OWENS LAKE Symbiosis: infrastructural ruralism

To wrap up the collective reading of my chapter, ‘Reconstructing the Void: Owens Lake’ from The Infrastructural City organized by Mammoth, here is my 2005 MLA/MArch University of Pennsylvania thesis project. #mammothbook


What is infrastructure’s cultural role in the rural landscape?

  • How to adapt static large-scale civil projects into dynamic emergent systems?
  • How to adapt single use infrastructure to multiple uses?
  • How to transform infrastructure into an evident contributor of place?


RURAL: places that human activities are sufficiently present to be obvious, but with a low population; contrasted to wilderness where the traces are few and far between. [http://roadless.fs.fed.us]

SYMBIOSIS: Two or more dissimilar organisms living together in close association with one another.

PARASITISM, where one of the organisms harms the other(s),

MUTUALISM, where association is advantageous to all

where association is advantageous to one organism but doesn’t affect other organism(s). [www.ucbiotech.org/glossary]

Project goals:

Design a water containment system (levees, dams, channels, and earthworks) to create a low-salinity/deeper pool in the lakebed, fed by the Owens River & mitigation.

Nearby, design structures & access network for the inhabitation and the intimate experience of the lake (observation, sleeping, eating, et cetera) that engage the landscape and visitors.


Ephemeral habitation of the Owens Lakeshore and the Los Angeles Aqueduct.


Foreign Tourists
Hang Gliders/Sail Planers
Cultural Heritage Tourists

Only the Snowy Plover is accommodated within the current mitigation process. No other animal/plant has been considered.

How to make this place useable by people and other critters?


Develop an Infrastructure that has a cultural role & multiple uses
Mitigate the impact of the Los Angeles Aqueduct:

  • Reclaim Owens Lake through partitioning the basin into a brackish lake and a hypersaline lake
  • Tie Owens Lake and the Los Angeles Aqueduct together with a system for ephemeral habitation and occupation


Here is the November draft of my thesis proposal that was approved by my Committee.

The final presentation...


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Owens Lake Dust Mitigation Team

[Started created this directory of the consultants and contractors being utilized by the LADWP while working on my thesis – but didn’t get very far – still it’s worth sharing. I’d be interested to learn about more of the contractors, consultants, and researchers out there… #mammothbook]

Owens Lake dust mitigation team:

[note, there isn’t any logic to the sequence of the list, so don’t even try to figure it out]

City of Los Angeles Dept. of Water and Power
Brian Tillemans

Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District
Ted Schade, Projects Manager

Inyo County Water Department
Contact_Person: Chris Howard
Contact_Position: GIS Specialist/System Administrator
Address: 163 May St.
City: Bishop
State_or_Province: CA
Postal_Code: 93514
Contact_Voice_Telephone: 760-872-1168
Hours_of_Service: 9:00 AM – 5:00P

Preliminary Research into dust control techniques:
Gill, T.E., Cahill, T.A., Copeland, S.A., and White, B.R., 2003. Sand fences for control of wind erosion and dust emission at Owens Lake, CA: 1. Full-scale testing, field deployment, and evaluation of effectiveness. Proceedings of the 11th International Conference on Wind Engineering, Lubbock, TX, June 2003, vol. 2, pp. 2773- 2780.
Cahill, T.A., Gill, T.E., Reid, J.S., Gearhart, E.A., and Gillette, D.A., 1996. Saltating particles, playa crusts and dust aerosols at Owens (dry) Lake, California. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 21: 621- 639.
Gill, T.E. and Cahill, T.A., 1992. Drying saline lake beds: a regionally-significant PM10 source. In: Chow, J.C., and Ono, D.M., eds., PM10 Standards And Nontraditional Particulate Source Controls. Air & Waste Management Association Transactions Series 22: 440-454.

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Emergant Urbanism – The Miami Lakes Studio 2004

As brought up here, there are several parallels between Owens Lake and the Florida Everglades as site where human intervention into water flows has created unintended ecological impacts. It happens that in Fall 2004, my studio selection gave me a chance to explore the area of the Everglades directly east of Miami. An area known as the ‘Miami Lakes’ after the flooded quarries that chewed up dozens of square miles of everglade limestone and turned it into aggregate for freeways and buildings around South Florida.

