Mulholland, Development, and SoCal Water

By Artun Ereren

When we turn on our faucets, it is difficult to imagine where our water comes from. Aside from local groundwater wells, our water is delivered hundreds of miles through mountains and deserts. Three key sources of Southern California water travels 292 miles from the Sacramento Bay Delta, 242 miles from the Colorado River, and 300 miles from the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains. Moving to meet a demand of nearly 30 million people is no easy task for organizations like the Metropolitan Water District and its’ member agency Los Angeles Department of Water & Power.

The project that started it all was the Los Angeles Aqueduct, a dream turned reality imagined by the dynamic William Mulholland. Mulholland was an Irish immigrant who snuck on boats and trekked across the Isthmus of Panama to reach the alluring land of California. As a self-taught engineer, Mulholland rose from his blue collar roots as a ditch digger to convince the city of Los Angeles that more water was necessary for the booming city. Mulholland’s incredible project to bring water to Los Angeles was the beginning of California’s evolution into a global social and economic powerhouse. I was fortunate to see the Los Angeles Aqueduct firsthand as a guest of the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power.  We were placed in Mulholland’s footsteps, starting from the San Fernando Valley all the way to the Owens Valley in the Eastern Sierra Mountain Range. 

Witnessing a great dust storm from the now dry Mono Lake, to drinking water out of a natural spring- it became clear to me California’s diverse landscape poised early challenges to Mulholland his team of developers. The Aqueduct delivers water to Los Angeles without electricity, using only gravity to move hundreds of miles to the south. Along the way we visited a hydroelectric power plant and wind farm, both sources that deliver clean electricity to tens of thousands of homes in Los Angeles. The engineering prowess and prophetic vision of Mulholland serves as an example of the great economic and social cost of providing clean, reliable water for our future generations. If the current drought has taught us anything, it is that California’s water is scarce and conservation will lead to a new appreciation for water in our society.