1 Citation: Klaver, Irene J. and J. Aaron Frith A History of Los Angeles s Water Supply: Towards Reimagining the Los Angeles River, in: A History of Water, Series 3, Vol. 1. From Jericho to Cities in the Seas: A History of Urbanization and Water Systems. Editors Terje Tvedt and Terje Oestigaard. I.B. Tauris. London, New York, New York A History of Los Angeles s Water Supply: Towards Reimagining the Los Angeles River Irene J. Klaver and J. Aaron Frith Los Angeles River: reclaim, revitalization, reimagine our river, our future --Los Angeles River Project, City of Los Angeles, Department of Public Works, Bureau of Engineering, 2008 Nobody knows Los Angeles without knowing its river. -- Joan Didion In 1913, a rush of water changed the destiny of Los Angeles. The water came from afar, arriving in Los Angeles after a long journey from the Owens River Valley, carried across 220 miles of desert through the pipes of the brand new Los Angeles Aqueduct. As the first cascade of water roared down the aqueduct and into the San Fernando Valley, William Mulholland, who supervised the Aqueduct s construction, stood before a cheering throng of forty thousand Angelenos and gave a legendary concise dedication speech: There it is - take it! (Mulholland 2000: 246.) And take it they did. It was the inauguration not just of an aqueduct, but of an era, a new mentality, a modern lifestyle. The new supply of water precipitated an era of explosive growth in Los Angeles, transforming it from a stagnating industrial town into a megalopolis, the City of Dreams. The trajectory of water and growth in Los Angeles is an exemplary case of the trajectory of modernity, of progress by controlling nature for human use. Between 1850 and 1970, Los Angeles took a sheer utilitarian approach to water management, viewing water as a resource to be used as fuel for the urban growth machine (Fulton 2001). The city embraced a policy of urban water imperialism, importing new water supplies from well beyond its city limits (Hundley 1992: 120). It led to land speculation, urban sprawl, urban-rural conflict, environmental degradation, and the rise of the hydraulic society, as Los Angeles annexed new water supplies in the Owens and Colorado River valleys through a series of aqueducts and dams (Worster 1985: 7). According to Reisner, The Owens River created Los Angeles, letting a great
2 2 city grow where common sense dictated that one should never be. (1987: 106). Water made Los Angeles water mainly imported from elsewhere. Massive extra-regional water transference systems (MacDonald 2012) dramatically changed various rivers in their wake. Waters of the Owens River, Feather River and Colorado River were re-directed in such great quantities that the Colorado River no longer reached the ocean and Owens Lake became a dustbowl. The Los Angeles River had been changed into a flood-control channel, a 51-mile long concrete scar (Price 2008: 547). The rather catastrophic consequences of all these interventions hit a nerve with a burgeoning environmental awareness in the latter part of the 20 th century. Civic leaders endeavored to forge a new water policy based on conservation and sustainability and an emerging grass-roots movement had gained traction to reclaim the all-but-forgotten Los Angeles River as the centerpiece of a major urban revitalization program. In our essay we assert that the larger contours of the Los Angeles story from utilitarianism to reclamation, conservation, and revitalization form an exemplary case of a shifting paradigm in the relation between cities and their water. We conclude by focusing on the Los Angeles River as an icon for this shift in water ethics or water mentality: from a sheer utilitarian mindset to an equitable and sustainable approach (Price 2008: 240). The late 20 th century initiative to revitalize the river offers a tantalizing alternative that sets out to reconnect the city with its natural environment, viewing water no longer as a resource to be used up, but as part of a living albeit infrastructural--river to be valued and respected. The Los Angeles River shimmers throughout our story a small unimposing river, outgrown, overgrown and initially ditched by the city to which it gave birth; then re-entering the cultural imagination as a character in its own right. The Los Angeles River presents us with a green-grey hybrid infrastructure that questions strict separations between human built/technology and nature, between various socialeconomic cultures, and between different practices. We see this very hybridity as paradigmatic for the promise of 21 st century urban rivers to re-create a sense of water as commons and public space, which expresses a sense of culture as a capacity to aspire (Appadurai 2004). Los Angeles RIVER: EARLY YEARS, PREHISTORY to 1900
3 3 Los Angeles is often portrayed as a desert city, but, in fact, it inhabits a river basin with an average of 15 inches of precipitation per year, giving it a semi-arid Mediterranean climate (Nadeau, 1974; Reisner, 1987, MacDonald 2012). The Los Angeles River runs 51 miles, draining parts of three mountain ranges the San Gabriel, Santa Monica and Santa Susana before emptying into San Pedro Bay. Image 1. The Los Angeles River and Greater Metropolitan Los Angeles Fifty-one miles long, the Los Angeles River drains the Santa Monica, San Gabriel and Santa Susana mountain ranges, passing through Glendale, downtown Los Angeles and East L.A. before emptying into San Pedro Bay just west of Long Beach. Source: EnviroReporter.com LLC
