California Water
Norris Hundley, Jr. water falling

The Great Thirst, Californians and Water: A History.
Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001. Revised edition, 822 pp.

 "...water issues are so closely intertwined with the core elements of California's (and the American West's) political, economic, legal and cultural evolution."

(p. xvii) 

| Themes | Contents | Chronology | Conclusions | Map |
This historical explanation of water, mineral, agricultural, and urban resource vegetative regionsdevelopment based on a descriptive and comparative approaches analytically conveys the depths of recurrent controversies and the complexities behind the myths of modern market economies and capital formation. Instead of "rugged individualism," Hundley makes it obvious that hydraulic institutions that were created in the arid and land poor western states enabled societies to inhabit desert lands of little or no use to farming and urban life without irrigation and extensive aqueduct building.



 Based on primary and secondary sources with 196 pages of notes and bibliography.


Themes are:

"dynamic interplay between human values and what human beings do to the waterscape."

 "I begin looking at California as a natural environment, before the Europeans arrived, and at how Native American viewed the environmental as something to be manipulated, yet always within the context of maintaining their symbiotic relationship with nature."

Spanish - Mexican considerations for the communal use of water resources as promoting the national, that is to say colonial, interest of settlement.

 That attitude changed with the gold rush. "Imbued with a spirited individualism."

"California's emergence as a collection of water seekers."

 "Providing abundant clear water to multitudes of people who expressly wanted that to be done."

xviii - xix

°    Another theme is how crucial government . . . . has been in shaping water policy and use."
°    Still another theme is the close interrelationship between private and government interests."
°    "The relationship between American political culture and California water policy -- constitutes another theme."

Public landPublic land survey states from which the Public Domain was created; half og California reamins in federal hands as part of the Public Domain.

In this map of the southern far west, red indicates urban metropolitan areas, green indicates arable or forested land, & brown indicates semi-arid or desert conditions.
Southwestern US & California showing the locations of the Southern Sierra Nevada Mountains, the Owen's Valley and the Colorado River.

"The lack of informed and consistent leadership at the highest levels in Sacramento and Washington has not augured well for a state whose population continues to grow at a pace unmatched in the national experience."

(p. xxi)


Table of Contents
1 The Aboriginal Waterscape Manipulation and Near Harmony,
2 Hispanic Patterns: Community and Authority,
3 The American Takeover: Laissez-faire, Localism & Monopoly,
4 Urban Imperialism: A Tale of Two Cities,
5 Hydraulic Society Triumphant: The Great Projects,
6 Hydraulic Society on the Defensive
7 Water Policy at the Crossroads
8 Reflections

| Themes | Contents | Chronology | Conclusions | Map | Water Law

Lead off phrases of each Chapter are in bold type:


Sequoia gigantea, a Sequoia tree in the National Park of the same name.

Tree ring analysis suggests a periodic recurrence of drought in of the past with respect to growth and senescence intervals.

When did the changes occur?

892 - 1112: began and ended a 220 year period of extremely dry (drought) conditions.

wet (extreme rainfall) conditions.

1209 - 1350: began and ended another period of extremely dry (drought) conditions.

1500s - 16th century "a megadrought, the most widespread, severe and prolonged in the last two" millennia.

1600- 1625: dry period ("lengthy periods of deficient precipitation")

1720 - 1730: dry period

1760 - 1890: Third driest period of drought conditions.

1769 - 1821: Spanish Colonial Period

1821 - 1846: Mexican Independence Period

1865 - 1885: dry period

1928 - 1934: dry period

1935 - 1944: wet (extreme rainfall) conditions.

1976 - 1980: dry period despite a 1976 El Nino winter.

1983 - 1984: wet El Nino winter

1987 - 1992: dry period

2007 - 2012 serious and widespread drought condition caused Lake Meade's lowest ever levels

Boulder  Canyon Hoover Dam

| Themes | Contents | Chronology | Conclusions | Map | Water Law


Chapter 1

The Aboriginal Waterscape: Manipulation and Near Harmony

"Once it was a far different place. Aboriginal California, with 275,000 to 300,000 residents by current reckoning was among the most densely populated areas in North America."

