L.A., Owens Valley settle dispute over dust control


Los Angeles and the Owens Valley have reached a settlement in their dispute over new measures to control dust storms that have blown across the eastern Sierra Nevada since L.A. opened an aqueduct a century ago that drained Owens Lake.

Under terms of the agreement, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power will fast-track mitigation measures that do not use water, and the utility will be allowed to lay down a thinner layer of gravel to suppress dust. The recently discovered location of a Native American massacre at Owens Lake will be excluded from mitigation efforts because they would disturb the 328-acre site.

The utility has already spent $1.2 billion on dust mitigation measures that began 16 years ago on orders from the Owens Valley air pollution agency, the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District. In 2011, Great Basin ordered the DWP to do even more by taking steps to control dust on an additional 2.9 square miles of lake bed, including the area later found to include the massacre site.


The agreement pledges the DWP to provide Great Basin with a one-time contribution of $10 million to cover the costs of controlling dust at nearby Keeler Dunes, which lie just east of the dry lake.

Also, the utility will have the right to audit Great Basin’s books on an annual basis to verify that the funds were used to quench dust rising off the dunes, according to the 14-page settlement that is subject to the approval of the DWP Board of Commissioners.

The settlement comes after three months of intense negotiations between the two agencies — as well as state air pollution regulators and L.A. water officials. The agreement was hastened by the discovery of the spot where 35 Paiute Indians were shot to death by U.S. cavalry soldiers and local ranchers in 1863. Lone Pine Paiute-Shoshone Reservation tribal leaders want the site left undisturbed.

DWP and Great Basin officials declined to comment, pending a mutual announcement expected to come Thursday.

The dispute underscored acrimony that has simmered between the DWP and Owens Valley residents since the early 1900s, when city agents posed as farmers and ranchers to buy up land and water rights for the aqueduct needed to slake the thirst of the growing metropolis to the south. The city’s 233-mile-long aqueduct reduced the lake to a dry expanse that is the largest single source of particulate matter air pollution in the country.

A federal court judge in May dismissed a lawsuit filed by the DWP that alleged that Great Basin was forcing the city to waste billions of gallons of High Sierra water on dust control measures.