4 4 Like many western rivers, its bed can turn to dust in the summer months but is prone to violent flooding in the wet winter months. Before the arrival of Europeans, the river s overflow created rich marshlands, shallow lakes and floodplain forests, vibrant ecosystems populated by wild grasses and reedy plants, by willow, cottonwood and oak trees, by waterfowl, grizzly bears, steelhead trout and countless small mammals (Gumprecht 1999: 4-25). This rich and diverse area supported one of the largest concentrations of native peoples in North America (Harris 2010: 188). The first peoples of the Los Angeles River basin hunted and gathered the area s bountiful resources for thousands of years before European settlement in the late 18 th century. To the northwest, as many as 20,000 Chumash lived in densely populated villages along the Santa Barbara Channel, and they frequently ranged into the Malibu area to hunt and fish (Gamble 2011: 6-7). To the north, about 1,000 Tataviam dwelled in the Santa Clarita Valley, venturing into the San Gabriel Mountains to hunt and trade (Johnson and Earle 1990: ). The primary beneficiaries of the Los Angeles basin s bounty were the Indians known to the Spanish as the Gabrielino, after the San Gabriel mission. Up to 10,000 Gabrielino who are also called the Tongva or Kizh resided in 50 to 100 villages scattered throughout the basin (McCawley 1996). They enjoyed a semi-sedentary lifestyle, hunting the region s abundant game and gathering the nutrient-rich acorns of oak trees (Gumprecht 1999: 26). The Gabrielino established their villages on high ground, deferring to the river s unpredictability, and constructed thatched houses from materials harvested in the marshland. One large village, Yangna, stood near the present site of downtown Los Angeles. Culturally sophisticated with a vast trade network, the Gabrielino practiced no agriculture, probably because the basin s abundance rendered it unnecessary. They revered the river that gave them life, and each morning they bathed in its waters, as commanded by the creator Chengiichngech (Gumprecht 1999: 33-34). The Spanish settled the Los Angeles River basin in 1769 and in less than a century reconfigured completely its landscape, ecosystem and social-cultural relations. They called the river the Porciúncula River after its full name El Río de Nuestra Señora La Reina de Los Ángeles de Porciúncula (The River of Our Lady Queen of the Angels of Porciúncula) a reference to the Porziuncola chapel in Umbria, Italy, donated to Francis of Assisi around 1200 to establish his Franciscan Order. The newcomers quickly recognized the region s potential for agriculture and settlement, as Franciscan friar Juan Crespi s first description of the river ever attests: we
5 5 entered a very spacious valley well grown with cottonwoods and alders, among which ran a beautiful river It has good land for planting all kinds of grain and seeds. all the requisites for a large settlement (Layne 1934: 196). In the Gabrielino, the Spanish saw a steady supply of labor. The Spanish established Mission San Gabriel in 1771 and began converting the Indians and putting them to work in the mission s vineyard. A decade later, in 1781, an ethnically mixed group 1 of 44 settlers founded El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora La Reina de Los Angeles (modern Los Angeles) near the Gabrielino village of Yangna, to supply food to the region s missions and presidios (Phillips 1980: 430, Weber 1992: ). Under Spanish law, the residents of the pueblo held water rights in common (Hundley 1992: 39). With the help of Indian labor, the colonists built a communal irrigation system featuring a Zanja Madre, the so-called Mother Ditch or original aqueduct, that diverted water from the river to Pueblo de Los Angeles and to the fields via eight smaller zanjas (Phillips 1980: 431-4). Before the Aqueduct: the Zanjas In 1781, the Spanish settlers of Los Angeles employed Indian laborers to build a communal irrigation system consisting of a Zanja Madre ("mother ditch") and eight smaller zanjas. Later Angelenos extended the system, using zanjas to divert water from the Los Angeles River to their fields and homes until the late nineteenth century. At left, a man stands next to a zanja in Griffith Park, northwest of downtown Los Angeles. Source: USC Digital Library (http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/cdm/ref/c ollection/p15799coll65/id/10315). 1 Of the original 44 setters of Los Angeles, only two were identified as white or Spaniard. The rest were categorized as either Indian, Negro, mulato (of mixed Spanish and African ancestry), mestizo (of mixed Spanish and Indian ancestry), or chino (of mulato and Indian ancestry). Within a year, the two families that were headed by free black men (with a mulata spouse and various children) were expelled from the Pueblo along with the Spaniard, his Indian spouse and their children, for being useless to the village and themselves (Layne 1934: 201; Gumprecht 1999: 42). It is unclear whether racial bigotry prompted the expulsion. What can be said is that Los Angeles was multicultural from its inception.
