Bishop CA

Owens River

Sierra Nevada snowmelt is the source of the Owens River

The Owens River is an approximately one hundred twenty mile long river that starts in the eastern Sierras. Its headwaters are about twenty miles south of Mono Lake, not far from the city of Mammoth Lakes. In the Long Valley, the river is dammed forming Crowley Lake, which is a reservoir twenty-five miles north of Bishop at an elevation of 6,800 feet. In 1941, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power constructed the Long Valley Dam at the head of the Owens River Gorge as part of a hydropower project and to control flooding in the Owens Valley, creating Crowley Lake. McGee Creek, Convict Creek, Hilton Creek, and Crooked Creek all feed the Upper Owens River.

The Owens River at Crowley Lake

From Crowley Lake, the river descends rapidly in the Owens River Gorge. The gorge is a steep ten–mile long canyon with a vertical drop of more than 2,000 feet that begins in the Long Valley and exits in the Owens Valley near Bishop. The Long Valley Dam removed all water from the Owens River in the lower gorge for nearly forty years. In 1991, a limited amount of flows were released into the gorge to recreate the riparian habitat and reestablish a brown trout fishery while maintaining water for hydropower diversions. The Owens River Gorge is also popular with rock climbers.

Sources for the Owens River

Below the gorge, the Owens River flows through the Owens Valley in a largely south to southeast direction. Several creeks, including Bishop Creek, feed the Owens River and fly fishing is popular. The river passes through the eastern edge of Bishop, Big Pine, Independence, and Lone Pine. South of Big Pine, much of the river is diverted into the Los Angeles Aqueduct, which is a source for one–third of the city of Los Angeles’ drinking water. Despite being over two hundred miles away, the Owens River has tremendous significance for southern California residents. South of the start of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, the Owens River flows in a trickle for an additional forty miles until Owens Lake, which is now dry as a result of the water diversion.