A New Supply

For 16 years Mulholland had watched the effect of Los Angeles’ growth.  The city, flourishing in a semi-desert environment, had already prompted initial concerns about conservation.

In the 1902 Annual Report he stated, “with a closely estimated population of 85,000…we reached the astounding consumption of over 26 million gallons per day, or about 306 gallons per capita…By the application of a few hundred meters the consumption was cut down nearly three million gallons per day.”

Metering led to reduced consumption, but growth itself proved to be the pivotal issue.  Mulholland began to feel the pressures of growth as head of the new Bureau of Water Works and Supply.

Mulholland’s constant reflections on the City’s needs were divided between conservation and additional supply.  In 1902, he estimated that water metering could reduce per capita consumption to 150 gallons per day.  By 1903, per capita consumption was actually reduced to 200 gallons per day from the previous high of 306.  In the same period, however, Los Angeles had grown to a population of 175,000.

Mulholland’s concerns about the inadequacy of Los Angeles’ supply were realized during ten days in July 1904.  For two years the Los Angeles River had been about 30% below normal.  Water demands created by the city’s breakneck growth overtook the river’s supply and for those ten days the daily consumption exceeded inflow into the reservoirs by nearly four million gallons.

Mulholland began efforts to determine what the City’s actual needs would be.  He used a per capita demand of 150 gallons per day and estimated population growth based on the previous 10 years.  He foresaw a city of 390,000 people using more than 58 million gallons per day by 1925.

The required volume was more than double the minimum flow of the Los Angeles River.  Even the maximum recorded flow would fall ten percent short of meeting the city’s needs.  Only later would the superintendent learn that the actual growth of Los Angeles during the 20-year period would exceed his estimate by more than four times.

He began to search for a new supply.  The local area yielded nothing.  In his search for a new source, he surveyed all of the rivers and groundwater basins south of Tehachapi.  He found groundwater limited and gradually being depleted by agriculture.  Additional groundwater use would limit the development of the surrounding country, the source of wealth of the area. Mulholland concluded Los Angeles would have to look elsewhere.

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