6 6 They planted wheat, corn and other staple crops, which prospered in the fertile soil. According to Gumprecht (1999), Los Angeles soon became the most important agricultural settlement on the Pacific Coast (46). By 1800, five ranchos private land grants maintained more than twelve thousand head of cattle and horses, which drank the river s waters and grazed on its floodplains (Layne 1934: 203). These changes continued apace even after Mexico took control of Los Angeles in In the 1840s, Americans, drawn by the fertile land, filtered into the area, introducing new cash crops, including oranges, hemp, bananas, figs, tobacco, asparagus and peppers (Layne 1934: 224, Gumprecht 1999: 53). Spanish waterworks, largely built by Native Americans, turned the Los Angeles basin into a thriving agricultural region, a magnet for Europeans and Americans alike. The United States assumed control of California in 1848, initiating decades of wild growth that transformed Los Angeles s economy and overburdened its natural water supply. Spurred in part by the gold rush in northern California, the population swelled from around 1500 in 1850 to more than 100,000 in In the 1860s, a major drought precipitated the collapse of the old Mexican rancho system, and American businessmen snapped up the land, initiating "one of the most important 19th century socio-economic transitions in the Los Angeles region" (MacDonald 2012). Industry supplanted agriculture, and farmlands became homes, shops and factories. Domestic water use surged. In 1868, struggling to keep up demand but eager to sustain growth, the Los Angeles City Council granted a thirty-year lease on the city s domestic waterworks to a group of private businessmen, who incorporated as the Los Angeles City Water Company. The Water Company took advantage of California water law which recognized the riparian doctrine of granting water rights to owners of land adjacent to streams and snapped up water supplies both in the city and upstream from it (Kahrl 1982: 3, 8-10). Even so, after 1876, when the transcontinental railroad reached Southern California, the Company failed to meet demand, and Angelenos complained of low water pressure, high rates and poor service (Hundley 1992: 137). In 1886, the Company installed an infiltration gallery to pump out the Los Angeles River s underground flow, drastically reducing its surface flow but it was still not enough. As domestic use depleted the river, industry polluted it. After 1880, mills, warehouses and lumberyards sprouted along the river s banks and used its bed as a dumping ground, filling it with oil, tar, scrap lumber, and even animal carcasses (Gumprecht 1999: ).
7 7 In the meantime, the city employed a chief water overseer to manage the irrigation system but failed to meet the needs of a shrinking agricultural sector. The zanja system remained in use for a time but proved outdated and unnecessary as farms moved out of the city. By the 1890s, prolonged drought and surging domestic water consumption had so exhausted the Los Angeles River that the city could not accommodate its farmers. The city council built three pumping plants to tap the river s underground flow for irrigation (Gumprecht 2005: 88-89). Desperate farmers and ranchers used artesian wells, windmills and lift-pumps to tap water flowing beneath their lands, further diminishing the water table (Raup 1959: 67-68). The unchecked exploitation of the river s resources for the sake of growth exacted a harsh toll. By 1900, many Angelenos feared a looming water crisis, as the river, exhausted and abused, could no longer keep pace with the city s ambition. Within four years, the population doubled again, reaching 200,000 but no one seemed interested in slowing expansion. Instead, city officials consolidated control of its water supply systems. They used the courts to assert Los Angeles s pueblo water right against upstream users in the San Fernando Valley, winning a claim to all the waters of the Los Angeles River basin (Kahrl 1983: 11-12; Hundley 1992: ). When the Water Company s lease expired in 1898, pressure mounted on the city council to municipalize the city s water systems and to acquire new sources of water. OWENS RIVER: WATER AND POWER, As Kahrl (1992) observes, Los Angeles s water crisis at the turn of the twentieth century was a need founded in prospect, based not on exigency but on the dream of what the city might become: a great metropolis in the desert (80). By the late 19 th century, Los Angeles was already famous for the relentless boosterism of its citizens, who never missed an opportunity to praise the weather, natural beauty and quality of life they enjoyed as Angelenos (Fogelson 1967). The city had already become a growth machine, as described by Molotch (1976): a coalition of interests deeply invested in generating perpetual and unhindered growth, no matter what the cost. However, the water supply remained the one major obstacle to growth. According to Fulton (2001), its natural water could sustain a city of perhaps a half-million people (6) hardly the grand metropolis that Los Angeles s leaders envisioned. To satisfy the demands of the growth machine, Los Angeles needed more water.
