|Location|| Sierra Nevada |
Inyo County, California,
|Coordinates||36°26′00″N117°57′03″W / 36.4332°N 117.9509°W Coordinates: 36°26′00″N117°57′03″W / 36.4332°N 117.9509°W|
|Primary inflows|| Owens River |
Natural springs and wells
|Basin countries||United States|
|Max. length||17.5 mi (28.2 km)|
|Max. width||10 mi (16 km)|
|Max. depth||3 ft (0.91 m)|
|Surface elevation||3,556 ft (1,084 m) |
|References||GNIS feature ID 272820 |
Owens Lake is a mostly dry lake in the Owens Valley on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada in Inyo County, California. It is about 5 miles (8.0 km) south of Lone Pine, California. Unlike most dry lakes in the Basin and Range Province that have been dry for thousands of years, Owens held significant water until 1913, when much of the Owens River was diverted into the Los Angeles Aqueduct, causing Owens Lake to desiccate by 1926.  A 2004 court order required the LADWP to reestablish a small flow from the river into the lake.   Nevertheless, as of 2013, it is the largest single source of dust pollution in the United States. 
Owens Lake was given its present name by the explorer John C. Frémont, in honor of one of his guides, Richard Owens.  Owens himself never set foot in the valley. The lake's original name, given by the Nüümü (Owens Valley Paiute), is Patsiata. 
Before the diversion of the Owens River, Owens Lake was up to 12 miles (19 km) long and 8 miles (13 km) wide, covering an area of up to 108 square miles (280 km2). In the last few hundred years the lake had an average depth of 23 to 50 feet (7.0 to 15.2 m), and sometimes overflowed to the south, after which the water would flow into the Mojave Desert.  In 1905, the lake's water was thought to be "excessively saline."  It is thought that in the late Pleistocene about 11–12,000 years ago Owens Lake was even larger, covering nearly 200 square miles (520 km2) and reaching a depth of 200 feet (61 m). The increased inflow from the Owens River, from melting glaciers of the post-Ice Age Sierra Nevada, caused Owens Lake to overflow south through Rose Valley into another now-dry lakebed China Lake, in the Indian Wells Valley near Ridgecrest, California.  On November 5, 1913, William Mulholland finished the Los Angeles aqueduct. Water was piped and canaled from Owens River to the Van Norman Reservoir. Fights would breakout between the farmers of Owens valley and The City of Los Angeles; the farmers would blow up the aqueduct project, go to the spill ways and divert the water back into Owens lake.
Starting in 1913, the river and streams that fed Owens Lake were diverted by Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) into the Los Angeles Aqueduct, and the lake level started to drop quickly.  As the lake dried, soda processing at nearby Keeler, California, switched from relatively cheap chemical methods to more expensive physical ones. The Natural Soda Products Company sued the city of Los Angeles and built a new plant with a $15,000 settlement. A fire destroyed this plant shortly after it was built, but the company rebuilt it on the dry lakebed in the 1920s.
During the unusually wet winter of 1937, LADWP diverted water from the aqueduct into the lakebed, flooding the soda plant. Because of this, the courts ordered the city to pay $154,000. After an unsuccessful appeal to the state supreme court in 1941, LADWP built the Long Valley Dam, which impounded Lake Crowley for flood control.  The lake was the epicenter of a magnitude 5.8 earthquake that occurred on June 24, 2020. 
In 2022, Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District successfully sued LADWP for failure to control pollution at Owens lake on sensitive Native American cultural resources land  
The lake is currently a large salt flat whose surface is made of a mixture of clay, sand, and a variety of minerals including halite, burkeite, mirabilite, thenardite, and trona. In wet years, these minerals form a chemical soup in the form of a small brine pond within the dry lake. When conditions are right, bright pink halophilic (salt-loving) archaea spread across the salty lakebed. Also, on especially hot summer days when ground temperatures exceed 150° F (66 °C), water is driven out of the hydrates on the lakebed creating a muddy brine. More commonly, periodic winds stir up noxious alkali dust storms that carry away as much as four million tons (3.6 million metric tons) of dust from the lakebed each year, causing respiratory problems in nearby residents.   The dust includes carcinogens, such as cadmium, nickel and arsenic. 
