cattailI worked along the river, mostly in the cool water cutting tules, from 7AM to noon. Wonderful workout. Song sparrows sang to us from the bull rushes and common nighthawks flew overhead calling their nasal ‘peeeent’. There was help from the Lone Pine Paiute-Shoshone Tribe, the Inyo County Water Department and the Bishop Paiute Tribe clearing choke points on approximately 1/4 mile of channel. We might have all 1.5 miles of channel cleared to the Keeler Bridge by winter. We need to cultivate paddlers, birders and fishers. They become constituents.

The Lower Owens River was rewatered on December 6, 2006. The ‘agreed to’ date promised by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power was June of 2003. Oh well, “Litigation is cheaper than water”, I’ve been told across the table more than once. Frustration with delay is what you experience. Sometimes a stick in the eye.

Established flows are 40 cubic feet per second (cfs) for the year round base flow with up to 200 cfs for the mimicked spring runoff flow seen in average years. This is an artificial river system; it lacks the natural functions of 2000 cfs flows to scour tules and spread willow and cottonwood seed up onto the benches. Cattails and bull rush crowd the channel and at times choke it off. It is an unnatural system that requires human intervention in order to reach ecological goals. Nothing new, this is what exists on virtually every watershed in California.

So I slide into the water this morning to cut cattails and bull rush with a rice knife designed thousands of years ago. Have faith in the ergonomics.. I will provide the artificial intervention necessary. I will scour the tules that melting snow once cut away each spring. It is a hot day, but the water is cool and the work with others who care about this river is enjoyable. “It’s not always meetings”, I tell people who profess the defense of Mother Nature. “Sometimes you need to go out and get dirty”, I share.  Stewardship. “Where are all of these champions today? Working, not working, disengaged? A Nature deficit? A reality deficit?

Personally, I am committed to the 62 miles of the rewatered Lower Owens River. I need no motivation. I spent decades in meetings, settlement conferences and court rooms. This river, with all of its imperfections, is far better than the dry channel, filled with scattered tumbleweed and dust.    “Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good”, someone said – old advice, good advice.


My daughter Phoebe and Jake celebrating the first water in the river in 83 years.




3 thoughts on “Intervention

  1. Steve Baldwin

    Well said Mike. Just with I had the time to come out and help. Once Bruce and I have the farm running more smoothly I’m hopeful that I can volunteer some time to projects like this, that matter.

  2. Karen

    Just got a link from Chris Clarke to your website. It’s wonderful to think of the Owens River running. I have no particular ties to the valley, except that where I studied geology in the ’00s it was/is a favorite place for field trips. Mazourka Canyon, Vaughn Gulch, a bit of the Alabama Hills… but I was always struck by the beauty of the valley itself, the rosy Sierras at sunrise, the stoic White Mountains at sunset, the charming towns, the friendly people who put up with being invaded by a group of 15 or so students. Death Valley, where these trips usually progressed, is amazing in its own way, but Owens Valley stole my heart.

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