8 8 Two former employees of the Water Company, William Mulholland and Fred Eaton, emerged from the crisis to lead the city into a new era of water imperialism. An Irish immigrant with a ferocious work ethic, Mulholland arrived in Los Angeles in 1877 and fell in love with the city and its beautiful, limpid little stream (Kahrl 1982: 20). He took a job as zanajero (water ditch tender), digging ditches for the Water Company, and as self-taught engineer he rose to superintendent within eight years (MacDonald 2012). Mulholland reputedly knew every square inch of the city s waterworks every pipe, valve, pump and ditch making him indispensable. When the city reclaimed control of the water system in 1902 and created the Board of Water Commissioners, Mulholland remained as superintendent. He cut rates, made overdue repairs and installed water meters to discourage waste, making the water system profitable for the city (Hoffman 1981: 45). In 1904, he surveyed the beleaguered Los Angeles River and announced: The time has come when we shall have to supplement its flow from some other source (Hundley 1992: 139). Mulholland s friend and mentor Fred Eaton had just the source in mind: Owens Valley, which lay 230 miles to the northeast in the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains. By 1877, at the age of twenty, Eaton had become superintending engineer of the Water Company and later served as the city s chief engineer. As mayor of Los Angeles between 1898 and 1900, Eaton played a vital role in the campaign to municipalize the city s water supply systems. In 1892, Eaton began talking about constructing a canal between Owens Valley and Los Angeles to carry water to the city by gravity, but no one listened (Kahrl 1982: 47). By 1904, circumstances had changed, and Eaton convinced Mulholland to visit the valley with him. Impressed, Mulholland told Eaton, our supply of water is indeed in the Owens Valley (Davis 1993: 8). Mulholland went to work in Los Angeles, promoting the plan to City Hall, while Eaton set about buying land in the valley with his own money to acquire water rights to the Owens River. Both men worked in secrecy to head off rival land speculators (Kahrl 1982: 55). Often deceiving sellers about his intentions, Eaton procured the necessary properties, including a crucial reservoir site in Long Valley. (Kahrl 1982: 64). Eaton s activities in Owens Valley did not go undetected. Catching wind of the project, a syndicate led by Los Angeles Times editor Harrison Gray Otis and several prominent businessmen began to buy lands in the San Fernando Valley, believing it the likely destination for surplus water from Owens Valley which was exactly what Mulholland had in mind. The
9 9 controversy came to a boil in the summer of 1905, soon after the city approved the Owens Valley plan. Critics charged the syndicate had benefited from inside information in exchange for public support of the aqueduct. The conspiracy theory surfaced again during the mayoral campaign of 1911, and it remained a popular trope in local politics for decades, even serving as the basis for the motion picture Chinatown (1974). Nevertheless, voters approved the bond issue, allowing the city to pay Eaton in cash, land and cattle for the water rights in Owens Valley (Nadeau 1974: 23-25; Reisner 1987: 78-81). The U.S. Reclamation Service (later Bureau of Reclamation) posed the biggest obstacle to the Owens Valley scheme. Created in 1902 to manage major water resource development in the U.S. West, the Reclamation Service planned a major irrigation project in Owens Valley. But to the extreme good fortune of Los Angeles, the agent in charge of the project was Joseph Lippincott, a Los Angeles native and friend of Fred Eaton (Hoffman 1981: 6). Lippincott embraced Eaton s plan, acting as a consultant for Los Angeles while working for the Reclamation Service. Eaton, in turn, used the project to his advantage, misrepresenting himself to sellers as an agent of the Reclamation Service. In 1905, following Lippincott s recommendation, a panel of Reclamation engineers voted to suspend the project (Hoffman 1977: ). The matter came to a head in 1906, when Los Angeles appealed to the U.S. Congress for rights-of-way across federal lands traversed by the aqueduct. Advocates of the Owens Valley urged that the Reclamation project move forward to keep the river s surplus waters in the valley. Mulholland hoped to kill the project and deposit the surplus water in the San Fernando Valley. After a fierce battle behind the scenes, President Theodore Roosevelt and Interior Secretary Gifford Pinchot ruled in favor of Los Angeles. Roosevelt s explanation was utilitarian: the water, he wrote, is more valuable to the people as a whole if used by the city than if used by the people of the Owens Valley (Kahrl 1976: 14). Los Angeles received its rights-of-way, and the Reclamation Service killed its own Owens Valley Irrigation Project. In 1907, voters approved a $24 million bond to fund the aqueduct, clearing the way for construction. Under the supervision of Mulholland, the Los Angeles Aqueduct took six years to build, and its completion brought the hydraulic society to Los Angeles. The aqueduct carried water from Owens Valley over 223 miles of harsh terrain through a system of canals, siphons, cascades and tunnels, eventually depositing it in the San Fernando Valley Reservoir (Van Buren 2002: 32). To facilitate the project, the city built 53 miles of tunnels, 57 work camps, 500 miles of
10 10 roads, 120 miles of railroad track, 240 miles of telephone line, a concrete plant and two hydroelectric plants (Kahrl 1976: 17; Reisner 1987: 87-88). Constructing the Los Angeles Aqueduct Under the supervision of William Mulholland, the Los Angeles Aqueduct took six years to complete. The Aqueduct stretched more than 220 miles across harsh terrain, carrying water from Owens Valley to Los Angeles through a system of canals, cascades, tunnels and siphons. The picture above depicts Deadman Siphon, near Santa Clarita. Source: The Los Angeles Times Web Site (http://framework.latimes.com/2011/11/06/building-los-angeles-aqueduct/#/7). At any given point, between two and six thousand underpaid men labored in the Mojave Desert. A tireless Mulholland joined them, living and working beside the men, pushing them to their limit, even implementing a bonus system that inspired crews to set records for hard-rock tunneling (Kahrl 1982: 163). In November 1913, Angelenos gathered at Exposition Park to celebrate the arrival of water from Owens Valley and to cheer Mulholland s achievement. But the event did more than lionize Mulholland. It marked the advent of the hydraulic society in Los Angeles, creating a social order based on the intensive, large-scale manipulation of water and its products (Worster 1985: 6-7). The hydraulic society shaped Los Angeles s growth and dictated its water policies for the next half-century.
