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Los Angeles Aqueduct

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Los Angeles Aqueduct
The Second Los Angeles Aqueduct Cascades, Sylmar
Coordinates36°58′32″N 118°12′37″W / 36.9756°N 118.2103°W / 36.9756; -118.2103
BeginsFirst Aqueduct
Owens River, Inyo County
36°58′32″N 118°12′38″W / 36.975678°N 118.210541°W / 36.975678; -118.210541
Second Aqueduct
Haiwee Reservoir, Inyo County
36°10′57″N 117°57′30″W / 36.182600°N 117.958470°W / 36.182600; -117.958470
Mono Extension
Upper Lee Vining Creek, Mono County
37°56′10″N 119°08′04″W / 37.936151°N 119.134426°W / 37.936151; -119.134426
EndsFirst & Second Aqueduct
Upper Van Norman Lake (Los Angeles Reservoir), Granada Hills, Los Angeles
34°18′46″N 118°29′35″W / 34.312860°N 118.492988°W / 34.312860; -118.492988
Mono Extension
Owens River, Mono County
37°45′25″N 118°53′27″W / 37.756910°N 118.890911°W / 37.756910; -118.890911
Official nameLos Angeles Aqueduct
Second Los Angeles Aqueduct
Mono Extension
Maintained byLos Angeles Department of Water and Power
Total length419 mi (674 km)
Diameter12 ft (3.7 m)
First section length233 mi (375 km)
Second section length137 mi (220 km)
CapacityFirst Aqueduct
422 cu ft/s (11.9 m3/s)
Second Aqueduct
290 cu ft/s (8.2 m3/s)
Construction startFirst Aqueduct
October 1908
Second Aqueduct
September 1965
OpenedFirst Aqueduct
November 1913
Second Aqueduct
June 1970

The Los Angeles Aqueduct system, comprising the Los Angeles Aqueduct (Owens Valley aqueduct) and the Second Los Angeles Aqueduct, is a water conveyance system, built and operated by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.[6] The Owens Valley aqueduct was designed and built by the city's water department, at the time named The Bureau of Los Angeles Aqueduct, under the supervision of the department's Chief Engineer William Mulholland.[7] The system delivers water from the Owens River in the eastern Sierra Nevada mountains to Los Angeles.

The aqueduct's construction was controversial from the start, as water diversions to Los Angeles eliminated the Owens Valley as a viable farming community.[8] Clauses in the city's charter originally stated that the city could not sell or provide surplus water to any area outside the city, forcing adjacent communities to annex themselves into Los Angeles.[9]

The aqueduct's infrastructure also included the completion of the St. Francis Dam in 1926 to provide storage in case of disruption to the system.[10] The dam's collapse two years later killed at least 431 people, halted the rapid pace of annexation, and eventually led to the formation of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to build and operate the Colorado River Aqueduct to bring water from the Colorado River to Los Angeles County.[9][11]

The continued operation of the Los Angeles Aqueduct has led to public debate, legislation, and court battles over its environmental impacts on Mono Lake and other ecosystems.[12]

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First Los Angeles Aqueduct


The aqueduct project began in 1905 when the voters of Los Angeles approved a US$1.5 million bond for the 'purchase of lands and water and the inauguration of work on the aqueduct'. On June 12, 1907, a second bond was passed with a budget of US$24.5 million to fund construction.[13][14]

Construction began in 1908 and was divided into eleven divisions. The city acquired three limestone quarries, two Tufa quarries and it constructed and operated a cement plant in Monolith, California, which could produce 1,200 barrels of Portland cement per day. Regrinding mills were also built and operated by the city at the tufa quarries. To move 14 million ton-miles of freight, the city contracted with Southern Pacific to build a 118 mile long rail system from the Monolith mills to Olancha.

