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'Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown.'

Monday, July 16, 2007

Thanks to Jack Nicholson's Oscar-winning performance in Chinatown, the story of how Los Angeles stole the water from the Owens River may be the best-known environmental crime in U.S. history. (OK, I'm showing my age. Chinatown is from 1971, and in 2000 Erin Brockovich also brought home an Oscar for Julia Roberts. Brockovich is above-average entertainment. Chinatown is art.) But finally there's a happy ending.

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"I can now officially declare that the Lower Owens River is a river," a California Superior Court judge announced last week.

Almost 100 years after developers sent agents posing as farmers and ranchers into the Owens Valley to secretly buy up the water rights and divert it to LA, the river is flowing again. After decades of bitter lawsuits, in December the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power began directing water back into the river only a fraction of its historic flow, but enough that the LA Times reports that "the area has unexpectedly quickly become home again to various fish and other wildlife."

The Times also has a nice slideshow and a video of a kayak trip down the river. It doesn't have Faye Dunaway or Roman Polanski, but does have some nice footage of the Owens River Sucker. Not Jack, the fish.

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