11 11 The Opening of the Los Angeles Aqueduct On November 5, 1913, thirty thousand Angelenos gathered to celebrate the opening of the Los Angeles Aqueduct. As the first cascade of water sluiced down the Newhall Spillway (pictured above) and into the San Fernando Valley, William Mulholland roared to the crowd: "There it is - take it!" Source: City of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power Web Site (http://wsoweb.ladwp.com/aqueduct/historyoflaa/altar.htm). In its first decade of existence, the aqueduct generated explosive growth in the city of Los Angeles and turned the semi-arid San Fernando Valley into lush farmland. In 1911, the Public Service Commission recommended that three-fourths of the surplus water from Owens Valley go to irrigation in San Fernando Valley. Land values skyrocketed, as the real estate syndicate, led by Los Angeles Times editor Otis, continued to buy land and make plans for tract development in the Valley. When the aqueduct opened, Mulholland offered the syndicate reduced water rates, but at a price: annexation. Because the aqueduct was municipally owned, the syndicate had no choice. In 1915, Los Angeles annexed San Fernando and Palm, increasing the city s size from
12 to 285 square miles (Kahrl 1976: 103). Irrigated land in the San Fernando Valley increased from 3,000 acres in 1913 to 75,000 acres in Many San Fernando farmers switched from cultivating tree crops to growing water-intensive crops such as beans, potatoes, and alfalfa (Kahrl 1976, 105; Reisner 1987: 90). Los Angeles County emerged as a vital agricultural region again, and the dramatic transformation drew thousands to the San Fernando Valley. In the meantime, Los Angeles annexed other surrounding communities, expanding to 364 square miles by 1920 (Kahrl 1976: 103). The city s population swelled to 575,000 in 1920 (Hundley 1992: 260). In the 1920s, rapid growth and severe drought strained the city s new water supply, forcing Mulholland to expand the aqueduct system. Between 1920 and 1925, the city s population doubled. To make matters worse, by 1923 a severe drought caused Owens River to flow at less than half its normal capacity, and parched Angelenos began pumping groundwater again. The celebrated aqueduct operated in deficiency, even though 15,000 acre-feet of water from the Owens Valley reached the ocean as wastewater (Hundley 1992: 262). Mulholland saw two options: 1) find yet another source of water, and 2) increase the aqueduct s capacity. Behind the scenes, he lobbied Congress to approve the Boulder Canyon Dam on the Colorado River, which would make a second aqueduct possible. At the same time, Mulholland expanded the aqueduct system, building the Hollywood Reservoir (1924) and the San Francisquito Reservoir (1926). But he stubbornly refused to acquire the Long Valley site from Fred Eaton to store water from Owens River. Eaton wanted $1 million for it. Mulholland angrily rejected both the offer and his friend, saying he would buy Long Valley three years after Fred Eaton is dead. Instead, Mulholland embarked on a new program of water imperialism, purchasing land in Inyo County in the northern Owens Valley with the hope of extending the aqueduct to Mono Lake. He also began pumping groundwater there, and he ordered city crews to destroy irrigation ditches built by local ranchers, apparently intent on controlling every drop of water in the Owens River (Kahrl 1976: ). Residents of the upper Owens Valley responded to Mulholland s policies with a spirited and sometimes violent resistance. The banking brothers Wilfred and Mark Watterson organized local ranchers into an irrigation district and demanded higher prices and reparations for the properties the city tried to buy. In May 1924, forty angry locals used three boxes of dynamite to destroy a section of the aqueduct. Six month later, ranchers seized the Alabama Gates, which
13 13 controlled the flow of water into the aqueduct, and held them for four days. Over the next two years, locals periodically dynamited the aqueduct, including a major siphon in Owens Valley (Walton, 1992). The city responded by stepping up its purchasing program and dispatching armed guards to the waterworks. The resistance collapsed in 1927, when Mulholland produced evidence that led to the conviction of the Wattersons for embezzlement and fraud. After the trial, a sign appeared in Owens Valley: Los Angeles City Limits (Kahrl 1976: ; Reisner 1987: 97). Mulholland s water imperialism had secured the entire Owens Valley for Los Angeles A year after Mulholland triumphed in Owens Valley, the aqueduct ruined him. In early 1928, the St. Francis Dam, completed hastily in 1926 to retain the San Francisquito Reservoir in San Francisquito Canyon 50 km north of Los Angeles, began to leak. On March 12, Mulholland inspected the site, which stood in the San Andreas fault zone, and pronounced it sound. Hours later, the dam broke, and a 100-foot wave crashed down the Santa Clara Valley through part of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties, wrecking dozens of small towns and claiming as many as 430 lives before dissipating into the sea (Petroski 2003: 117; Jackson and Hundley 2004: 9). The disaster embarrassed both Mulholland and the proponents of the Boulder Canyon Dam, then under consideration in Congress. Mulholland claimed responsibility for the incident, and the subsequent public scrutiny broke him. I envy the dead, he told investigators (Kahrl 1976: 114). Mulholland resigned, disappearing from public life until his death seven years later in Mulholland and his allies left behind a complex legacy, radically reshaping not only the city of Los Angeles but also the Los Angeles and Owens River basins. Mulholland had supervised the construction of Los Angeles s modern hydraulic infrastructure. Its centerpiece, the aqueduct, enabled Los Angeles to grow into a city of 1.2 million and a sprawling metropolitan district of 2.3 million. Through annexation, the city tripled in area, and suburbanization made Los Angeles a fragmented metropolis with a dispersed population (Fogelson 1967). The aqueduct utterly transformed Los Angeles s physical environment, as palm trees grew up along major streets and every house showed off a green lawn (Reisner 1987: 90). The San Fernando Valley became a center of agricultural production. The oil industry boomed and the motion picture industry thrived, and Los Angeles became the premier port city on the West Coast (Hundley 1992: 167). Mulholland also reconfigured urban water management, as the Public Service Commission evolved into the Department of Water and Power (DWP) in
