Stream with mountains in the background

LADWP owns over 314,000 acres of mostly undeveloped watershed lands in the Eastern Sierra. Click below to find out more on our watershed management approaches and projects that are designed to enhance river ecosystems and protect all watershed resources.

Eastern Sierra Watershed Management

Grass valley with pond in the foreground, and Eastern Sierra Snow capped Mountains in the background

The goal of LADWP’s natural resource management is to employ best management practices (BMPs) for land and water uses that maintain water supplies to the City of Los Angeles while protecting water quality, habitat, biodiversity, as well as threatened and endangered species throughout the watershed. Since the LADWP owns most of the bottomland in the Owens Valley, BMPs must also incorporate recreational uses as well as sustainable agriculture.

LADWP’s natural resource management concept recognizes that the Owens Valley consists of several sub-watersheds (Mono Basin, Upper Owens, Owens Gorge, Middle Owens, Lower Owens, and Owens Lake) that must be managed as a single watershed. The ecosystem within this watershed is a continuum; not a set of isolated, unrelated parts. Sub-watersheds are connected ecologically and management actions in one sub-watershed will have effects in adjacent sub-watersheds.

LADWP also emphasizes the role people living and working in the Owens Valley play in ecosystem management. Although the LADWP is the largest landowner in the Owens Valley, human perception, values, world views, and traditions must be taken into account and incorporated into management goals and plans.

The key to good watershed management is good land use and water management in sub-watersheds. Land management that prevents soil erosion and promotes vegetation cover protects water quality and minimizes water losses. Good management of upstream land and water resources prevents water quality and quantity problems downstream.

Since the early 1990s, the LADWP has focused on natural resource projects that restore riparian vegetation along the Owens River and tributaries as well as the rehabilitation of degraded or dewatered stream reaches throughout the watershed. In addition to water quality and water quantity benefits from these projects, plant and animal biodiversity has increased. Fish and wildlife have also increased with more and improved habitat as there are more acres of wetlands in the watershed than in decades past.

The overall Owens Valley ecosystem, dysfunctional for many decades because of water diversion, is gradually being restored to a functional ecosystem as river reaches in the Owens Gorge and the Lower Owens River are re-watered. Management of natural resources within a watershed context also prevents, or minimizes, conflicts with state and federal agencies as well as environmental groups over city water supplies because management is seen as holistic and balanced.

LADWP can point to numerous successes in ecosystem restoration throughout the Owens Valley. LADWP, through real-time management experience, is today one of the leading institutions in ecosystem restoration and watershed management. Research performed by the LADWP in support of its management has advanced ecosystem restoration science and contributed materially to the understanding of natural processes and ecosystem function at the watershed level. The approaches and concepts the LADWP has developed in the Owens Valley watershed are a model for other watersheds and, in fact, set the standards against which other watershed projects around the world can be measured.

LADWP’s commitment to improving the Owens Valley watershed has not gone unrecognized. Through publications in scientific journals, presentations at professional conferences, newspaper articles, television and radio shows, videos, public forums, and small focus groups, the renaissance taking place in the Owens Valley is being heard. 

Mono Basin Watershed

Mono Lake Level Restoration

Photo of man fishing at a stream with mountains in the background

Diversion of tributary flows to Mono Lake resulted in lowered lake water surfaces. In 1993, the LADWP began final flow releases to restore Mono Lake to a water surface level of 6392 feet above mean sea level.

Wetlands Enhancement

Historic wetlands adjacent to Mono Lake declined with lowered lake levels. In addition to raising Mono Lake to historic levels, the Department is participating in a plan to restore and rehabilitate 1100-1200 acres of wetlands around the lake.

Rush Creek Restoration

Rush Creek is a tributary to Mono Lake. Prior to water diversion, Rush Creek supported a brown trout fishery and riparian system that was an important component of the Mono Basin ecosystem. Following lengthy court proceedings, the Department’s approach to natural restoration of Rush Creek’s fishery and riparian habitat using land and flow management was validated by the state Water Board. Restoration of the creek is underway with monitoring and adaptive management as the key tools to track improvements.

