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Luck for Owens Lake at Last

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power once chose to delay and litigate rather than stop its massive water diversions from Mono Lake, despite evidence that it was destroying this unique aquatic habitat in the eastern Sierra. During the 1970s and ‘80s, the agency maintained it couldn’t live if it lost a single drop of its water. Only after a string of court defeats and expense of millions of dollars in legal fees did it cut its diversions. Now, the water level in Mono Lake is slowly rising and marine life is multiplying--and water continues to flow from the taps here in Los Angeles.

Years back, the agency also pumped so much from the northern Owens Valley that Inyo County lost ground water, prompting an outcry from residents. Again the DWP delayed and fought back in court. And again the agency lost, agreeing finally to limit pumping and repair the damage it had caused.

In the face of this inglorious record, then, the DWP’s agreement Wednesday on a compromise proposal to end the massive dust storms it caused at Owens Lake--without more litigation--is a welcome sign of new thinking at the water agency. After the opening of the Los Angeles Aqueduct in 1913, the DWP drained dry the once-massive Owens Lake. Now, when the wind whips up, dust from the 110-square-mile lake bed is the single largest source of particle air pollution in the United States.

Under pressure to meet federal Clean Air Act deadlines and after years of testy negotiations, the DWP has agreed to treat the dustiest part of the dry lake with a mix of vegetation, gravel and water. Owens Valley air quality officials, for their part, have agreed to scale back some of the improvements they demanded and permit the DWP to phase in others. Now, let both sides keep their word.

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