Did you know that Owens Lake was once a 110-square-mile lake, estimated at being over 1,000,000 years old? Or that it used to have a vibrant ecosystem that supported expansive bird and plant habitats? I didn’t. I really didn’t even know for sure what that big hunk of dry lakebed was that I’d pass by while driving along Hwy 395. But this last time I was in the area, I stopped at an informative overlook and took some pictures. And the next day as I was driving to Death Valley from Lone Pine along 136, I turned off one of the roads that led down to the lake for to get a closer look.
So what happened to all the water that used to be in the lake? Thirteen million people needing water to drink is the main answer. In 1924, most of the water from the Owens River began being diverted into the Los Angeles Aqueduct by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the lake began to disappear, quickly. And then it was gone.
Having a huge dry lake bed in an area that is known for high winds can only mean one thing: dust storms. Communities around the lake turned into ghost towns and the region became a top contender for worst dust pollution area in the nation. The LADWP was forced by court order, after decades of litigation, to begin releasing water back into the lower Owens River in 2006. The initial goal was to mitigate the dust pollution, but had the added bonus of reviving a small part of the ecosystem that once flourished in the area. I’m not sure what the final goal is for the restoration, but it seems things are moving in the right direction.
I saw a lot of birds in the water, on the water and around the water and a lot of green. It was quite pretty actually. It just goes to show that even in a desert, water can turn a “wasteland” into a land of promise. I hope the area can continue on the path to restoration, it would be amazing to have the Owens Lake back to what it once was.