LA and Owens Valley reached a deal to control dust more efficiently in what's considered the nation's biggest source of dust pollution, they announced Friday.
The once-lush Owens Valley, which borders Nevada in central California, is now dry and often dangerously dusty. The dust is a costly problem caused 100 years ago when water was diverted to the LA Aqueduct, and one the LA Department of Water and Power is responsible to mitigate.
Two months-worth of each customer's DWP bills, $1.3 billion in all, are spent flooding the dry plain to tamp down the dust that erupts on the former lake bed, according to LA Mayor Eric Garcetti.
Now LA and Owens Valley officials have come to a "historic" agreement that the utility can use cheaper, much more water-efficient methods to prevent dust storms, they said Friday.
"This solution, now tested and approved by both sides, will save millions of ratepayer dollars and billions of gallons of water," Garcetti said.
The DWP may till the soil into mounds on the former lake bed, a process that uses no water, according to the deal struck between LA and the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District.
It's enough to save nearly 3 billion gallons of water in 2015, about as much as 43,000 people use, Garcetti said.
The Owens Valley dust problem causes unhealthy air quality that the EPA calls the worst particulate air pollution problem in the U.S.
Since 2001, DWP has diverted 25 billion gallons of water a year to Owens Lake to control the dust -- some years enough to supply the city of San Francisco -- using up water that could have gone to Los Angeles, according to Garcetti.
The mayor pointed out that the wasted water was even more glaring during the drought, while Garcetti has asked Angelenos to cut their water use by 20 percent by 2017.
Last year, the city celebrating the 100th anniversary of the LA Aqueduct, the water conduit that more or less created modern Los Angeles, built after a series of notorious water-rights battles.
"The old saying out west that whiskey is for drinking, water's for fighting, was probably best embodied right here in Southern California," Garcetti siad.
LA and Owens Valley authorities reached an agreement in 1999 to control the air pollution caused by the water diversion earlier in the century, according to the EPA. The agreement announced Friday further defines Los Angeles's responsibilities for that agreement, officials said.
Inyo County Supervisor Linda Arcularius called the negotiating process difficult but worth it, calling the agreement "a new way forward."
"In the future we'll be able to look at that lake and be proud...of the methods that are being used there," she said.