Return of a River
In 1913 the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power diverted the Owens River into the Los Angeles aqueduct, causing it to run dry and transforming much of the Owens Valley into a desert. Additionally, by 1924 Owens Lake had disappeared, and by 1928 LA owned ninety percent of the water rights in the valley. However, due to a 1997 lawsuit, LA was required to restore the river in what was the largest river restoration ever undertaken in the US. Starting in 2006, a sixty-two mile stretch of river is again flowing and the valley is beginning an impressive comeback. LA retains rights to pump water from downstream, and thus this project has not significantly impacted the city's water supply.
One of the earliest American explorers described the Owens Valley as containing "ten thousand acres (40 km2) of fine grass.", but much of the recent history of the Owens Valley involves the "theft" of its water supply for use in Los Angeles, and today it is mostly arid. This story is explained in Marc Reisner's book, Cadillac Desert and includes William Mulholland, the Los Angeles Times, and other sordid characters. Recent court rulings and actions by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power have helped restore water to the river, and with the improving fish habitat it is again becoming one of the finest fly fishing streams in the West.