14 , becoming the largest and most powerful municipally owned utility in the United States (Erie 2006: 35). But the aqueduct that allowed Los Angeles to grow so spectacularly left Owens Valley a scene of desolation (Baugh 1937: 17). Owens Lake dried up, and dust from the lakebed blew into nearby towns (Piper 2006: 1). Ranching and agriculture became almost impossible as irrigation ditches choked with weeds. The population swiftly declined. Owens Valley found itself intimately linked with distant Los Angeles, which had become Inyo County s biggest landholder and taxpayer, owning 95 per cent of farmlands and 85 per cent of town properties by 1933 (Baugh 1937: 28; Kahrl 1976: 114). One Owens Valley resident complained, The entire valley is a colony. We are colonials, (quote in Piper 2006: 52). While some authors see Mulholland as the heroic architect of Los Angeles s ascendance (Nadeau 1974; Davis 1993; Mulholland 2000), others cast him as a villain, emphasizing his disregard for the people and environment of Owens Valley for the sake of urban expansion (Kahrl 1976; Hoffman 1981; Reisner 1987; Hundley 1992; Walton 1992). The environmental degradation of the Owens Valley took an especially heavy toll on the area s earliest residents, the Paiutes. Long before the arrival of Americans in the mid-19 th century, Paiutes dwelled in villages along the Owens River, diverting its waters to support the cultivation of native plants especially grasses, seeds and tubers. Scholars have only begun to recognize the extent and sophistication of the Paiutes water system in the Owens Valley. The ethnographer Steward (1933) argued that the Paiute practiced irrigation without agriculture cleverly using temporary dams and ditches to water the valley s natural meadows - and later authors repeated the claim without skepticism (Worster 1985; Sauder 1990). More recently, Walton (1992) and Cavelle (2011) have pointed out that geographical surveys and ethnographic evidence tell a very different story. The Paiutes of Owens Valley built an elaborate system of water management that featured a dam on Bishop Creek and almost 60 miles of communallyowned ditches and canals. A tuvaiju or head irrigator was elected each spring to oversee construction of the system (Cavell 2011: 6). The Paiutes carefully tended the irrigated fields, cultivating crops, reseeding after harvest, and allowing fields to lie fallow in alternate years. According to Walton (1992), the Paiutes were so skillful at managing water and sustaining agriculture in the Owens Valley that in 1858 white settlers approached them for advice on farming the unforgiving land (16). In 1859, with the discovery of gold and silver in the Sierra Nevadas, thousands of white Americans poured into the valley, displacing the Indians and
15 15 seizing water for their cattle, horses, and new crops. In 1862, the U.S. Army embarked on an allout war against the Paiutes, destroying crops and food stores to induce starvation and surrender (Walton 1992: 15-20). The campaign culminated in 1863, when the Army attempted to force the last Paiute holdouts into Fort Tejon. Dozens of Paiutes took refuge among the reeds of Owens Lake, where they were either drowned or shot by white soldiers (Walton 1992: 21; Piper 2006: 85-86). When Fort Tejon closed in 1864, the Paiutes returned to the valley to work as agricultural laborers. As Los Angeles asserted control over the Valley in the early 20 th century, about two thousand remaining Paiutes found themselves pushed to the margins, deprived of their water rights and forced to eke out a hardscrabble existence on tiny public tracts (Piper 2006: ). As Vernon Miller, a Paiute Elder, states succinctly in the documentary Cadillac Desert (1997), Well, first we had the valley. Then the settlers came in and took it away from us. Then the City of Los Angeles came and took it away from them. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles River itself had become a river in name only, resembling a desert watercourse (Gumprecht 2005: 120, 123). To control pollution and prevent waste, city officials tried to keep water from flowing between its banks. Infiltration galleries drained runoff from the aqueduct and wells were dug to prevent groundwater from reaching the river. Dried up and littered with trash, the Los Angeles River became an eyesore. White Angelenos moved away from the river to the growing suburbs, and the river became associated with people of color, particularly Mexican immigrants and Gabrielinos 2 (Piper 2006: 66). No longer the city s primary source of water, the river now served Los Angeles as a channel for wastewater and floodwater (Deverell 2004: 107). COLORADO RIVER: GROWTH AND EXCESS, The waters of Owens Valley only temporarily slaked Los Angeles s thirst, and the city s water imperialism persisted through the middle decades of the twentieth century. In the 1920s, city 2 The river was not, however, as firmly associated with African Americans in the first half of the 20 th century, primarily because of the city s residential patterns. After World War I, African Americans flocked to the city in search of manufacturing jobs, and between 1920 and 1930, Los Angeles s black population more than doubled, from 15, 579 to 38, 898 (Sides 2003: 15). But restrictive housing covenants confined African Americans to specific neighborhoods including South Central and Watts, which were both south of downtown and west of the river. As a result, people of Mexican descent - who lived along the river in East Los Angeles became associated with the river in the popular imagination (see Deverell 2004 and Piper 2006).
