The Owens River carrying city of Los Angeles water near Manzanar, Owens Valley. Color photos by LA Observed.
Between now and the end of the year you will probably see and read more than you ever thought possible about the subject of Los Angles and water. Nov. 5 [date fixed] is the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, which brings the water modern LA was built with from the Owens Valley in the Eastern Sierra's Inyo County by gravity to the San Fernando Valley. "There it is — take it," the architect of the project, William Mulholland, famously said on the day the spigot was turned on, forever changing Los Angeles.
The aqueduct still connects LA and the Eastern Sierra — still delivers its water to the head of the San Fernando Valley, in Sylmar — the terrain has changed greatly since 1913, and the SFV is now part of the city of Los Angeles. Most of the water today flows down a different, higher and newer cascade than the one shown in the photo above from the opening day. But the original cascade shown still exists and sometimes carries water. You can catch a glimpse of it by pulling over into a little turnout in San Fernando Road just west of Balboa Boulevard, hard against the Interstate 5 freeway as it heads around the curve into Newhall Pass.
Boom, the quarterly magazine from UC Press, has devoted its entire fall issue to Los Angeles and water. It's a keeper issue for anyone with an ounce of water geekdom in them, and a good read for just about anyone who likes the LA backstories. There are pieces by, among others, LA historians William Deverell and Tom Sitton, LA Times writers David Ulin and Michael Hiltzik, ex-Times editor and current Sierra Club editor Bob Sipchen, UCLA environmental professor Glen MacDonald and Arid Lands Institute co-directors Hadley and Peter Arnold. This is the first issue under the editorship of Jon Christensen, the UCLA journalist-in-residence who is overseeing a remake of the journal into a statewide magazine. About the water issue he writes:
The story of the Los Angeles Aqueduct is a central chapter in the founding myth not just of modern Los Angeles, but also of modern California, the modern American West, and modern hydraulic civilizations around the world. It is original sin and signal achievement. Without it, a great city would not exist. California and the world would be very different.
On the one hundredth anniversary of the Los Angeles Aqueduct’s first delivery of water to the city from Owens Valley, this special issue of Boom explores the ways in which the story of the aqueduct has permeated the history, identity, and culture of Los Angeles. The aqueduct shaped the city’s relationship with Owens Valley and the rest of California and the West; it also, but more surprisingly, shaped photography and art, politics, the environment, and the ways in which we think and plan for the future in the Golden State.
That we are still worrying around, atoning for, and working to understand and repair the legacies of the aqueduct are sure signs that the final chapter in this story has yet to be written. It may never be written, for the aqueduct ties a protean metropolis to ever-changing ecosystems, and a broader complex water system that links Los Angeles to Northern California, on the one hand, and the entire Colorado River basin, on the other.
Read more from Christensen at the Boom website. The issue includes photos and a very cool multi-page graphic on the iconic aqueduct, examinations of Mulholland as the city's creator icon and the Owens Valley as a legacy of imperial Los Angeles, and an interview with Ron Nichols, the current general manager of the Department of Water and Power. The special issue is supported by a grant from Metabolic Studio. I'll be posting more about the aqueduct, the Owens Valley and water this week and probably until well after the November anniversary.
Also on the water beat: Los Angeles magazine put together its own ambitious package on water and the Owens Valley anchored by journalist Wade Graham. Check it out online.