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Inyo County Wants Angelenos to Have a Say in Owens River Plan

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Los Angeles may often be referred to as "park poor," but up in Inyo County officials see a controversial land grab by the city a century ago as an opportunity for recreational tourism.

A few hundred miles north of Los Angeles scores of land and water rights were bought up all around the Owens Valley starting in 1905. The motive behind those purchases? To quench growing Los Angeles' deepening thirst by diverting the water that streamed down from the Sierra Mountains to the city via the Los Angeles Aqueduct.

Today, around 310,000 acres in and around the Owens Valley are owned by the Los Angeles Department of Power and Water. To put that number in perspective, the city of Los Angeles is only about 300,000 acres in size, with close to 40,000 acres devoted to parkland.

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An LADWP truck in the Owens Valley with the Eastern Sierras in the background | Photo by Zach Behrens/KCET

"It's extraordinary city land. You've got some extremely beautiful northern parks," said Larry Freilich, Inyo County's lead on the Lower Owens River Recreation Use Plan, which covers the 62-mile portion of the river that the LADWP recently let water flow into again. "There it is, take it back," said the utility's general manager in 2006, reversing William Mulholland's famous words in 1913--"there it is, take it"--when the aqueduct opened, drying up the lower Owens.

The plan's draft, which will be a guiding vision in expanding recreation opportunities and balancing conservation, is expected to come out in mid-September. Plenty of locals have given their two-cents, but the county hopes to hear ideas from Angeleños. "The locals are encouraging you," continued Freilich, noting that many skip the Owens Valley as they cruise the 395 between the city and the popular ski destination Mammoth Mountain. "It's part of L.A.'s playground. It's L.A.'s investment."

Currently, kayaking is a popular option in the slow-moving waters of the lower river (even if tule plant overgrowth is presenting a problem in some areas, as recently reported by KPCC and the LA Times), but others come to picnic, camp in designated spots and view wildlife. What would you want to do? What current activities should there be more or less of? Inyo County is asking. You can take their survey here.

If you have not visited the Owens River, check out the below photos to get a better sense of it (including the upper portions in Mono County) and the accompanying scenery from the Eastern Sierras.

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Fishing in the Lone Pine area | Photo by Flickr user djfrantic/Creative Commons
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Photo by Flickr user jcookfisher/Creative Commons
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Photo by jcookfisher/Creative Commons
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Tubing in the Bishop area | Photo by waltarrrrr/Creative Commons
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Photo by lovelyinlatoo/Creative Commons
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Lower Owens River | Photo by Aquafornia/Creative Commons
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Fishing in the Lone Pine area | Photo by djfrantic/Creative Commons
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The upper Owens River in Mono County | Photo by calwest/Creative Commons
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Photo by lovelyinlatoo/Creative Commons
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Photo by lovelyinlatoo/Creative Commons
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Near Big Pine | Photo by M Hedin/Creative Commons

The top photo used on this post is by Flickr user lovelyinlatoo. It was used under a Creative Commons License.

For ongoing environmental coverage in March 2017 and afterward, please visit our show Earth Focus, or browse Redefine for historic material.
KCET's award-winning environment news project Redefine ran from July 2012 through February 2017.

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