The Waterscape

Waterways and Lifeways

Agricultural and Cultural Patterns

Symbiosis and Community

"Native Californians did not live, however, in complete harmony with nature, nor did they refrain from any significant manipulation of the environment."

p. 4

The Waterscape

water from the hills

"the waterscape of aboriginal California differed markedly from that of today."

"They supported an abundance of fish, game and waterfowl as well as beaver and otter. Cattails, tules, willows and sometimes alder dominated freshwater marshes inhabited by ducks swans, marsh wrens, rails, and geese that darkened the sky with their enormous numbers."

"The labyrinthine waterways of the delta, whence the two rivers made their way to San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean."

p. 5

The water budget described:

65% of the precipitation evaporates.

Leaving behind:

71 million acre feet to flow as runoff to the rivers and estuaries.

450 aquifers held groundwater at different depths depending on geology:

1.3 billion acre feet capacity originally

.85 billion acre feet remain due to pumping of groundwater

pp. 8-9

"Of the ground and surface water..., agriculture uses 77 percent (28 million acre feet) and cities 23 percent (8.5 million acre feet)."( 1990s )

"The source of all this water is the Pacific Ocean."

p. 9

"erratic precipitation patterns."

Average in Los Angeles for example are deceptively unrevealing of the pattern:

Average rainfall is 15" annually; but one period was characterized by 19", 6", 11", 14", 40", & 11".

p. 10

Waterways and Lifeways

".. the Indians ....were successful enough to make California one of the most densely populated areas north of Mexico."

"Water played the most significant role in village location. Unlike peoples who frequently established rivers as boundaries, California natives looked upon the entire watershed of streams, reaching back from both banks, as natural territories."

Fisheries: steel head (sea going rainbow trout), king salmon, and four other species of ocean going freshwater fish, link many forests to the sea.

watershed The entire watershed [pictured here] is often the sustaining influence in settlement, be that migrating, grazing, farmland or homesteads, leading to urban, or extended metropolitan areas.

"freshwater was crucial,...In the preparation of acorns, the principle vegetable food of most California natives."

p. 16

"Resource management also entailed manipulating the physical environment."

In the "managed use of fire."


Agriculture and cultural patterns

Basket making required the selection of certain plants whose spread depended on fire or water control

water borders Water borders sustain certain kinds of plants perfect for making baskets and these thrive today along the Owen's Valley canal.

"Agriculture, and particularly irrigation agriculture, was being practiced long before the arrival of the Europeans."


The Paiute sometime around 1000 AD "constructed and elaborate irrigation system."

"agriculture developed independently" in the Owens Valley "they built a dam on Bishop Creek and diverted water several miles


Population growth as an alleged trigger for the adoption of agriculture:

As the drought in the west grew in its influence migration prompted and increase in the density of the Owens Valley.

Hints of this in a "decline of nomadism and a rise in permanent villages."

p. 20

Colorado River Valley cultivation of corn, melon and black-eyed beans reveals a Hohokam (Arizona & Southwest) influence. 63% of the desert populations were sustained by the Colorado River's alluvial agricultural system (flood enriched)

p. 21

Symbiosis and Community

Sierrra Nevada Mts. by Albert Bierstadt The Sierrra Nevada Mts. in Yosemite Valley, by Albert Bierstadt, 1864.

"Still another feature in counterpoint with the future was the absence among the Indians of a private property right in the use of water that could be bartered or sold."

p. 25

Old Wintu woman relates the Wintu belief of water that "I am awfully smart"

"..,but I came from the ocean and I shall go back into the ocean. You can dig a ditch an put me in it, but I go only so far and I am out of sight. I am awfully smart. When I am out of sight I am on my way home."

p. 25

| Themes | Contents | Chronology | Conclusions | Map |

Chapter 2

Hispanic Patterns: Community and Authority

Spain's settlement of Alta California in 1769 introduced a lifestyle and a value system at sharp variance with those of native peoples of this most distant of the empire's northern possessions."

