To Dust tells the story of an important part of the California Water Wars: the draining of Owens Lake by the city of Los Angeles after the construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct in 1913. Now a dry lakebed, Owens Lake once covered over 100 square miles of landscape. 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.
“…an aural and visual landscape within the theater that connects audience members to the real landscapes of Owens Lake and the Owens Valley”
After the lake dried up, severe dust storms originating from the lakebed began to plague the Owens Valley and surrounding towns. The chemical and mineral makeup of the exposed soil, along with the extremely small 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, and still today exceeds federal and state regulated limits of acceptable pollution levels when dust storms are significant. 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.
Concerning this new work, composer Bryan Curt Kostors explains that “the arts – and music and film in particular – give us an opportunity to experience everyday things in new and thought- provoking ways.” He says that the combination of live orchestral music and visual projections will “present an aural and visual landscape within the theater that connects audience members to the real landscapes of Owens Lake and the Owens Valley; this connection from Los Angeles (where the premiere will take place) to the water source is an incredibly important one.”
Kostors is joined on the project by producer Samantha Young, cinematographers Michael Pietrobon and Danny Corey, photographer Jasmine Amara, and the Eastern California Museum. The piece was commissioned by Sharon Lavery, who conducts the Downey Symphony Orchestra in Downey, California, and was co-commissioned by Donald Davis. The project was made possible by a Kickstarter campaign as well, which garnered over 100 contributors in just three weeks last fall.