Lee Vining Creek Restoration

Pair of people walking along a trail next to flowing river

Lee Vining Creek is also a Mono Lake tributary and parallels Rush Creek. Lee Vining also supported a trout fishery and  riparian system important to the Mono Basin ecosystem. The state Water Board validated the Department’s approach to natural restoration of Lee Vining Creek. After several million dollars spent on court ordered artificial structures and channels that failed, the Department is proceeding with flow management that mimics natural conditions to restore the streams fishery and riparian system. Like Rush Creek, monitoring and adaptive management will be a long-term effort on Lee Vining Creek. Proper flow and land management gives nature the tools to produce healthy and sustainable habitats.

Upper Owens Valley Watershed

Upper Owens River Riparian Project

Development of land use and grazing strategies for the Upper Owens River was the next logical project to protect downstream water quality and quantity. As with the other tributary projects, riparian response to management is monitored and grazing strategies amended periodically to attain project goals.

Convict Creek Riparian Project

Man fishing at rivers edge, snow capped mountains in background

Convict Creek began as a demonstration of how riparian habitat (streamside vegetation) will improve with good grazing strategies and land management. LADWP recognizes the need for riparian vegetation to buffer erosion and runoff into Crowley Lake in order to protect water quality. Since it began in 1989, this project has shown tremendous results that even the grazing lessees are proud of. In effect, the project successfully demonstrated that sustainable use (grazing) is compatible with protecting the watershed ecosystem.

McGee Creek Riparian Project

Given the success of the Convict Creek demonstration, the LADWP next initiated grazing strategies to develop riparian habitat on McGee Creek that is also a direct tributary to Crowley Lake.

Mammoth Creek Riparian Project

Mammoth Creek flows through an extensive grazing area at the source of the Owens River. Because this stream is situated in the upper-most reach of the Owens River, improvement in water quality and quantity in the downstream reaches of the Owens and Crowley Lake required buffering runoff from the pastures with riparian vegetation.

Long Valley Land Management

Fisherman walking through gate door of metal fence in grace field.

To meet the goals of employing best management practices, to assist in improving water quality in Crowley Lake and its tributaries, and continue to deliver quality and sufficient quantities of water to downstream users, the LADWP with its lessees will develop land and water management plans, implement these plans, and monitor the results of the plans in the Upper Owens River watershed in the upcoming years. These plans will be developed so as to meet best management practices (BMP) and include plans for grazing management, recreation, and irrigation use in the Upper Owens River watershed. An approach has been developed for the land and water management planning and work will begin in the spring of 1999.

Crowley Lake Recreation Management

LADWP maintains close coordination with the CDFG and the Fish Camp concession on Crowley Lake to develop recreation plans such as low impact camping at developed sites, road closures and waste handling. Recreational activities and improvements must dovetail with watershed plans.

Owens River Gorge Watershed

Gorge Rewatering Project

Man fishing at rivers edge, foothills in the background

The Owens Gorge Rewatering Project is LADWP's premier restoration program. The Owens River through the Owens Gorge (Gorge) is being rebuilt following 50 years of dewatering. The innovative approaches to restoring ecosystem function in the Gorge has been a gold mine of information and new knowledge of natural processes. The lessons learned in the Gorge are being translated to the Lower Owens River Project and other stream restoration efforts throughout the Valley. Today, the Gorge brown trout fishery is without doubt the best trout fishery in the Eastern Sierra Nevada, and probably one of the best trout fisheries in the West. Riparian habitat and biodiversity have exploded in the Gorge; bird species long absent from the ecosystem are returning to the Gorge in surprising numbers and variation.

Threatened & Endangered Fish Sanctuary

In the course of the Gorge restoration project, LADWP recognized that native fish, particularly the threatened and endangered Owens Tui Chub, must be an integral part of the management effort. Consequently, LADWP designated a reach of the Owens River immediately below Long Valley Dam as a sanctuary for Owens Tui Chub. The plan is to allow the species to recover in a high quality, predator-free habitat for eventual re-introduction to the Owens Gorge. The LADWP is currently working with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the California Department of Fish and Game, and other state and federal agencies in making the Owens Tui Chub sanctuary a reality.

Middle Owens River Watershed

Land Management Planning

In 1999, the LADWP will initiate watershed planning for the Middle Owens River sub-watershed. Management plans similar to those developed for the Lower Owens River Project will be developed which have a watershed context and synchronize with sub-watershed management upstream and downstream. Grazing strategies that meet best management practices and desired range conditions will be established by allotment.

Fish and Wildlife Habitat Management

Two kids fishing at edge of lake

One focus of planning will be to develop fish and wildlife (including wetlands) habitat management strategies. Management plans will consist of goals and objectives compatible with other sub-watershed plans. Long-term monitoring will determine trends and attainment of goals. As in other sub-watersheds, adaptive management will be the principle mechanism LADWP relies upon in its decision making.