16 16 officials looked to the Colorado River as a new source of water. The silt-laden river passed through seven states, running from Wyoming to the Gulf of California, but it remained largely undeveloped (Nadeau 1974: 139). In 1928, the U.S. Congress authorized the construction of the Boulder Canyon Dam between Arizona and Nevada. In response, fifteen municipalities in Southern California joined together in the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) to manage delivery of water from the Colorado to the region (Cottrell 1932: 695; Erie 2006: 7). From the start, Los Angeles dominated the board of the MWD, and the city remained committed to its utilitarian water management, viewing water as fuel for the growth machine (Fulton 2001). For Los Angeles, the MWD proved to be a powerful new vehicle for acquiring water (Hundley 1992: 217). In 1931, as federal workers began construction on the 726-foot Boulder Dam later called the Hoover Dam voters approved a $220 million bond to build a new aqueduct to bring Colorado River water to the city (Erie 2006: 72). Construction of the Colorado River Aqueduct began in 1933, and it soon sparked conflict between California and Arizona. In 1934, workers from the Bureau of Reclamation began work on Parker Dam, the first of the aqueduct s structures, which spanned the Colorado River between California and Arizona. Arizona governor B.B. Moeur sent five militiamen to report at once any encroachment on the Arizona side of the river (Nadeau 1974: 223). When workers ignored them, Moeur declared martial law and sent out 100 guardsmen armed with machine guns to repel the threatened invasion (Reisner 1987: ). It took a Supreme Court decision and an act of Congress to force Moeur to back down. Although no blood was shed, the showdown delayed construction on the aqueduct and presaged later battles between the western states over rights to the Colorado River. The MWD eventually completed work on the 242-mile Colorado River Aqueduct in 1941, giving Los Angeles access to a new supply of imported water (Hundley 1992: ). In fact, Los Angeles had no pressing need for the Colorado River Aqueduct because the city enjoyed a surfeit of water from the new Mono Basin extension to the Los Angeles Aqueduct. Mulholland had laid the groundwork for the project in the 1920s, but his refusal to acquire the Long Valley property from Eaton had stymied it. In 1929, Eaton s land went into receivership, and city officials pounced. Aided by the Bureau of Reclamation, which blocked development in the region, the city secured the necessary rights-of-way. In the meantime, the Water and Power Department used speakers and mass media to whip up fears of a looming water famine (Kahrl
17 : ). In 1930, voters approved a $40 million bond to extend the Los Angeles Aqueduct into the Mono Lake drainage basin (Hundley 1992: ). Work began on the extension in 1934 and was completed in The Mono extension guaranteed Los Angeles more water than it needed for the next forty years. Los Angeles received little or no water from the Colorado River until the 1980s because the supply from Owens Valley remained so plentiful and cheap. The water flowing into Los Angeles from the Mono Basin and Colorado River made the city one of the most effective growth machines ever created (Fulton 2001: 7). According to Hundley (1992), imported water obliterated any sense of restraint about Los Angeles s capacity to absorb ever more people and industries (230). Industrial production during World War II and the postwar economic boom drew millions to Los Angeles The petroleum, aerospace, aircraft, shipping and construction industries prospered, as did banking, tourism and motion pictures (Hundley 1992: ). Los Angeles became the City of Dreams, the home of movie stars and second chances. But as Los Angeles grew, so too did its suburbs: Pasadena, Santa Monica, San Bernardino and Glendale. Metropolitan Los Angeles became famous for the most frightful case of urban sprawl, unbroken by parklands or greenbelts (Nadeau 1974: 257). Indeed, sociologist William Whyte coined the term urban sprawl after flying over Los Angeles in the 1950s (Davis 1996: 169). The MWD facilitated the sprawl, allowing suburbs and nearby municipalities to import water from the Colorado River without seeking annexation to the city. (Erie 2006: 56-7). Metropolitan Los Angeles swelled to include five counties Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, San Bernardino and Riverside and the population grew from 3.2 million in 1940 to almost 10 million people by 1970 (Strategic Economics 2002: 8). Sprawling subdivisions have been flung out from the Los Angeles core, filling the neighboring valleys, wrote one scholar (Nelson 1959: 80). The unchecked development left metropolitan Los Angeles polluted, overcrowded, and disconnected from its natural environment. Even so, city leaders remained committed to the growth ethic, like some ritual chant that had lost its meaning (Nadeau 1974: 257). In the 1960s, the Department of Water and Power put in place a second aqueduct from Owens Valley. After the Mono Basin extension was completed, the original aqueduct proved unable to convey the city s full allocation from Owens Valley. In 1959, the California Water Rights Board warned Los Angeles to use the water or lose rights to it. The city began planning for a second aqueduct but took no action (Kahrl 1982: ). In 1963, in Arizona v. California, the U.S. Supreme Court reduced California s allocation from the Colorado River by