The number of men who were on the payroll the first year was 2,629 and this number peaked at 6,060 in May 1909. In 1910, employment dropped to 1,150 due to financial reasons but rebounded later in the year. In 1911 and 1912, employment ranged from 2,800 to 3,800 workers. The number of laborers working on the aqueduct at its peak was 3,900.[15][16][17][18] In 1913, the City of Los Angeles completed construction of the first Los Angeles Aqueduct.


The aqueduct as originally constructed consisted of six storage reservoirs and 215 mi (346 km) of conduit. Beginning 3.5 mi (5.6 km) north of Blackrock (Inyo County), the aqueduct diverts the Owens River into an unlined canal to begin its 233 mi (375 km) journey south to the Lower San Fernando Reservoir.[19] This reservoir was later renamed the Lower Van Norman Reservoir.

The original project consisted of 24 mi (39 km) of open unlined canal, 37 mi (60 km) of lined open canal, 97 mi (156 km) of covered concrete conduit, 43 mi (69 km) of concrete tunnels, 12.00 mi (19.31 km) steel siphons, 120 mi (190 km) of railroad track, two hydroelectric plants, three cement plants, 170 mi (270 km) of power lines, 240 mi (390 km) of telephone line, 500 mi (800 km) of roads[20] and was later expanded with the construction of the Mono Extension and the Second Los Angeles Aqueduct.[21]

The aqueduct uses gravity alone to move the water and also uses the water to generate electricity, which makes it cost-efficient to operate.[22]

Typical construction view of lined canal and covered concrete conduit.

Reactions by impacted communities

The construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct effectively eliminated the Owens Valley as a viable farming community and eventually devastated the Owens Lake ecosystem.[23] A group labeled the "San Fernando Syndicate" – including Fred Eaton, Mulholland, Harrison Otis (the publisher of The Los Angeles Times), Henry Huntington (an executive of the Pacific Electric Railway), and other wealthy individuals – were a group of investors who bought land in the San Fernando Valley allegedly based on inside knowledge that the Los Angeles aqueduct would soon irrigate it and encourage development.[23] Although there is disagreement over the actions of the "syndicate" as to whether they were a "diabolical" cabal or only a group that united the Los Angeles business community behind supporting the aqueduct,[24][25] Eaton, Mulholland and others connected with the project have long been accused of using deceptive tactics and underhanded methods to obtain water rights and block the Bureau of Reclamation from building water infrastructure for the residents in Owens Valley, and creating a false sense of urgency around the completion of the aqueduct for Los Angeles residents.[26] By the 1920s, the aggressive pursuit of water rights and the diversion of the Owens River precipitated the outbreak of violence known as the California water wars. Farmers in Owens Valley, following a series of unmet deadlines from LADWP, attacked infrastructure, dynamiting the aqueduct numerous times, and opened sluice gates to divert the flow of water back into Owens Lake. The lake has never been refilled, and is now maintained with a minimum level of surface water to prevent the introduction of dangerous, toxic lake-floor dust into the local community.[27]

St. Francis Dam failure

A picture of the St. Francis Dam, one year prior to its collapse.

In 1917, The Bureau of Los Angeles Aqueduct sought to build a holding reservoir to regulate flow and provide hydroelectric power and storage in case of disruption to the aqueduct system. The initial site chosen was in Long Valley along the Owens River, but Eaton, who had bought up much of the valley in anticipation of the need for a reservoir, refused to sell the land at the price offered by Los Angeles.[10] Mulholland then made the decision to move the reservoir to San Francisquito Canyon above what is now Santa Clarita, California. The resulting St. Francis Dam was completed in 1926 and created a reservoir capacity of 38,000 acre-feet (47,000,000 m3). On March 12, 1928, the dam catastrophically failed, sending a 100-foot high (30 m) wall of water down the canyon, ultimately reaching the Pacific Ocean near Ventura and Oxnard, and killing at least 431 people. The resulting investigation and trial led to the retirement of William Mulholland as the head of the Los Angeles Bureau of Water Works and Supply in 1929. The dam failure is the worst man-made flood disaster in the US in the 20th century and the second largest single-event loss of life in California history after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

