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State: LA must do more to stem dust from dry lake

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English: Blowing Alkali Dust at Owens Lake

Blowing Alkali Dust at Owens Lake (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

LOS ANGELES (AP) – State regulators ordered Los Angeles to expand efforts to control dust storms from Owens Lake, which went dry after the growing metropolis began siphoning water from it a century ago.

The California Air Resources Board on Monday ruled that the city must obey last year’s order by a regional air pollution agency to expand its efforts to cover nearly 3 more square miles of the lake.

The ruling is a blow to the city’s powerful Department of Water and Power, which in 1913 began diverting water from the Eastern Sierras away from the shallow lake 200 miles north of town.

The lake went dry in 1926 and has since been plagued with massive dust storms and poor air quality.  The scandal created by the diversion project was fodder for the 1974 film “Chinatown,” and hard feelings persist in rural Owens Valley.

Messages seeking comment from the Los Angeles DWP were not immediately returned.

Since a 1998 agreement, the DWP has spent $1.2 billion on the nation’s largest dust mitigation project, mainly by putting water back into about a 40-square-mile area of the lake bed.

But it challenged an order last year from the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District to increase the mitigation area. The utility argued that the additional dust control project would cost it up to $400 million. The DWP argued that the city already uses 30 billion gallons of water each year to control dust and enough was enough.

The DWP also has sued to block the order.

The air pollution control district argues that air quality still doesn’t meet federal standards and has accused the utility of trying to back out of the previous agreement.

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