Owens Valley's - Los Angeles Aqueduct 
grand plan

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Unless otherwise note, All L.A. aqueduct photographs on these pages are from the Joseph Barlow Lippincott Papers, LIPP, The Water Resources Center Archives, University of California, Berkeley unless otherwise noted.


 A note from the web site master.

I must admit that I am a bit sensitive when it comes to this particular topic of water and Owens Valley. Having worked in the valley as a packer for Mt. Whitney Pack Trains for a number of years, in the 1960s - 1970s, I was able to experience first hand what a nearly complete lack of water will do to such an otherwise majestic area. It is not enough that the valley's mountain water is siphoned off and sent to Los Angeles, but so is a great deal of its ground water. In a valley where once there were rich farm lands with a thriving agricultural business and a lake 20 miles in length there is now only a memory and an ever present alkali dust cloud. If you remember the movie Ben Hur you'll remember a quote which Pontius Pilate made to Judah Ben Hur just after Judah defeated Masalla in one of the greatest chariot races of all time: "Where there is greatness, great government or power, even great feeling or compassion, error also is great. We progress and mature by fault." The Owens Valley Aqueduct is, without question, one of the greatest engineering marvels of all time, for that, Mulholland should have received much more recognition than he ever did; however, whether or not the aqueduct should have ever been built and the political chicanery involved with its construction is an entirely different matter. Since I readily admit my bias in the matter, I encourage you to read and investigate the other sources I have referenced and link to throughout these few pages. They represent all view points.


owens lake 1908
Owens Lake looking east from Olancha in 1906
Photo courtesy of the water Resources Center Archives, Orbach Science Library, University of California, Riverside, CA.


san francisco call
Los Angeles Adopts Owens Valley Water Scheme

Bonds Totaling $23,000,000 Carried by Vote of 10 to 1
San Francisco Call - 13 June 1907
SPECIAL DISPATCH TO THE CALL. LOS ANGELES. June 12.— By a vote of 10 to 1 Los Angeles declared today for the bonding of the city to the amount of $23,000,000 for the building of a municipal water system, second in magnitude only to that of the Croton system of New York. The money voted today will be expended in the construction of an aqueduct 250 miles in length, which will bring from the Owens River valley, in lnyo county, a supply of pure water impounded from the melting snows on the easterly side of the high Sierras, and which will amount to a constant flow of 20,000 miner's inches, a quantity sufficient to supply a city of a million people. The project also includes the development of no less than 90,000 horsepower of electrical energy, which will be sufficient to supply all southern California with all the electricity it needs for whatever purpose. This latter part of the enterprise will pay for the conduit, pay for the lands already purchased by the city and then leave a sufficient surplus to renew the entire water system of the city. The only opposition to the proposition came from the power companies, whose business will be jeopardized when once the city completes the enterprise.


So What Exactly is a "Miners' Inch"
miners inch

The term "miners' inch" is of California origin, and not know or used in any other locality, it being a method measurement adopted by the varioius ditch companies in disposing of water to their customers. The term is more or less indefinite, for the rreason that the water companies do not all use the same head above the center of the aperture, and the inch varies from 1.36 to 1.73 cubic per minute; but the most common measurement is through an aperture two inches high and whatever length is required, through a plank 1.25 inches thick, as shown in cut. The lower edge of the aperture should be two inches above the bottom of the measuring box, and the plank five inches high above the aperture, thus making a six-inch head above the center of the stream. Each square inch of this opening represents a miners' inch, which is equal to a flow of 1.5 cubic feet per minute.


william mulhollandPerhaps the greatest civil engineering water works project since the aqueducts of the Roman Empire, the Owens Valley Aqueduct under the engineering genius of William Mulholland is completed.

However, as his dream comes to pass, angry Owens Valley residents finally wake up to the reality of the water and land swindle. Their once trusted friend, Fred Eaton, had sold them out to agriculturalists and politicians in far off Los Angeles for some of his own political and monetary gain.

How ironic that water diverted for agricultural use in Los Angeles only resulted in fueling greater industrial and residential development - at the expense of it's own agriculture. The agricultural development it once spawned in the San Fernando Valley, and elsewhere, is long since gone. All that remains is concrete and asphalt and an even greater thirst for water. In a desert where every drop of water is precious, it seems that Los Angeles has forgotten that it does live in a desert. Sooner or later the water bubble will burst and it will be sad for all of us. A saying popularized by the movie "Ben Hur" might well be heard again in Northern California, Owens Valley, and the adjacent Colorado River states. "When Rome falls (Los Angeles and its unquenchable thirst for water) there will be such a shout of freedom that the world will never forget." None of us would have to suffer the consequences of such water gluttony if, as Clint Eastwood would say, "Los Angeles would just know its limitations;" but alas, it doesn't seem to want to!
roman aqueduct
Roman Aqueduct


 The Prime Movers in the Diversion of the Owens River to Los Angeles 


Photo from the 1916 book "Construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct Final Report"
by the Board of Public Service Commissioners of the City of Los Angeles.

 theodore roosevelt

fred eaton 

William Mulholland
(1855 - 1935)

Theodore Roosevelt
(1858 - 1919)

Fred Eaton
(1856 - 1934)


new 04/21
Water Delivered To You For 5 Cents a Ton
by Los Angeles Department of Water and Power


los angeles times
The Los Angeles Times

"Times" Aqueduct Excursion opens Vistas of Prosperity
Dr. Lindley Describes His View of the Trip Along the Aqueduct
Board of Water and Power Commissioners Denies Liability
Half of Aqueduct Party Starts Home


