Tag Archives: Los Angeles

#TDIWH—January 13, 1916: Los Angeles Water Supply Purity

0113 LA Aqueduct purity 1916January 13, 1916: Municipal Journal editorial–Purity of Los Angeles Water Supply. “That the construction of the new Los Angeles aqueduct and the reservoirs forming a part of the aqueduct system of water supply for that city has been conducted and terminated in a most creditable way is the opinion of the majority of engineers who are familiar with the work. Some mistakes were made, but their number and importance were small when we consider the magnitude of the work and the unusual conditions to be met.

That the fundamental plan of the supply was wrong, and the water which had been brought more than 250 miles at such enormous cost was not fit to drink, was the startling claim made a few months ago. Few who were well informed took this at all seriously, but the matter was pressed even to the courts, and the satisfactoriness of the supply was demonstrated. Whatever may have been the real inspiration of this attack, it is fortunate for the city and for those responsible for the work that the discussion was promptly carried to a finish and, we hope, has fully satisfied all citizens except the few whom nothing could convince.”

Commentary: Given the controversy surrounding the development of the Los Angeles water supply, it is not surprising that some of the critics would attack the safety of the source. Critics were angry then and a century later many critics are still furious with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power for developing the Owens Valley water supply.

0113 Watershed2 LA Aqueduct purity 1916January 13, 1916: Related Article in the Municipal Journal—Sanitary Features of Los Angeles Aqueduct. “Probably few cities of Europe or our own country are so favorably situated to ensure the necessary sanitary conditions and effect the delivery of a pure and potable domestic water supply without artificial treatment, as is the city of Los Angeles, Cal., in the possession of the Los Angeles aqueduct. A sparsely inhabited region as a drainage area, large reservoirs to provide storage and sterilization [sic], and the carrying of the water a long distance through concrete conduits and steel pipe lines, often under heavy pressure, with aeration by falls aggregating 1,600 feet in height-each provides a subject for interesting discussion.

Preceding articles in this journal have discussed the plans of construction of the works, so that it will be necessary here only to state that the streams flowing down the eastern face of the Sierra over a lineal distance of 120 miles are collected and carried southward across the Mojave desert and through the crest of the Coast range to the rim of the San Fernando valley, a distance of 233 miles. Here the aqueduct terminates and the city trunk line, a system complete in itself excepting for its source of supply, carries the water across the San Fernando valley, through the crest of the Santa Monica range, down their southeastern flank and into the city, a distance of 25 miles.

The principal tributary of the aqueduct is the Owens river, which has its rise in the heart of the Sierra Nevada [range] near Yosemite Park at an elevation of 11,000 feet. Within its upper drainage of 444 square miles, comprising the area of Long valley, the district is uninhabited excepting in the summer season by a few campers, and stockmen who seek the valley for its excellent pasturage.”

Reference: Municipal Journal. 1916. 40:2(January 13, 1916): 35-38, 45.

November 5, 1913: Los Angeles Aqueduct is dedicated; 1881: How Croton Water is Wasted

1105 LA AqueductNovember 5, 1913: First Los Angeles Aqueduct is dedicated. “A carnival atmosphere prevailed for the dedication ceremonies at the “Cascades” on November 5, 1913.  The San Fernando Valley Chamber of Commerce distributed bottles of Owens River water to the 30,000 celebrants who arrived by car, wagon, and buggy.  The Southern Pacific charged $1 for a round trip ticket from Los Angeles to the site of the San Fernando Reservoir near Newhall.  Pennants proclaiming the event sold for 10 cents.

Mulholland rose to begin the ceremonies.  He thanked his assistants and the City of Los Angeles for their loyal support.  His address to the crowd was brief, ‘This rude platform is an altar, and on it we are here consecrating this water supply and dedicating the Aqueduct to you and your children and your children’s children-for all time.’

1105 LA Aqueduct openingHe paused for a moment as if contemplating his words.  Then satisfied, he abruptly said, “That’s all,” and returned to his seat amid a tremendous roar from the crowd….

The program had called for Mulholland to formally turn the Aqueduct over to the Mayor, J.J. Rose, who would accept it on behalf of the people.  However, all semblance of order had been lost.  Mulholland turned to Rose, next to him on the platform, and said, ‘There it is Mr. Mayor.  Take it.’”

New Croton Dam

New Croton Dam

November 5, 1881: Article in Engineering News—How Croton Water is Wasted. “The inspectors of the Department of Public Works are busy searching for houses where water is wasted. Their method is to have a man enter a sewer in the night-time through a man-hole and apply a gauge to the water flowing into the sewers from houses. In cases where the flow is great an inspector is sent to the house the next day to examine the plumbing. When a serious leak is found the water is cut off summarily. In this way a number of houses have been deprived of water within the last few days. The police have been notified to be especially vigilant to prevent the waste or water, and the result of the order has been that several houses have been reported. In one case yesterday the water was cut off from a row of three houses on a police report. The water will not be let on again until the owners or occupants take measures to prevent waste. The officials of the Department of Public Works find the most fault with apartment houses. One of them visited by inspectors had a tank on the top floor containing 3,300 gallons of water. This was filled and emptied twice a day, making the water supply 6,600 gallons a day. Ten families live in the house, so that 660 gallons are used by each family, which is considered an excessive amount. This does not include hot water, which is supplied from boilers in the basement. The officials have no power to limit the supply unless a waste of water can be shown. Some trouble is experienced by the inspectors in gaining admittance to houses in the daytime, as servants object to letting them in while their employers are out.”

