Los Angeles Water Quality: Yesterday
At the start of the 19th Century, the little town of Los Angeles was on the verge of a population explosion due to the Southern and Santa Fe rail lines, newly found oil, and a booming citrus empire. However, its crude systems of dams, water wheels, and ditches connected to the Los Angeles River were not going to be able to keep up with the demands of growing population, industry, and agriculture. The city looked to the mountains in the north as a water source. The City of Angels purchased land and water rights in the Owens Valley; which had an abundance of freshwater runoff from the eastern Sierra Mountains.
The task of bringing the water from Owens Valley to Los Angeles fell on the shoulders of Los Angeles’ newly-appointed Water Chief William Mulholland (as in Mulholland Drive). Construction of the LA Aqueduct started in 1908 and took 5 years to complete. It required blasting 5-miles of granite, building 3 reservoirs, and constructing camps, power stations, railroad tracks, and communications lines stretching across 200 miles. When finished, the Aqueduct flowed across 9 deep canyons, 61 miles of open canals, and through 142 tunnels. At the 1913 dedication of the Aqueduct, Mullholland famously proclaimed “There it is, Take it!” as the water rushed down the Aqueduct to Los Angeles.
Save for an extension in the 1940s and an additional pipeline in the 1970s, the Los Angeles Aqueduct has remained mostly unchanged since the water first traveled from the Sierra Mountains to Los Angeles.