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Santa Clarita CA
Today in
S.C.V. History
July 22
2000 - Historic Larinan house in Pico Canyon burns down [story]

The Owens Valley is one of Los Angeles’ main water sources, pumping water to the region for the past 100 years. But at what cost to the valley’s people?

A team of California State University, Northridge anthropology, botany and environmental science professors are studying the environmental and human impacts on Owens Valley plant life over the past 50 years. The project looks at the numbers — measuring changes in the diversity of plants and water usage — as well as the perspective of Owens Valley residents on those changes, said anthropology professor Kim Kirner.

“It’s one thing to talk about what is actually happening on the ground, and it’s another thing to talk about how people experience that — and the ways they respond to it and impact their (life),” Kirner said.

By incorporating historical documents on water policy and the Owens Valley over the past 50 years combined with interviews of residents of the area, Kirner and the team are painting a picture of valley residents’ changing perspectives over time. She said some results would be ready to share by December 2015.

CSUN botany professor Paula Schiffman, left, demonstrates how to take vegetation samples from Owens Valley to students. Photo provided by Kim Kirner/CSUN

CSUN botany professor Paula Schiffman, left, demonstrates how to take vegetation samples from Owens Valley to students. Photo provided by Kim Kirner/CSUN

“We are trying to understand the human side of things,” she said. “Are there gaps (in) how agencies study and think about decisions they make versus the way that local people on the ground perceive change?”

Satellite data and information gathered by CSUN botanist Paula Schiffman on the ground will allow the team to analyze empirical data and determine how much Owens Valley’s biodiversity has changed, then correlate the data with water policy changes. Kirner said she hopes to open Los Angeles residents’ eyes to the impact their water usage has on plant diversity, during a drought or otherwise.

“All over the American West, urban areas are tied to rural water sources. We’ve built urban development off of rural water availability,” she said. “We’ve taken resources from the rural areas, and we funnel them into cities. This has increasingly caused challenges. Scientists think we are heading into serious problems. (For example), there are places in Owens Valley that have high brush tree death rates now, (which hasn’t been seen to this extent before).”

Kirner and her team also are incorporating a participatory geographic aspect in the project, where members of the Owens Valley community — including members of the indigenous Paiute tribe — can post pictures and tell their stories online.

Dust monitoring equipment on Owens (Dry) Lake. Photos by Leon Worden except as noted.

Dust monitoring equipment on Owens (Dry) Lake. Photos by Leon Worden except as noted.

“We are looking at how (people) — cattle ranchers, the Paiute people, who have been there for quite some time, older people — perceive changes over the course of their lifetime,” she said.

“I want to see how people’s life ways and heritage have been impacted,” Kirner continued.

“Can Paiute people still go find traditional foods and basketry material? Does it become a struggle for ranchers to maintain their way of life and pass it on to their children?”

The most important part of the project, for Kirner, is being able to better understand the perspectives of water policy makers and the general community in the Owens Valley, and see how the actual numbers can help make a difference for both parties.

“We are trying to understand the human side of things,” she said. “Are there gaps (in) how agencies study and think about things and the kind of decisions they make — and the way that local people on the ground perceive change and contribute causal factors to change?

“We hope to build synergy around this project. (There may be) issues of people understanding the water problems in Owens Valley. We hope that by them engaging in it and feeling that their voices are heard, they know they can do something.”


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  1. Desertification. Owens Valley was full of farms, orchards & ranches before the aqueduct & the policies involved.

  2. I thought we already told them Owens folk to go suck sand 100 years ago, can’t we stick to our guns?

  3. Hardin Rich says:

    Steve Dardarian, if you would take the time to read the history, not the myths or hearsay, you would find that you are incorrect. Yes, decisions and actions of the past may not be as we would do today, from either side of the issue, although, are we going to restart the water wars? The entire political climate was different at the time, they were Progressives. It was the president, Theodore Roosevelt, who ended the debate of whether Los Angeles should be allowed to use the water when after hearing from both sides dictated the letter which stated, ”…yet it is a hundred or a thousand fold more important to the state and more valuable to the people as a whole if used by the city than if used by the people of the Owens Valley.”

  4. Jim Moore says:

    In the 70s when i was old enough to water fields for hay on the reservation and on other peoples property we had enough, then the riders would come by and tell me to turn it off, which i jumped right on that not! The pictures that we all have show the green of the valley and now it looks more like Mojave. It is so said a President made a mistake that has reuined the life of the valley and its people. Plus thieves for personal gains continuned to be covered up by LA Court officals. I would start with who the water belonged to begin with, the Natives, Stolen by corrupt white people and Stolen by them by bigger Goverment. I really miss home but its turned into a waste land if at least 3 people make a stand A Native Chief to lead, County Leader to Lead snd a City Leader to lead and to have everyone working for the same goal—– Leave Our Water the Hell Alone. Sorry but the complaning i vould have made it worse cause Im still mad, but dont live there anymore……Jim

  5. Pat Willett says:

    If I’m not mistaken, Owens Valley used to be a total lake. Borax brought out of Death Valley by the mule trains had to be carried across the lake by boat to the trains/roads that would take it southward. Sad.

  6. Nic Miller Nic Miller says:

    I’m glad I got work up there for a year and a half and see first hand the real effects and what media tells you. No water currently is come to LA, hasn’t in quite some time. The lake bed was mostly drained by ranchers prior to LADWP. Granted they helped. If the dept. Left. Owens valley will be destroyed by developers.

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