Sunday, March 20, 2016

Big Gulp

I have always had a love/hate relationship with the aqueduct that drained the Owens Valley for real estate interests in the San Fernando Valley. This happened at the turn of the century (the 19th to the 20th centuries) It started this way; our family started making yearly trips to Lake Tahoe back in the late 1940's, and to make that journey, we traveled on highway US 395, from Mojave to the Mt. Rose turnoff in Reno. We passed Manzanar on the way and Mom and Dad told us the sad story of that place. And Dad also told us the story of the great water theft that created the huge dry lake we passed in the Owens Valley. This was once Owens Lake and the Owens Valley was home to many pear and apple orchards. William Mulholland and the water authority of Los Angeles quietly bought as many of these orchards as they could by offering lots of money for them. The orchards came with water rights, of course. And that was what Mulholland was buying. Once they enough of them they declared their intention to build an aqueduct to convey the water south. The other farmers quickly sold out as fast as they could because without water, they were doomed. The City of Los Angeles now owned the Owens Valley. This story and others are deemed fables by the pro water groups and it has become a sore subject all around.

The years went by and the trips along US 395 were more frequent as my Dad and I would go north for the spring opening day of the trout season. And there were always more stories about the great aqueduct. Then, one fall day, I went with some friends to do some Chukar hunting on the slopes above the Owens Valley and close to Ridgecrest. Driving to our campsite, we passed over aqueduct, almost buried in the ground below the dirt road. Later, I walked back to the aqueduct and followed it to a place where it was fully exposed and I stood upon it. It's very large! And standing there, I was amazed to think that this 'pipe', so full of water, was  delivering all that water, 24/7, to L.A. This part I hated.

What I loved was the incredible project this aqueduct was. Men built this when electrically powered tools were non existent. This was an era of steam and mule power. They built this over rugged terrain that should have stopped them. They drilled through rock and created huge iron siphons to move the water up the hills. It took them many years, 1908 to 1913, but they were successful.

I've been collecting pictures of the construction of the aqueduct for years. Collecting helps to satisfy the ASD portion of who I am. Maybe I can pass the photos on to a curious grandchild, or maybe not. In the meantime I am enjoying the process.

In the photo above you can see Owens Lake. At one time there was regular steamboat freight service on the lake.

Here is a photo showing the famous Jawbone Canyon siphon. You can see a man standing near it on the left side of the huge pipe.

The 'pipe' section of the aqueduct was made by connecting short sections together by riveting. You can see the connections below. And each section was delivered by rail to a siding and then transferred to a wagon drawn by a 10 mule team. Then transferred to a custom made rail system that was constructed next to the aqueduct. That was then towed to the end and then riveted on. I've seen photos of these sections with a car inside of them to demonstrate their size.

With that amount of water being drawn out of the valley, it wasn't long before the lake was gone as well as all of the ranches.  

Now, with poetic justice being done, Los Angeles has been forced to flood the lake with a very shallow amount of water because the dust that was created in the dry lake was shown to be toxic, with a concentration of heavy metals and salts. It's a very small amount of water and it only has to cover some troublesome spots and not the entire lake bed.

Go to to find these photos and many, many more.

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