The Latest: A new tactic to quell Owen’s Valley dust

Los Angeles tries to save water and mitigate effects of sucking the valley dry.

  • Water saturates dry Owens Lake as part of a dust control project.

    Chris Austin

In the early 1900s, the rapidly growing city of Los Angeles sent agents posing as farmers to the Owens Valley, 200 miles away, to buy up land and water rights. L.A. then diverted the water south, transforming the once vast Owens Lake into a dust-choked plain. The water grab, immortalized in the 1974 movie Chinatown, helped cement L..A.’s reputation as an environmental villain. Current Mayor Eric Garcetti, however, is trying to green up its reputation (“Brave new L.A.,HCN, 1/24/14).

In mid-November, L.A. attempted to atone for past environmental sins by finding a new way to alleviate the asthma-causing dust storms that plague the Owens Valley. For 20 years, the city flooded the 110-square-mile lakebed with hundreds of thousands of gallons of water simply to tame the dust. Now, the city says it will use tractors to turn the moist lakebed clay into furrows and basketball-sized dirt clods — bottling up the dust for years while saving enough water to supply 150,000 Los Angeles residents annually.

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