The Fruits of Civilization (68-5) Owens Lake

 Owens Lake

There it is, take it. ~ Los Angeles water department commissioner William Mulholland in 1913, referring to depleting Owen Lake for the city’s water supply

America has its own Aral Sea in Owens Lake. Once the size of the Sea of Galilee, Owens Lake once gleamed in sunny California, midway between Sequoia National Park and Death Valley.

At the turn of the 20th century, state bureaucrats decided that the river feeding the lake was better put to slaking the thirst of burgeoning Los Angeles. Within a decade the lake dried up. That uncovered 28,500 hectares of briny silt heavily laced with arsenic, which gold miners had used a half century earlier in their operations upstream.

Today, Owens lake is the single biggest dust source in the United States. During a storm, fine carcinogenic dust howls into the distance, aiming some of its toxic revenge on Los Angeles, the city that sucked it dry.

It’s a desert climate, but LA made it the dust bowl that it is today. ~ American environmental scientist Mel Joseph on Owens Lake