|Floor elevation||4,000 feet (1,200 m)|
|Length||75 miles (121 km)North to South|
|Native name||Payahǖǖnadǖ (Mono)|
|Population centers||Bishop, Lone Pine, Independence, Big Pine|
|Borders on|| Inyo Mountains (E)|
Coso Range (SE)
Rose Valley (S)
Sierra Nevada (W)
Chalfant Valley (N)
|Traversed by||U.S. Route 395|
Owens Valley (Numic: Payahǖǖnadǖ, meaning "place of flowing water") 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 (including Mount Whitney) 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 valley provides water to the Los Angeles Aqueduct, the source of one-third of the water for Los Angeles, and was the area at the center of one of the fiercest and longest-running episodes of the California Water Wars.These episodes inspired aspects of the 1974 film Chinatown . The current arid nature of the valley is mostly due to LADWP diverting the water of the region. Owens Lake was completely emptied by 1926, only 13 years after LA began diverting water.
Towns in the Owens Valley include Bishop, Lone Pine, Independence and Big Pine; about 25,000 people live in the valley. The major road in the Owens Valley is U.S. Route 395.
About three million years ago, the Sierra Nevada Fault and the White Mountains Fault systems became active with repeated episodes of slip earthquakes gradually producing the impressive relief of the eastern Sierra Nevada and White Mountain escarpments that bound the northern Owens Valley-Mono Basin region.
Owens Valley is a graben—a down-dropped block of land between two vertical faults—the westernmost in the Basin and Range Province. It is also part of a trough which extends from Oregon to Death Valley called the Walker Lane.
The western flank of much of the valley has large moraines coming off the Sierra Nevada. These unsorted piles of rock, boulders, and dust were pushed to where they are by glaciers during the last ice age. An excellent example of a moraine is on State Route 168 as it climbs into Buttermilk Country.
This graben was formed by a long series of earthquakes, such as the 1872 Lone Pine earthquake, that have moved the graben down and helped move the Sierra Nevada up. The graben is much larger than the depth of the valley suggests; gravity studies suggest that 10,000 feet (3,048 m) of sedimentary rock mostly fills the graben and that a very steep escarpment is buried under the western length of the valley. The topmost part of this escarpment is exposed at Alabama Hills.
The Owens Valley has many mini-volcanoes, such as Crater Mountain in the Big Pine volcanic field. Smaller versions of the Devils Postpile, can be found, for example, by Little Lake.
The valley contains plants adapted to alkali flat habitat. One of these, the Owens Valley checkerbloom (Sidalcea covillei), is endemic to Owens Valley.
The valley was inhabited in late prehistoric times by the Timbisha (also called Panamint or Koso) in the extreme south end around Owens Lake and by the Mono tribe (also called Owens Valley Paiute) in the central and northern portions of the valley. The Timbisha speak the Timbisha language, classified in the Numic branch of Uto-Aztecan language family. The closest related languages are Shoshoni and Comanche. The Eastern Mono speak a dialect of the Mono language, which is also Numic but is more closely related to Northern Paiute. The Timbisha presently live in Death Valley at Furnace Creek although most families also have summer homes in the Lone Pine colony. The Eastern Mono live in several colonies from Lone Pine to Bishop. Trade between Native Americans of the Owens Valley and coastal tribes such as the Chumash has been indicated by the archaeological record.
On May 1, 1834, Joseph R. Walker entered Owens Valley at the mouth of Walker Pass. Walker and his group of 52 men traveled up the valley on their way back to the Humboldt Sink, and back up the Humboldt River to the Rocky Mountains.
In 1845, John C. Fremont named the Owens valley, river, and lake for Richard Owens, one of his guides. Camp Independence was established on Oak Creek nearby modern Independence, California, on July 4, 1862,during the Owens Valley Indian War.
From 1942 to 1945, during World War II, the first Japanese American Internment camp operated in the valley at Manzanar near Independence, California.
In the early 20th century, the valley became the scene of a struggle between local residents and the city of Los Angeles over water rights. William Mulholland, superintendent of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), planned the 223-mile (359 km) Los Angeles Aqueduct, completed in 1913, which diverted water from the Owens River. The water rights were acquired deceitfully, often splitting water cooperatives and pitting neighbors against one another. In 1924, local farmers were fed up with the purchases and erupted in violence, sabotaging parts of the water system.
Eventually, Los Angeles acquired a large portion of the water rights to over 300,000 acres (121,000 ha) of land in the valley, almost completely diverting the water inflows away from Owens Lake. Gary Libecap of the University of California, Santa Barbara, observed that the price Los Angeles was willing to pay to other water sources per volume of water was far higher than what the farmers received. : 89 Farmers who resisted the pressure from Los Angeles until 1930 received the highest price for their land; most farmers sold their land from 1905 to 1925, and received less than Los Angeles was willing to pay. However, the sale of their land brought the farmers substantially more income than if they had kept the land for farming and ranching. : 90 None of the sales were made under threat of eminent domain. As a result of these acquisitions, the lake subsequently dried up completely, leaving the present alkali flat which plagues the southern valley with alkali dust storms.
In 1970, LADWP completed a second aqueduct from Owens Valley. More surface water was diverted, and groundwater was pumped to feed the aqueduct. Owens Valley springs and seeps dried and disappeared, and groundwater-dependent vegetation began to die.