Reference:  “How Croton Water is Wasted.” Engineering News. 8 (November 5, 1881): 450-1.

Commentary: Ah, those pesky servants. Seems like a tough way to find water wasters. Universal metering would solve this problem many decades later.

October 15, 1918: First Water Permit Issued to LADWP; 1988: Uranium Leak

0627 Los Angeles Water SupplybOctober 15, 1918:  Date of first water permit issued to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power for the Owens Valley water supply. On this date, the California Department of Public Health issued the first water supply permit to LADWP for the Owens Valley water supply, which started operation on November 5, 1913. The permit includes a report authored by Ralph Hilscher who was the Southern Division Engineer at the time. The report catalogues all of the major features of the Owens Valley supply including the physical facilities built to transport the water 233 miles to Los Angeles. In the report is a detailed assessment of the potential sources of contamination of the water supply by human habitation. The report stressed that only 1.5 persons per square mile occupied the Owens Valley aqueduct watershed compared with 132 persons per square mile, which was stated as typical of watersheds in Massachusetts.

Ignored were the potential pathogens from animals such as deer, beavers and cows (Giardia lamblia and Cryptosporidium parvum). Health authorities simply were not aware at that time of the potential for these pathogen sources to contaminate a water supply and cause disease in humans (zoonotic diseases). A statement in the report makes this point clearly, “It is the consensus of opinion among sanitarians that human waterborne diseases have their origin only in human beings.”

The report recognized the purifying action of the large reservoirs in the Owens Valley system that had extensive detention times, which were instrumental in reducing pathogen concentrations.

Another fact that I was unaware of until I read the report was that the first 24 miles of the aqueduct were earthen-lined and not lined with concrete.

Missing from the report is any mention of the use of chlorine for disinfection. Other literature sources had estimated that chlorination of the LA Aqueduct supply could have taken place as early as 1915. It is clear from the Department of Public Health report that any chlorination of LA water supplies around 1915 must have referred to disinfection of the water from infiltration galleries along the Los Angeles River. One report that I have read (unconfirmed) stated that ammonia was also added at the infiltration galleries to form chloramines. I have still not located a firm date when the Owens Valley supply was chlorinated.

A letter dated December 12, 1924, from Carl Wilson who was the Laboratory Director for the LADWP to C.G. Gillespie of the Bureau of Sanitary Engineering summarized the progress that they had made in applying chlorine to their system. In that letter are two curious statements by Mr. Wilson. First, he only planned to operate chlorinators treating water from the reservoirs during the rainy season because no local runoff would be entering the hillside reservoirs. Second, he did not see the need to determine chlorine residual using the orthotolidine method, but he would do so if required by the Department. It took a long time for sanitary practices to penetrate the operational mindset of all water utilities not just the LADWP. From a paper published in 1935, we know that the entire system was chlorinated by that time with multiple application points in the system.

Read the entire permit for a fascinating view into the thinking of a regulatory agency during the early days of our understanding of watershed protection and maintenance of a water supply that would be free from disease causing microorganisms.

Reference:  Goudey, R.F. “Chlorination of Los Angeles Water Supply.” Am J Public Health Nations Health. 1935 June; 25(6): 730–734. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1558978/ Accessed October 14, 2013.

Credit: Thanks to Susan Brownstein of LADWP for sharing a copy of the permit with me.

Uranium Contaminated Site

Uranium Contaminated Site

October 15, 1988: New York Times headline–U.S., for Decades, Let Uranium Leak at Weapon Plant. “Government officials overseeing a nuclear weapon plant in Ohio knew for decades that they were releasing thousands of tons of radioactive uranium waste into the environment, exposing thousands of workers and residents in the region, a Congressional panel said today.

The Government decided not to spend the money to clean up three major sources of contamination, Energy Department officials said at a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing. Runoff from the plant carried tons of the waste into drinking water wells in the area and the Great Miami River; leaky pits at the plant, storing waste water containing uranium emissions and other radioactive materials, leaked into the water supplies, and the plant emitted radioactive particles into the air…Fernald’s problems with radioactive emissions have been public knowledge and a source of anxiety and frustration for several years.

But in court documents discussed today at the hearing and reported last week by the Cincinnati papers, Government officials acknowledged for the first time that ”the Government knew full well that the normal operation of the Fernald plant would result in emissions of uranium and other substances” into water supplies and into the atmosphere.”