Mono Basin Extension

In an effort to find more water, the city of Los Angeles reached farther north. In 1930, Los Angeles voters passed a third US$38.8 million bond to buy land in the Mono Basin and fund the Mono Basin extension.[28] The 105 mi (169 km) extension diverted flows from Rush Creek, Lee Vining Creek, Walker Creek, and Parker Creek that would have flowed into Mono Lake. The construction of the Mono extension consisted of an intake at Lee Vining Creek, the Lee Vining conduit to the Grant Reservoir on Rush Creek, which would have a capacity of 48,000 acre⋅ft (59,000,000 m3), the 12.7 mi (20.4 km) Mono Craters Tunnel to the Owens River, and a second reservoir, later named Crowley Lake with a capacity of 183,465 acre⋅ft (226,301,000 m3) in Long Valley at the head of the Owens River Gorge.[29]

Completed in 1940, diversions began in 1941. The Mono Extension has a design capacity of 400 cu ft/s (11,000 L/s) of flow to the aqueduct.[30] However, the flow was limited to 123 cu ft/s (3,500 L/s) due to the limited downstream capacity of the Los Angeles Aqueduct. Full appropriation of the water could not be met until the second aqueduct was completed in 1970.[29]

The Mono Extension's impact on Mono Basin and litigation

From 1940 to 1970, water exports through the Mono Extension averaged 57,067 acre-feet (70 million cubic meters) per year and peaked at 135,000 acre⋅ft (167 million m3) in 1974. Export licenses granted by the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) in 1974 increased exports to 167,000 acre⋅ft (206 million m3) per year.[29] These export levels severely impacted the region's fish habitat, lake level, and air quality, which led to a series of lawsuits.[12] The results of the litigation culminated with a SWRCB decision to restore fishery protection (stream) flows to specified minimums, and raise Mono Lake to 6,391 feet (1,948 m) above sea level. The agreement limited further exports from the Mono Basin to 10,000 acre⋅ft (12.3 million m3) per year.[31]

Second Los Angeles Aqueduct

Los Angeles Aqueduct System, 1971

In 1956, the State Department of Water Resources reported that Los Angeles was exporting only 320,000 acre-feet (390 million cubic metres) of water of the 590,000 acre⋅ft (730 million m3) available in the Owens Valley and Mono Basin. Three years later, the State Water Rights Board warned Los Angeles that they could lose rights to the water they were permitted for but not appropriating. Faced with the possible loss of future water supply, Los Angeles began the five-year construction of the aqueduct in 1965 at a cost US$89 million.[5] Once the city received diversion permits, water exports jumped in 1970, adding 110,000 AF that year into the aqueduct system. By 1974, exports climbed to 450,000 acre⋅ft (560 million m3) per year.[29] Unlike the First Aqueduct which was built entirely by Public Works, the Second Los Angeles Aqueduct was primarily built on contract by various private construction firms including R.A. Wattson Co., Winston Bros., and the Griffith Co. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power managed the project and performed some finishing construction on the Mojave conduit and Jawbone & Dove Spring pipelines.


The 137-mile-long (220 km) aqueduct was designed to flow 290 cu ft/s (8,200 L/s) and begins at the Merritt Diversion Structure at the junction of the North and South Haiwee Reservoirs,[4] south of Owens Lake, and runs roughly parallel to the first aqueduct. Water flows entirely by gravity from an elevation of 3,760 feet (1,150 m) at the Haiwee Reservoir through two power drops to an elevation of 1,200 ft (370 m) at the Upper Van Norman Reservoir.[32]

The Second Aqueduct was not built as a single contiguous conduit. For design and construction purposes the aqueduct was divided into Northern and Southern sections and the two are connected by the San Francisquito Tunnels, which are part of the First Aqueduct.

