The White Mountains overlook a fenced swath of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power land near the northern border of Big Pine on Feb. 17, 2024. (Dana Amihere/AfroLA)

New investigation Water and Power is a deep-dive into Los Angeles DWP

We’re proud to announce the release of the first part in our new investigation, Water and Power, a series which examines the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s extensive land holdings in rural Inyo County.

Installments of Water and Power will be published through the end of the year. The reporting is the result of more than two years of records requests, interviews and data analysis by AfroLA:

Stories of L.A.’s brazen land grab in the Owens Valley have been told for decades – it was loosely depicted in the 1974 blockbuster Chinatown. And the fierce legal battles that have ensued, including over the environmental impact, have made regional headlines for years.

But residents, business owners, and some municipal leaders in this rural region say L.A.’s landownership in the valley has taken on a new, and crippling, dimension in recent years.

Landscape of hills and sparse snow with rain coming through the clouds.

Water and Power

LA controls the land of rural Californians 300 miles away. Why? Water

In the coming months, AfroLA will examine the long-term effects of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s extensive landownership in the rural Owens Valley.

In our first installment, our investigation reveals that in 2015, DWP made consequential changes to their lease terms that created personal hardship for locals, from the seizure of residents’ backyards to business owners unable to sell and retire. Hundreds of families who have lived and built lives in Eastern Sierra have seen everything upended, often being left with the stark choice of abandoning their livelihoods or fighting DWP.

Like Mike Allen, who can’t retire to Montana with his wife, who left seven years ago, because he can’t sell his store.

“I own the building, the inventory, and the asphalt for the parking lot. But I don’t own the land under it.”

A man with a white beard, red flannel shirt and ball cap stands outside a wooden building.
Owner Mike Allen stands outside his store, Allen Outdoor. (Katie Licari/AfroLA)

Read the first story here. The second story in the series will be published June 4 on AfroLA and Guardian US. The Sheet, a print weekly in Inyo County, will publish the first two stories in print.

This investigation was supported with funding from the Data-Driven Reporting Project. The Data-Driven Reporting Project is funded by the Google News Initiative in partnership with Northwestern University | Medill.

Guardian US provided assistance as a co-publishing partner in the editing, production and promotion of this story. Collaboration and co-publication with Inyo County’s The Sheet helped ensure that Owens valley residents have ready access to news that directly affects their lives and communities. Thank you to the many people who made reporting and sharing this story possible. Thank you to the many people who made reporting and sharing this story possible.

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