California’s Owens River runs again after nearly a century

The most ambitious river habitat restoration in the West kicked off this week, as Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa turned a knob on a dam and allowed water to flow through. The dam, built in 1913 to direct water into an L.A. aqueduct some 250 miles away, evaporated Owens Lake into salt flats and kick-started nearly a century of simmering rural resentment over L.A.’s habitat-destroying thirst. In 1991, the L.A. Department of Water and Power agreed to restore the Lower Owens River; in 2005, having missed 13 deadlines, DWP was spurred into action when informed by a court that it would be charged $5,000 a day until the project was completed. The river rehabilitation is not expected to cause water shortages or rate hikes for DWP customers, as water will be pumped back to the aqueduct once it reaches the lake. It will, however, boost habitat for a variety of species, as well as the tourism economy of small towns along the river’s banks. Everybody wins!