LA Aqueduct To Celebrate Centennial

Los Angeles was a very different place in 1900. Its population was 100,000 residents, having exploded from 11,000 in 1880. Bunker Hill, the site of LA’s current towering skyscrapers was home to Victorian mansions. Development in the San Fernando Valley, known up until this time for its wheat farms and sheep ranches, was just beginning. Freeways were non-existent. Instead, with the emergence of electricity, a comprehensive system of mass transit featuring Pacific Electric Cars was taking shape. One thing, however, was the same. LA’s climate was as mild and temperate as it is today, and in 1900 it was attracting hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world, all coming to the golden state to seek their fortune.

Aqueduct.LA.circa1900While this influx of people provided the opportunity for exponential growth, it also created a huge challenge for LA’s founders – the need for water! Los Angeles averages less than 15 inches of rain annually and at the turn of the 20th century, city leaders quickly realized that they would have to import more than 80% of their water needs if growth and development was to continue in Los Angeles.

The answer came in 1904 during a camping trip to the Sierra Nevadas and the Owens Valley by former City Engineer and Los Angeles Mayor Fred Eaton. The Owens River was fed by Eastern Sierra Nevada mountain snow-melt. Additionally, its flow was dependable and its water was of high quality. Working with LA’s new water department superintendent, William Mulholland, an Irish immigrant who had worked his way up from his first position as ditch tender, the men formulated a plan to divert water from the Owens River by way of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, a 223-mile system of open channels and tunnels that would deliver 313 million gallons of water daily to the Southern California. The $23 million project would take just five years to build. When it was completed, a workforce of 5,000 had used more than 1 million barrels of cement to lay 1.5 million cubic yards of concrete, built six reservoirs and blasted 142 tunnels using more than 6 million lbs. of the highest quality blasting powder to build the most important public works project in LA history.


On November 5, 1913, William Mulholland opened the gate. On November 5, 2013, Los Angeles will celebrate the centennial of the Los Angeles Aqueduct. Events are planned through early November with the celebration culminating in a Centennial Celebration at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power John Ferraro Building on November 5. For more information, please visit the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s Centennial Aqueduct website.s of the Los Angeles Aqueduct in the northwestern San Fernando Valley and as the water flowed, he ceremoniously exclaimed to the residents of Los Angeles, “There it is! Take it!” In the coming years, the LA Aqueduct achieved exactly what Mulholland and Eaton had envisioned. By 1920, more than half a million people called Los Angeles their home and in the decades that followed, myriad businesses and industries would move to Los Angeles, helping to create a city that today is America’s second largest and one of the most diverse, and prosperous cities on Earth.

Photos courtesy of calwest and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.


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