Best Available Control Measures: Aerial Portraits of Owens Lake

5096 Still image from CLUI video Zones T16, T13-3, Owens Lake, California, 2017.Famous as the lake that became a dangerous dustbowl after Los Angeles built its aqueduct a hundred years ago, Owens Lake has been transformed. Legally compelled into action, the Department of Water and Power has spent more than a billion dollars over the last twenty years, remaking a lake with as little water as possible.
The lake is now a constructed and managed landscape on an unprecedented scale, a cyborg, cubist version of a lake, fractured into fragments—gravel, grasses, tillage, furrows, wetlands, pools, shallows, depths, and islands—each engineered to perform a function, which collectively add up to make a lake that is acceptable to the future.
Though Owens Lake still doesn’t look like much from the ground, a hazy white mass extending into the distance at the base of the eastern Sierras, its visage from above is something else, altogether. The unique qualities of form and scale of this new terraformed landscape is shown in this exhibit through a series of aerial video portraits made by the Center for Land Use Interpretation as the DWP’s construction project nears completion and enters the stage of perpetual maintenance.

5137 Map of Owens Lake showing current dust control measures. DWP map.

Video Landscans of Dust Control Measures on Owens Lake by CLUI, 2017

Zones T27N, T29-3: sprinkler irrigation with intermittent ponds; non-uniform meandering ridges

Gravel Blanket (adjacent to Zone T21): gravel

Zone T1A-4: sprinkler irrigation

Zones T16, T13-3: shallow and deep ponds with islands; curving tillage

Zone T30-1: managed vegetation; land art; shallow and deep ponds with islands


This project is supported in part by a grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, a grant from the City of Los Angeles, Department of Cultural Affairs, and with support from the Metabolic Studio.