General Profile of the Los Angeles Aqueduct from Owens Valley to Los Angeles
Map from the 1916 book "Construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct Final Report"
by the Board of Public Service Commissioners of the City of Los Angeles.
los angeles aqueduct route


new 08/23
aquaduct map
Map of the Los Angeles Aqueduct with the Mono Lake extension - 1930
(Photo courtesy of The Huntington Digital Library)


"2022 Megadrought"

by Diana Leonard

   "Joseph Barlow Lippincott Biography"
by Kenneth Q. Volk & Edgar Alan Rowe


 Los Angeles
Panorama of Los Angels on "Owens River Day" from the roof of the Hotel Trenton in 1907.
[California Panorama Company photo, June 29, 1907]



   "Myth, History and Water in the Eastern Sierra"[pdf]
by Abraham Hoffman
Abraham's e-mail: hoffmaaz@lavc.edu

"Dedicating the Aqueduct Cascade"[pdf]
by Abraham Hoffman


Portraits of one of the greatest engineering geniuses of our time - William Mulholland



William Muholland in 1928 after the St. Francis Dam disaster

mulholland and eaton


  "The Owens River Valley"[pdf]
by Fred Eaton

(Article courtesy of Hal Eaton)
get acrobat


Lippincott, Eaton, Mulholland
Depending on your viewpoint: The "holy" or "unholy" triumvirate
L/R: Joseph B. Lippincott, Fred A. Eaton, and William Mulholland
(1906 Los Angeles Times Photo)
Los Angeles Board of Water Commissioners at the
time of the building of the Los Angeles aqueduct - 1905
L/R: John J. Fay, J.M. Elliott, Moses H. Sherman, William Mead, Fred L. Baker

Sherman served on the water board while he also participated in plans to develop the San Fernando Valley, which became the outlet point for the aqueduct. Sherman's double role has been the source of conspiracy theories with regard to the aqueduct.


la aqueduct

seal of los angeles

Construction of the LA Aqueduct Part 1

Construction of the LA Aqueduct Part 2

Construction of the aqueduct from Owens Valley to Los Angeles began in the first decade of the 20th century. It was considered one of the engineering marvels of the era, rivaling the Panama Canal. The movie "Chinatown" is based on the project but reset in the 1930s.. The movie version is highly fictionalized but well worth the viewing.

Los Angeles Aqueduct from Owens Valley to
Los Angeles

metropolitan water district

aqueduct route
Map from the 1916 book
"Construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct Final Report"
by the Board of Public Service Commissioners of the City of Los Angeles.
Topographical Map of the Los Angeles Aqueduct
(Map courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress)


aqueduct workers
Los Angeles Aqueduct Workers - Fellow on the far right with the rifle is Elias Charles Disney (Walt Disney's dad).
[Photo courtesy of Page Williams]


Artbound Special: One Hundred Mules Walking the L.A. Aqueduct"
a KCET special


1864 Map of the Owens River and Owens Valley
mining map


Railroad Through the Desert Built by the Southern Pacific Railroad
by Board of Public Service Commissioners of the City of Los Angeles


Photos Courtesy of Rich McCutchan Archives


Los Angeles aqueduct engineers
L/R: Lew Allen, Peter, Jim Hock, Webster, Larry, Todd, Colliver, ?
Some of the Los Angeles aqueduct engineers at Bishop, CA - 1906
Top: Fulton Lane


reclaimation engineers
Los Angeles Aqueduct Reclaimation Engineers- 1906
Sequoia / Kings Canyon Park superintendent Scherer


Red Rock Canyon
Red Rock Canyon prospector with his burros

William Mulholland surveying

planning the aqueduct
Engineers planning the L.A. Aqueduct to Owens Valley - 1903.
(L-R) John R. Freeman, Joseph D. Schuyler, J.B. Lippincott, Fred P. Stearns,
William Mulholland

the cascades
The fruit of all their labor - Owens Valley water
pouring down "The Cascades" into Los Angeles - 1936


watterson bank
Watterson Brothers Bank

Interior view of Inyo County Bank in the days before the bust. Referred to by many as the "Watterson Brothers Bank." From left to right: Mark Q. Watterson, cashier; W.W. Watterson, president; and A.D. Schively.


survey crew
Aqueduct officials inspecting lands belonging to the City of Los Angeles in Inyo County, CA.


Further reading on the Owens Valley Aqueduct

The Lost Frontier by Robert A. Sauder (1994)
Complete Report on the Construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct by Los Angeles Board of Public Service Commissioners (1916)
Rivers in the Desert by Margaret Leslie Davis (1993)
Owens Valley and the Los Angeles Controversy by Richard Wood (1973)
The Owens Valley Controversy & A.A. Brierly: The Untold Story by Robert A. Pearce (1999)
Cadillac Desert: the American West and It's Disappearing waterby Marc Reisner

 Additional Owens Valley Aqueduct Links
Myth, history and water in the Eastern Sierra

book Making "out of print" and "hard to find" books easier to find. book


Manzanar Internment Camp Portraits, History etc.  

Aubrey Hemming Manzanar Journal  

Another Side of Manzanar  

Owens Valley Aqueduct Portraits & History


 Mt. Whitney Pack Trains 1950s Brochure


 Bessie Brady Steamer

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This page was last updated on 18 August 2023