The Northern Section carries water starting at the North Haiwee Reservoir through the Haiwee Bypass passing around the South Haiwee Reservoir. The flow then continues 115 miles (185 km) south through a series of pressure pipelines and concrete conduits where it connects with the First Aqueduct at the North Portal of the Elizabeth Tunnel near the Fairmont Reservoir.[33]

The San Francisquito Tunnels (which include the Elizabeth Tunnel) have a flow capacity of 1,000 cu ft/s (28,000 L/s)[33] and are large enough to handle the flow of both aqueducts. Once the combined flow reaches the penstocks above Power Plant #2, water is diverted into the Southern Section of the second aqueduct through the Drinkwater Tunnel to the Drinkwater Reservoir.

An updated version of the concrete box construction used on the second aqueduct.

The last segment of pipe, known as the Saugus Pipeline,[34] carries water south past Bouquet Canyon, Soledad Canyon and Placerita Canyon in the city of Santa Clarita. From there it roughly parallels Sierra Highway before it enters Magazine Canyon near the Terminal structure and Cascades. Water from the Terminal structure can then flow to either the Cascade or penstock to the Foothill Power Plant and into the Upper Van Norman Reservoir.

In addition to the construction in the Northern and Southern sections, improvements were also made to the lined canal between the Alabama Gates and the North Haiwee Reservoir in the Northern Section that consisted of adding 24 in (610 mm) sidewalls to both sides of the canal and the raising of overcrossings. This work increased the capacity of the lined canal from 710 cu ft/s (20,000 L/s) to 900 cu ft/s (25,000 L/s) cfs.[35]

Second aqueduct's impact on the water system

The increased flows provided by the second aqueduct lasted only from 1971 through 1988.[36] In 1974 the environmental consequences of the higher exports were first being recognized in the Mono Basin and Owens Valley. This was followed by a series of court ordered restrictions imposed on water exports, which resulted in Los Angeles losing water.[29] In 2005, the Los Angeles Urban Water Management Report reported that 40–50% of the aqueduct's historical supply is now devoted to ecological resources in Mono and Inyo counties.[37][38]

Influence on Los Angeles and the county

From 1909 to 1928, the city of Los Angeles grew from 61 square miles to 440 square miles. This was due largely to the aqueduct, and the city's charter which stated that the City of Los Angeles could not sell or provide surplus water to any area outside the city.[9][39][40] Outlying areas relied on wells and creeks for water and, as they dried up, the people in those areas realized that if they were going to be able to continue irrigating their farms and provide themselves domestic water, they would have to annex themselves to the City of Los Angeles.[9]

Growth was so rapid that it appeared as if the city of Los Angeles would eventually assume the size of the entire county. William Mulholland continued adding capacity to the aqueduct, building the St. Francis Dam that would impound water creating the San Francisquito Reservoir, filed for additional water from the Colorado River, and began sending engineers and miners to clear the heading at the San Jacinto Tunnel that he knew was key to the construction of the Colorado River Aqueduct.[41][42]

The aqueduct's water provided developers with the resources to quickly develop the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles through World War II. Mulholland's role in the vision and completion of the aqueduct and the growth of Los Angeles into a large metropolis is recognized with the William Mulholland Memorial Fountain, built in 1940 at Riverside Drive and Los Feliz Boulevard in Los Feliz. Mulholland Drive and Mulholland Dam are both named after him.

Many more cities and unincorporated areas would likely have annexed into the city of Los Angeles if the St. Francis Dam had not collapsed. The catastrophic failure of the St. Francis Dam in 1928 killed an estimated 431 people,[43] flooded parts of Santa Clarita, and devastated much of the Santa Clara River Valley in Ventura County.[9][44]

The failure of the dam raised the question in a number of people's minds whether the city had engineering competence and capability to manage such a large project as the Colorado River Aqueduct despite the fact that they had built the Los Angeles Aqueduct.[9] After the collapse, the pace of annexation came to a rapid halt when eleven nearby cities including Burbank, Glendale, Pasadena, Beverly Hills, San Marino, Santa Monica, Anaheim, Colton, Santa Ana, and San Bernardino decided to form the Metropolitan Water District with Los Angeles.[11] The city's growth following the formation of the MWD would be limited to 27.65 square miles.[44][45]

