For string orchestra and multimedia projection
Duration: 13 minutes
Commissioned by: Sharon Lavery and Donald Davis
Premiered by: The Downey Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sharon Lavery
Written: September-December 2015
To Dust, for string orchestra and multimedia visual projection, tells the story of Owens Lake. Now a dry lakebed, Owens Lake once covered 100 square miles of landscape, but was completely drained after the City of Los Angeles began diverting water from the Owens Valley region of California by way of the Los Angeles Aqueduct. With the completion of the Aqueduct in 1913, the majority of Sierra Nevada runoff was fed to the thirsty and budding metropolis of Los Angeles over 200 miles to the south of Owens Valley; this arrangement of natural resource allocation is still in place today.
After the lake dried up, severe dust storms began to plague the Owens Valley and surrounding towns. The chemical and mineral makeup of the exposed soil, along with the extremely small size of particles in the dust, began to contribute to growing health concerns for local residents. In fact, well past 2010 Owens Lake was the largest source of particulate air pollution in the country. Only through legal action against the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power was an effort started to mitigate the dust storms, and throughout the process LADWP has repeatedly challenged their required role in managing the pollution caused by the draining of the lake. LADWP has, nonetheless, lost each of these legal challenges and continues to work on mitigating dust at Owens Lake, and that work has significantly reduced pollution in the Owens Valley.
To Dust uses music, visuals, film, photography, and online media to present ideas about Owens Lake and the state of water use in California and the American West. This story is an incredibly
complex one; To Dust hopefully presents a new way to consider what this story means to us, to future generations, and to the environment at large.
For more on this piece and the history – and current events – that inspired it, visit www.bcktodust.com.