Tag Archives: Los Angeles

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

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

June 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?

May 26, 1977: Drought Cartoon; 1928: Birth of Marion Stoddart

May 26, 1977: Drought Cartoon. The Los Angeles Times has published cartoons over more than 100 years that depict the many droughts that California has suffered and the reactions to them. Here is one that I think you will enjoy.

May 26, 1928: Birth of Marion Stoddart.
Environmental Pioneer and Activist
in Massachusetts.
”During the 1960s, the Nashua River made the top 10 list of most polluted rivers in the U.S. Then Marion Stoddart got involved, building a citizen coalition that changed laws, attitudes, and restored the river. In the process, Marion won the United Nations Global 500 Award, was profiled in National Geographic, and had a widely-read children’s book written about her.” Go to this website for more information:
http://www.workof1000.com/

May 21, 1921: Violence Mars Operations of 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.”

Los Angeles Owens Valley Aqueduct

March 12, 1928: St. Francis Dam Disaster

Portion of the St. Francis Dam after the catastrophic failure

March 12, 1928: St. Francis Dam gives way in Los Angeles, killing over 500 people. “The St. Francis Dam was a curved concrete gravity dam, built to create a large regulating and storage reservoir as part of the Los Angeles Aqueduct. It was located in San Francisquito Canyon, about 40 miles northwest of Los Angeles, California, approximately 10 miles north of the city of Santa Clarita….

The dam was designed and built between 1924 and 1926 by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, then named the Bureau of Water Works and Supply. The department was under the supervision of its General Manager and Chief Engineer, William Mulholland.

At two and a half minutes before midnight on March 12, 1928 the dam failed catastrophically and the resulting flood killed up to 600 people. The collapse of the St. Francis Dam is considered to be one of the worst American civil engineering failures of the 20th century and remains the second-greatest loss of life in California’s history, after the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and fire. The disaster marked the end of Mulholland’s career….

As the dam collapsed, the reservoir’s 12.4 billion U.S. gallons of water began to surge down San Francisquito Canyon in a dam break wave….”

Five minutes after the collapse, having traveled a distance of one and one-half miles at an average speed of 18 miles per hour, the now 120-foot-high flood wave destroyed the heavy concrete Powerhouse No. 2 and took the lives of 64 of the other 67 workmen and their families who lived nearby. The water traveled south down the canyon and began emptying into the Santa Clara riverbed. The amount of water was too great and caused it quickly to begin overflowing its banks, flooding parts of present-day Valencia and Newhall. The deluge, now 55 ft high, was generally following the course of the river bed west. In doing so, hit and demolished Southern California Edison Saugus substation, leaving the entire Santa Clara River Valley and part of the city of Ventura without power.

At this time, near 1:00 AM, at least four miles of the state’s main north-south highway (now Interstate 5) was under water and a short distance away, near what is presently the area around Six Flags Magic Mountain amusement park to State Route 126, the flood was washing away the town of Castaic Junction. At a speed of 12 mph the water continued on and entered the valley. Approximately five miles downstream, near the Ventura and Los Angeles county line, on the flats of the river bank the Edison Company had set up had a temporary construction camp for its 150 man crew. Due to miscommunication and confusion among the Edison personnel, no warning was sent and 84 of them died.”

Guest Commentary: The dam collapse destroyed Mulholland who took the blame for it. However, neither the technology nor geologic understanding at the time existed that would have revealed that one of the dam’s abutments was tied into an ancient landslide. The reservoir saturated that slide and it gave way. The true cause of failure was not known until decades after the collapse. Mulholland went to his grave with the burden of nearly 500 needless deaths for which he felt responsible. (from Byron Buck, 3/12/16)

St. Francis Dam before the failure

Photo: Portion of the St. Francis Dam after the catastrophic failure AND St. Francis Dam before the failure

#TDIWH—February 28, 1895: Los Angeles Sewer System

0228 LA Sewer system aFebruary 28, 1895: Engineering News article. The Sewerage System of Los Angeles, Cal. by Burr Bassell. “The City of Los Angeles is built upon both sides of a torrential stream, called the Los Angeles River, at a point 20 miles from its mouth. The corporate limits of the city may be described as a square, more than five miles on a side, containing 18,597 acres….

The present river channel is dependent upon artificial means for the confinement of its waters. Its bed is 30 ft. higher at the point where it leaves the south charter boundary, than at the southwest corner of the city. This change of channel is probably due to the influence of a tributary, called the Arroyo Seco, which empties its storm-waters laden with sand, gravel and boulders from the mountains on the north into the very center of the city….

The census of 1880 gave a population of 11,183, that of 1890, 50,395. A conservative estimate for 1894 is 70,000.

The first comprehensive plan for sewering the city was prepared in 1887 by Mr. Fred Eaton, M. Am. Soc. C. E., at the time city surveyor. It was designed on the separate system, with an outfall sewer to the sea, via the Centinela Rancho. His estimated cost of the internal system was $533,846, and for an outfall sewer to the ocean by the Centinela route, 11.5 miles in length, $466,154, making a total of $1,000,000.

Mr. Rudolph Hering, M. Am. Soc. C. E., reported favorably on Mr. Eaton’s plans, and stated that the problem of designing a good sewerage system for the city presented no serious difficulties.

Reference: Bassell, Burr, 1895. “The Sewerage System of Los Angeles, Cal.” Engineering News. 33:9(February 28, 1895): 139.

Commentary: This article is remarkable in so many ways. Los Angeles was only 25 square miles and the population was only 70,000! Obviously, the city has grown a bit since the article was written. Incidentally, the article goes on at length to describe other sewering options. The plot plan below represented the preferred option. As near as I can tell, the outfall for this sewer is right about where the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is now located.

Mr. Fred Eaton went on to play an infamous role in Los Angeles water wars. In 1905, Eaton was a central character in the purchase of the Owens Valley lands that formed the basis for the Los Angeles water supply imported from the Eastern Sierras. Eaton’s actions were conducted under the inappropriate cloak of respectability of the U.S. Reclamation Service which has caused hard feelings in the region for the past 100+ years. Rudolph Hering played a role in this project. He has been portrayed many times in this blog including two days ago when we celebrated the anniversary of his birth.

0228 LA Sewer system

#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.