The recent fallout of alkali dust, mixed with rain, may be just the thing to bring home to many Southern California the effects of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power's (DWP's) water-gathering activities in the Eastern Sierra.
'The "sticky stuff" is all too familiar to the people who live in the Owens Valley or Mono Basin. Areas that were once covered with water--the bottom of Owens Lake and playa around Mono Lake--are now exposed to the wind as a result of DWP's water diversions. These exposed lands throw dust high into the air, violating emergency air standards, causing deaths in highway pileups, and now making life uncomfortable for people as far away as Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange counties.
Although the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) believes that the precipitation is not harmful, it's another story when the dust is in the air you breathe. For the people in the Owens Valley and Mono Basin, the dust particles are small enough to be inhaled, and many of the particles contain sulfates. This dust scratches car paint when you wipe it off, so imagine what it does to your soft lung tissue.
The alkali dust may be "a natural substance" in the eyes of the SCAQMD, but it is present in unnatural quantities, thus posing an unnaturally serious health hazard. We wouldn't see alkali from Owens Lake in Southern California if we insisted that DWP only take water from Eastern Sierra in a manner consistent with protecting California's natural resources and Californians' health.