Politicians and LA officials floated through the Eastern Sierra Wednesday. Before the big winds brought trouble to the Owens Valley, Antonio Villaraigosa, the Mayor of Los Angles came to adjust the gates that control the flow to the Lower Owens River Project. Last time the Mayor came to the area, he opened the gates that restored some flow to 62 miles of river, mostly dry since the water was diverted south. This time, Villaraigosa was here to take a boat tour and turn the water flow up several notches.
Since the winter of 2006, a gate built into the diversion dam that sends the Owens River into the LA aqueduct releases water into the formerly dry stretch of the lower Owens River. Its at this site that the Mayor flew in by helicopter on Wednesday.
In front of a small crowd of local officials, reporters, and activists the Mayor spoke of how in just over a year life has returned to the river. He also spoke of the overall commitment to the environment that the City has made under his administration.
Villaraigosa spoke of turning the oasis of the Owens Valley into desert so that the desert in LA could become an oasis. With the return of water into the Lower Owens, now was the time to “share,” he said.
Villaraigosa then headed out to the controls that slowly release the water into the Lower Owens. It didn’t look like much at first, but over the next week that will change. The court order that set the Lower Owens River Project in motion calls for a constant flow of 40 cubic feet per second, but for the next week, the flows will be ramped up, peaking at 200 cubic feet per second to simulate a natural spring flood.
With the simulated flood flows turned up, local dignitaries, reporters, and the Mayor of Los Angeles hopped into canoes and drift boats. The Mayor grabbed his paddle and headed out in a yellow canoe. As a possible sign of the changing political climate, Mark Bagley with the Sierra Club, instrumental in the lawsuits that got the project moving, sat next to DWP General Manager David Nehai, in the drift boat from Brocks Sporting Goods. The small armada of floating dignitaries then headed down stream for an hour-long float trip through a stretch of river that could have been walked a year ago.