Fish Slough Conservation Area

LADWP has been closely involved with the Fish Slough Conservation Area since land was set aside for a native fish sanctuary. Fish Slough provides high quality habitat for Owens Tui Chub and Owens pupfish, both native species and threatened and endangered. LADWP works in close cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management, the California Department of Fish and Game, and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service on management and programs to improve habitat. 

Lower Owens River Watershed

The Lower Owens River Project

Arial photo of Owens River

The Lower Owens River Project (LORP) settles more than 24 years of litigation between the LADWP and Inyo County over groundwater pumping and water exports. This project is intended to mitigate for a host of lost environmental values in the reach of the Owens River from the Los Angeles Aqueduct Intake to Owens Lake as well as associated springs, seeps, off-river lakes, and ponds. The project is the largest restoration effort undertaken by the LADWP. It has an extensive scope and includes a geographic area 65 miles long and across the Owens Valley from the White Mountains to the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This area has been designated the Lower Owens River Conservation area and consists entirely of LADWP property. This project includes not only restoration of the river, but developing habitat connectivity with off-river habitats (numerous ponds and lakes) and thousands of acres of wetlands, riparian pasture and upland grazing management, sanctuaries for T&E bird, fish, and plant species, recreation plans, and a pumpback facility. The project was initiated in 1993 with a controlled flow study, data acquisition, and geographic information system data development. LADWP and consultants are now in the final stages of developing management plans for all resource components in the ecosystem.

River Management

The Lower Owens River will be managed with a base flow of 40 cubic feet per second (cfs) and an annual riparian (freshet period) flow of up to 200 cfs. These flows will allow natural processes to create diverse and complex fisheries and riparian habitat.

Wildlife/Wetlands Management

The LORP will result in the creation of hundreds of acres of new wetland habitat for the benefit of wading birds, shore birds, and riparian species. Elk, deer, and other animals will benefit from the extensive wildlife habitat that will accompany the water and land management actions.

Spring & Seep Habitat Management

Over 100 springs and seeps have been inventoried in detail. Representative springs and seeps will be selected for long-term monitoring to measure changes caused by groundwater pumping. Some springs will be identified for restoration.

Threatened & Endangered Species Conservation

Development of a plan for indigenous threatened and endangered (T & E) species of fish, wildlife and plants, forms a part of the overall goal of the project to benefit biodiversity and comply with federal and state laws. The T & E plan focuses on the occurrence, distribution, and habitat requirements of the federally listed species, as well as for selected federal and state species of concern. To ensure that the plan is not in conflict with the habitat requirements of other species of the planning area, information on candidate species of concern in addition to the federal T & E are being incorporated. The preliminary plan will identify conservation areas within the Lower Owens River planning area and incorporate all the actions planned to support recovery of T&E species. Most if not all of the planned actions within the Lower Owens project will benefit identified threatened and endangered species and measures are being taken to fully integrate T&E species into all elements of the planning process.

Monitoring & Adaptive Management

The LORP is a long-term commitment to monitoring trends, measuring attainment of goals, and decision-making on a host of ecological issues through adaptive management. Monitoring and adaptive management represents a major effort over many years to reach goals set for the LORP.

Baker and Hogback Creek Management

Two high quality riparian systems, Baker and Hogback creeks, in the Lower Owens River will be managed for their unique values for threatened and endangered bird species and associated habitat.

Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs)

HCPs are one of the many programs LADWP performs on an ecosystem-wide basis that benefits the whole watershed management effort includes managing threatened and endangered species. While there are some existing sanctuaries for T&E species, and others in the development stage, the effort to maintain water deliveries to the city without creating conflicts with T&E species is too often piecemeal. LADWP has initiated habitat conservation plans for all T&E species on all LADWP-controlled lands beginning with fish in 1999. Successful implementation of HCPs will allow LADWP to continue water delivery operations for perhaps 40 years without risk of conflict with T&E species and issues.

Resource Monitoring

Vegetation Mapping: Another ecosystem-wide program is the development of new vegetation maps at regular intervals for all LADWP-controlled lands in the Owens Valley. These maps illustrate vegetation changes over time that is essential information for watershed management and planning. These maps, and associated data, like most LADWP databases, are available to other agencies, universities, and researchers.

