- How do you balance the thirst of 13 million people with the needs of a fragile ecosystem?
- This is perhaps the most critical time for the Owens Lake in almost a century. What was once a 110-square-mile lake estimated to be 1,000,000 years old began disappearing when the Los Angeles Aqueduct opened in 1913, diverting the entire lower Owens River away from the lake. A once-vibrant ecosystem that supported expansive bird and plant habitats began disappearing, replaced by a dry lakebed plagued by noxious and almost constant dust storms and turning communities around the lake into ghost towns. Forced under court order after decades of litigation to begin releasing water back into the lower Owens River, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power finally began restoration efforts in late 2006.
- The initial goal of the restoration was to mitigate the blowing dust and institute effective dust control programs, but has had the added benefit of reviving in small part the ecosystem that once flourished as a breeding ground for millions of birds, and supported vast and beautiful alkali meadows around the lake. In just three years since the re-watering of the lower Owens River commenced, bird populations around the lake have increased exponentially, and the native plant life has begun to revive as well. To ensure continued restoration of the Owens Lake that now includes habitat restoration as a goal, a network of groups in the Owens Valley including the Eastern Sierra Audubon Society, the Owens Valley Committee, the Bristlecone Pine Chapter of the California Native Plants Society and the Eastern Sierra Land Trust have all been working hard to see the restoration continued and, hopefully, expanded with this additional goal in mind. For this documentary project, Mike Prather of Eastern Sierra Audubon has already been of invaluable help in familiarizing me with the lake and its various bird habitats.
- What makes advocacy for this restoration effort difficult is that far too few people are aware of the history of the Owens Lake, if they even know of the lake at all. Tucked away on the remote eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountains, it’s located in one of the most sparsely populated parts of the state, yet it supplies the majority of water used by the city of Los Angeles. Most who are familiar with the lake know it only as the dusty lakebed they pass at highway speed as they make their way up Highway 395 to Mammoth Mountain or Lake Tahoe. It’s easy to write it off as an environmental wasteland. It is only by seeing in a more intimate way what the lake is and what it supports that more people will understand the importance of this unique ecosystem and support further restoration efforts.
- The Owens Valley ecosystem is globally significant, and has much in common with its much better-known analogue, the Florida Everglades. Unfortunately, the Owens Lake and Owens Valley contain no national park to draw attention and protection efforts from the public or media, nor has it received the level of federal advocacy and assistance via congressional legislation and funding that the Everglades has. With this project, it is my hope that more people will become aware of this incredible re-emerging ecosystem and take action to help with its recovery and protection.
- Other photographers have used the Owens Lake as a photographic subject, but their focus has tended toward the abstract or aerial photography. I’ve undertaken this project to show the lake in ways that emphasize the re-emerging habitat, and in ways with which people are more likely to feel a connection to life around the lake, be it animal, plant or human. Through education comes advocacy, and through advocacy comes action.
- As it evolves, this project will cover all aspects of life on and around the lake, river and valley, as well as the bureautcratic struggles to expand restoration and protection and make sure those efforts remain in place for the future. I’ve decided to present my journey during the project in blog form, so you can learn along with me, and follow developments at the lake as they occur. Eventually, I hope to distill the work into a series of photographs for exhibition, or possibly publication in book form.
- For questions or for more information about this project, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. All photographs by Robin Black are © Copyright Robin Black. Any and all use in any form requires advance permission from the photographer, and unauthorized uses will be pursued. Please contact this site to request permission in the form of a license.
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