July 22, 1914: Chlorine and Pet Canary; 1962: Oily Birds; 1935: Mulholland Dies

0722 Pet CanaryJuly 22, 1914: Canary has sore wings. As chlorine began to be used throughout the U.S., some people were convinced that chlorine was bad for them and enlisted the help of their pets’ maladies to prove their point. “[In 1914] A Dunkirk young woman blames the poor condition of her pet canary bird on the chlorine solution in the city water supply. For some time she said the bird did poorly, was dopy as she termed it and had sore wings and refrained from singing. She did much cogitating on the matter and finally came to the conclusion that the city water with the chlorine solution might be the cause of the trouble…After a few days [of using unchlorinated local lake water] the bird grew lively and its sore wings healed.”

Reference: Evening Observer (Dunkirk, New York). “Blames City Water for Bird’s Sickness: Dunkirk Young Woman is Certain that Chlorine Caused Illness of Pet Canary.” July 22, 1914.

0722 oil-covered-birdJuly 22, 1962: Oil Slick is Shroud for Birds (Washington Post). “Oil pollution at sea is a serious issue. Oil tankers at sea, “the dumping of old crankcase oil and the pumping of oily water from bilges” are major causes of the oil pollution. The most widespread cause of death among sea birds is from oil. Insulating air pockets are destroyed which is s a cause of drowning. The seriousness of this issue has been recognized. While it is illegal to dump oil within 50 miles of a coastline, ships continue to do so.”

William Mulholland

William Mulholland

July 22, 1935: Death of William Mulholland. “William Mulholland (September 11, 1855 – July 22, 1935) was the head of a predecessor department to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. He was responsible for building the city water infrastructure and providing a water supply that allowed the city to grow into one of the largest in the world. Mulholland supervised the building of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, a 233-mile (375 km)-long system to move water from Owens Valley to the San Fernando Valley. The creation and operation of the aqueduct led to the disputes known as the California Water Wars. In March 1928, his career ended when the St. Francis Dam failed 12 hours after he and his assistant gave it a safety inspection.”

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.

June 27, 1912: Los Angeles Water Supply Plan

0627 Los Angeles Water SupplybJune 27, 1912: Municipal Journal article. Los Angeles New Water Supply. “The plan and construction of the Los Angeles aqueduct have invited the interest and admiration of the engineer and layman generally throughout the United States both from the great distance-240 miles-that the water is to be carried into the city and the unusual obstacles that have presented themselves. The spectacular and novel methods of building the conduit across the Mojave desert, tunneling mountain ranges and bridging chasms naturally have received the most attention from technical and popular writers. The quality and the quantity of the water have been generally overlooked. For instance, it is not commonly known that Los Angles, after going so far for her water supply, will not depend entirely upon the flow of the Owens River and its tributaries, but will have in addition a very dependable supplementary supply from a large artesian area in the Owens Valley, where a number of wells have been bored. It is the purpose of this article to discuss briefly these two features. The final acquisition of approximately 25,000 acres of artesian lands from the United States Government now makes it possible to discuss this feature of the project.

The principal diversion, of course, is the Owens River at a point in the Owens Valley 11 miles north of the town of Independence, Inyo County, California, and at an elevation of 3,812 feet.”

Commentary: Of course. The Owens River. What could possibly go wrong?

0627 Los Angeles Water Supplya

May 21, 1921: Violence Mars Operations of Owens Valley Aqueduct

Los Angeles Owens Valley Aqueduct

Los Angeles Owens Valley Aqueduct

May 21, 1921: Violence Mars Operations of Owens Valley Aqueduct. “On May 21, 1924, the first violence of the dispute erupted. Forty men dynamited the Lone Pine aqueduct spillway gate. No arrests were made. Eventually, the two sides were entirely stalemated.

The City believed the wholesale purchase of the district was unnecessary to meet its water needs. Instead, on October 14th, the City proposed a plan that would leave 30,000 acres in the Bishop area free of City purchases. The City also offered to help promote the construction of a state highway to the area, thereby creating a local tourist industry.

The Wattersons and the directors of the Owens Valley Irrigation District rejected the proposal, insisting on outright farm purchase and full compensation for all the townspeople.

On November 16, 1924 Mark Watterson led 60 to 100 people to occupy the Alabama Gates, closing the aqueduct by opening the emergency spillway. Renewed negotiation ended the occupation.

Finally, the conflict became completely centered on the issues of farm purchases and reparations to the townspeople. Attacks on the aqueduct began again in April 1926 and by July 1927 there had been 10 instances of dynamiting.

The controversy was at its height when suddenly valley resistance was undermined. The Wattersons closed the doors of all branches of the Inyo County Bank. The Wattersons were not only bankrupt, later they were tried and convicted of thirty-six counts of embezzlement.

In the face of the collapse of both resistance and the Owens Valley economy, the City sponsored a series of repair and maintenance programs for aqueduct facilities that stimulated local employment. The City of Los Angeles also continued to purchase private land holdings and their water rights to meet the increasing demands.”

0521 LA Aqueduct Violence