A very good thing!
January 12, 2008
A Long-Dry California River Gets, and Gives, New Life
By RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD
INDEPENDENCE, Calif. — What Los Angeles took a century ago — a 62-mile stretch of river here in the parched Owens Valley — it is now giving back.
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.”
Francis Pedneau, a lifelong Owens Valley resident who had sparred with Los Angeles city officials over access to fishing sites, said word was spreading among fishing enthusiasts about new spots along the river. Mr. Pedneau said he had actually caught fewer bass this past season, “probably because the schools are more spread out now.”
But Mr. Pedneau, 69, has praise for the project, even though he, like many old-timers, is generally suspicious of Los Angeles, given the tension-filled history behind its acquiring water and land here (the inspiration for the 1974 movie “Chinatown”).