The LADWP and the California State Lands Commission own most of the Owens Lake bed, though a few small parcels along the historic western shoreline are privately owned.  In 2004, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) acquired a 218-acre (88 ha) parcel at the foot of Owens Lake. Designated the Cartago Wildlife Area in 2007, it is one of the few remaining spring and wetland areas on the shore of Owens Lake.  CDFW is using mitigation funds from CalTrans to enhance habitat.[ citation needed ]
As part of an air quality mitigation settlement, LADWP is currently shallow flooding 27 square miles (69.9 km2) of the salt pan to try to help minimize alkali dust storms and further adverse health effects. There is also about 3.5 square miles (9.1 km2) of managed vegetation being used as a dust control measure. The vegetation consists of saltgrass, which is a native perennial grass highly tolerant of the salt and boron levels in the lake sediments.  Gravel covers are also used. 
This once-blue saline lake was an important feeding and resting stop for millions of waterfowl each year. During a visit to Owens Lake in 1917 Joseph Grinnell from the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology in Berkeley reported "Great numbers of water birds are in sight along the lake shore--avocets, phalaropes, ducks. Large flocks of shorebirds in flight over the water in the distance, wheeling about show in mass, now silvery now dark, against the gray-blue of the water. There must be literally thousands of birds within sight of this one spot." 
Owens Lake is still recognized as an Important Bird Area in California by the National Audubon Society.  At the shore, a chain of wetlands, fed by springs and artesian wells, keep part of the former Owens Lake ecosystem alive. Snowy plovers nest at Owens along with several thousand snow geese and ducks. As a result of current dust mitigation efforts, shallow flooding of the lakebed has created both shallow and deeper (about 3 feet (0.9 m) deep) habitats on the lakebed.  This water, although seasonally applied, is helping to buoy the lake's ecosystem causing hope in conservationists that an expanded shallow flooding program could do even more. There are no serious plans, however, to restore Owens to anything resembling a conventional lake. 
On April 19, 2008, the Eastern Sierra Audubon Society, Audubon California, and the Owens Valley Committee held the first lake-wide survey of the bird populations of Owens Lake. Volunteers recorded a total of 112 avian species and 45,650 individual birds — the highest total number of birds ever officially recorded at Owens Lake. Volunteers identified 15 species of waterfowl (ducks and geese) and 22 species of shorebirds. The highest totals for individuals of a species included 13,873 California gulls (an inland nester at Mono Lake and elsewhere); 9,218 American avocets; 1,767 eared grebes; 13,826 peeps or small sandpipers such as dunlin, western and least sandpipers; and 2,882 individual ducks. 
The town of Cartago, below the Sierra Nevada near present-day Olancha, California, was the western shipping port for the Cerro Gordo Mines production and transported goods across Owens Lake with the northern ports of Swansea and Keeler directly below the mines. From Cartago a barge-like vessel, the Bessie Brady, was launched in 1872, which cut the three-day freight journey around the lake down to three hours. 
Much of the freight it carried was silver and lead bullion from the Cerro Gordo mines, which at their height were so productive that the bars of the refined metals waited in large stacks before twenty-mule team teamsters could haul it to Los Angeles. The trying three-week (one way) journey improved after the formation of the Cerro Gordo Freighting Company, run by ancestors of regional historian Remi Nadeau who has written of this period.
The town of Keeler, below the Inyo Mountains on the former north shore, replaced Swansea as the shipping port for the mines after the 1872 Lone Pine earthquake. In the 1870s it had a population of 5,000 people as the center of trade for the Cerro Gordo mines.
The Cottonwood Charcoal Kilns, traditional stone masonry 'beehive' charcoal kilns, were built to transform wood from trees in Cottonwood Canyon above the lake into charcoal, to feed the Cerro Gordo mines' silver and lead smelters across the lake at Swansea. The ruins are located on the southern side of the lakebed near Cartago. They were similar to the nearby Panamint Charcoal Kilns near Death Valley. The kilns are identified as California Historical Landmark #537. 
