California River Gets, and Gives, New Life

Written by  //  January 12, 2008  //  Biodiversity, Environment & Energy, U.S., Water  //  No comments

We are so accustomed to bad environment news, we are compelled – and delighted – to publish this article in the hope of inspiring similar undertakings around the world.

J. Emilio Flores for The New York Times

One of the largest river-restoration projects in the country has sent a gentle current of water meandering through what just a year ago was largely a sandy, rocky bed best used as a horse trail and barely distinguishable from the surrounding high desert scrub.
Mud hens dive for food. A blue heron sweeps overhead. Bass, carp and catfish patrol deep below. Some local residents swear they have even seen river otters.
So much reedy tule has sprouted along the banks, like bushy tufts of hair, that officials have called in a huge floating weed whacker, nicknamed the Terminator, to cut through it and help keep the water flowing — a problem inconceivable in years past.
The river, 2 to 3 feet deep and 15 to 20 feet across, will not be mistaken for the mighty Mississippi. And an economic boon promised to accompany the restoration has yet to materialize.
Yet the mere fact that water is present and flowing in the Lower Owens River enthralls residents nearly 100 years after Los Angeles diverted the river into an aqueduct and sent it 200 miles south to slake its growing thirst.
“This is infinitely better than before,” said Keith Franson, a kayaker pumping up his boat on the banks this week and preparing to explore a stretch of the renewed river. “You got birds, herons, terns, all sorts of wildlife coming back in because life is coming back in the river.”
… Los Angeles agreed to restore the river as part of a settlement of a lawsuit filed by the Owens Valley Committee, a local group, and the Sierra Club over what it called the excessive pumping of groundwater in the valley in the 1970s and 1980s to increase drinking water supplies beyond what the city was taking from the river.
Under the settlement, Los Angeles, working with Inyo County on the $24 million project, has also taken steps to restore the cottonwoods, willows and wetlands that flourished along the river decades ago and drew an array of wildlife.
Near the river’s delta, the released water is recaptured, with most of it used to control dust on Owens Lake, which the diversion had dried up, and the rest sent back into the aqueduct and on to Los Angeles. Complete article

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