Miami Lakes

Miami Lakes

The studio instructor was Chris Reed of Stoss. That semester wasn’t my best design effort as my thesis research into Owens Lake was my primary preoccupation. I still learned a lot about landscape urbanism and large scale design. Here is final presentation brief: EMERGENT URBANISM.

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Reconstructing the Void – the lecture

As part of the #Mammothbooks reading of The Infrastructural City, I am pleased to share the reading of my chapter in my Intro to Environmental Design class at the University of Minnesota on April 27th.

The lecture audio file is ~30 minutes and has not been edited.

w15-1 owens lake v4 of the lecture’s slides – all images are credited or by Barry Lehrman.

Creative Commons License

Owens Lake & LA Aqueduct Bibliography

To enhance the collective reading of The Infrastructural City organized by Mammoth, here are the highlights of the bibliographic sources from my research into Owens Lake for ‘Reconstructing the Void: Owens Lake’ and my thesis project (circa 2005). Drop me a note if you need help locating any of these sources or find new items that need to be added. #mammothbook

Owens Valley

Bishop Visitors Center; Welcome to Bishop 2003 Press Kit. Bishop California

Center for Land Use Interpretation, ‘California’s Owens Valley’, The Lay of the Land, Summer 2004

Department of Defense; Checklist of Birds, Edwards Air Force Base, California. Department of Defense. Jamestown, ND: Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center Online. (Version 23JUN00)

Ewan, Rebecca Fish; A Land Between – Owens Valley, California. Baltimore, John Hopkins University Press, 2000.

Hall, Clarence A., et al- editors; The History of Water: Eastern Sierra Nevada, Owens Valley, White-Inyo Mountains. White Mountain Research Station Symposium, Volume 4. Los Angeles: University of California, 1992.

Hoffman, Abraham; Vision Or Villainy: Origins Of The Owens Valley-Los Angeles Water Controversy. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1981.

James, Greg, Dennis Williams, et al; Green Book for the Long-term Management Plan for the Owens Valley and Inyo County. Bishop, CA: June 1990.

Gary LibecapChinatown: Transaction Costs in Water Rights Exchanges The Owens Valley Transfer to Los Angeles’, (NSF Grant 0317375). [This paper explodes the myth that Los Angeles ‘stole’ the water from the Owens Valley, and why the farmers were eager to sell.

Olson, Wilma R; Olancha Remembered. Sacramento, CA: W.R. Olson 1997

Putnam, J. & G. Smith, editors; Deepest Valley: A Guide to Owens Valley, Its Roadside and Mountain Trails– 2nd Edition. Palo Alto: Genny Smith Books/Live Oak Press, 1995.

Sharp, Robert & Allen Glazner; Geology Underfoot in Death Valley and Owens Valley. Missoula Montana: Mountain Press Publishing 1997.
Timmer, Kerri L.; Troubled Water of the Sierra, Sierra Nevada Alliance

Varnelis, Kazys; Points of Interest in the Owens River Valley. Culver City, CA: Center for Land Use Interpretation, 2004.

Wood, R. Coke; The Owens Valley and the Los Angeles Water Controversy – Owens Valley as I Knew It. Stockton CA: University of the Pacific, 1973.

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Writing ‘Infrastructure of the Void’

As part of my engagement with the collective reading of The Infrastructural City organized by Mammoth, I wanted to share the process and backstory about my chapter in the book – ‘Reconstructing the Void: Owens Lake’. #mammothbook

The chapter title

‘Until Los Angeles’ was my working title of the drafts from October 2006 to May 2007 . ‘Infrastructure of the Void’ was the second working title and the one I’m still the most fond of. ‘Reconstructing the Void: Owens Lake’ was coined by Kazys Varnelis in the 20070820 Owens Draft. But the chapter has a longer history worth sharing.

