Owens Lake Dust Mitigation



The City of Los Angeles (City) through the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) has filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court in which it seeks relief from certain orders of the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District (District).  These orders attempt to extend the efforts of the City to eliminate dust emanating from the Owens Lake to areas that it has not, in the past, been required to address.  In the lawsuit, the City alleges, among other things, that the District is attempting to require it to eliminate dust from areas surrounding Owens Lake that it does not own or control and that were not affected by its diversion of water from the Owens River between 1905 and 1913. 

The lawsuit further alleges that the City has mitigated dust over an area of over forty-two square miles since 1998 at a cost of $1.2 billion dollars, an amount equivalent to the total of two months of LADWP’s customer’s bills every year plus another 200 million dollars for dust mitigation projects currently in process over an additional 3.1 square miles.  These dust mitigation projects consume 30 billion gallons of water every year (an amount that is more than is used by the City of San Francisco).  This water must be replaced by purchased water that comes from the State Water Project at a higher cost not only in dollars but in environmental impacts.   

The lawsuit further alleges that the District is attempting to order the City to mitigate the effects of dust emanating from areas of the Owens Lake basin that were not exposed by the City’s diversion of the Owens River and are not owned or controlled by the City.



Los Angeles Water and Power Associates, Inc., supports the City’s commitment to control dust that is emanating from Owens Lake as a result of the City’s diversion of the Owens River and the development of a master plan to minimize the use of water on the dry lake area for dust control while still meeting environmental obligations. The Associates also supports the City’s efforts to limit its obligation only to areas of the Owens Lake basin that are directly affected by the City’s diversion of the Owens River as it existed when the diversion occurred and supports the City’s efforts to require other owners of property in the basin to control the dust that emanates from their property.


Water and Power Associates, Inc.

February 9, 2013


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Owens Valley and the City of Los Angeles


“…the businesses and the homes were leased or rented back to the same people (residents of Owens Valley) to pursue their same activity.  Most of them did and very successfully. Because, by that time, the impact of the city's improvements in the Owens Valley, and I don't mean the aqueduct, I mean in connection with the construction of the aqueduct, the city built a broad-gauge railroad from Mojave to Long Pine to connect with the narrow gauge railroad. So for the first time the Owens Valley had rail service to ship any products it had, including ranch products out of the city to Los Angeles. The City used its influence with the State of California to have the highway paved from Mojave to the Owens Valley, and that was done. So access to the Owens Valley because of the City's work, in its own behalf obviously, but still it was there and available to anybody that wanted to use it, both the railroad and the highway. The city built power plants in connection with the construction of the aqueduct, and those plants for a long time provided power to the Owens Valley, which didn't have it before the city came in there with the aqueduct construction.

So there were a lot of benefits that occurred that, in my readings and listening to too many people that have no idea that those things happened or don't wish to... admit that those things happened.”   

Robert V. Phillips,  

Chief Engineer and General Manager of DWP, 1972-75 (Both Mr. Phillips and his father knew and worked with Mulholland and Van Norman).


Read more of an Insightful Interview with Robert V. Phillips:

Robert Phillips Interview:     Part 1 --- Part 2 --- Part 3



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Proposed Owens Valley Conservation Easement


If only Mayor Hahn had sought the advice of Mark Twain, who is said to have said, “Whiskey is for drinking but water is for fighting over.” But the Mayor’s originally proposed conservation easement in the Owens Valley, ignored Mark Twain’s admonition and is fraught with danger for Los Angeles’ primary water supply.

Beginning a century ago, Los Angeles began buying the 320,000 acres it now owns in the Owens Valley and Mono Basin, both to obtain the underlying water rights and to avoid future competition for those water rights. It has always been, and will continue to be, a fundamental Los Angeles interest to ensure the lands remain undeveloped and unspoiled. Consistent with this policy the Department of Water and Power has attempted to work cooperatively with various groups in the Owens Valley, such as the ranchers who graze cattle on the land but do not develop it.

However, granting a conservation easement over DWP land poses a grave risk for Los Angeles water rights regardless of how carefully the easement is crafted to protect them. By its very nature, a conservation easement would create numerous competing interests for Los Angeles water rights and provide a legal basis for advocates of those interests to indefinitely challenge the City’s continued import of water, drop by drop.

Many of the interests that would hail the conservation easement have already used other laws to substantially reduce the City’s water imports. Because of legal and political pressure applied by environmental interests, Los Angeles was forced to stop most of its diversion of water from the streams tributary to saline Mono Lake, a loss of more than 10% of the City’s total supply. Other legal thrusts forced the City to give up another 15% of its water supply. These actions caused the City to accept limits on its groundwater pumping in the Owens Valley to mitigate asserted damage to local vegetation; agree to reestablish the flow of water in a bypassed section of the Owens River for the benefit of fishermen and allow the use of some City water to try to control dust that blows off the dry Owens Lakebed.

Los Angeles other water supplies are dwindling as well. The City has increasingly had to rely on the Metropolitan Water District to make up for shortfalls in its supplies from the eastern Sierras. But MWD has also lost important water supplies, most recently a Court and Federally mandated cutback in the use of water from the Colorado River, which amounted to almost half of MWD’s historical imports from that river. That is why San Diego has been scrambling so hard to firm up its own water supply, independent of MWD. Moreover, MWD water is more expensive than Los Angeles’ Owens Valley water. As an example, if all of the Los Angeles’ eastern Sierra water rights were lost in Court, it would require a 30% water rate increase to pay for MWD replacement water. But the sad reality is MWD is already hard-pressed to meet its present obligations, let alone providing for all of Los Angeles as well.

For these reasons the Mayor was right to rethink his “vision,” after the wise counsel of DWP Board President Dominick Rubalcava. Surely, turning over a conservation easement to an unknown succession of political appointees on a State conservation board would constitute a surrender of part of Los Angeles’ water rights. Fortunately, under the City Charter, that cannot be done without the approval of two-thirds of the electorate. Understanding the fundamental importance of water rights to the City’s future, our forefathers placed that safeguard in the Charter to prevent the City’s elected officials from taking such a risk. Consequently, Los Angeles would be better served if the Mayor and Council explored how to continue preserving Owens Valley’s beauty for posterity, without jeopardizing an assured supply of water for all future generations of Los Angelenos. They should start by recognizing that existing policies have done just that, for almost 100 years.

James Wickser, Retired LA - DWP Assistant General Manager and Chief Operating Officer for Water and President of Water and Power Associates

Kenneth Downey, Retired LA - Assistant City Attorney for Water Rights and a member of the Board of Water and Power Associates


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