The Story of the
Los Angeles Aqueduct
In 1913 the City of Los Angeles
completed construction of the first Los Angeles Aqueduct. This is
the story of how the dream of a few far-sighted people at the turn of the 20th Century became
a reality. Follow the links below for details on how the Los Angeles
Aqueduct was conceived and built.
"The City Owns its Water"
From the time that Los Angeles
was first founded in 1769, the small settlement had depended upon its own
river for water. The 11 families that settled in the area dammed up the
Los Angeles River and built canals to irrigate fields. But as the city grew, those in
charge of supplying the growing population with water knew the small
meandering river could not meet future demands.
A New Supply
William Mulholland, an immigrant
from Ireland, went to work for the Los Angeles City Water Company as a
ditch tender. When he became superintendent of the water company at the
age of 31, Mulholland began to search for a new water supply.
The Owens River Valley
In 1904, Fred Eaton and J. B.
Lippincott traveled to Yosemite Valley on a family camping trip. They
crossed the Sierra at Tioga Pass and headed south to Bishop for supplies,
and eventually back to Los Angeles through the Owens Valley. During that
trip Eaton began making plans that would bring water to a growing city and
launch a long conflict.
"The Owens Valley is the Only
Eaton convinced Mulholland that
the Owens River could provide Los Angeles with a reliable source of
The Last Spike is Driven
Eaton visited the Owens Valley in 1905 and began to purchase land for the City of Los Angeles. He
gave the impression that he was working for the US Reclamation Service on
a public irrigation project, angering local residents when they discovered
he was buying land and water rights for Los Angeles
A Hundred or a Thousand Fold More
After securing the land and water
rights, the Board of Water Commissioners needed to obtain the money from
Los Angeles residents, and legal rights from the Federal Government, to construct the aqueduct. A bond measure
to pay for the construction passed in Los Angeles
by a 10 to 1 margin. After much debate in the House of
Representatives, President Theodore Roosevelt decided that Los Angeles
should have the rights to the Owens River water.
Construction on the Los Angeles
Aqueduct began in 1908. Workers from all over the world came to work at
high-paying jobs that would last for several years.
Over the years, construction
crews set numerous records for miles of tunnel cut and length of pipe
installed. The Los Angeles Board of Public Works estimated that crews
could dig eight feet of tunnel per day at each tunnel end, for a
total of 16 feet per day. Crews dug more than 22 feet per day while
constructing the five-mile Elizabeth Tunnel. They finished the tunnel 20
months earlier than the Board's estimate of five years.
"This Rude Platform is an
At the dedication of the Los
Angeles Aqueduct on November 5, 1913, Mulholland told the thousands of
people attending the ceremony that they were there to dedicate the
Aqueduct to "you and your children and your children's children for
"Whoever Brings the Water,
Brings the People"
Once Los Angeles had a reliable
water supply it began to grow dramatically. However, Owens Valley
residents began to fight the City's water export. Confrontations escalated
to several dynamitings of the Aqueduct. To secure its water rights, the
City began to purchase extensive tracts of land in the Owens Valley.
The Colorado River: A Regional
As Los Angeles continued to grow,
Mulholland began to look for a way to bring Colorado River water to meet
the City's needs.
The Mono Basin Project
After World War II, the City
began the Mono Basin Project as a way of providing a larger and more
dependable flow in the Los Angeles Aqueduct. Four of Mono Lake's seven
tributary streams, Lee Vining, Parker, Walker and Rush Creeks, were tapped
for export to Los Angeles through an 11-mile tunnel. Crowley Lake and
Grant Lake were also built as part of the Mono Basin Project.
A Second Aqueduct
The challenge to supply water to
Los Angeles continued to press. Because the capacity of the Los Angeles
Aqueduct was limited, the City was unable to take its full entitlement
from the Mono Basin. The California State Water Rights Board urged Los
Angeles to take steps to develop its full entitlement, or risk that the
water might be granted to others. To increase the Aqueduct capacity, a
second aqueduct was built from Haiwee Reservoir in Southern Inyo
County to Los Angeles.
A Shared Resource
The completion of the Second Los
Angeles Aqueduct in 1970 and the City's plans to augment the Aqueduct flow
with Owens Valley groundwater prompted renewed local protests. Inyo County
filed suit against Los Angeles under the new California Environmental
Quality Act, seeking an Environmental Impact Report on new aqueduct. In
1984, after years of disagreements and court hearings, Inyo County and Los
Angeles entered into an Agreement to produce a EIR together.
With Los Angeles growing at a rapid
pace, not only the availability of water, but also the quality of water
became more important at the last part of the 20th century. Los Angeles
built a filtration plant in 1986 and continues to monitor and improve water
quality from its three sources.
Under Mulholland's leadership,
Los Angeles began a program of metering all water uses
to encourage water conservation. Per capita daily water use dropped to 178
gallons per day by the mid-1980's, about half of what was used in unmetered
cities such as Sacramento. The City continues to emphasize and
improve its programs through many innovative approaches that have made Los
Angeles a water conservation leader in the Nation.
Reclaimed water is proving to be
an excellent method of providing additional water to Los Angeles in an
environmentally responsible manner.
Mulholland truly had a vision
when he looked to the Eastern Sierra and envisioned an aqueduct to bring
water to a growing city. Los Angeles has become the nation's second
largest city because of his decision to find another reliable water
Angeles Aqueduct Facts