February 10, 2012
The City of Los Angeles like all other civilizations is dependent upon water to continue and sustain life. The difference between Los Angeles and other high population areas is water sources. Los Angeles is located in an arid desert where water is scarce. Currently it has aqueducts and dams all across the state and in neighboring states to provide water to its residents. It is hardly believable that this grand city that we live in today with over 10 million people was once a town that did not have enough water to promote expansion. This week we read about the history of Los Angeles’ source of water and the development of technology and engineering that has allowed this city to grow. Its history dates back to the late 1800’s in the early formations of the city. Considered an area of potential for its sunny climate and ocean-cooled air, the possibilities of agricultural growth seemed unlimited. Its climate could enable a number of different fruits and vegetables to be grown simultaneously. Along with the oil discoveries many began packing there belongings and moving to the west coast in search of the American Dream. The limiting growth would be the access to fresh water to supply irrigation and provide for its residents.
Before Los Angeles could be become a developed and well known city there were a number of individuals who were instrumental in its expansion of water accessibility. Each individual was drawn to Los Angeles for similar reasons but ultimately for its potential wealth. Before describing what is now known as the California Water Wars it’s important to take a look at the direct players most active in its inception and implementation. After arriving in its infancy Harrison Otis Gray took over and became editor of the Times and Mirror and he would eventually be an investor within the San Fernando Valley. Harry Chandler, who believed in potential of the San Fernando Valley as an irrigated agricultural mecca, owned almost all the newspaper circulation routes within the city. William Mulholland immigrated to the United States from Dublin, Ireland and stumbled his way into the authority of the Los Angeles Water Company which eventually would be taken over by the city government. Fred Eaton was born and raised in CA by his family who founded Pasadena and became a self-taught hydrologic engineer. During that time Los Angeles relied on groundwater as its main source and Eaton understood that groundwater was a nonrenewable source that eventually would be depleted as the city began to grow. Eaton knew there was a source of water at in the Owens Valley and was the first to believe that it could be used as a viable prospective of alternative water supply for the growing city.
With an increasing population and water demand Mulholland, superintendent to the Los Angeles Water Company began to search for alternative sources and with the help of long time friend Fred Eaton, Owens Valley was the primary target. The procedures and manner in which Los Angeles claimed authority over the Owens Valley River is largely contested and one that promotes an ethical dilemma. Eaton, Mulholland and engineering consultant Joseph Lippincott began secretly buying land and water rights from Owen Valley residents while giving off the impression that their intentions were unrelated to the water. Meanwhile Chandler and Gray began buying land within Sand Fernando Valley knowing that the extra water from the Owens Valley River would end up irrigating their lands. This entire fiasco ended up blowing up within the press and eventually became a large source of contention between Los Angeles and the Owen Valley. This resulted in protests and vandalism to the water lines that carried the water from to the basin and the city. Ultimately because Los Angeles was larger and deemed more important, the Owens Valley lost water rights and the town was destroyed.
In class a couple weeks ago we discussed the oil boom within Los Angeles and the corruption of political leaders siding with capital over the health of there residents. The incident with Owens Valley reminds me of the political schemes and plots to become wealthy and is a clear example of how greed and pride are motivating forces behind many of the decisions that were made regarding Los Angeles’s source of water.
This post was authored by Jasmine Davis ’12 who is pursuing a BA in Environmental Studies.