Former LADWP manager responds to recent lawsuit

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power seems to be losing supporters each day, and former general manager David Freeman is one of them.

“All of a sudden, out of the blue, they come out firing their heavy artillery,” Freeman said. “I can’t even get mad, it makes me so sad.”

LADWP officials filed a federal lawsuit Oct. 12 to force the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District to halt what the department is calling Great Basin’s “systematic and unlawful issuance of water-wasting orders to L.A.’s customers,” related to dust mitigation on Owens Lake.

“We spent nine years setting this up,” Freeman said. “They want a return to “Chinatown.” I did a lot of work to repair the relationships up there and in one fell swoop, they are destroying it.”

Freeman was the general manager of the LADWP from 1997 to 2007. He left and came back to the agency as an interim general manager in October 2009 and served in that position until the current general manager, Ron Nichols, was hired in 2011.

Freeman is known nationally as a pioneer in energy independence, conservation, and pollution control efforts in regards to his work at the top management posts of some of the country’s largest public utilities.
Freeman was the first LADWP general manager to address the massive dust storms that arose from the Owens Dry Lake and he worked with local agencies to create a plan to cut dust emissions to legal levels. A portion of the plan (most of which has been implemented) was at the heart of the lawsuit levied against the air pollution control district this month (see above story).

Freeman called the situation “heartbreaking.”

“You can’t argue in a lawsuit that just because you are spending a lot of money, you can stop,” he said. “They need to finish the job. You can’t sue the world to stop filling your responsibilities. They say in the lawsuit they refuse to talk to him [Ted Schade, the Great Basin Air Pollution Control District’s manager]. They don’t need to talk to him, they just need to obey his orders.”

The lawsuit against the air pollution control district is the second, high-profile lawsuit filed by LADWP against an Eastern Sierra agency in the last year. Mammoth Community Water District is also fighting the agency, after LADWP claimed it owned all the water rights to Mammoth Creek, including the ones the water district depends on to provide a domestic water supply.

The news of the second lawsuit has thus raised local concerns that an already tense—and unbalanced—relationship between tiny Eastern Sierra communities and the giant water and power company might get worse.

Marty Adams, LADWP’s water operations manager, said Freeman—and the Eastern Sierra as a whole—may not fully understand the situation.

“We are not changing our position in the Eastern Sierra or operating differently,” Adams said. “We are committed to honoring our responsibilities there. Our current actions are in response to events that were put in place long ago … there is no relationship between the two events.”

He said the Mammoth Creek process with MCWD and LADWP started in 1992, and it was only when the environmental document for it was certified, giving the agency 30 days to respond, that LADWP took legal action. Processes bound by legal timelines also triggered the Dry Lake lawsuit, he said.

The fact both have occurred within a year of each other, after a relatively litigation-free decade or so, is coincidence only, he said.

Freeman’s comments about “Chinatown” are not correct, Adams said. (The movie, “Chinatown,” shows the history of the Owens Valley as it was sucked dry of water by LADWP).

“We made commitments to do certain work on the Dry Lake and we’ve done three times as much as what we agreed to when he was the general manager,” he said. “It has been a tremendous success … and the air quality has improved. But now we believe we are being asked to do more than what we are legally required to do, beyond what’s in the agreement. It’s not about the money, it’s about getting clear about what our legal responsibilities are.”
He said the air pollution control district keeps moving the bar, asking the agency to pour money and water into the project beyond the original agreement. In addition, new science shows that the dust the agency is being asked to mitigate for is not caused by LADWP diversions, he said.

He said the agency will honor its legal and valid commitments in the Eastern Sierra and that the internal culture of the LADWP has not changed, despite what it might seem to locals.

Freeman thinks it has.

“They don’t understand the history,” he said. The Eastern Sierra can fight back, he added.

“You need to mobilize support. They own an area the size of Los Angeles. Do you really want them as a neighbor when they pull this? Show them you are not a door mat, up there.”