"Apportion Water justly and fairly "

Lessons in Survival


Royal Authority and Community Rights

Community Obligations

Community Rights and Private Rights

When Rights Collide: Bien Procumunal

The Darker Side



"most newcomers..., were themselves Indians" (from Mexico) who accompanied the Spanish conquistadors.

"conviction that nature was a divine gift" for human use

p. 28

"Apportion Water justly and fair."

Spanish attitudes were shaped by Greek and Roman laws and Judeo-Christian interpretations that stressed instrumental beliefs that nature is unproductive without humans completing an unfinished creation

Water was of such fundamental importance that its lavish display became synonymous with wealth, power, and technological sophistication. Fountains emerged as commonplace symbols of achievement."

p. 29

"The fundamental water-use unit in Spain was the local irrigation community where customs and laws had evolved over generations, drawing heavily on earlier Roman, Germanic, and Arabic experience."

"necessity sometimes blurred the distinction between public and private."

p. 30

Four communal arrangements emerged on the California frontier

the fort the mission the town the rancho
Presidio Franciscan Pueblo Encomienda
San Diego, 1769   San Jose, 1777  
Monterey, 1770   Los Angeles, 1781  
San Francisco, 1776   Branciforte, 1797  
Santa Barbara, 1782  

10.4 miles squared


"There was … no water." Juan Gaspar de Portolá

p. 32

21 Franciscan missions were established over 54 years became the most widespread Hispanic institution in California.

"all the lands should be ascertained which can have the benefit of irrigation" in the establishing of Los Angeles

"too much water could be as serious a problem as too little."

p. 36

Branciforte failed after 1800s from lack of sufficient water to sustain agriculture, grazing only was possible.

"We have ordered that the pastures, woods, and waters be in common in the Indies," 1541 royal declaration

usufructuary, for the sole use or procurement of the tenant

"Under Spanish law, water in a municipality did not belong to separate individuals, but rather passed from the monarch to the entire community as a corporate body."


Plan of Pitic ( Hermisillo, Mexico); the town's water would be shared by all residents


Mexico, 1978 -- Octavio Paz

| Themes | Contents | Chronology | Conclusions | Map |

Chapter 3

The American Takeover: Laissez Faire, Localism, and Monopoly.

"The conquest of California by the United States in 1846 and the discovery of gold two years later ushered in a sequence of events that profoundly altered the vast new American acquisition."

The Gold Rush (1848-49) changed just about everything including the relation of water to land and power.

"The population boomed from some 10,000 non Indians in 1846, to 100,000 three years later, to nearly 1-5 million by 1900."

American Political Culture

"First in Time, First in Right" (prior appropriation doctrine)

Hydraulicking and Environmental Destruction

The Politics of Flood Control

Riparian Rights

Monopoly and a Clash of Rights

Lux vs Haggin and the California Doctrine

The Irrigation District and the persistence of monopoly

Localism and the Search for Alternatives

The Rainmakers

The Progressive Impulse: from laissez faire to Centralized Planning

Toward the Reclamation Act (1902)

American Political Culture

"Localism and laissez faire were the Democrat's political shibboleths."

p. 68

Contest of ideologies on the high Sierra frontier:

Thomas Jefferson & Andrew Jackson Alexander Hamilton & Henry Clay
states rights federal authority
"laissez faire" "American System"
Preemption Act, 1841: "first in time, first in right" Swamplands, Homestead & Pacific Railway Acts

pp. 69 - 70.

"First in Time, First in Right" (prior appropriation doctrine)

Water diversion necessitated by gold bearing lodes and seasonal aridity of the region.

Gold was discovered on federal land; that is land not yet surveyed and passed into settler's hands.