In popular culture

California Historical Landmark – Cascades

The Cascades, which was completed on November 5, 1913, is located near the intersection of Foothill Boulevard and Balboa Boulevard, four miles northwest of San Fernando. It was designated as a California Historical Landmark on July 28, 1958.[48][49]


See also



  1. ^ U.S. Geological Survey (19 January 1981). "Feature Detail Report: Los Angeles Aqueduct – Inyo County". Retrieved 2014-06-22.
  2. ^ U.S. Geological Survey (19 January 1981). "Feature Detail Report: Los Angeles Aqueduct – Los Angeles County". Retrieved 2014-06-22.
  3. ^ U.S. Geological Survey (19 January 1981). "Feature Detail Report: Los Angeles Aqueduct – Kern County". Retrieved 2014-06-22.
  4. ^ a b The Second Los Angeles Aqueduct. The Department of Water and Power, City of Los Angeles. 1971. p. 263.
  5. ^ a b "Los Angeles Aqueduct Facts". Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Archived from the original on 2013-01-21. Retrieved 2012-09-14.
  6. ^ "The Story of the Los Angeles Aqueduct". Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Archived from the original on 2009-02-01. Retrieved 2009-02-07.
  7. ^ "DWP – Name Change Chronology". Water and Power Associates.
  8. ^ Smith, Genny; Putnam, Jeff; James, Greg; DeDecker, Mary; Heindel, Jo (1995). Deepest Valley: Guide to Owens Valley, its Roadsides and Mountain Trails. Genny Smith Books. ISBN 978-0931378140.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Basiago, Andrew D. (February 7, 1988), Water For Los Angeles – Sam Nelson Interview, The Regents of the University of California, 11, retrieved Oct 7, 2013
  10. ^ a b Weingarten, Marc (2019). Thirsty: William Mullholland, California Water, and the real Chinatown. Los Angeles: Vireo Books. ISBN 978-1942600022.
  11. ^ a b Fulton, William (2001-08-09). The Reluctant Metropolis: The Politics of Urban Growth in Los Angeles. JHU Press. p. 107. ISBN 978-0801865060. Retrieved Oct 10, 2013. eleven cities joined metropolitan water district 1928.
  12. ^ a b "Political and Legal Chronology". Mono Basin Clearinghouse.
  13. ^ Complete report on construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct. Los Angeles Department of Public Service. 1916. pp. 14–17, 271. OL 23386153M.
  14. ^ Nathan Masters (4 April 2012). "Canoga Park at 100: A Brief History of the Birth of Owensmouth". KCET.
  15. ^ "World Records". Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Archived from the original on 2014-05-12. Retrieved 2014-06-13.
  16. ^ Annual Report of the Bureau of the Los Angeles Aqueduct to the Board of Public Works. Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. 1908. Retrieved 2014-06-08.
  17. ^ "A Hundred or a Thousand Fold More Important". Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Archived from the original on 2009-02-23. Retrieved 2009-02-07.
  18. ^ Heinly, Burt A. (July 1910). "Carrying Water Through A Desert: The Story of the Los Angeles Aqueduct". The National Geographic Magazine. XXI (7): 568–596. Retrieved 2009-07-10. Includes construction photos.
  19. ^ Complete Report on the Construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct. Los Angeles Department of Public Service. 1916. pp. 75–76.
  20. ^ Complete Report on the Construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct. Los Angeles Department of Public Service. 1916. pp. 271.
  21. ^ The Second Los Angeles Aqueduct. The Department of Water and Power, City of Los Angeles. 1971. pp. xvii.
  22. ^ "The Owens Valley Is the Only Source". Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Archived from the original on 2009-02-23. Retrieved 2009-02-07.
  23. ^ a b Piper, Karen (2006). Left in the Dust: How Race and Politics Created a Human and Environmental Tragedy in L.A.. New York: Palgrave MacMillan. ISBN 97-81403969316.
