LA returns water that helped make it a city

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The Owens Valley is unique in south-eastern California. A place of unsurpassed beauty nestling between the eastern Sierra Nevada and Inyo mountain ranges, there are no strip malls, no cities to speak of, none of the agriculture that dominates so much of the state.

Instead there is sage brush and dry, dusty earth. But this is no pristine wilderness. A hundred years ago, the Owens Valley had thriving agricultural communities that grew crops and raised livestock.

Then came the aqueduct, built to take the water from the Owens river to fuel the growth of Los Angeles, 250 miles to the south. The river - and the valley - were left dry, in what many claim was the greatest theft of water ever perpetrated.

But yesterday all that was due to change. A turn of a crank by the Los Angeles mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, would allow water from the Owens river to return to its original course. The ceremony brings to a close a chapter that has become an emblem for the rapacious growth that defined the rise of LA. It will also return life to the barren river and perhaps stimulate the local economy.

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