Law of the mining camp's precedent lead to the "doctrine of prior appropriation."

p. 73

1866 Congress endorsed the right of prior appropriation and with it State Rights to regulate water use.

Congress set a precedent in mining that applied to agricultural and manufacturing use of water.

"Thus the new law, as it emerged in nineteenth-century California, ratified the survival instincts of a profit-driven people in an arid land. It endorsed swift commandeering of water resources and rapid economic development, and it gave no advantages to communities over individuals, though towns and cities could condemn rights that individuals had acquired."

" encouraged individual and corporate tendencies to monopolize as much of it (water) as possible."

p. 75

Water Law in the US is different in the arid west from the more humid east.

United States

Western Law Eastern Law
prior appropriation riparian right
the first to use and keep using water has inalienable access property adjacent to water may use it
created in the mining camps (1848-49) and upheld by the courts established by State legislative action in 1850s

Hydraulicking and Environmental Destruction

placer deposits were exhausted within several seasons

Some firms profited so well in supplying water to the new enterprises that they avoided mining altogether and devoted their energies to acquiring water rights and selling the precious commodity."

pp. 75-76

In 1855 the State Supreme Court upheld the right of companies to retail water not directly connected to mining.

Ironically individualism led to corporate take over of streams and water sources.

"Among the most profitable of the new entrepreneurial ventures was hydraulic mining, a California invention that... spread .. like the plague...."

p. 76

destruction was extraordinary and the profits were three to one and the spread of the industry required technical engineering prowess and hydraulic principles that were later used in larger private and public water projects around the west.

p. 77

3 times the water consumed by San Francisco at the time (1880s) was diverted into hydraulic mining.

p. 78

Rivers silted up and the bed of the Sacramento River and its tributaries rose increasing the flooding by destroying first natural and then constructed levees. Thousands of acres of farmlands, orchards and fields were destroyed.

Failure of the laissez faire dominated state legislature to control the industry

by 1884, the US Circuit Court of Appeals based on nuisance and damages ruled against the mining industry in favor of the farmers -- shutting down hydraulic mining-- for destroying the navigability of the Feather and Sacramento Rivers.

"...Corporate desires to seize water and blast away at the landscape in a frenzied quest for riches."

p. 79

The Politics of Flood Control

Sacramento Valley was a forty (40 by 150 ) one hundred and fifty mile long flood prone basin of largely swampland.

In 1850 the states were deeded all swamp and overflowed lands on the condition that they be reclaimed by levees and drained for agriculture.

State Board of Swampland Commissioners, created as an extra-Executive authority elected by the Legislature to create a statewide plan for the entire valley.

p. 81

To levy taxes for reclamation the SBSC created the swampland (or later) reclamation district

1868, the legislature rescinded the SBWC and replaced it with local control and weak centralization of the engineering specs.

"a return to the earlier practice of atomized protective systems, with only the largest (and most expensive) levees of the wealthy affording some semblance of security."

"Thus , laissez-faire, localism, and monopoly became standard practice in flood-control planning just as they had in the allocation of water for mining."

p. 84

Riparian Rights

"no one could acquire a property right to the corpus of the water itself,"

"Location alone determined the right, which simply resided in the ownership of land bordering the stream."

p. 85

Two competing water systems grew up in California:

prior appropriation in the gold fields

English Common Law and riparian rights by Legislative adoption in 1850.

Both approaches were used and codified in the Civil Code in 1872.

Though riparian rights prohibited diversion for irrigation, courts allowed limited diversion to assist (1865) irrigation. Therein lay the seeds for future clash of interests and conflict over use of water.

Pp. 86-87

"For most ranchers, riparianism became the doctrine of choice since it assured them a continuous flow of water for their livestock and periodic flooding of bottomlands for the growing of alfalfa and hay.

p. 89

As irrigated specialty crops spread, demand for water and sources for water grew straining the doctrine of riparian rights.