Years of litigation followed. In 1997, Inyo County, Los Angeles, the Owens Valley Committee, the Sierra Club, and other concerned parties signed a Memorandum of Understanding that specified terms by which the lower Owens River would be rewatered by June 2003.LADWP missed this deadline and was sued again. Under another settlement, this time including the State of California, Los Angeles promised to rewater the lower Owens River by September 2005. In July 2004, Los Angeles mayor James Hahn proposed barring all future development on its Owens Valley holdings by proposing a conservation easement for all LADWP land. They did not meet this extended deadline. In 2008, Los Angeles fulfilled its promise and rewatered the lower Owens River.
Pursuant to a 2014 agreement between the city and Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District (GBUAPCD, the Owens Valley air quality regulators), LADWP began using a new method of suppressing airborne dust from the dry bed of Owens Lake.In 2022, the GBUAPCD issued an order and subsequently fined the Los Angeles utility for ignoring an order to control dust on a 5-acre patch of dry lake bed. The LADWP responded with a lawsuit, accusing the air district of exceeding its authority and ordering dust control measures without first conducting an environmental analysis of its impacts, as required by the California Environmental Quality Act. . A California Superior Court ruled that the 2014 agreement doesn't cover the dispute and the fines levied by GBUAPCD are unenforceable.
The Owens Valley Radio Observatory located near Westgard Pass is one of ten dishes making up the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA).
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.
Bishop is a city in California, United States. It is the largest populated place and only incorporated city in Inyo County. Bishop is located near the northern end of the Owens Valley, at an elevation of 4,150 feet (1,260 m). The city was named after Bishop Creek, flowing out of the Sierra Nevada; the creek was named after Samuel Addison Bishop, a settler in the Owens Valley. Bishop is a commercial and residential center, while many vacation destinations and tourist attractions in the Sierra Nevada are located nearby.
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.
Mount Whitney is the highest mountain in the contiguous United States and the Sierra Nevada, with an elevation of 14,505 feet (4,421 m). It is in East–Central California, on the boundary between California's Inyo and Tulare counties, 84.6 miles (136.2 km) west-northwest of North America's lowest point, Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park, at 282 ft (86 m) below sea level. The mountain's west slope is in Sequoia National Park and the summit is the southern terminus of the John Muir Trail, which runs 211.9 mi (341.0 km) from Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley. The eastern slopes are in Inyo National Forest in Inyo County.
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.
The Mono–Inyo Craters are a volcanic chain of craters, domes and lava flows in Mono County, Eastern California. The chain stretches 25 miles (40 km) from the northwest shore of Mono Lake to the south of Mammoth Mountain. The Mono Lake Volcanic Field forms the northernmost part of the chain and consists of two volcanic islands in the lake and one cinder cone volcano on its northwest shore. Most of the Mono Craters, which make up the bulk of the northern part of the Mono–Inyo chain, are phreatic volcanoes that have since been either plugged or over-topped by rhyolite domes and lava flows. The Inyo volcanic chain form much of the southern part of the chain and consist of phreatic explosion pits, and rhyolitic lava flows and domes. The southernmost part of the chain consists of fumaroles and explosion pits on Mammoth Mountain and a set of cinder cones south of the mountain; the latter are called the Red Cones.
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 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.
The Indigenous peoples of the Great Basin are Native Americans of the northern Great Basin, Snake River Plain, and upper Colorado River basin. The "Great Basin" is a cultural classification of indigenous peoples of the Americas and a cultural region located between the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada, in what is now Nevada, and parts of Oregon, California, Idaho, Wyoming, and Utah. The Great Basin region at the time of European contact was ~400,000 sq mi (1,000,000 km2). There is very little precipitation in the Great Basin area which affects the lifestyles and cultures of the inhabitants.
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 are a Native American people who traditionally live in the central Sierra Nevada, the Eastern Sierra, the Mono Basin, and adjacent areas of the Great Basin. They are often grouped under the historical label "Paiute" together with the Northern Paiute and Southern Paiute - but these three groups, although related within the Numic group of Uto-Aztecan languages, do not form a single, unique, unified group of Great Basin tribes.
The Big Pine Band of Owens Valley Paiute Shoshone Indians of the Big Pine Reservation are a federally recognized tribe of Mono and Timbisha Indians in California.
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.
The Timbisha are a Native American tribe federally recognized as the Death Valley Timbisha Shoshone Band of California. They are known as the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe and are located in south central California, near the Nevada border. As of the 2010 Census the population of the Village was 124. The older members still speak the ancestral language, also called Timbisha.
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.
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.
The Bishop Paiute Tribe, formerly known as the Paiute-Shoshone Indians of the Bishop Community of the Bishop Colony is a federally recognized tribe of Mono and Timbisha Indians of the Owens Valley, in Inyo County of eastern California. As of the 2010 Census the population was 1,588.
The Paiute-Shoshone Indians of the Lone Pine Community of the Lone Pine Reservation is a federally recognized tribe of Mono and Timbisha Native American Indians near Lone Pine in Inyo County, California. They are related to the Owens Valley Paiute.
ikad i are a band of Northern Paiute people who live near Mono Lake in Mono County, California. They are the southernmost band of Northern Paiute. The Kutzadika’a have resided in the Mono Lake–Yosemite region since time immemorial.(??)