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The Length to which Los Angeles receives its Water

Apr 01, 2011 by D. J. Schwartz

Los Angeles, due to the fact that we don’t get much rain, we have to import the majority of our water. In fact, LA only receives about 15 inches of rain each year.

For 9,000,000 people who live in Los Angeles Country it’s hardly enough to sustain us.

Part of our history includes, the iconoclastic individual William Mulholland, who enabled us via construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, whose fierce dedication to permanently solve our water shortages would not have been possible.

The LA Aqueduct, completed in 1913, transports water here from Owens Valley. To build it required over 5,000 workers and by and because of that, it totally destroyed the ecosystem of Owens Lake.

But, as a result, LA now obtains enough water for our sustanance, which according to Circle of Blue, an organization that issues reports on the “Global Water Crisis,” Los Angeles’ water travels over 338 miles to get here.

To see our starting point, here’s the map:

The fight over Los Angeles’ land and water rights resulted in the infamous California Water Wars, which has been going on for over 100 years:

In the early 20th century, the valley became the scene of a struggle between local residents and the city of Los Angeles over water rights. William Mulholland, superintendent of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) planned the 223 miles (359 km) Los Angeles Aqueduct, completed in 1913, diverted water from the Owens River.

Much of the water rights were acquired through subterfuge, with purchases resulting in splitting water cooperatives and pitting neighbor against neighbor. Also, the transfer of water resulted in anger among local farmers that erupted in violence in 1924, when parts of the water system were sabotaged by local farmers. Memorandum of Understanding, which specified the terms in which the lower Owens River agreed to be re-watered by June 2003.

LADWP missed this deadline and was sued again. Under another settlement, with the State of California, a new party to the litigation, Los Angeles promised to re-water the lower Owens River by September 2005.

As of February 2005, LADWP announced it was unlikely to meet this extended deadline. In 2008, Los Angeles re-watered the lower Owens River.

In July 2004, Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn, proposed barring all future development on its Owens Valley holdings, by proposing a conservation easement for all LADWP land.

In October 2004, Inyo County officials were reluctant to accept the offer of the easement, likely due to the prior history of mistrust over LADWP’s actions, or lack thereof. Source: Wikipedia

So the next time you turn on your faucet for a glass of water, hose down your lawn, or wash your car, think twice about the long and winding journey that it took to bring water to reach our Southland.

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Culture, Go Green, Los Angeles, SoCal

3 Responses to “The Length to which Los Angeles receives its Water”

  1. Will Campbell says:

    Technically, no it’s not.

    While parts of the county north of the San Gabriels certainly qualify as arid, the greater Los Angeles area should not be lumped in as desert for the simple fact that the coastal plain gets way too much rain to qualify it as such.

    The myth that the city would dry up and blow away without importing water from distant sources was propaganda birthed and reared by LA Times Publisher Harrison Gray Otis to coax readers into supporting the Owens Valley aqueduct bonds.

    An authority on the subject, Cal Poly Pomona Professor Ralph Shaffer writes:

    “Given the city’s mean annual temperature of 65 degrees, to qualify as a desert under the Koppen system Los Angeles’ yearly rainfall would have to average less than 7.22 inches. That has occurred less than ten times in the past 125 years. To put it another way, with its nearly 15 inches of rain each year the city would have to have a mean annual temperature of 100 degrees to be a desert. With a temperature like that the basin’s overpopulation problem would quickly disappear.

    Just because Los Angeles brings in water from hundreds of miles away does not make it a desert. Nearly all of the world’s largest cities, located in humid areas, have to import water from great distances to supply their needs. And no one seriously refers to New York or San Francisco as deserts.

    Nor is it necessary to distort the climatic record to make the point that Southern California has too many people and too much industry for the water supply that is naturally available here. Lawns, azaleas and non-native plants can be supported by Southern California’s local water supply. It’s the region’s unbridled growth that The Times should be attacking.”


    Lisa Newton Reply:

    @Will Campbell, I agree, Will. I have edited it to reflect that.

    However, I’m not too much of a fan of “lawns, azaleas and non-native plants” here in LA. There is such a variety of native plants to choose from, and each of them thrives on our native climate.

    As our recent drought brought home, we will have periods of a lack of rainfall, and native plants are one real way to keep the “normal” use of water down.


  2. Will Campbell says:

    I absolutely share your disdain for non-native flora and — much of it invasive. There’s not a patch of proliferating pampas grass I can pass without getting pissed.


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