Aqueduct Sign

The Owens Valley Aqueduct 

 Unless otherwise note, all photocards on this page are from the archival files of Rich McCutchan.

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Perhaps 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 Roman AqueductAngeles 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 (of course in this case, Rome being Los Angeles) there will be such a shout of [water] 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

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10 mule team hauling pipe across the desert.

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Hard-rock tunnelers at work on the aqueduct.  

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Mechanical mule team which had a short-lived success due to the sandy Mojave Desert. Real mules turned out to me more reliable!

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Another freight team hauling supplies for the aqueduct construction.

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Dredge digging the aqueduct in Owens Valley. 



 Aqueduct Dynamite Parties

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Angry Owens Valley residents take control of the aqueduct.

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Owens Valley residents having a "dynamiting party" along a section of the aqueduct.

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Owens Valley residents having a "dynamiting party" along a section of the aqueduct.

"Dynamiters gave the aqueduct little rest during June and July of 1927, six different blasts occurring. The most serious in effects was at a canyon near the southern boarder of Inyo County, where dynamite or the subsequent rush of water, or both, carried away more than 450 feet of large and heavy steel siphon. Los Angeles officials who had given the press of that city many statements as to their knowledge of the guilty parties were summoned before the Inyo grand jury, but denied possessing the information attributed to them.

It has been claimed by Los Angeles officials seeking to justify their course that liberal prices have been paid for Owens Valley property. Considering land and buildings only, and with some exceptions, that is true. But while Los Angeles has secured realty that is merely incidental to its real purpose. The finest farm in the valley is of no more value to it than a town lot, so far as realty alone is concerned. It is buying water, surface and underground, worth thousands of dollars an inch according to its own engineers; and it is buying freedom from interference with its stripping Owens Valley of such water. Every seller parts with not only his surface holdings and appurtenant rights; he expressly abandons and cancels any and every other present or future claim against the city of Los Angeles. If he sells a town lot, the printed agreement he is called on to sign precludes his defending the water rights of his 160-acre farm if he has one. This requirement has been modified in some cases, but is on the form presented to him. He is virtually banished, if his living depends on the soil, for he cannot thereafter acquire Owens Valley property with water rights assured to him. He has signed away any privilege of defense.

Some of those who leave were born and raised on the acres they have sold. In some cases their fathers or their grandfathers had cleared those lands amid the dangers of Indian warfare. This was the home of their hearts; the land and people they understood and loved. The mere payment of so much per acre or so much per lot, and of the cost of the boards and nails and paint in their dwellings, did not compensate for what they surrendered. One writes from a new location - his third since leaving Inyo - that he has not seen a happy day since he left; another, that come what might, the Owens Valley home would not be sold for any figure if it were to be done over again. Such expressions are many."

Excerpt from "The Story of Inyo" by W.A. Chalfant

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No water in the aqueduct! Owens Valley residents vain attempt to take back the water which Los Angeles stole by chicanery.

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Dynamited section of the aqueduct.


"The sincere work of years is being undone. On tract after tract acquired by Los Angeles orchards have been uprooted, whether fragrant with bloom or golden with fruit when devastating tractors ruthlessly seized them. Thousands of acres, once spreading fields of green alfalfa or richly productive fields of grain, have been abandoned to the encroaching sagebrush. Dwellings, whether humble or pretentious, have been wrecked, or stand as the sport of the elements, unless fire has already had its way with them. Homes which echoed to the music of children's voices and sheltered the toiler at his day's end are windowless and their doors swing in the breezes. Lawns about them have vanished; the perfume of their gardens has fled. Their portals are no longer shaded and the avenues leading to them are bordered by gray stumps where venerable trees once welcomed feathered songsters and were part of a beautiful landscape. Even the roads giving access to the homesteads have been plowed up, in some cases, to make the work of obliteration the more complete. Districts which settlers brought from sage-grown waste to productiveness and charm are on their way back to the primitive. Railroad sidetracks over which once rolled carloads of produce are becoming but streaks of rust in a wilderness from which all inhabitants have gone. The very sites on which stood the schools are bare, in some once thriving districts. And this in a land brought from savagery to civilization by the toil and blood and lives of high-class American citizens. Their pioneering was rewarded by being stripped of the protection of the laws designed to promote just such settlement.

