Thursday, September 14, 2006

California Water Wars

When I drive through residential neighborhoods, and I see water flushing the streets from the garden hosing systems, I sometimes wonder if people even remember that the true nature of Los Angeles is to be a dry, desert land. And that bringing water to the city came at stupendous costs.
It's impossible to summarize the history of the Los Angeles aqueduct -- and the subsequent water wars -- in a few lines*. But through movies such as Chinatown, we get a glimpse at the wheeling-dealing that shaped the city as we know it:
[Wikipedia] The wars started with Fred Eaton, who was mayor of Los Angeles in 1898. He created the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) and appointed his friend William Mulholland the superintendent.

Eaton and Mulholland had a vision of a Los Angeles that would become far bigger than the Los Angeles of the turn of the century. The limiting factor of Los Angeles' growth was water supply. They realized that the Owens Valley had a large amount of runoff from the Sierra Nevada, and a gravity-fed aqueduct could deliver the Owens water to L.A. [more]
The aqueduct basically drained all the water from the northern farmlands, prompting local farmers to rebel and sabotage the aqueduct. They were severely repressed, and Mulholland proudly opened the aqueduct in 1913 with his famous "There it is. Take it."

The ecosystem of the Owens valley was eventually destroyed, and what used to be a garden of Eden turned into desolate dry land, with toxic dust storms decimating the local population. It's a poignant story of growth and greed, which continues to this day. Pat Morrison recently interviewed Karen Piper on her new book "Left in the Dust: How Race and Politics Created a Human and Environmental Tragedy in L.A." Piper grew up in Owens valley, and provides a first-hand account worth listening to [here].

So when I watch the wasted water dripping from our own Eden gardens, I can't help thinking about its actual cost -- and wondering how long it can possibly last.
[* see here & here for more info]
photos UC Berkeley Library & Wikipedia
edit LAT 11/27/06: A long, dry wait is nearly over for the Owens River

1 comment:

LA Frog said...

Mehammed Mack in LAWeekly's"Beyond Green feature this week:
"Lawns are the SUVs of the garden world. The lush suburban yard, the SoCal American dream, requires inordinate amounts of water, not to mention time spent tending and manicuring. It embodies the arrogance of trying to create mini-oases in a desert climate."