MWD). The transportation of the additional SWP and MWD water supplies from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and Colorado River results in increased energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions,” the complaint states.
It adds: “It is believed that, for every ton of dust pollution controlled on Owens Lake, at least one ton of greenhouse gas pollution is created by pumping replacement water via the SWP and the MWD. Moreover, the use of water for dust control, when other reasonably feasible methods of mitigation are available, is an unconstitutional waste of water pursuant to Article X, section 2, of the California State Constitution.”
The city was told to adopt the air quality control measures under the Clean Air Act, but it claims it is not subject to jurisdiction under that federal law.
When the city appealed to the Air Resources Board, it claims, it was not allowed to cross-examine or review the board’s findings during its hearing, nor allowed to introduce new evidence.
“The CARB [California Air Resources Board] found that the 2011 SCRD [Supplemental Control Requirements Determination] adequately represents the emission sources, despite the fact that it fails to take into account: the naturally emissive dusty desert environment, fails to exclude emissions caused by exceptional events, improperly attributes emissions from other off-lake sources to the city, and fails to consider the causal relationship between the district’s activities and requirements and the lake bed emissions,” the complaint states.
Los Angeles seeks a writ of mandate that the requirements are void.
It is represented by City Attorney Carmen Trutanich and Michael Vergara, with Somach, Simmons & Dunn.
California’s water wars will not end soon, if ever. Los Angeles has floated plans to pump water to itself from as far away as the headwaters of the California Delta – a proposal that has alarmed Northern California. Mark Twain summed up their fears 140 years ago in “Roughing It,” where he wrote that he fell into a California river and “came up all dusty.”
But Air Pollution Control Officer for Great Basin APCD Ted Schade told Courthouse News he was “convinced” that the defendants would prevail in the lawsuit.
“We were just following the requirements of law,” he said.
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