OWENS LAKE is a mostly dry lake in the
Owens Valley on the eastern
side of the Sierra Nevada in
Inyo County, California
Inyo County, California . It is about 5
miles (8.0 km) south of Lone Pine,
California . Unlike most dry lakes
Basin and Range Province that have been dry for thousands of
years, Owens held significant water until 1913, when much of the Owens
River was diverted into the
Los Angeles Aqueduct , causing Owens Lake
to desiccate by 1926. Today, some of the flow of the river has been
restored, and the lake now contains some water. Nevertheless, as of
2013, it is the largest single source of dust pollution in the United
* 1 History
* 2 Current conditions
* 3 Current management
* 4 Ecology
* 5 Local industry
Cerro Gordo Mines
* 5.2 Other enterprises
Mineral extraction plants around the lake:
* 6 Public access
* 7 Surroundings from Earth orbit
* 8 See also
* 9 References
* 10 External links
Owens Lake was given that name by the explorer
John C. Fremont , in
honor of one of his guides, Richard Owens .
Before the diversion of the Owens River,
Owens Lake was up to 12
miles (19 km) long and 8 miles (13 km) wide, covering an area of up to
108 square miles (280 km2). In the last few hundred years the lake had
an average depth of 23 to 50 feet (7.0 to 15.2 m), and sometimes
overflowed to the south after which the water would flow into the
Mojave Desert . In 1905, the lake's water was thought to be
“excessively saline.” Map showing the system of
Pleistocene lakes in eastern
It is thought that in the late
Pleistocene about 11-12,000 years ago
Owens Lake was even larger, covering nearly 200 square miles (520 km2)
and reaching a depth of 200 feet (61 m). The increased inflow from the
Owens River, from melting glaciers of the post-
Ice Age Sierra Nevada,
Owens Lake to overflow south through Rose Valley into another
now-dry lakebed, China Lake, in the
Indian Wells Valley near
California . After the glaciers melted, the lake waters
receded, and this accelerated with human exploitation of the lake even
Los Angeles Aqueduct was built, due to
Owens Valley farmers
who had already appropriated most of the Owens River's tributaries'
flow, causing the lake level to drop slightly each year.
Starting in 1913, the river and streams that fed
Owens Lake were
Los Angeles Department of Water and Power
Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) into the
Los Angeles Aqueduct, and the lake level started to drop quickly. As
the lake dried, soda processing at nearby Keeler, CA switched from
relatively cheap chemical methods to more expensive physical ones. The
Natural Soda Products Company sued the city of Los Angeles and built a
new plant with a $15,000 settlement. A fire destroyed this plant
shortly after it was built but the company rebuilt it on the dry
lakebed in the 1920s.
During the unusually wet winter of 1937, LADWP diverted water from
the aqueduct into the lakebed, flooding the soda plant. Because of
this, the courts ordered the city to pay $154,000. After an
unsuccessful appeal attempt to the state supreme court in 1941, LADWP
Long Valley Dam , which impounded
Lake Crowley for flood
Owens Lake from the Horseshoe Meadows Road
The lake is currently a large salt flat whose surface is made of a
mixture of clay , sand , and a variety of minerals including halite ,
burkeite, mirabilite , thenardite , and trona . In wet years, these
minerals form a chemical soup in the form of a small brine pond within
the dry lake. When conditions are right, bright pink halophilic
(salt-loving) archaea spread across the salty lakebed. Also, on
especially hot summer days when ground temperatures exceed 150° F (66
°C), water is driven out of the hydrates on the lakebed creating a
muddy brine. More commonly, periodic winds stir up noxious alkali dust
storms that carry away as much as four million tons (3.6 million
metric tons) of dust from the lakebed each year, causing respiratory
problems in nearby residents. The dust includes carcinogens such as
cadmium , nickel and arsenic .