In 1879 silver mining ended, but Keeler was saved when the Carson and Colorado Railroad built narrow-gauge rail tracks to the town. It then became a soda, salt, and marble shipping center until 1960. The rail line had been sold to Southern Pacific Railroad in 1900. Keeler's current population is around 50 people and continues in decline.
In the 20th century the Clark Chemical Company operated on the northwestern shore at Bartlett, with evaporation ponds for lake brine and a plant to extract its chemicals.
Numerous Western films have been shot by Owens Lake, including Westward Ho (1935), Maverick (1994), Riders of the Dawn (1937), Across the Plains (1939), Stage to Tucson (1951), From Hell to Texas (1958) and Nevada Smith (1966). 
Other films that had scenes shot at Owens Lake or the nearby Alabama Hills where Owens Lake is visible includes Top Gun (1986), and Tremors (1990). 
The Cartago Wildlife Area continues to develop as a wildlife-viewing area for the public. The site is open year-round for viewing numerous bird species attracted to the ponds and wetlands as well as the ruins of a historic soda ash plant from the World War I era and the 1920s. 
Mono Lake is a saline soda lake in Mono County, California, formed at least 760,000 years ago as a terminal lake in an endorheic basin. The lack of an outlet causes high levels of salts to accumulate in the lake which make its water alkaline.
Inyo County is a county in the eastern central part of the U.S. state of California, located between the Sierra Nevada and the state of Nevada. In the 2020 census, the population was 19,016. The county seat is Independence. Inyo County is on the east side of the Sierra Nevada and southeast of Yosemite National Park in Central California. It contains the Owens River Valley; it is flanked to the west by the Sierra Nevada and to the east by the White Mountains and the Inyo Mountains. With an area of 10,192 square miles (26,397 km2), Inyo County is the second-largest county by area in California, after San Bernardino County. Almost one-half of that area is within Death Valley National Park. However, with a population density of 1.8 people per square mile, it also has the second-lowest population density in California, after Alpine County.
Keeler, formerly known as Hawley, is a census-designated place (CDP) in Inyo County, California, United States. Keeler is located on the east shore of Owens Lake 11.5 miles (19 km) south-southeast of New York Butte. The population was 71 people at the 2020 census, up from 66 at the 2010 census.
Lone Pine is a census-designated place (CDP) in Inyo County, California, United States. Lone Pine is located 16 mi (26 km) south-southeast of Independence, at an elevation of 3,727 ft (1,136 m). The population was 2,035 at the 2010 census, up from 1,655 at the 2000 census. The town is located in the Owens Valley, near the Alabama Hills and Mount Whitney, between the eastern peaks of the Sierra Nevada to the west and the Inyo Mountains to the east. The local hospital, Southern Inyo Hospital, offers standby emergency services. The town is named after a solitary pine tree that once existed at the mouth of Lone Pine Canyon. On March 26, 1872, the very large Lone Pine earthquake destroyed most of the town and killed 27 of its 250 to 300 residents.
Owens Valley is an arid valley of the Owens River in eastern California in the United States. It is located to the east of the Sierra Nevada, west of the White Mountains and Inyo Mountains, and north of the Mojave Desert. It sits on the west edge of the Great Basin. The mountain peaks on the West side reach above 14,000 feet (4,300 m) in elevation, while the floor of the Owens Valley is about 4,000 feet (1,200 m), making the valley the deepest in the United States. The Sierra Nevada casts the valley in a rain shadow, which makes Owens Valley "the Land of Little Rain." The bed of Owens Lake, now a predominantly dry endorheic alkali flat, sits on the southern end of the valley.
The California Water Wars were a series of political conflicts between the city of Los Angeles and farmers and ranchers in the Owens Valley of Eastern California over water rights.
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) is the largest municipal utility in the United States with 8,100 megawatts of electric generating capacity (2021-2022) and delivering an average of 435 million gallons of water per day to more than four million residents and local businesses in the City of Los Angeles.
The Los Angeles Aqueduct system, comprising the Los Angeles Aqueduct and the Second Los Angeles Aqueduct, is a water conveyance system, built and operated by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. The Owens Valley aqueduct was designed and built by the city's water department, at the time named The Bureau of Los Angeles Aqueduct, under the supervision of the department's Chief Engineer William Mulholland. The system delivers water from the Owens River in the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains to Los Angeles, California.
