Owens Lake sleeps with the Fishes


Since about 2.5 million years ago, the Owens Pupfish (Cyprinodon radiosus) were abundant in Owens Lake…this all changed in the early 1900’s with the introduction of the LA Aqueduct. When the LA Aqueduct was constructed, gallons upon gallons of water started to be transported from the heart of the Owens Valley to the new bustling city of Los Angeles. Ultimately, the Owens Lake has been evolving into a dust bowl ever since. Due to this, the Owens Pupfish, a fish native only to this area, has become an endangered species.

In the 1940’s this species was feared extinct, this changed in 1964 when the Pupfish was rediscovered. Since 1964, there have been extremely strong efforts to restore the population of this underwater creature. The Pupfish is not only threatened by the loss of water, but is also prey to many predators, the most prominent being: the small mouth bass, the large mouth bass, and the bull frog. Ironically, as efforts are strengthening in protecting the Pupfish, fish hatcheries have been breeding bass in Owens Lake to promote tourism and fishing.

This map compares the small area that the Pupfish reside in to the concentrations of its’ predators. In summary, this map shows the obstacles that threaten the Owens Valley Pupfish.


One response to “Owens Lake sleeps with the Fishes

  1. I am a resident of the Owens Valley. In a recent 606 aqueduct meeting, we were asked about our vision for the Owens Valley. We all made comments which were posted on a big notepad. One of my comments was that I wanted pupfish habitat expanded. The person wrote on the pad, “restored/expanded.” Since pupfish used to inhabit the Owens River by the millions, I did not say “restored.” I didn’t object at the time, not wanting to interrupt the flow of the meeting. However, the situation is that the pupfish now are only kept in a couple of places. Their genetic diversity is crumbling. More populations of the pupfish need to be set up to protect their genetic diversity, and insure against local catastrophes. Unfortunately, the present situation is that pupfish populations must be carefully managed to exclude introduced predator fish such as trout and bass.
    There are about 20 places where pupfish populations could successfully be kept. However, there is a legal logjam. The pupfish is a Fully Protected Species in addition to being a State and Federally listed Endangered Species, so with the present set of policies, pupfish may not be harmed or killed. If they were put in a new home, pupfish might be harmed or killed if their new waters overflowed into other waters, for instance, into an irrigation ditch. The only legal solution here is for a California Natural Communities Conservation Plan to be set up, which would allow for “incidental take.” So far, the DWP has not co-operated in setting up an NCCP for the pupfish, and perhaps for other small, endangered Owens Valley native fish. It is time that this situation were changed.

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