These are facts acts to be observed along any valley highway. What many outside observers have found might be cited in corroboration. Some of the most influential papers sent representatives to learn the situation at first hand. "The Valley of Broken Hearts" was the title of a series of articles in the San Francisco Call. Some of the Most forceful criticisms of Los Angeles were printed by the Record, of that city. World-known Will Rogers last summer informed the nation:

' Ten years ago this was a wonderful valley with one-quarter of a
million acres of fruit and alfalfa. But Los Angeles had to have more
water for its Chamber of Commerce to drink more toasts to its
growth, more water to dilute its orange juice and more water for its
geraniums to delight the tourists, while the giant cottonwoods here
died. So, now this ' s is a valley of desolation.'

Going to show that the Call titled its articles understandingly, the continually disturbed mental condition prevalent in Owens Valley accounted for at least two suicides and one case of insanity.

News comes that Manzanar, once a fruit growing and shipping point of importance, now owned by Los Angeles, is to be deprived of its water and lights. Its remaining orchards are doomed; its settlers must move. Another school and community destroyed.

The dominant genius of the whole undertaking was William Mulholland, whose attitude was typified by his remark (here expurgated) that there were not enough trees in Owens Valley to hang its people on. It must be said of him that he is not open to charges of deception. To him the Inyo people were outlander enemies to be conquered; he left the methods to competent subordinates. The nominally controlling water board served as his rubber stamp, up to the time when the chickens of different engineering failures came home to roost at his doorstep, and when the tragedy of the San Francisquito dam sent out its flood to take hundreds of lives and to wash down to the clay feet of the city's almost defied idol.

Excerpt from "The Story of Inyo" by W.A. Chalfant

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 Residents of Bishop take control of the aqueduct.

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Owens Valley residents having a "dynamiting party" along a section of the aqueduct.


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Damaged siphon.


52-mule team hauling aqueduct sections.

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Workers repairing the damaged siphon. (Lippencot photo)
 


The whole shameful perpetration is a crime against the people of Inyo County; against the people and taxpayers of Los Angeles; against the State of California; against the just administration of the nation's laws. Not because the city came to Owens Valley for more water; that could have been arranged, though little of such water finds its way past the lands which the foresighted promoters sold. All that was right could have been won at far less cost in millions and in good repute by a definite program of honest, aboveboard dealing. The campaign began with wrongful use of government functions; it continued in the engineering folly of creating a $25,000,000 aqueduct without sanely providing for its supply; and it was carried on unscrupulously.

With adequate storage of flood waters there would have been little occasion for interference with the streams that were the very life-blood of Owens Valley; there would have been no destruction of homes and farms; Owens Valley towns would have continued to grow; there would have been water for all; millions of dollars would have been saved to the city; and Los Angeles would not have created for itself a repute that generations may not forget.

Mary Austin, wife of the Austin who first protested to the Government about the peculiar acts of Lippincott, saw the beginning of the calamity as a resident of Independence. In her autobiographical "Earth Horizon" she briefly sketches it, and thus tells of her seeking guidance as to what she could do:

'She called upon the Voice, and the Voice answered her "Nothing." She was told to go away-and suddenly there was an answer; a terrifying answer, pushed off, delayed, deferred; an answer impossible to be repeated; an answer still pending, which I might not live to see confirmed, but hangs suspended over the southern country.'

Many have commented in Inyo's defense, often in language more vivid and less restrained that these pages have shown. Morrow Mayo, who was for six years a Los Angeles reporter, now an author, declares in his recently published "Los Angeles":

'Los Angeles gets its water by reason of one of the costliest, crookedest, most unscrupulous deals ever perpetrated, plus one of the greatest pieces of engineering folly ever heard of. Owens Valley is there for anybody to see. The city of Los Angeles moved through this valley like a devastating plague. It was ruthless, stupid, cruel and crooked. It stole the waters of the Owens River. It drove the people of Owens Valley from their home, a home which they had built from the desert. For no sound reason, for no sane reason, it destroyed a helpless agricultural section and a dozen towns. It was an obscene enterprise from beginning to end.'"

Excerpt from "The Story of Inyo" by W.A. Chalfant

 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]

 

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Aqueduct Damage
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Damaged siphon.

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Damaged siphon.

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L.A. Aqueduct Political Cartoon.
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Aqueduct construction.
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Damaged siphon.
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Damaged siphon.
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Damaged siphon.
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Damaged section of pipeline.

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Damaged aqueduct canal.

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Map of the Los Angeles Aqueduct
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Damaged siphon.
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Damaged siphon.
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Hmm, seems someone planned to dynamite more of the aqueduct.


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20-Mule-Team History  

Manzanar Internment Camp Portraits, History etc.  

More Owens Valley Aqueduct Portraits & History

 

Mt. Whitney Pack Trains 1950s Brochure

 

 Bessie Brady Steamer

 
 

 Packing Equipment

 

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This page was last updated on 27 August 2017