Frederick Eaton, known as Fred Eaton, was a major individual in the transformation and expansion of Los Angeles in the latter 19th century through early 20th century, in California. Eaton was the political mastermind behind the early 20th century Los Angeles Aqueduct project, designed by William Mulholland.
The Owens River is a river in eastern California in the United States, approximately 183 miles (295 km) long. It drains into and through the Owens Valley, an arid basin between the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada and the western faces of the Inyo and White Mountains. The river terminates at the endorheic Owens Lake south of Lone Pine, at the bottom of a 2,600 sq mi (6,700 km2) watershed.
The Mono Lake Committee (MLC) is an environmental organization based in Lee Vining, California in the United States. Its mission is to preserve Mono Lake, by reducing diversions of water from the Eastern Sierra watersheds by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP).
Inyo National Forest is a United States National Forest covering parts of the eastern Sierra Nevada of California and the White Mountains of California and Nevada. The forest hosts several superlatives, including Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous United States; Boundary Peak, the highest point in Nevada; and the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, which protects the oldest living trees in the world. The forest, encompassing much of the Owens Valley, was established by Theodore Roosevelt as a way of sectioning off land to accommodate the Los Angeles Aqueduct project in 1907, making the Inyo National Forest one of the least wooded forests in the U.S. National Forest system.
Manzanar was a town in Inyo County, California, founded by water engineer and land developer George Chaffey.
Laws is an unincorporated community in Inyo County, California. Laws is located 4 miles (6.4 km) northeast of Bishop on U.S. Route 6, towards the Nevada state line.
The Cerro Gordo Mines are a collection of abandoned mines located in the Inyo Mountains, in Inyo County, near Lone Pine, California. Mining operations spanned 1866 to 1957, producing high grade silver, lead, zinc ore, and more rarely gold ore and copper ore. Some ore was smelted on site, but larger capacity smelters were eventually constructed along the shore of nearby Owens Lake.
Searles Valley Minerals Inc. is a raw materials mining and production company with corporate offices in Overland Park, Kansas. It is owned by the Indian company Nirma. It has major operations in the Searles Valley and in Trona, California where it is the town's largest employer. The company produces borax, boric acid, soda ash, salt cake, and salt. It also owns the Trona Railway.
U.S. Route 395 (US 395) is a United States Numbered Highway, stretching from Hesperia, California to the Canadian border in Laurier, Washington. The California portion of US 395 is a 557-mile (896 km) route which traverses from Interstate 15 (I-15) in Hesperia, north to the Oregon state line in Modoc County near Goose Lake. The route clips into Nevada, serving the cities Carson City and Reno, before returning to California.
Rush Creek is a 27.2-mile-long (43.8 km) creek in California on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada, running east and then northeast to Mono Lake. Rush Creek is the largest stream in the Mono Basin, carrying 41% of the total runoff. It was extensively diverted by the Los Angeles Aqueduct system in the twentieth century until California Trout, Inc., the National Audubon Society, and the Mono Lake Committee sued Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) for continuous low flows in Rush Creek to maintain trout populations in good condition, which was ordered by the court in 1985.
The Audubon Kern River Preserve is a riparian nature reserve owned by the National Audubon Society in the US state of California, near Weldon in Kern County.
National Audubon Society v. Superior Court was a key case in California highlighting the conflict between the public trust doctrine and appropriative water rights. The Public Trust Doctrine is based on the principle that certain resources are too valuable to be privately owned and must remain available for public use. In National Audubon Society v. Superior Court, the court held that the public trust doctrine restricts the amount of water that can be withdrawn from navigable waterways. The basis for the Public Trust Doctrine goes back to Roman law. Under Roman law, the air, the rivers, the sea and the seashore were incapable of private ownership; they were dedicated to the use of the public. In essence, the public trust doctrine establishes the role of the state as having trustee environmental duties owed to the public that are subsequently enforceable by the public. There is judicial recognition of this, dictating that certain rights of the public are key to individual common law rights. Judicial recognition of the public trust doctrine has been established for tidelands and non-navigable waterways, submerged land and the waters above them, and preservation of a public interest.