Owens Valley: Wikis


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Owens River from Bishop Tuff tableland.
Owens Valley
Owens Valley, Alabama Hills, and Owens Lake seen from Whitney Portal Road, west of Lone Pine, CA
Tule Elk grazing in Owens Valley.

Owens Valley is the arid valley of the Owens River in southeastern California in the United States. The valley is approximately 75 miles (120.7 km) long, trending north-south, and is bounded by the Inyo Mountains on the east, on the southeast by the Coso Range, on the south by Rose Valley, on the west by the Sierra Nevada, and on the north by Chalfant Valley.[1] The mountains on either side (including Mount Whitney) reach above 14,000 feet (4,267.2 m) in elevation, while the floor of the Owens Valley is at 4,000 feet (1,219.2 m), making the valley one of the deepest in the United States.[2] The Sierra Nevada casts the valley in a rain shadow, which makes Owens Valley "the land of little rain."[3] The bed of Owens Lake, now a dry alkali flat, sits on the southern end of the valley.

The valley provides water to the Los Angeles Aqueduct, the source of one-third of the water for Los Angeles, and is infamous as the scene of one of the fiercest and longest running episodes of the California Water Wars. These episodes inspired aspects of the film Chinatown.

Towns in the Owens Valley include Bishop, Lone Pine, Independence and Big Pine. The major road in the valley is U.S. Route 395.



Beginning about 3 million years ago, the Sierra Nevada Fault and the White Mountains Fault systems became active with repeated episodes of slip earthquakes gradually producing the impressive relief of the eastern Sierra Nevada and White Mountain escarpments that bound the northern Owens Valley-Mono Basin region.

Owens Valley is a graben; a downdropped block of land between two vertical faults. Owens Valley is the westernmost graben in the Basin and Range Province. It is also part of a trough which extends from Oregon to Death Valley called the Walker Lane.[4]

The western flank of much of the valley has large moraines coming off the Sierra Nevada. These unsorted piles of rock, boulders, and dust were bulldozed to where they are by glaciers during the last ice age. An excellent example of a moraine is on State Route 168 as it climbs into Buttermilk Country.[4]

This graben was formed by a long series of earthquakes, such as the 1872 Lone Pine earthquake, that have moved the graben down and helped move the Sierra Nevada up. The graben is in fact much larger than the depth of the valley suggests; gravity studies suggest that 10,000 feet (3,048.0 m) of sedimentary rock mostly fills the graben and that a very steep escarpment is buried under the western length of the valley. The topmost part of this escarpment is exposed at Alabama Hills.

See also: Inyo and Mono Craters. Smaller versions of the Devils Postpile, can be found, for example, by Little Lake.


The valley was inhabited in late prehistoric times by the Timbisha (also called Panamint or Koso) in the extreme south end around Owens Lake and by the Eastern Mono (also called Owens Valley Paiute) in the central and northern portions of the valley. The Timbisha speak the Timbisha language, classified in the Numic branch of Uto-Aztecan language family. The closest related languages are Shoshoni and Comanche. The Eastern Mono speak a dialect of the Mono language which is also Numic, but is more closely related to Northern Paiute. The Timbisha presently live in Death Valley at Furnace Creek although most families also have summer homes in the Lone Pine colony. The Eastern Mono live in several colonies from Lone Pine to Bishop. Trade between Native Americans of the Owens Valley between coastal tribes such as the Chumash has been indicated by the archaeological record.[5]

In 1845 John C. Fremont named the Owens valley, river and lake for Richard Owens, one of his guides. Camp Independence was established on Oak Creek nearby modern Independence, California on July 4, 1862[6], during the Owens Valley Indian War[7].

From 1942 to 1945 during World War II, the first Japanese American Internment camp operated in the valley at Manzanar near Independence, California.

California Water Wars

In the early 20th century the valley became the scene of a struggle between local residents and the city of Los Angeles over water rights. William Mulholland, superintendent of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) planned the 223 miles (359 km) Los Angeles Aqueduct, completed in 1913, which diverted water from the Owens River. Much of the water rights were acquired through subterfuge, with purchases splitting water cooperatives and pitting neighbors against each other. The purchases led to anger among local farmers, which erupted in violence in 1924, when parts of the water system were sabotaged by local farmers.