  24. ^ "The Los Angeles Aqueduct and the Owens and Mono Lakes (MONO Case #379)". TED Case Studies. 7 (1). American University. January 1997. Archived from the original on 1997-04-03. Retrieved 2012-09-13.
  25. ^ Kahrl, William. L. (1982). Water and Power. Los Angeles: University of California. p. 440. ISBN 0520050681.
  26. ^ Davis, ML (1993). Rivers in the Desert. e-reads. ISBN 978-1585861378.
  27. ^ Reheis, Marith (November 1997). "Dust deposition downwind of Owens (dry) Lake, 1991-1994: Preliminary findings". Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres. 102 (D22): 25999–26008. Bibcode:1997JGR...10225999R. doi:10.1029/97JD01967.
  28. ^ Liebcap, Gary D (2007). Owens Valley Revisited. Stanford Economics and Finance. p. 133. ISBN 978-0804753807.
  29. ^ a b c d e Liebcap, Gary D (2007). Owens Valley Revisited. Stanford Economics and Finance. pp. 135–138. ISBN 978-0804753807.
  30. ^ "Facts about the LA Aqueduct" (PDF). Mono Lake Committee. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  31. ^ "Decision to Amend Water Right Licences". Mono Basin Clearinghouse.
  32. ^ The Second Los Angeles Aqueduct. Summary: The Department of Water and Power. 1971. pp. xvii.
  33. ^ a b The Second Los Angeles Aqueduct. The Department of Water and Power, City of Los Angeles. 1971. p. 12.
  34. ^ The Second Los Angeles Aqueduct. The Department of Water and Power, City of Los Angeles. 1971. pp. 83–95.Includes maps and pictures
  35. ^ The Second Los Angeles Aqueduct. The Department of Water and Power, City of Los Angeles. 1971. pp. 257–260.
  36. ^ "2005 Urban Water Management Report" (PDF). Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. p. 3. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-10-29. Retrieved 2013-10-28.
  37. ^ "2005 Urban Water Management Report" (PDF). Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. p. ES-8. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-10-29. Retrieved 2013-10-28.
  38. ^ "2010 Urban Water Management Report". Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. p. 103. Retrieved 2013-10-28.
  39. ^ Annexation and Detachment Map (PDF) (Map). City of Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-03-01. Retrieved 2013-10-11.
  40. ^ Creason, Glen. "CityDig: L.A.'s 20th Century Land Grab". Los Angeles Magazine. Retrieved Oct 10, 2013.
  41. ^ Basiago, Andrew D. (February 7, 1988), Water For Los Angeles – Sam Nelson Interview, The Regents of the University of California, 8, retrieved October 7, 2013
  42. ^ Joseph, Brian. "A short history of Metropolitan water". Orange County Register. Archived from the original on October 29, 2013. Retrieved Oct 10, 2013.
  43. ^ Stansell, Ann (August 2014). "Memorialization and Memory of Southern California's St. Francis Dam Disaster of 1928". California State University, Northridge Master's Thesis.
  44. ^ a b Map showing territory annexed to the city of Los Angeles, California (Map). Los Angeles Engineering Department. Retrieved October 7, 2013.
  45. ^ Current map of territories annexed to the city of Los Angeles, California (PDF) (Map). Los Angeles Engineering Department. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 1, 2017. Retrieved October 7, 2013.
  46. ^ "Saugus High School News and Information – School News – Saugus High School". Retrieved 2021-05-27.
  47. ^ "DWP Power Plant – Visiting (424) – Huell Howser Archives at Chapman University". 28 October 1996.
  48. ^ "California Historical Landmarks By County — Los Angeles". State of California – Office of Historic Preservation. Retrieved August 25, 2019.
  49. ^ "CHL No. 653 The Cascades – Los Angeles". California Historical Landmarks. Retrieved August 28, 2019.

Further reading

External links

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