Owens Lake, on the eastern flanks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in southeastern California, was, at its peak, a 200-square-mile perennial lake. Located at the terminus of the Owens River, it held water continuously for at least 800,000 years. It is now an extreme example of the destabilizing effect of surface-water extraction in desert regions.
Beginning in 1913, the Owens River was diverted to bring water to the city of Los Angeles, and by the mid-1920s Owens Lake was dry. For decades, the lake’s dry bed produced enormous amounts of windblown dust. Indeed, it became the single largest source of particulate-matter pollution in the United States, by one estimate emitting almost a million tons annually. The dust contains carcinogens such as nickel, cadmium, and arsenic, as well as sodium, chlorine, iron, calcium, potassium, sulfur, aluminum, and magnesium.
During dust storms, air pollution around the dry lake bed has reached 25 times the level acceptable under national clean-air standards. The dust travels both north and south on turbulent winds channeled through the Owens Valley by the Sierra ... Read more