Track 14: Mike Prather, environmental activist
Mike Prather is an environmental activist and conservationist who has advocated for the rewatering of Owens Lake and the Lower Owens River for decades. He and his wife originally moved to Inyo County in 1972 to teach in a one-room schoolhouse located in Death Valley. Over the years, Prather helped form the Owens Valley Committee (OVC) also serving as a past president. He is a member of the Eastern Sierra Audubon Society (also a past president) and a member of the Sierra Club Toiyabe Chapter.
Owens Lake became dry by 1926 due to the diversion of the Owens River into the Los Angeles Aqueduct in 1913. Originally, the river had naturally terminated at the north end of the lake just south of the town of Lone Pine. Before the diversion this shallow brackish lake covered 100 square miles. After the diversion a much smaller brine pool remained, varying in size year to year.
Historically, Owens Lake was one of the most important stopover sites in the western United States for waterfowl and shorebirds migrating through the Pacific Flyway. Geologic records show that massive populations of migrating birds have passed through the area for at least 800,000 years. The following account in September 1917 by visiting UC Berkeley ornithologist, Joseph Grinnell describes the abundance of wildlife still present at the lake even though it had been denied water inflow for four years:
“Great numbers of water birds are in sight along the lake shore—avocets, phalaropes, ducks. Large flocks of shorebirds in flight over the water in the distance, wheeling about show in mass, now silvery now dark, against the gray-blue of the water. There must be literally thousands of birds within sight of this one spot. En route around the south end of Owens Lake to Olancha [I] saw water birds almost continuously.” 
In the mid-1980s Prather and others Audubon members heard that LADWP was planning on sealing several artesian wells located around Owens shoreline where the Audubon group had been counting hundreds, if not thousands of birds attracted to the limited water emanating from the sources. With their data they were able to convince the Department of Fish and Game that wildlife would be harmed if the wells were sealed, effectively jump starting conservation efforts on the then, dry lakebed. By the late 1990s, a series of negotiations with the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District (GBUAPCD) forced LADWP to initiate a massive dust control project in order to meet federal air quality standards by the mid-2000s.
In 2001, LADWP began shallow flooding of the lake as one of the mandated dust control measures the department was legally bound to commence. Today, LADWP spreads up to 95,000 acre-feet of water annually across specific areas of the lakebed. Thirty-six square-miles of shallow flooding has created marshland and shallow lake habitat, which attracts over 241 species of birds today including some that are federally threatened and endangered. Waterfowl and shorebird species sighted in the Owens Lake area include western and least sandpipers, black-bellied and snowy plovers, long-billed curlews, California gulls, American avocets, long-billed curlews, eared grebes, ducks, geese, and many others. The presence of protected species does present a dilemma for LADWP to continue to provide viable habitat well into the future for the birds and other wildlife now dependent on these newly resurrected ecologies.
 “Owens lake,” Owens Valley Committee website. Last accessed 9/16/12. http://www.ovcweb.org/OwensValley/OwensLake.html
 “Birds of Owens Lake,” Owens Valley Committee website: http://www.ovcweb.org/owensvalley/OwensLakebirdlist.html