June 30, 1906: Los Angeles Gets Its Way with Water

William Mulholland

William Mulholland

June 30, 1906: Federal Law Gives Los Angeles Owens Valley Water. “[In 1906] The City hired a prestigious team of engineers to examine the feasibility of the project. Their report states, “We find the project admirable in conception and outline and full of promise for the continued prosperity of Los Angeles.” The Board of Water Commissioners appointed William Mulholland, Chief Engineer, Bureau of the Los Angeles Aqueduct.

That same year, 1906, the final verdict on the Los Angeles aqueduct was rendered by the highest authority. On May 13th, the City submitted an application for rights of way across federal lands for the purpose of constructing the Aqueduct.

In June, California Senator Frank Flint proposed a bill to grant these rights of way. It easily passed the Senate but ran into trouble in the House of Representatives where Congressman Sylvester Smith of Inyo County had organized an opposition to the bill. His argument was that Los Angeles did not require the water now, but was seeking to acquire it for future needs.

The City planned to include power plants in the project. These power plants would require a constant flow of water. This water would be transmitted by the City but was not required for domestic use. The City’s plan was to sell the water for irrigation. Smith argued that irrigation in Southern California should not take place at the expense of irrigation in the Owens Valley. While Smith negotiated a “no irrigation” compromise, Flint went directly to a higher authority.

His appeal to Theodore Roosevelt met with a sympathetic hearing. Roosevelt, on June 25th, called a meeting of Flint, Secretary of the Interior Ethan A. Hitchcock, Bureau of Forests Commissioner Gifford Pinchot, and Director of the Geological Survey Charles D. Walcott. At the end of that meeting Roosevelt dictated the letter which would end the debate,”…yet it is a hundred or a thousand fold more important to the state and more valuable to the people as a whole if used by the city than if used by the people of the Owens Valley.”

On June 30, 1906 Los Angeles had the law which would permit the dream to become a reality. In 1907, the voters of Los Angeles again gave their overwhelming endorsement to this project, approving a $23 million bond issue for aqueduct construction. The only task that remained was to build it.”

Commentary: And thus the Los Angeles water wars began.

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