November 5, 2009

Owens Valley - Hwy 395

Way back before the turn of the century (the 20th century, that is), Owens Valley and Los Angeles were two California locations growing in population -- Owens Valley on account of the gold rush and L.A. for a multitude of reasons, not least of which was citrus farming.

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L.A. grew fast. Really FAST. SoCal had one major obstacle to overcome: lack of adequate water supply. Precipitation in SoCal is completely non-predictable. And L.A. River can't support more than 250k people. So, through chicanery and subterfuge L.A. bought up the water rights in Owens Valley. Long story short, Progressive Teddy Roosevelt gave his nod of approval (greatest good for the greatest number), and SoCal carried away the water of Owens Valley. Owens Lake and entire sections of Owens River dried up, leaving a toxic alkali field. In the early 40s, SoCal went back for more water, this time diverting streams that fed into Mono Lake (which then proceeded to drop 45 feet). In the 70s, SoCal went back for yet more, this time pumping ground water from Owens Valley. And all this water activity has kept CA lawyers busy ever since.

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[cows grazing on the "shore" of Owens Lake]


All this water diversion has transformed the valley landscape, which was formerly likened to Switzerland, into high desert. L.A. population has surpassed 3 million and Owens Valley has fewer than 18,000 residents.

As it stands today, L.A. is diverting less water from Owens Valley in order to restore 60+ feet of the lower Owens River and to flood the northern end of the lake just enough to keep the dust down. Additionally, 20 feet depth is mandated to be added back to Mono Lake (9' has been regained thus far).

Mark Twain once said, "Whiskey is for drinking. Water is for fighting over."

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[Pittsburgh Plate Glass factory -- no longer in operation.]


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3 comments:

Life with Kaishon said...

Facinating!

Jennifer Bowen said...

I agree with Rebeckah... truly fascinating! Thank you for the history lesson. I didn't know that about the area. Interesting background. I hope the river will be restored to its original beauty.

Andrea said...

Great quote and very interesting about the water diversion. I never knew that about LA btu I did study Natural Resource Mgmt in college and can concur there is a lot of legal disputes over water in the law books.