Alkali dust storm at
The LADWP and the
California State Lands Commission own most of the
Owens Lake bed, though a few small parcels along the historic western
shoreline are privately owned. In 2004, the
California Department of
Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) acquired a 218-acre (88 ha) parcel at the
foot of Owens Lake. Designated the Cartago Wildlife Area in 2007, it
is one of the few remaining spring and wetland areas on the shore of
Owens Lake. CDFW is using mitigation funds from
CalTrans to enhance
As part of an air quality mitigation settlement, LADWP is currently
shallow flooding 27 square miles (69.9 km2) of the salt pan to try to
help minimize alkali dust storms and further adverse health effects.
There is also about 3.5 square miles (9.1 km2) of managed vegetation
being used as a dust control measure. The vegetation consists of
saltgrass , which is a native perennial grass highly tolerant of the
salt and boron levels in the lake sediments. Gravel covers are also
This astronaut photograph highlights the mostly dry bed of Owens
This once-blue saline lake was an important feeding and resting stop
for millions of waterfowl each year. During a visit to
Owens Lake in
Joseph Grinnell from the
Museum of Vertebrate Zoology in Berkeley
reported “Great numbers of water birds are in sight along the lake
shore--avocets, phalaropes, ducks. Large flocks of shorebirds in
flight over the water in the distance, wheeling about show in mass,
now silvery now dark, against the gray-blue of the water. There must
be literally thousands of birds within sight of this one spot.”
Owens Lake is still recognized as an
Important Bird Area in
California by the
National Audubon Society
National Audubon Society . At the shore, a chain of
wetlands , fed by springs and artesian wells , keep part of the former
Owens Lake ecosystem alive. Snowy plovers nest at Owens along with
several thousand snow geese and ducks . As a result of current dust
mitigation efforts, shallow flooding of the lakebed has created both
shallow and deeper (about 3 feet (0.9 m) deep) habitats on the
lakebed. This water, although seasonally applied, is helping to buoy
the lake's ecosystem causing hope in conservationists that an expanded
shallow flooding program could do even more. There are no serious
plans, however, to restore Owens to anything resembling a conventional
On April 19, 2008, the Eastern Sierra Audubon Society , Audubon
California, and the
Owens Valley Committee held the first lake-wide
survey of the bird populations of Owens Lake. Volunteers recorded a
total of 112 avian species and 45,650 individual birds — the highest
total number of birds ever officially recorded at Owens Lake.
Volunteers identified 15 species of waterfowl (ducks and geese) and 22
species of shorebirds. The highest totals for individuals of a species
California gulls (an inland nester at
Mono Lake and
elsewhere); 9,218 American avocets ; 1,767 eared grebes ; 13,826 peeps
or small sandpipers such as dunlin , western and least sandpipers ;
and 2,882 individual ducks.
CERRO GORDO MINES
Cerro Gordo Mines The remains of the Cottonwood
The town of Cartago , below the Sierra Nevada near present-day
California , was the western shipping port for the Cerro
Gordo Mines production and transported goods across
Owens Lake with
the northern ports of Swansea and Keeler directly below the mines.
From Cartago a barge-like vessel, the Bessie Brady, was launched in
1872, which cut the three-day freight journey around the lake down to
Much of the freight it carried was silver and lead bullion from the
Cerro Gordo mines, which at their height were so productive that the
bars of the refined metals waited in large stacks before twenty-mule
team teamsters could haul it to Los Angeles. The trying three-week
(one way) journey improved after the formation of the Cerro Gordo
Freighting Company, run by ancestors of regional historian Remi Nadeau
who has written of this period.
The town of Keeler, below the
Inyo Mountains on the former north
shore, replaced Swansea as the shipping port for the mines after the
1872 Lone Pine earthquake
1872 Lone Pine earthquake . In the 1870s it had a population of 5,000
people as the center of trade for the Cerro Gordo mines.
Charcoal Kilns, traditional stone masonry 'beehive'
charcoal kilns , were built to transform wood from trees in Cottonwood
Canyon above the lake into charcoal , to feed the Cerro Gordo mines'
silver and lead smelters across the lake at Swansea. The ruins are
located on the southern side of the lakebed near Cartago. They were
similar to the nearby Panamint
Charcoal Kilns near
Death Valley . The
kilns are identified as
California Historical Landmark #537.