Eventually Los Angeles acquired a large fraction of the water rights to over 300,000 acres (1,214.1 km2) of land in the valley such that inflows to Owens Lake were almost completely diverted. This acquisition was made following negotiations in which Los Angeles and the Owens Valley farmers were engaged in a bilateral monopoly. Gary Libecap of UCSB estimates that Los Angeles would have been willing to pay up to $8.70 per acre-foot of water. The price of $8.70 per acre-foot is derived through when Los Angeles voters approved a bond issue of $220 million to build the Colorado River Aqueduct from which they expected 1.1 million acre-feet of water per year. Libecap assumed that LA received 40 years of water which would mean a total of 44 million acre feet of water. Taking $220 million divided by 44 mil. af would bring to an estimate of $5 per acre foot of water that LA voters were willing to pay in nominal terms. However, to get the real price, we must take into account of an average interest rate of 3% which would discount the total water benefit to 26.5 mil acre-feet. Taking $220mil/26.5 mil af would bring the estimated LA voter maximum price to $8.70 per acre foot. Eventually the average actual transaction price was near $4.00 per acre-foot, as the next best option was continuing to use the land for agricultural uses, which fetched a much lower price. As a result of these acquisitions, the lake subsequently dried up completely, leaving the present alkali flat which plagues the southern valley with alkali dust storms.

In 1970, LADWP completed a second aqueduct from Owens Valley. More surface water was diverted and groundwater was pumped to feed the aqueduct. Owens Valley springs and seeps dried and disappeared, and groundwater-dependent vegetation began to die.

Years of litigation followed. In 1997, Inyo County, Los Angeles, the Owens Valley Committee, the Sierra Club, and other concerned parties signed a Memorandum of Understanding that specified terms by which the lower Owens River would be rewatered by June 2003.[8] LADWP missed this deadline and was sued again. Under another settlement, this time including the state of California, Los Angeles promised to rewater the lower Owens River by September 2005. As of February 2005, LADWP announced it was unlikely to meet this extended deadline. At this time 2008 Los Angeles has rewatered the lower Owens River.[9]

In July 2004, Los Angeles mayor James Hahn proposed barring all future development on its Owens Valley holdings, by proposing a conservation easement for all LADWP land.[10] As of October, 2004, Inyo County officials seem to be resisting the offer of the easement, perhaps due to the prior history of mistrust over LADWP actions.

Owens Valley, and the Sierra Escarpment


The Owens Valley Radio Observatory located near Westgard Pass is one of ten dishes comprising the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA).

See also


  • Cadillac Desert, Marc Reisner, revised edition, Penguin USA, (1993), ISBN 0140178244
  • Geology Underfoot in Death Valley and Owens Valley, Sharp, Glazner (Mountain Press Publishing Company, Missoula; 1997) ISBN 0878423621
  • Western Times and Water Wars, John Walton, University of California Press, (1992). ISBN 0520072456
  • The Water Seekers, Remi Nadeau, Crest Publishers, (4th edition: 1997), ISBN 09627104-5-8

External links

Coordinates: 36°48′09″N 118°11′59″W / 36.8025°N 118.19972°W / 36.8025; -118.19972

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel


Owens Valley is a valley in Southeast California.


Much of the recent history of the Owens Valley involves the "theft" of its water supply by Metropolitan Los Angeles. This story is explained in Marc Reisner's book, Cadillac Desert and includes William Mulholland, the Los Angeles Times, and other sordid characters.

  • Gus's REALLY GOOD Fresh Jerky, 580 South Highway 395, Olancha, CA 93549, Phone: +1 760-764-2822, [1]. Open every day from 8am to 7pm (8am to 8pm in the Summer). A converted gas station, it's advertised all along Highway 395 as selling "World Famous Jerky" — including beef, elk, turkey, and other dried meat products. Their selection of honeys, dried fruits, nuts, and olives is also quite impressive.
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