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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Owens River to flow again after 93 years

Los Angeles - Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa today opened a gate from its past and water once again flowed freely into the Owens River in California’s Sierra Nevada.

The Owens River and Lake Owens have been dry for nearly a century; that was when William Mulholland began construction of the first of 2 aqueducts designed to draw water from the high desert north of L.A. to quench the thirst of a growing desert town called Los Angeles.

A rushing stream then, the Owens River provided water to a thriving agricultural community of ranchers and farmers. The annual spring runoff of the Sierra's frozen winter snows produced a green belt, which, sprawled across a series of east central valleys connecting the deserts of western Nevada to the mountains in the west.

Today all that is left of the once verdant, self-sustaining system is a series of dry, salten lakes and desert valleys bordered on the west by California’s Death Valley and to the south by the Mojave (map).

The episode in history known as the “water wars” was one of the most acrimonious, if one sided, natural resources conflicts in American history with both sides claiming illegal, acts of vandalism, fraud, sabotage and armed confrontation. In the end, Mulholland and the citizens of L.A. prevailed, for a hundred years the river and the commerce of Owens Valley withered and died.

Today’s action is the result of more than thirty years of legal battles between the residents of the valley, environmentalists and the L.A. Department of Power and Water who in 1997 lost their claims and agreed to release water back into the Owens River. Since then, the power authorities has stalled until finally, last week, agreeing to replenish the river or face fines and be further restricted from using a second aqueduct. Currently the main diversion supplies just a fraction of L.A.’s water needs.

While the reintroduction of water into the dry riverbed will not ultimately restore Owens Valley to its previous Green Valley splendor it may well serve as a vivid reminder that, as a society, we can no longer afford to be haphazard or reckless in our pursuit of endless development.

by Harlan Weikle
Greener News Room


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