The Owens Lake Project

Maisel, David
March 2005
Nieman Reports;Spring2005, Vol. 59 Issue 1, p17
This article shows what Owens Lake in Inyo County, California, looks like with its water diverted to Los Angeles, California, and a system of shallow flooding controlling pollution from windblown dust. Owens Lake was a perennial lake at the terminus of the Owens River throughout historic time; the lake held water continuously for at least the last 800,000 years. According to the author, Owens Lake is now an extreme example of the destabilizing effect on land surfaces caused by the extraction of surface water in desert regions. Beginning in 1913, the Owens River was diverted in order to bring water to the city of Los Angeles, and by the mid-192O's Owens Lake was dry. For decades, the dry bed of Owens Lake produced enormous amounts of windblown dust. Indeed, the lakebed became the single largest source of paniculate matter pollution in the U.S., by one estimate emitting some 900,000 metric tons annually. The dust from the lakebed contains carcinogens such as nickel, cadmium and arsenic, as well as sodium, chlorine, iron, calcium, potassium, sulfur, aluminum, and magnesium. The city of Los Angeles owns thousands of acres of Owens Valley lands, along with the rights to the water in the Owens River.


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