This week, Ted Schade confirmed what the Mono County Board of Supervisors recently let out of the bag: he will be retiring from Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District at the end of the year.
“I’ve been a public servant for almost 35 years, so the time has come,” he said in an interview with The Sheet.
Schade said that his parents emphasized the importance of work from an early age. “I started working when I was 12,” he said. “Since then, I’ve never taken off more than two weeks. The first thing I’m going to do when I retire is take more than two weeks off.”
Schade did admit he might get bored after three weeks.
“Maybe I’ll start looking for another job,” he laughed. “There are other environmental challenges in the west that I’d be interested in helping with.”
For the past 24 and a half years, Schade has tackled the challenge of air pollution in the Owens Valley. Working at Great Basin, he focused in particular on Owens Lake, the country’s single largest source of particulate matter.
Once a 110-mile saline lake, Owens Lake was reduced to a 26 -quare mile brine pool by the mid-1920s due to the diversion of water from the lake into the Los Angeles Aqueduct. This change exposed the salty lakebed to wind, creating massive dust storms full of harmful particulate matter. Such particulate matter penetrates into the lungs, leading to respiratory problems and increased risk of heart attack.
As Schade explained in a 2013 interview with The Sheet regarding a settlement agreement between the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) and Great Basin over dust mitigation, the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for particulate matter is 150-micrograms per cubic meter for a 24-hour average.
In 2005, 1,400-micrograms per cubic meter of particulate matter were measured over a 24-hour period at Keeler, a small town on the shore of Owens Lake.
According to the Great Basin website, studies also showed that the Air Quality Standard at times was exceeded more than 50 miles away from the Lake, affecting about 40,000 permanent residents from Ridgecrest to Bishop.
Since 1999, when the Environmental Protection Agency mandated that the LADWP begin a dust mitigation project in order to meet federal air quality standards, Great Basin has worked with the LADWP—at times contentiously—to reduce the amount of particulate matter generated by Owens Lake. Those efforts have paid off, Schade said.
“I knew nothing about air pollution control when I came here,” he admitted. In fact, he said, he took the job at Great Basin on something of a whim.
A city water resource engineer, Schade was visiting the Eastern Sierra with his wife, Lisa, when they stopped at Carl’s Jr. in Bishop.
“I saw an ad for an engineer to conduct ‘fugitive dust’ research,” he recalled. “I had no idea what fugitive dust was.”
Nevertheless, Schade saw an opportunity to move to the area, something he’d long dreamed of doing.
“I sat down with my wife and said, ‘The nice thing about being a city engineer is every city needs one. We can always go back to a city … Let’s take a job in Bishop for a few years and see how it goes,’” he said.
“That was 24 years ago.”
Given their love for the area, Schade said he and Lisa don’t plan on leaving anytime soon. On those rare vacations he has taken, he said, “We spend two weeks somewhere and say, ‘That’s nice, but it’s not Bishop.’ I think we’ll always come back to the Eastern Sierra. We love it here.”
As for who will fill Schade’s shoes, he said the recruitment process is just beginning.
With two Great Basin Board members retiring this year (Inyo County Board Supervisor Linda Arcularius and Mono County Board Supervisor Byng Hunt), “I think it’s appropriate that the new Board hire a new Director,” Schade said. He added that hiring will likely occur after Jan. 1.
Even without Great Basin to occupy his time, Schade will still have plenty to keep him busy. For one thing, his labor of love, a new Inyo County Animal Shelter, is finally coming together at the site of the old shelter outside of Big Pine.
“The foundation is poured; steel girders are coming up,” he said. “We expect we’ll probably have it completed after the first of the year.”
And Schade will still be involved with ICARE (Inyo/Mono County Animal Resources & Education), which he and Lisa founded in 1997, and which raised $416,000 for the new animal shelter.
Schade also intends to continue his involvement in environmental issues in the Owens Valley, as well.
“I expect to still be causing trouble around here, maybe not at Great Basin, but as a private citizen,” he said. “We need to continue to work to protect our natural environment.”
Asked what his proudest accomplishment was during his time at Great Basin, Schade didn’t hesitate.
“Without a doubt, Owens Lake,” he said. “We had no idea how we were going to control [the dust]. Now, 24 years later, it’s more than 90 percent controlled.”