Owens Lake

The Owens Lake Dust Mitigation Program is the largest dust control project in the country, successfully mitigating 99 percent of the dust from a 48.6 square-mile area of the exposed dry lake bed. Located roughly 220 miles from downtown Los Angeles, the Owens Lake Dust Mitigation Project has been ongoing since the early 2000s, and addresses the environmental impact of the Los Angeles Aqueduct system while also serving to protect the Owens Lake ecosystem.


Fed by run-off from the snowcapped Sierra Nevada, Owens Lake once spanned 110 square miles in the southern end of Owens Valley. Throughout its history, the shoreline of Owens Lake has shifted with natural climatic changes. During wet climate periods in the Pleistocene, the lake overflowed and filled a string of lakes between all the way to Death Valley. At one point 27,000 years ago, the shoreline of Owens Lake extended north of Independence. During dry cycles, the lake evaporated, sometimes completely. In place of water, salts and sediments were left behind. 

Traces of the Past

The region yielded other resources as well, like grazing land, soda ash, trona, and borax. Weatherworn cattle chutes, abandoned mines and factories stand as testament to past human activity. Cerro Gordo remains a ghost town. In Keeler, the Carson and Colorado Railroad Depot and a talc mill still stand. Remnants of the Swansea Pier remain along the east shore. Charcoal kilns, cattle chutes, and a plate glass factory remain on the west shore. Amidst these relics, ranching and mining still take place today. 

Gifts of Rock and Water
People have long benefitted from the richness of the Owens Lake area. For at least 10,000 years, American Indians have lived here and harvested resources, including glass-sharp obsidian for arrow points and spearheads. In the mid-1800s, other resources, like silver and grazing land, began attracting prospectors and settlers. Located high above the town of present-day Keeler, Cerro Gordo, or “fat hill,” yielded the largest silver deposit in California. That deposit also created a freight challenge, moving bars of bullion to the western shore and timber and charcoal to the eastern shore. Eventually steamships were put to work. Travelling across the lake between Cartago and Swansea, the steamships reduced a three-day journey by mule team to a three-hour boat trip.