Southern California environment news and trends

LADWP says Owens Lake's 'Owengeti' could suggest new modes for dust control

KPCC/Molly Peterson

LADWP's Marty Adams says he calls one parcel of the Owens Dry Lake "the Owensgeti," after the grass and woodland Serengeti.

KPCC/Molly Peterson

In one 600-acre patch of the lake, LADWP has begun to mimic nature as an experiment. "We took this area and we releveled it so we put better angles on the dirt, and it worked well," Adams says.

Molly Peterson/KPCC

Using bulldozers, LADWP has been trying a new technique called "tillage." Putting a bulldozer at an angle, operators plow in a straight line several feet deep through soil to turn up a layer of clay that can hold salty particles down.

I went out to Owens Lake for a story on dust mitigation with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power back in April. When I did, Marty Adams and pretty much everyone else from the DWP I encountered were all eager to show me an area on the northeast side of the lake. Adams called it "the Owengeti."

The Serengeti is a grass-woodland in Tanzania and other countries in Africa, legendary for its beauty. (See, e.g., Toto, "Africa.") This 600-acre "Owengeti" is on the far side of the lake, away from Highway 395--unfortunate, says Adams, "because it's far from traffic. The average person sees the salt flats; they don't see the beautiful part on the east side." 

There's plenty of crusty white powder near the "Owengeti," too. It crunches satisfyingly underfoot, though I also was immediately burdened knowing that I contributed to the possibility of the particulate, PM10, flying through the air. "It's like walking on the moon. except i thought the moon would be firmer," Adams said. "It's like a powdered sugar donut." (Though I sort of think it's more like Entemann's crumb cake.)