Tag Archives: Owens Valley

#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.

July 27, 1976: Legionnaire’s Disease in Philadelphia; 1905: Consideration of Owens Valley Water Supply for Los Angeles

Bellevue Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia

Bellevue Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia

July 27, 1976: Outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease in Philadelphia. “On July 21, 1976, the American Legion opened its annual three-day convention at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. More than 2,000 Legionnaires, mostly men, attended the convention. The date and city were chosen to coincide with America’s celebration of the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence at Philadelphia in 1776.

On July 27, three days after the convention ended, Legionnaire Ray Brennan, a 61-year-old retired Air Force captain and an American Legion bookkeeper, died at his home of an apparent heart attack. Brennan had returned home from the convention on the evening of July 24 complaining of feeling tired. On July 30, another Legionnaire, Frank Aventi, aged 60, also died of an apparent heart attack, as did three other Legionnaires. All of them had been convention attendees. Twenty-four hours later, on August 1, six more Legionnaires died. They ranged in age from 39 to 82, and, like Ray Brennan, Frank Aventi, and the three other Legionnaires, all had complained of tiredness, chest pains, lung congestion, and fever.

Three of the Legionnaires had been patients of Dr. Ernest Campbell, a physician in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, who noticed that all three men had been at the Legionnaires convention in Philadelphia. He contacted the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Officials at the American Legion also began getting notices of the sudden deaths of several members, all at the same time. Within a week, more than 130 people, mostly men, had been hospitalized, and 25 had died.”

Commentary: I was in Florence, Italy writing my PhD dissertation when this happened. The only way I could communicate with my advisor, Mel Suffet, at that time was by telegram [no internet, no email, no phone, mail took a month]. Sometime in August I got a strangely worded telegram from Mel that he and some graduate students had gone into the Bellevue Stratford Hotel and sampled drinking water and had taken the activated carbon filters out of the drinking fountains to look for toxic chemicals. The disease was a big mystery at the time. However, the telegram was so weirdly constructed that I initially thought that Mel had contracted the mystery fever. Fortunately, that turned out not to be the case. There is a terrific podcast from 99% Invisible that describes the outbreak and discovery of the causative organism.

Owens Lake before becoming a dust hazard

Owens Lake before becoming a dust hazard

July 27, 1905: Los Angeles Board of Engineers meet to consider Owens Valley supply. “The Board of Engineers who were to make that recommendation met on July 27, 1905. From an engineering standpoint, the project was viable. One of the commissioners had previously met with [Stafford Wallace Austin, the Land Register for the Owens Valley] and made sure discussions about the project gave serious consideration to his protest. However, the economic feasibility of the project was in question. The Board saw Los Angeles’ ownership of the Long Valley Reservoir site and 50 miles along the river as a great impediment to proceeding with a Reclamation Service project.

The Secretary of the Interior, the cabinet member responsible for the Reclamation Service, made no decision until much later.

[William] Mulholland returned from a car trip to the Owens Valley not two days after the Board of Engineers had met. His statement, “The last spike is driven…the options are secure,” was the City’s verdict on the project.

It seemed irrelevant that the Reclamation Service had made no decision when on July 29, 1905 the Los Angeles Times headlines bannered ‘Titanic Project to Give City a River.’”

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

March 22, 1905: Owens Valley Only Viable Source; 1993: World Water Day; 1733: Carbonated Water Invented

J.B. Lippincott, Fred Eaton and William Mulholland. This photograph appeared in the Los Angeles Times, August 6, 1906

J.B. Lippincott, Fred Eaton and William Mulholland. This photograph appeared in the Los Angeles Times, August 6, 1906

March 22, 1905: Mulholland Recommends the Owens Valley as Only Viable Source. “In March 1905, Fred Eaton went to the Owens Valley to buy land options and water rights.   The major acquisition of this trip was the Long Valley Reservoir site. Eaton paid $450,000 for a two month option on ranch lands and 4,000 head of cattle. All in all, he acquired the rights to more than 50 miles of riparian land, basically all parcels of any importance not controlled by the Reclamation Service.

On March 22nd, Mulholland reported to the Board of Water Commissioners. He had surveyed all the water sources available in Southern California and he recommended the Owens River as the only viable source. Immediately following Mulholland’s presentation, Fred Eaton [entrepreneur and form mayor of Los Angeles] made his proposal that the City acquire from him whatever water rights and options he had been able to secure to further the project.

While in the valley, Eaton had conducted some business for Lippincott [J.B. Lippincott was the supervising engineer for California in the newly created U.S. Reclamation Service] as well. The bulk of Lippincott’s staff had been diverted to the lower Colorado River. The floodwaters of the Colorado River had broken through temporary irrigation barriers and had carved a new channel southeast to the Salton Sink.

Lippincott knew Eaton was headed to the Owens Valley. Several power applications were pending for projects on the Owens River. Lippincott required information about who the owners were, the use to which the power would be put, and the potential of these projects to interfere with the Reclamation Service’s activities. Lippincott asked Eaton to do this work. This trip became the source of conflict between the Owens Valley and the City of Los Angeles.

Eaton visited the Independence Land Office to do Lippincott’s research. There he met Stafford Wallace Austin, the Land Register. The impression Eaton left was that he was there to do work for the Reclamation Service, and his subsequent land acquisition activities were interpreted in that light.

Whether deliberate or not, this impression caused anger among residents of the area, most notably Austin, when they discovered that Eaton was not acting on behalf of the Reclamation Service. To the people of the Owens Valley, selling water rights and land for a desired federal project was far different from selling land to Eaton and water rights to the City of Los Angeles.

Austin embodied the people’s feelings of betrayal and anger. They were afraid that the Reclamation Service intended to abandon them, serving the interests of the City of Los Angeles instead. Austin wrote to the Commissioner of the U.S. General Land Office and to President Theodore Roosevelt to protest.

Meanwhile a serious decision faced the Reclamation Service. It was required to make a recommendation to the Secretary of the Interior regarding the feasibility of a project in the Owens Valley.”

0322 World Water DayMarch 22, 1993: Since 1993, World Water Day has been declared by the United Nations General Assembly. World Water Day is observed on March 22 every year. The purpose of the day is to recognize the importance of earth’s most precious natural resource. The celebration was proposed 20 years ago at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development.

Soda Fountain

Soda Fountain

March 22, 1733: Joseph Priestly invented carbonated water (seltzer). In 1767, the first drinkable manmade glass of carbonated water (soda water) was invented by Joseph Priestley.

Joseph Priestley published a paper called Directions for Impregnating Water with Fixed Air (1772), which explained how to make soda water. However, Priestley did not exploit the business potential of any soda water products.

Reference: “Business History.” Website http://www.businesshistory.com/index.php, Accessed November 14, 2012.