Air and water

Raising the specter of Owens Valley dust storms, San Joaquin County Supervisor Bob Elliott recently asked Valley air quality officials to consider the impacts of the governor’s twin tunnels plan.

Read Elliott’s letter.

“There may be a parallel here to the history of the Owens Valley and the diversion of Owens River water from Owens Lake,” Elliott wrote. “This diversion dried up Owens Lake leading to an air quality disaster of dust/particulate matter causing reported cleanup costs of more than one billion dollars.

“Surely, we would all like to avert this kind of unintended consequence.”

Just last month, Los Angeles and Owens Valley officials reached a settlement to resolve long-standing disputes over dust.

In an interview, Elliott told me his concern was whether local farmers will still have adequate water for their crops, if tunnels are built to divert the Sacramento River away from the Delta.

Lack of water, he said, could also mean deterioration of land.

“You could have significantly larger areas of drier land, and we’ve got a lot of wind here,” he said. “There could be significantly increased problems with particulate matter in the air.”

Elliott sits on the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District’s Board of Directors, comprised mostly of elected officials from Stockton to Bakersfield. The district encompasses areas on both sides of the tunnel debate, so any comments it makes on an issue like this might be rather sensitive.

Elliott said he hoped the district would look at the issue from the perspective of the entire eight-county area.

“There are many varied interests in this thing,” he said.

Less than a month after he wrote his letter, the air district did, indeed, submit comments on the tunnel plan. While the thrust of the document is urging the state to enter into a voluntary agreement to reduce emissions from construction of the project, the district also points out that the tunnels EIR “does not discuss air quality impacts (e.g.: fugitive dust) resulting from the potential overdraw of water, thus resulting in a potentially dry basin.”

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