18 18 almost 1 million acre-feet (Hundley 1992: ). The ruling alarmed Angelenos, who saw the Colorado River as a safety net. Convinced the city needed to draw as much water as possible from Owens Valley, voters approved a second aqueduct at a cost of $89 million (City of Los Angeles, A Second Aqueduct ). Roughly half the size of Mulholland s aqueduct, the Second Los Angeles Aqueduct opened in 1970, guaranteeing Owens Valley would remain the city s primary source of water another two decades. In the 1970s, yet another aqueduct began delivering water to metropolitan Los Angeles. After his election in 1958, Governor Edward Pat Brown began pushing the California State Water Project, a massive waterworks that would convey surplus water from northern California to the growing cities of southern California. The project centered around the construction of Oroville Dam on the Feather River, a tributary of the Sacramento River, with a large branching aqueduct to divert the water southward. Many civic leaders in Los Angeles opposed the project, worrying the water would be too expensive, and Los Angeles s representatives on the MWD board also voted against it, fearing the project would benefit agriculture in the San Joaquin Valley at Los Angeles s expense (Reisner 1987: 362). Brown crisscrossed the state, saying it s better to have problems with water than problems without water (Hundley 1992: 286). In 1960, California voters approved a $1.75 billion bond to fund the project. Angelenos voted for it by a narrow margin. Construction began on the California Aqueduct, and the aqueduct s West Branch delivered water to Castaic Lake in San Bernardino in 1971 (Hundley 1992: 287). Metropolitan Los Angeles now had four aqueducts importing water from sources hundreds of miles from the city. As metropolitan Los Angeles spread and flourished, the natural and built environment of multiple regions underwent drastic transformations. Deprived of its drainage basin, Mono Lake the remnant of an ancient inland sea began dropping at the rate of 18 inches per year. The Lake s salinity almost doubled, threatening the lake s brine shrimp and the gull population that fed on them (Hundley 1992: ). Owens Lake became so dry it produced vast dust storms that blanketed not only the townships of Owens Valley but also the cities of Los Angeles s Inland Empire in Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Particulate matter from the alkaline dust infiltrated residents lungs, causing deadly autoimmune diseases, especially among impoverished Paiute communities (Piper 2006: 3-4). In metropolitan Los Angeles, suburbanization and sprawl created a society connected by automobiles and freeways. Smog
19 19 hung in the air, trapped by the area s mountain ranges, and Angelenos found themselves breathing their own waste (Nadeau 1974: 257). Agriculture declined, as farmlands were subdivided and turned into homes. In San Fernando Valley, industrial centers replaced orchards and vineyards, and fields that were in beans or barley a few years ago are now occupied by houses or factories (Nelson, 80-81). By the early 1970s, critics began to question the city s commitment to unrestrained growth driven by water imperialism. As Nadeau (1974) observed, city officials brought in so much water for so many people that few cared anymore whether Los Angeles grew at all (265). Growth no longer seemed sustainable, and new water projects no longer seemed justifiable. With so many artificial rivers to feed the growth machine, the Los Angeles River - the moodiest of all rivers in Southern California was simply paved over and relegated to flood control (Deverell 2004: 100). Channelizing the Los Angeles River After devastating floods in 1934 and 1938, the U.S. federal government embarked on a massive flood control program in Los Angeles in the 1950s, straightening and channelizing the Los Angeles River with 3.5 million barrels of cement and 147 million pounds of steel. With concrete lining its banks for 94 per cent of its course, the river, once the lifeblood of the city, became a "fifty-one-mile storm drain." Source: 2011 by Joe Mabel, used under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en).
20 20 A major flood in 1914 had pushed the Los Angeles city council to appoint a team to re-engineer the river, but the same taxpayers who funded aqueduct after aqueduct refused to pay for flood control (Orsi 2005). After significant floods in 1934 and 1938, the federal government stepped in, embarking on a massive flood control program in Los Angeles County. In the 1950s, federal workers used 3.5 million barrels of cement and 147 million pounds of steel to straighten and channelize the Los Angeles River, turning it into a fifty-one-mile storm drain (Gumprecht 1999: 173, 226). Concrete lined its banks for 94 per cent of its course. The fish, frogs, snakes, birds, and turtles that depended on the river began to disappear. Strewn with trash and covered in graffiti, the channel looked more like a deserted freeway than a river. It attracted the homeless, the criminal, and moviemakers, but seemingly repelled everyone else. City officials began putting up chain link and barbed wire to keep people away (Gumprecht 1999: ). After 1960, many Angelenos grew up unaware that Los Angeles had a river at all. LIMITS AND CONSEQUENCES, 1972-PRESENT In the last three decades of the 20th century, Los Angeles confronted the consequences of its water imperialism and the utilitarian approach to water management. Continued growth became unsustainable, and Angelenos grew increasingly concerned with their deteriorating quality of life. In addition, the emerging environmental movement focused attention on the environmental impact of water imperialism, both in the city and in Owens Valley. State and federal environmental legislation furnished environmentalists with the weapons they needed to combat Los Angeles s water policies in the courts (Hundley 1992: 306-7). The city became embroiled in legal controversies centered on environmental justice; and the vagaries of Southern California s climate encouraged city officials to seek out more sustainable models of water resource management. As Hundley (1992) observes, the hydraulic society found itself on the defensive (299). The first major legal controversy came in 1972, when Inyo County in the Owens Valley filed suit against Los Angeles under the California Environmental Quality Act of Inyo County argued that Los Angeles should be required to study the environmental impact of pumping groundwater in the valley before extracting any more of it (Kahrl 1982: 416). Residents of Inyo County were especially concerned about the health effects of breathing dust blown off the dry bed of Owens Lake. Although Inyo County won, the Department of Water and Power
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