As Maisel himself explains: “Beginning in 1913, the Owens River was diverted into the Owens Valley Aqueduct to bring water to Los Angeles. By 1926, the lake had been depleted, exposing vast mineral flats.” (For any film buffs out there, this is the same hydro-political event that inspired Roman Polanski’s Chinatown).
“For decades,” Maisel continues, “fierce winds have dislodged microscopic particles from the lakebed, creating carcinogenic dust storms. The lakebed has become the highest source of particulate matter pollution in the United States, emitting some 300,000 tons annually of cadmium, chromium, arsenic, and other materials.”
At this point, the “concentration of minerals in the remaining water of Owens Lake is so artificially high that blooms of microscopic bacterial organisms result, turning the liquid a deep, bloody red. Viewed from the air, vestiges of the lake appear as a river of blood, a microchip, a bisected vein, or a galaxy’s map. It is this contemporary version of the sublime that I find compelling.”