The California Water Wars refers to the conflicts that occurred in the early 20th century when the mayor of Los Angeles decided to import water from other parts of California to cater to the growing needs of the city.
The Impetus to the Water Wars
At the start of the 20th century, the only thing that was stopping Los Angeles’ success was it water. The city did not have access to water, and this prompted Frederick Eaton, the mayor of the city, look for ways ensure this access. It was the only way that the city could enjoy continuous growth.
Eaton used to work for the Los Angeles Water Company before he became the mayor in 1898. William Mulholland, the superintendent of the LA Water Company, and Eaton tried to get the city its access to water by working to get the water rights to Owens Valley, so that they could transport water to Los Angeles using aqueducts.
At the same time, the US Reclamation Service was looking to build irrigation systems to help farmers and ranchers in Owens Valley. However, Eaton and Mulholland were adamant that they would not allow this plan to materialize and were not averse to using underhand tactics.
The construction of the Los Angeles aqueduct began in 1907 until 1913, when 164 tunnels, extending 233 miles, were dug. By 1923, inflow into the lake was being diverted to Los Angeles. However, this took a toll on Owens Lake, with the water drying up. This saw Mulholland and Owens Valley farmers clashing and a part of the aqueduct was blown up. This prevented the inflow from reaching Los Angeles, but it helped replenish the dwindling water in Owens Lake.
Between 1905 and 1930, the city of Los Angeles began purchasing large swathes of land in Owens Valley to get access to the lake. However, by 1926, Owens Lake dried up. Unfortunately, but then Los Angeles owned nearly 90% of Owens Valley, but there was no more water to access.
Shifting Sights to Mono Lake
With Los Angeles requiring water for its burgeoning population, the city set its sights on Mono Basin, which is north of Owens Valley. The LA Department of Water and Power purchase water rights of Mono Basin and extended the aqueduct to it.
The Mono Basin used to feed Mono Lake. With the construction of the aqueduct, the lake water level began to fall. The two islands in the lake were home to migratory birds. As the water level decreased, it exposed these birds to predators. Also, the lake water became more alkaline and saline and this had an adverse effect on the brine shrimp inhabiting the lake.
The Bottom Line
California Water Wars demonstrate the need for urban planning. As cities grown, the need for resources also increases. Hence, city planners and administrators should work together to find plausible solutions to prevent overharvesting of natural resources, as done during California Water Wars.
Oct 10, 2019