Diners at Parallax Restaurant inside McCoy Station may not have been able to catch a glimpse of Mt. Andrea Lawrence at the stormy April 24 Andrea Mead Lawrence Award Dinner, but the sense of Lawrence’s legacy was still strong. An Olympic double gold medalist and visionary environmentalist, Lawrence established the Award and presented it as part of her Institute of Mountains and Rivers in 2007. The first award recipient was Friends of the Inyo; the second, Mono Lake Committee.
When Lawrence passed away in 2009, the Mono Lake Committee chose to take over the Award, renaming it in her memory, and using it to honor those who carry on Lawrence’s legacy of environmental conservation.
Lawrence’s daughter Quentin Lawrence noted that much of the attraction and awe toward her mother came from her two Olympic gold medals, but Quentin argued that Andrea Mead Lawrence could just as easily be remembered and celebrated for her legacy of environmental action and leadership.
“I think that’s most of why we’re here tonight; because of that gentle, tender person who believed we should be here because we all love this place,” Quentin said.
Mono Lake Committee Executive Director Geoff McQuilkin recalled Lawrence as a consummate problem-solver. She took on challenges “very much like her skiing,” he said. “She could figure out how to get somewhere, probably faster and different than anyone else.”
Since 2011, the Mono Lake Committee has presented the Andrea Mead Lawrence Award to the Eastern Sierra Audubon, Bodie Foundation, Karen Ferrell-Ingram of the Eastern Sierra Land Trust, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
This year’s award recipient was recently retired Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District (GBUAPCD) Air Pollution Control Officer Ted Schade. The Award honored Schade’s 25 years at GBUAPCD, in which he was instrumental to the 2014 Owens Lake Agreement with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), which capped the LADWP’s maximum liability for dust control at 53.4 square miles, while providing the first real mechanism for the LADWP to reduce water use on the lakebed and still mitigate the dust hazard created when the LADWP diverted Owens Lake tributary streams in the early twentieth century.
GBUAPCD Lead Attorney Peter Hsiao gave Award Dinner attendees a better idea of the scope of Schade and GBUAPCD’s achievement. He noted that after the LADWP’s water diversions turned Owens Lake into a dry lakebed, and before the LADWP began dust mitigation efforts, Owens Lake was the largest single source of particulate matter in the country.
Particulate matter, also known as PM10, is a fine dust that gets past the body’s filters to penetrate the deepest part of the lungs. Too much exposure to the dust causes respiratory problems and raises the risk of heart attack. Hsiao pointed out that those most harmed by particulate matter are the young and the elderly.
In 1999, the Environmental Protection Agency mandated that the LADWP begin a dust mitigation project in order to meet federal air quality standards. The LADWP reached an agreement with GBUAPCD, and in 2001 began mitigation efforts. Hsiao said the Owens Lake dust mitigation project now controls about 70,000 tons of PM10. According to Ted Schade, that’s a 90 percent reduction in dust emissions.
Schade accepted the 2015 Andrea Mead Lawrence Award by first noting that Lawrence had once been his boss. “She was one of the first to fight the good fight against the LADWP,” he said.
Of his own legacy, Schade said he’d never really cared for the term ‘environmentalist,’ but “I contend that it’s never been more difficult to be one,” he said. “It used to be all you needed was a tree to sit in or a chain to chain yourself to one. It’s not that simple anymore. Everything is complicated by everything else … Prioritizing and compromise are more often than not the keys to success.”
Schade noted that the 2014 Owens Lake Agreement never could have come about without addressing the complexity of Owens Valley and Los Angeles’ needs and finding compromise.
While GBUAPCD and the LADWP may have gone through 12 lawsuits to get to that Agreement, Schade argued that the LADWP has changed in recent years. “Today, we have the best City and DWP leadership that we’ve ever had,” he said.
Perhaps a testament to that, and to a new spirit of cooperation between the LADWP and GBUAPCD, was that LADWP General Manager Marcie Edwards attended the Award Dinner as its keynote speaker.
Edwards is the first woman to hold the General Manager position at the LADWP, and has been employed with the LADWP for 39 years. She began as a 19-year old clerk typist. As she noted, her family has a long history in the Eastern Sierra; her father and grandfather both worked here.
“This is the first time I’ve stood up in a room that was dominated by conservationists,” Edwards quipped in opening. She acknowledged the LADWP’s controversial history in the Mono Basin and Owens Valley: “To say [our past] was checkered would be kind,” she said. “ … We need to own it.”
But Edwards also argued, “I think Andrea Mead Lawrence would be proud of the progress the LADWP and our partners in this community have made and continue to make.”
Edwards stressed that the LADWP will not be exporting any water from the region until November (see more about that in this week’s cover story), and explained that even the water being diverted from Grant Lake is going to supply local uses.
“There’s a popular misconception that all we do in L.A. is water our lawns and fill our swimming pools,” she said. “Interestingly enough, for over 45 years, and despite the addition of one million people, L.A. uses the same amount of water it did back then.”
The LADWP is also responding proactively to the drought, Edwards said. One example of this is a new “Cash for Grass” program (“For those of you who lived in the ‘70s, that’s not what you think,” Edwards joked) that offers a $3.75 per square foot lawn-removal rebate.
“In the first month [of the program] we removed almost 4 million square feet of grass,” she said. “By the end of this year, we plan to be at 25 million square feet.”
Edwards said L.A. is currently down to three days a week of watering, but will go down to two, “and we can and are prepared to go to one day.”
In addition, the LADWP is increasing its stormwater recapture efforts with a new Stormwater Capture Master Plan, with intent to capture about 25,000 acre-feet, or about 8 billion gallons per year. This along with water conservation, recycled water, and groundwater cleanup, could allow the LADWP to meet its goal of cutting imported water in half by 2025. The City currently imports about 85 percent of its water.
“It’s a big goal,” Edwards said, “but L.A. has to wean itself [off imported water]. It has to create local sources for that water.”
Finally, Edwards offered her complements to Ted Schade, calling him “a fantastic engineer, and also a finely-honed negotiator. I think because of Ted’s collaboration and determination, we’ve been able to set a path we can continue down for years to come.”