OWENS VALLEY REVISITED
by Don Killian
This article first appeared in FWA's Green Ribbon Report in
April 1994. We feel that it is a timely article and worthy enough
to be published on this site.
Several times lately, coming from Sacramento on I-5, I have noticed
a sign placed there by the Family Water Alliance, which asks the
question "Owens Valley II?" My mother's family, the Olds,
were one of the pioneer families in the Owens Valley and my father
came to the valley with a cattle drive in the early 1900's. Having
been born in Bishop, the community at the north end of the valley,
it was of special interest to me.
The Owens Valley for those not familiar with it is a valley on
the Eastern slope of the Sierras containing the communities of Bishop,
Big Pine, Independence and Lone Pine. At one time it was a productive
land with orchards, livestock, alfalfa, and grain. However, events
were to come that would change it forever.
A simple explanation of the events to come might be that the city
of Los Angeles determined that the factor limiting its growth was
lack of water and the Owens Valley was chosen as the site source
to provide the needed resource. The differences in altitudes made
possible the transfer by gravity flow via the aqueduct adding to
To accomplish this it was necessary to control the land and water
rights, which belonged to the land. The first purchases were those
that controlled others. These were accomplished by offering what
at the time were considered outlandish prices, while the true reasons
for the purchases were not revealed.
The strategic purchases soon forced others to sell and some, for
whatever reason, chose to sell ever tightening the city's hold on
As the purchasing of the land neared completion and construction
on the aqueduct started, the realization of what was occurring became
evident. Several incidents involving the residents of the Valley
happened. The aqueduct was blown several times and the Alabama spillway
was subject to an armed takeover near Lone Pine with the water in
the aqueduct being released back in the lower Owens River.
The end result of all these happenings was the drying up of the
Valley, changing the lives of many forever. Those involved in ag
and related businesses, which at the time was the majority, had
little choice but to sell and leave. The one resource that made
their lifestyle possible, water was gone.
In later years in conversations with many, none felt in retrospect
that the destruction of the valley should have ever occurred. In
today's terms it would probably be described as an environmental
As a youth and later after returning from WWII, I roamed much
of the Valley hunting, fishing, and wandering. The feelings generated
are difficult to put into word. To look toward the mountains and
see the line created by the color of new and old sage indicating
what has been, to hunt quail in what had once been a productive
apple orchard, where now only two or three trees remain struggling
to exist. To walk over once productive land, now barren, returning
to sagebrush and tumbleweed. To observe irrigation systems filling
with drift sand and tumbleweed. To look and holler in an old cement
silo, which in many instances was all that remained of what had
been. These feelings are hard to describe. They led me to conclude
that the destruction of Owens Valley should never have happened.
If one reads and researches the happenings in the Owens Valley,
there are many similarities to what is happening here. Strange?
....or is it??? Different names, different agencies, different valley
is not acceptable.
I guess most people like short and direct answers to questions.
To the question of "Will this be Owens Valley II?" My
answer is short and direct, as I hope yours might be, "NEVER,
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