The Back Story

The chapter emerged from the research component from my MLA/MArch thesis, the design of an alternate dust mitigation system to restore Owens Lake and create a hybrid landscape for tourism and habitat. As a resident of LA for several years before grad school, I first visited the Owens Valley on a spur of the moment road trip on Memorial Day weekend in 1998. I looked at a map of California and pointed my car into the unknown of the Eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevadas and have been haunted by Owens Valley ever since.

Then in summer of 2004, with the intent and dream of return to California, I initially choose the Los Angeles Aqueduct as my thesis topic. Through the arduous thesis proposal/approval process, the Owens Lake Playa became my focus and site.

From the Complete Report on Construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, 1916.

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Paper versus Coal?

Please consider the environment before printing this email.

How many of us have this little icon of a road (or is a stream) and the pine tree as part of our email signature? Anybody know the origin of that icon?

Last fall, I taught a ‘paperless’ seminar, in that I did not print out any assignments and required that all student’s work to be submitted via email or the course website on moodle. (Okay, there was a required text book). Avoiding the use of paper and copiers seemed to be a no-brainer as a method to practice what I was preaching. Now a white paper by Don Carli has come out that compares the environmental impact of the energy needed by data farms to the embedded energy in paper and impact of clear cutting and the picture isn’t quite so clear. The reason is mountaintop removal by coal companies to fuel the power plants that power our gadgets and the web servers.

Mountaintop Removal Site in Pickering Knob, West Virginia

Again, this seems like one of those catch 22s where these is no good solution beyond ending literacy and returning to living in caves.

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Unintended Ecologies

[Found this abandoned snippet of an idea while dredging through the drafts for the upcoming #mammothbook reading of The Infrastructural City. My chapter is the focus of the week of April 26th – so stay tuned! ]

Unintended ecologies

Toxic site, military sites, nuclear sites, abandoned sites: fenced off and isolated from human activities have a more diverse ecosystem then surrounding developed areas – [amazing] robustness of natural systems to reclaim and rebound once [human] pressure is removed. Not all levels of toxic sites are able to support ecologies- tailings/slag/chemical lagoons [are dead zones killing all that comes into contact]. Power line easements become wildlife corridors; military reservations preserve open space (adaptation of fauna to explosions and occasional exercises); hawks nest on transmission towers and tall buildings.

Structures (dams, bridges, towers) interfere with migration and travel- collisions and barriers. Isolation and fragmentation of habitat
Urbanization of wildlife- coyotes inhabiting urban parks; rats, raccoons, pigeons, geese, possums, deer have thrived in suburban and urban areas- sewers, vacant lots, alleyways provide varied terrain, lots of hiding spaces, low traffic areas, isolation in the midst of cities. Suburban sprawl provides lots of open interstitial spaces for habitat of lawns, gardens, garbage dumps, golf courses, and airports.

Fish ladders at dams concentrate and expose the fish that are supposed to be helped to increase predators.

Dumping the Colorado River water into the [Arizona] desert has created a flourishing wetland and ‘natural reserve’ where there never was one in Mexico. EPA preserves any created wetlands even when not intentional.

Issues of restoration or mitigation [of Owens Lake]:

Fixing the lake- dust is a dangerous and unintended, so it must be reduced by engineering. Obligation of Los Angeles as the colonizing power structure is to minimize the impact of extraction. Taking the water back is wrong in that it benefits millions.

As an isolated wetland- the Owens River watershed has a wide ranging area of influence on migrating birds- potential to leverage a significant impact of increased population (stability of such a larger more complex system is ethical desirable) compared to more urbanized and settled areas where human pressures are greater. Historic role as migratory feeding zone has been diminished by reduced size of riparian zones through the flow of water and salinity levels. Pragmatic desire for increased economic generation through non-destructive (non-extractive) methods.

2010 Great Landscape Safari – NYC

With my students in tow, I’m heading to NYC starting this thursday. Here are a few details of our planned hike through the wilds of manhattan and brooklyn.


Central Park, Lincoln Center, & Columbus Circle


Union Square, Lower Manhattan & Battery Park City, Staten Island Ferry, Hudson River Park, Chelsea & the High Line


Prospect Park, Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Erie Basin Park, Bryant Park, Paley Park, & MOMA