Aerial Photography: LADWP also updates its library of aerial photography and satellite images at prescribed intervals. Again, this information is essential in watershed management and photos and data are always made available to interested parties.

Land Use Management

Water export, grazing/ irrigation, and recreation are the three primary uses of the Lower Owens watershed. The future quality and quantity of water to be supplied to Los Angeles is dependent on the management of both the water and the land. Grazing lease management plans are being prepared for each of the leases so as to meet best management practices and to conform to the stated goals and objectives of the LORP. Elements covered in the plans and future implementation include: threatened and endangered species, livestock and elk grazing, waterfowl management, recreation, and water quality both in the uplands and the riparian areas. Management plans are being designed to promote biodiversity and a healthy ecosystem while allowing for the continuation of sustainable land uses. The individual lease plans will be used to build the land use management plan for the Lower Owens River and to continue to be in compliance with state and federal laws that protect water quality and threatened and endangered species.

Recreation Management

As the restoration effort proceeds and the river and wetlands increase in biomass and diversity, the area will undoubtedly attract an increasing number of tourists and other outdoor recreation enthusiasts. Any increase in tourism and other recreation will be an economic boom to retailers and hotels in Lone Pine, Independence, and Bishop. LADWP will adaptively manage recreation to prevent harm to the ecosystem and to minimize user conflicts. LADWP expects to be proactive in our management as recreation use increases. Klondike, Warren, and Diaz lakes are valued recreation areas in the Lower Owens River. LADWP will continue to provide management that promotes water sports, fishing, and hunting opportunities on these large lakes

Owens Lake Watershed

Lower Owens River Project (LORP) Coordination

The recent settlement of the Owens Lake dust issue will involve the Lower Owens River restoration in terms of water delivery via wetlands in the Delta, operation of the pumpback facility, and overall watershed management. To ensure that management is consistent, coordination with groundwater pumping and water distribution will be an on-going activity.

Spring & Seep Habitat Management

Groundwater pumping on the dry lakebed could have some effect of springs and seeps located on the margins of the lake. Most of these springs and seeps have been included in the inventory conducted for the LORP. Coordinated management with river and lake springs and seeps will be required as dust control efforts progress.

Wetland Management

The Delta region of the lake is the point at which the Lower Owens River flows into the lake. There is an existing wetland in the Delta over 900 acres in size.  Additional wetland development and management will be associated with areas receiving water for dust control. New wetland areas need to be managed in context with the other sub-watersheds.

Owens Valley Ecosystem

Master Watershed Plan

A master planning effort will be initiated in 1999 to develop a program that encompasses the numerous sub-watershed projects into one over-arching plan. Many of the on-going projects were implemented in different years for a variety of purposes. Under the watershed management concept, LADWP needs to incorporate goals and objectives of individual projects within the goals of total watershed management. This may mean realigning some sub-watershed projects to be more supportive of total watershed management goals, or to more effectively relate to other sub-watershed management actions. Given the great number of environmental projects underway, LADWP must always be evaluating purpose and direction of individual projects within the context of total watershed management.  Master planning will improve the LADWP’s ability to prioritize effort and allocate resources to achieve the greatest benefits.
Inyo County Cooperative Vegetation Studies - LADWP has an on-going cooperative program with Inyo County to monitor vegetation at selected well sites and other areas to track changes caused by groundwater pumping.

Interagency Wildlife Surveys - LADWP participates with the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and other agencies in bald eagle, elk, and deer surveys.

Noxious Plant Control

Photo of saltcedar branch

LADWP has been implementing an eradication program to control noxious plants such as pepperweed and saltcedar. These plants can displace native vegetation and threaten watershed integrity. Controlling outbreaks before they become major problems is key to the success of this program. Proactive watershed management strategies will aid in preventing future establishment of invasion plants.

Inter-Agency Coordination

One of the LADWP's primary tasks in managing natural resources throughout the Owens Valley is coordinating activities and plans with state, federal, and county agencies. Through cooperation and coordination with the Lahontan Water Quality Control Board, CDFG, United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), BLM, USFS, Inyo county, and Mono county, the LADWP can settle regulatory requirements and obtain requisite permits in a timely fashion. Coordination with the Lahontan Water Quality Control Board will be particularly important in the future because California has declared the Owens Valley one of five watersheds on which to focus their new watershed initiative program. The LADWP is a member of the Interagency Task Force that meets monthly to update each other on agency activities and coordination needs.

