Healing ailing rivers is Mark Hill’s specialty. So when the tall and lean ecologist visits one of his works in progress, he’s prepared to paddle a long and sinuous route to assess the health of his watery patient.
In this case, his charge is the Lower Owens River, a 62-mile-long stretch left essentially dry in 1913 after its flows of Sierra snowmelt were diverted into the Los Angeles Aqueduct. After decades of political bickering, water was directed back into the riverbed in December, launching the largest river restoration effort ever attempted in the West.
Ecologists knew the Lower Owens would come back to life. But how fast would it rebuild itself? Which wildlife would appear first? Which plants?
Scientists have been surprised by some of the early answers, and to flesh out the details Hill recently took his first survey by kayak of the river. Hill, the lead scientist in the Lower Owens River Project, stepped into a blue inflatable 16-foot kayak, said “Let’s go,” and was soon scooting through the channel that cuts across the Owens Valley.
Highway 395 provides a gorgeous drive through the Eastern Sierra Nevada. It’s also an interesting place to observe the effects of LA’s ongoing thirst.