In 1879 silver mining ended, but Keeler was saved when the Carson and
Colorado Railroad built narrow-gauge rail tracks to the town. It then
became a soda, salt , and marble shipping center until 1960. The rail
line had been sold to
Southern Pacific Railroad in 1900. Keeler's
current population is around 50 people and continues in decline.
In the 20th century the Clark Chemical Company operated on the
northwestern shore at Bartlett , with evaporation ponds for lake brine
and a plant to extract its chemicals.
Mineral Extraction Plants Around The Lake:
* Inyo Development Company, 1887-1920
* Natural Soda Products Company/Michigan Alkali Company/Wyandotte
Chemical Corporation, 1912-1953
California Alkali Company/Inyo Chemical Company, 1917-1932
* Pacific Alkali/Columbia-Southern Chemical Corp./Pittsburgh Plate
Glass , 1928-1968
* Permanente Metals Corporation, 1947-1950
* Morrison and Weatherly Chemical Corporation (M"> Here is a view
of the Sierra Nevada mountains and surroundings from Earth orbit,
taken on the
STS-51-F mission in 1985.
Owens Lake is in the upper
right, with a reddish tint.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to OWENS LAKE .
Owens River course
* List of lakes in
Los Angeles Aqueduct
California Water Wars
List of drying lakes
* ^ A B
U.S. Geological Survey (19 January 1981). "Feature Detail
Geographic Names Information System (GNIS). U.S.
Department of the Interior. Retrieved 2009-03-26.
* ^ A B Reheis, Marith C. (2006-04-11). "Owens (Dry) Lake,
California: A Human-Induced Dust Problem". Impacts of Climate Change
and Land Use in the Southwestern United States. U.S. Geological Survey
. Retrieved 2010-06-03.
* ^ Siegler, Kirk (2013-03-11). "
Owens Valley Salty As Los Angeles
Water Battle Flows Into Court". NPR.
* ^ M. Morgan Estergreen (1962). Kit Carson: A Portrait in Courage.
University of Oklahoma Press. pp. 126–144. ISBN 9780758117656 .
* ^ Gilman, D. C. ; Peck, H. T.; Colby, F. M., eds. (1905). "Owens
New International Encyclopedia (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead.
* ^ A B C D "Bledsoe Collection 1908-1933, Los Angeles Department
of Water and Power". first1= missing last1= in Authors list (help )
* ^ Knudson, Tom (January 5, 2014). "Outrage in
Owens Valley a
century after L.A. began taking its water". Sacramento Bee. Retrieved
21 October 2014.
Owens Lake Valley PM10 Planning Area Screening Ecological Risk
Assessment of Proposed Dust Control Measures (PDF). 2007.
* ^ A B "
National Audubon Society
National Audubon Society -> Important Bird Areas -> Site
Profile". netapp.audubon.org. Retrieved 2015-07-24.
* ^ "Cartago Wildlife Area". www.wildlife.ca.gov. Retrieved
* ^ A B C Prather, Michael (Winter 2008). "
Owens Lake is coming
back to wildlife" (PDF). Rainshadow Newsletter. 4 (2). Owens Valley
Committee. p. 5.
* ^ "History - Owens Valley,
California Air Actions Pacific
Southwest US EPA". www.epa.gov. Retrieved 2015-07-28.
* ^ Sahagun, Louis (November 14, 2014) "New dust-busting method
ends L.A.\'s longtime feud with Owens Valley"
Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
* ^ Parsons, Dana (March 24, 1988) "Digging Up a Mythtery : Under
the Floor of Owens Lake, a Fabled
Silver Cache Awaits Discovery, So
Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
* ^ "
California Historical Landmarks - Inyo County". California
State Parks Department. State of California. Retrieved 19 April 2011.
* ^ "Minerals and Mining". Carson & Colorado Railway.
* ^ "U.S. Borax Inc.
Owens Lake Operations".