Monthly Archives: October 2013

One Hundred Mules Walking







Mike on Jake the mule

On Friday, October 18, I grunted up into the saddle of a huge mule named Jake and began Day One of a 240 mile ride from the Owens Valley to Los Angeles. I can’t confirm that Jake was named after Jake Gettes, Jack Nicholson’s character in the classic film Chinatown, but there was a certain wild-eye look to him. ‘One Hundred Mules Walking’ is a moving art installation created by Metabolic Studio’s Lauren Bon. One hundred mules will ride the length of the 1913 Los Angeles Aqueduct from The Intake north of Independence all the way south to Los Angeles. Follow the water downhill in a conversation about the next 100 years.


Mule string crossing The Intake 1391463_10202305928228373_287266834_nEastern Sierra packers

Riding along with me were three members of Mayor Garcetti’s staff who deal with the LA Department of Water and Power. I chair the Inyo County Water Commission so this was like Christmas – a captive audience. The narrative ranged from Owens Lake dust to LADWP solar on undisturbed desert  land in our valley to the Inyo County/LA Longterm Water Agreement to the future survival of our valley’s small towns.. In between the Deputy Mayors suffered through me singing every cowboy/western song that I knew. “One Hundred Mules Walking’ was art meeting bureaucracy and much more.


Flag of the ‘One Hundred Mules Walking to Los Angeles’

Day Two didn’t include me and my ass, not Jake, told me that was fine. The ten mule strings moved on to Manzanar National Historic Site where the United States of America interned 10,000 Japanese-Americans and ‘aliens’ during WWII. Manzanar was the largest community in the Owens Valley in a very sad way. This ride is through the 1860’s ethnic cleansing of the Owens Valley Paiute by the US Calvary, through the complete destruction of Lone Pine in the 1872 Earthquake. There are more stories than can be told, but I just kept on talking. I hope all other riders do converse for the entire 27 days.

Day Three – the moving conversation rode into Lone Pine and trouble.








Mt. Whitney behing the mule

Not surprising, I guess, was the Saturday LA Times page one story that editorialized ‘One Hundred Mules Walking’ as a silly, locally unnoticed mule ride created by a rich woman and her bought-off non-profit followers. There was even a quote by the Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce Director saying no one was paying any attention at all. Having a quote-hungry diva as our town’s face and voice is an embarrassment. And having a similar writer for the LA Times helped editorialize an article about an event that actually brings much value to our Owens Valley and to the ‘conversation’ as a whole. We are talking history, water, economic survival here!

The road into Lone Pine from my home in the alabama Hills was packed with locals in cars and the back of pickups. I saw many visitors to the valley who just happened to meet the mules. I waded through through the Lion’s Club BBQ and a quilt raffle for scholarships. I dodged the Lone Pine High School cheerleaders belting out their ‘Movin’ Mules’ cheer. It seemed obvious to me that Lone Pine was fully engaged in this 100 mule thing. What’s up with the LATimes and our Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce lady.?


Inyo County Supervisor Matt Kingsley


Remote video and audio of the ride to LA – solar, of course.

Join in the conversation. Opinions are welcome although facts are more valued. What are the questions? What are the solutions?





LADWP Owens Valley Solar ‘Ranch’ – with horses?


Clay slick and Inyo Mountains Wilderness.

This relatively undisturbed desert habitat in our Owens Valley is scheduled to be covered with one million solar panels. A small loss in the larger picture, but a sad total loss for those two square miles. Inyo County’s comments from their previous Board of Supervisors suggested building a viewing platform for visitors? You might as well be viewing headstones.


Rose Springs corner notched point

In 2004 a proposed conservation easement on LADWP lands in Inyo and Mono counties was opposed by most Owens Valley residents and eventual the LA City Council. Los Angeles repeatedly referred to the land as ‘assets’ and the locals saw a DWP conspiracy in every shadow. If there had been a conservation easement accepted there would be no solar project proposal today. Mary Austin summed it up when she left the valley over 100 years ago, “These people don’t have enough sense to save themselves.”


Vegetated aeolian dunes resting on ancient Owens Lake bed.



Enough Water

The 1991 Inyo County/ Los Angeles Long-term Groundwater Agreement attempted to settle the partys’ litigation over water management and environmental destruction in the Owens Valley.  In 1969 the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) finished its Second LA Aqueduct (SLAA) and massive groundwater pumping commenced in 1970. Before that year was over the extent of the environmental violence was clearly felt even by the Inyo County Board of Supervisors. Fish Springs with 20,000 acre-feet/year flow (AF/yr) – extinct, Blackrock Springs – extinct, the springfield surrounding Independence – dead, water tables in all of the LADWP well fields dropped below the rooting zones of plant communities. Inyo County sued Los Angeles using the brand new California Environmental Act (CEQA).

No Fish Spgs

A one-horse rural county such as Inyo has shallow pockets. It is an understatement to describe this environmental justice struggle as a David versus Goliath battle. Inyo County is slightly larger than Connecticut with nearly 18,000 residents – just the LADWP has 10,000 employees. Los Angeles, although much smaller in areal extent, has nearly 4 million people. The courts agreed with Inyo that Los Angeles must write and adequate Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for their groundwater pumping project. LA had come for surface water with the 1913 aqueduct. Now they had come back with the 1969 Second Aqueduct to be filled with groundwater.

dead cow

Dead cow on Owens Lake

The Owens Valley is unique in California for being green in the summer instead of crispy golden brown. Groundwater close to the surface, supplying the root zone, supports phreatophytic plants explaining this anomaly. In the 1960’s LADWP quantified the volume of groundwater under the Owens River flood plain that was being taken up by plants and transpired. They came up 200,000 AF/yr of water being ‘wasted. Analysis was made showing that phreatophytes would die back, but they would be replaced by ‘other plants’. No problem.

south of W104 Jan22_2011 - Version 2

Such thinking and behavior by LADWP in the Owens Valley was the opening of the ‘second water war’. Since those years there has been a non-stopped effort by local environmental groups such as the Owens Valley Committee, Sierra Club, local chapter of CNPS and Inyo County to mitigate damage and stop addition assault. some water is back in 62 miles of the Lower Owens River and there are additionally various enhancements and mitigations. However,multiple issues are in still dispute between Inyo and LA. It will take years to work out disputes and details of possible solutions. Something as fundamental as flaws in the 1991 Long-term Groundwater Agreement and technical manual must be fixed in order to avoid endless conflicts in the future.