Archaeological District for Owens Lake is all about telling the story

By Deb Murphy

Inyo’s Board of Supervisors knows all about a range of land designations and the restrictions that come with those designations. So, when the Supervisors held a workshop on the pursuit of an Archaeological District nomination for the Owens Lake, they were both curious and apprehensive.

Then Bureau of Land Management archaeologist Greg Haverstock explained the lake area’s cultural resources are already protected, “but the story has not been told.”

The unique story of Owens Lake, Haverstock said, is one of human behavior and adaptation to droughts. The lake drew down in dry years and expanded when the drought let up. The indigenous peoples moved with the lake along banks that possibly extended seven miles north of Lone Pine and three miles south of Olancha.

“Archaeologists have looked at pieces,” he said. “But we need a broad view to tell the story. You have to step back and look at the totality.”

“Does the past matter?” he asked. The process involves identifying and evaluating resources and then “giving those resources their just treatment.”

Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control Board initiated the process, and will pay for it, for very practical reasons. Great Basin has been working with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power for nearly 20 years to control air pollution blown off the dry lake. When faced with culturally sensitive areas, the protocol is to avoid disturbing those areas.

The district designation is accompanied by a work plan, a framework of alternative Best Available Control Measures (BACMs) that would both respect the resource and control emissions. “We believe we can reach the goals (of the 2013 agreement),” Great Basin Control Officer Phill Kiddoo told the board. The treatment of those areas identified as both sources of pollution and cultural significance will be defined in the work plan.

LADWP’s primary concern was the timeline. The department has to meet emission controls within a specified timeframe. “If the management plan gives clear direction,” the department rep said, “and additional treatments are identified, that’s good for us.”

Another concern is the impact on the Lower Owens River Project. “The devil’s in the details,” the rep said. “We’re trying to figure out the little devils.”

Kathy Bancroft has participated in the Cultural Resource Task Force for the past 14 years, identifying resources but with no clear path to protect them. Even the location of those sites are sensitive. If widely known, the sites could be swarmed with souvenir hunters and ransacked

We’ve watched our resources be destroyed,” she told the Board. “You’ve created a high maintenance project. It needs to be done so it can be sustained.”

In response to Supervisor Matt Kingsley’s question on the need to develop new BACMs, Bancroft said “If we discuss ahead of time and develop new control measures, we can meet both goals.”

Kiddoo explained the existing task force will be elevated to an all-inclusive “Cultural Task Force Plus” with county and other stake holder participation.

 

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