Owens Valley Two hundred and fifty miles north of the busy streets of Los Angeles, in Inyo County, lay the serene Owens Valley. The Owens Valley is a vast terrain that is bounded by the towering Sierra Nevada mountain range at one end and the barren Death Valley desert at its other end. As the snowfall from the peaks of the Sierra Nevadas annually transforms itself into water, the Owens River drains the downpour and flows profusely through the valley. The Owens Lake would routinely capture this stream and store the rivers yearly deposits, but the route of the stream was redirected. In 1905, an avaricious project was contrived by the political agendas of the powerful moguls behind the Los Angeles Water Company, building the Los Angeles Aqueduct.(Davis, Margaret) The project was masterminded by Fred Eaton and William Mulholland to foster the growth of the large metropolis included a larger water supply, and they were willing to achieve their goals by any means necessary.
They found their water supply in the Owens Valley. However, the acquisition of the water was surrounded by red tape. Despite the obstacles that stood in their way, the two men found a way to fulfill their vision at expense of the Owens Valley community. Once a fecund and fertile region that was home to many small, prosperous farms and ranches, the Owens Valley has been stripped of its main resource due to the construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct. At the turn of the century, Los Angeles began to thrive in its economic ventures. The metropolis was slowly beginning to become focal point of tremendous business activity. As the city boomed, business leaders began to envision the endless potential of prosperity.
The population growth was surging. People were flocking to the area in great numbers. The Los Angeles Water Company quickly realized that an auspicious opportunity was to be had and warned the city of need of a subsidiary water supply to sustain its growth. William Mulholland and Fred Eaton were the masterminds behind the idea that was driven by personal gain. They set their eyes on the Owens River, and portrayed its acquisition as an extremely urgent matter for Los Angeles.
In reality, however, the majority of the water was to be used for irrigating the San Fernando Valley, where a syndicate of investors had been actively purchasing land with the assurance that the value would increase substantially. The people of the Owens Valley community had plans for the water as well. Most of the residents were farmers and ranchers who were anticipating an economic outbreak of their own as soon as the newly found Reclamation Service completed its irrigation project in the Owens Valley. The United States Reclamation Act of 1902 gave the United States government the primary responsibility of local irrigation projects. In order to acquire the Owens River for Los Angeles, Mulholland and Eaton would have to deter the government project from continuing.
By means of bribery, this was accomplished. J.B. Lippincott, a local agent of the Reclamation service, and a political crony of Eatons was hired at a generous salary to develop a plan for the Los Angeles Water Company to overtake the Owens River. Lippincott’s efforts for the Reclamation Service resulted in the public lands of the valley to be set aside for future development; no rights to the land were secured. Then Eaton strategically bought land options- the land that would be needed for construction of an aqueduct. Ultimately, through the combination of normal land purchases and bribery, the city had secured a substantial amount of land and water rights to dismantle the Owens Valley project of the Reclamation Service.
The purchase of land introduced a scheme that Eaton had conjured up driven by his greed. By planning to mix public service with private gain, Eaton also purchased large parcels of Owens Valley for himself. These pieces of land were crucial points in the architecture of the aqueduct because they would house the important dams. By doing so, Eaton had positioned himself to holdout his share of land when the time came for the city of Los Angeles to purchase the remaining land to complete the construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct. He would be enable himself to attain a sizable amount of money- a price that he would be able to set.
The measure taken by Eaton breeched the partnership between him and Mulholland after it revealed the plot of extortion that Eaton had planned to take. Consequently, Mulholland exhorted city to refuse the purchase of the vital plots of land owned by Eaton, and order a further appropriation of the Owens River.(Mattson, Robert) This diversion in the route of the aqueduct would result in the desolation of the new sites of land, and further destroying the valley lands. In 1905, a bond was issued by the city of Los Angeles to provide Mulholland with the millions of dollars funding necessary to build a two hundred and fifty-mile aqueduct that would connect the water source of the Owens Valley to the city of Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Aqueduct was to be built over the course of next eight years. Mulholland took total control in the construction of the aqueduct. He employed thousands and directed them as they blasted out tunnels, carved out sluiceways, cleared roads, laid railroad tracks, and raised up power lines.
The waterway was finally completed in 1913, and the vision had been fulfilled. The massive aqueduct started at its northern end and ran right through the valley, and the water that the valley residents had originally thought would irrigate their farmlands instead flowed down and fed the growing population of Los Angeles. Despite Mulhollands dire prediction of imminent water famine, Los Angeles did not find the need to draw all the water from the Owens River.(Mattson, Robert) During the course of the eight years of constructing the aqueduct, the citys population had more than doubled with no evident strain on the regular water supply. The corruption that manifested within the scheme of the project was revealing itself. The initial motives for building an aqueduct were being replaced by those of greed at all costs.
The long-standing relationship between Mulholland and Eaton was terminated. The water from the Owens River and Owens Lake that would irrigate the Owens Valley was being transported to Los Angeles; both of the water sources were in the process of being desiccated. The Owens Valley was caught in the midst of a major change. The character of the Owens Valley was being lost. As the community of Owens Valley learned of the situation concerning the Los Angeles Aqueduct, and observed the destruction of their irrigation system, they became infuriated. With prospects of their agricultural ventures were devastated, thoughts of retaliation dwelled within the minds of the residents of the valley. Many of the members of the community gathered together and staged a massive demonstration of civic solidarity.
On November 24,1924, seventy armed men seized control of a critical point on the aqueduct gate and completely halted the flow of the river. Seven hundred others joined the demonstration, and together they protested the injustice that had been committed against them. “The Owens Valley War”, the title appropriated by a local newspaper for the demonstration, had reached its climax. “The Owens Valley War” was already over; the dainty valley community suffered its defeat to the powerful metropolitan giant. Then one of the greatest civil disasters in American history took place. The Mulholland built, St. Francis Dam collapsed.
This released a fifteen billion gallon flood that scoured a path to the sea two miles wide, and seventy miles long. As a result, five hundred people were found dead, a majority of the dead being Owens Valley residents. Due to the fierce hatred among the disgruntled members of the Owens Valley community for Mulholland, rumors of sabotage began to surface. Mulholland was investigated. Most of the Inyo County was bogged down in the quagmire of Owens Valley.
The aftermath of the flood is symbolic of the tragedy behind the construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct. Seventy-seven years following the series of events leading to the tumultuous completion of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, the Owens Valley rests with tranquility.(Larson, Ronald) It is now left desiccated. All the water from the Owens River is drained. The valleys most abundant resource has been completely extracted. Fred Eaton and William Mulholland are credited with building the impressive structure despite their turpitude. Their anticipated growth of Los Angeles soared past all predictions into an international metropolis.
Two hundred and fifty miles away and nearly a century later, the Owens Valley and the city of Los Angeles are in dispute once again. This time the struggle is not for the water. The struggle is for the land. The rich mineral deposits left from the desiccated lake are being fiercely sought after.(Davis, Margaret) After all the damage that has been inflicted upon the Owens Valley, there may yet be more to come.