Watershed Management Goals

Arial photo on to winding river
  • Strive for a healthy watershed
  • Improve water quality
  • Improve water-use efficiency
  • Implement Best Management Practices
  • Work with LADWP lessees to develop final BMPs
  • Utilize an adaptive management approach
  • Maintain compatibility with water gathering activities and cost effective Aqueduct operation
  • Avoid or minimize resource conflicts that may threaten Los Angeles water supply

Crowley Lake Tributary Stream Enhancement Program

Historical Overview

Throughout the west, livestock grazing and other historic land uses that began more than a century ago, along with increasing use of streams for fishing, hunting and other forms of public recreation, have impacted vegetation along streams, resulting in declining fishery and wildlife habitat and water quality. In recent years public interest in the protection and enhancement of these important resources has grown.

Project Development

Man fishing at edge of river, with snow cap mountains in the background

In 1990, recognizing the need to improve stream conditions, LADWP biologists, ranch lessees, and consultants with riparian habitat enhancement expertise completed environmental studies of tributaries to Crowley Lake in California's Eastern High Sierra Mountains. The studies showed the need for additional pasture fencing which would allow both recreational and livestock use of the areas, while promoting natural improvement in streamside habitat.

In 1991, LADWP staff, lessees, and consultants began developing plans to modify fencing and grazing practices in the Crowley Lake tributary area. They had two goals: to provide ranchers with the tools to effectively control, based upon scientific criteria, livestock timing and distribution in pastures and along the creeks; and to provide the public with convenient parking locations and creek access points that reduce human impacts to streams and adjacent wet meadows.

Implementation of the plans began in 1992 with the installation of the first fencing along Convict Creek. Since then the LADWP has spent more than a half million dollars on the project.

Owens Lake

Satellite image of Owens Lake

Owens Lake is the remnant of a large prehistoric freshwater lake, which extended some 60 miles up and down the Owens Valley and was over 300 feet deep. Gradually, as the climate of the area changed from post-glacial to semi-arid, the lake began to dry up. By the time settlers entered the valley in the mid 19th century the lake had become a shallow saline desert sink only a fraction of the size it had been in prehistoric times.

Dissolved minerals and salts in the water, which had flowed into Owens Lake over many millennia, had concentrated through evaporation to the point where only a few primitive organisms could survive in the waters of the lake such as algae, brine shrimp, and brine flies. By 1905, diversion of water by farmers in the Owens Valley, coupled with drought in the region, had shrunk the lake even further; to approximately 60% of what it was in the mid 1800s. By 1913, the City of Los Angeles had purchased much of the water rights in the Owens Valley and had completed the Los Angeles Aqueduct to divert most of the remaining water in the Owens River south to Los Angeles. As a result, the lakebed has been essentially dry since the late 1920s. As the lake dried up, the dissolved minerals and salts in the water crystallized into an alkali salt crust, which covers most of the lakebed today.

Owens Lake Dust

Photo of Owens Lake dry bed

Dust blowing from the dry lakebed is the major contributor to violations of the federal particulate (dust) standard in the extreme southern Owens Valley. In 1983 the state legislature passed a bill that authorized the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District (GBUAPCD) to require the City of Los Angeles to provide reasonable mitigation of air quality impacts associated with its water gathering activities while at the same time protecting the city's water rights from interference by the GBUAPCD. Both the city and the GBUAPCD supported this compromise solution.


n July of 1998, the City of Los Angeles and the GBUAPCD entered in an historic Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to mitigate the dust problem. The MOA delineated the dust producing areas on the lakebed that needed to be controlled, specified what measures must be used to control the dust, and specified a timetable for implementation of the control measures. The MOA called for phased implementation to permit the effectiveness of the control measures to be evaluated and modifications to be made as the control measures were being installed. 

Photo of Owens Lake with water to control dust.

The MOA was incorporated into a formal air quality State Implementation Plan (SIP) by the GBUAPCD. This SIP was approved by the United States Environmental Protection Agency on October 4, 1999. Currently, the GBUAPCD is in the process of revising the SIP and will adopt it late this year. The revised SIP will define the additional boundaries and areas required to be controlled on the lakebed. LADWP has been allowed to examine the GBUAPCD’s methodology to determine the additional areas to be controlled. As a result of those efforts, the GBUAPCD has agreed to a total of 30 square miles that will be required to be controlled. That amount includes the areas the City of Los Angeles agreed to and has completed.