California’s Top 10 Environmental Disasters: #9 – Owens Lake

This astronaut photograph highlights the mostly dry bed of Owens Lake

This astronaut photograph highlights the mostly dry bed of Owens Lake

When the Los Angeles aqueduct was opened in 1913, it diverted water from Owens Lake. Just 13 years later the lake, which once could float a steamboat, had dried up — to slake the thirst of a growing city in the desert. The drying of the lake created a hardship for the waterfowl that used Owens Lake as a stopover on their migration route.

The dried lake contributes to air pollution because its PM-10 molecules are picked up by the wind, and it is the site of alkali-dust storms. The pollution from the lake was so bad that Los Angeles was forced by the EPA to implement dust-control measures.

Using drip irrigation and salt grass, the lake is making a comeback of sorts. Thousands of birds have returned, but it may never be returned to its former glory.

Owens Lake, at its worst, may very well be an example of what the Salton Sea (see Environmental Disaster #3) will become if it is allowed to dry up.

Go to Converse Basin ranked #8 on our list.

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