60,000 acres irrigated in 1870, to 300,000 acres in 1880,, 1 million acres in 1890.

Ranchers opposed upstream diversions basing their insistence on riparian rights.

Throughout the 1870s and 1880s a "groundswell of popular opposition to riparianism"

p. 93

Lux Vs Haggin and the California Doctrine

Central Valley

1879 - 1886 two large land owners squared off in court over the clash of water right systems.

This "State Supreme Court ruling saddled California with a new system of water law but failed to alter the pattern of land and water rights concentrated in relatively few hands."

James Ben Ali Haggin and the purchase of Kern County land to the amount of 400,000 acres for irrigation.

Henry Miller and Charles Lux

At the alluvial deposits of the Kern River these two giants in accumulating lands confronted one another.

Haggin was the upstream owner diverting water for irrigation away from the downstream ranchos of Miller and Lux.

Drought of 1877 placed Miller and Lux at a serious disadvantage when the Kern River ran dry.

May 1879, having been denied a fourth of the water of the Kern River water Miller took Haggin to court.

Lower courts ruled for prior appropriation, while Miller appealed to the State Supreme Court.

SSC ruled in favor of riparianism in a qualified sense: hybridism of the California Doctrine.

Prior appropriation can supersede riparian rights when and only if the prior appropriator is actually using the water before the downstream riparian owner had acquired the property and as the riparian owner began to use the water.

"Put simply, both systems were legitimate and timing determined which prevailed in a conflict."

p. 97.

The Irrigation District and the persistence of monopoly

Hampered by law the irrigationists were equally confronted with a hostile or at least unpredictable climate, rainfall came at the wrong season and delivered far more water than was needed when it did come.

"The real enemy was monopoly, whether by riparians or appropriationists."

p, 99

The obstacle now was to perfect some means of securing small holders access to water

In response to the decision in the Miller & Haggin case in an attempt to secure water and land for small holders the Legislature passed the Wright Act in 1887.

the Wright Act gave irrigation districts the legal authority to condemn property to obtain sufficient water.

p. 100

"In some ways the irrigation district was reminiscent of Hispanic institutions."

14,000 farmers irrigated lands by 1890s

p. 101.

New pumps made deep groundwater available in 1890s.

p. 101

1857, Crandall vs. Woods, incorporated the idea of "adverse prescription"

"The gains were more illusory than real. The Wright Act proved a limited success at best."

"Moreover, most of the agricultural land (62 percent of it) remained in large ownerships exceeding a thousand acres."

Pp. 102 -103.

By the 1890s in California, however, the irrigation district concept, which had been introduced with such enthusiasm only a few years earlier, was largely a failure – until it was revived and reformed in the early twentieth century."

p. 103.

"an innovation known as the mutual water company"

1857, the Anaheim Water Company was formed with land holdings amounting to 1200 acres.

p. 104.

George Chaffey was the preeminent promoter of mutual water companies and the holding of water rights in condominium among the land owners of the corporate area. He promoted Etiwanda, Ontario and Whittier. Where he used hydroelectricity for lighting streets.

Successes brought international attention and Chaffey went to Australia.

p. 107

Severe drought struck at the end of the century.

"many gave way to an irrational return to ancient superstitions."

Charles Hatfield –the nation's most renowned "rain maker" – [a person who claimed to be able to cause sufficient rainfall.]

December 1915, he promised San Diego rain in exchange for $100,000 just before the onset of a torrential season.

p. 112.

The Progressive Impulse: from laissez faire to Centralized Planning

1878, John Wesley Powell's, Report on the Arid Regions

Panic of 1893 and ensuing depression brought populist and progressive calls for reform

Calls for a regional reclamation effort to create small scale Jeffersonianism in the agrarian west.

| Themes | Contents | Chronology | Conclusions | Map | Water Law

Chapter 4

Urban Imperialism: A Tale of Two Cities

"Cities dominate modern California just as they do much of the nation and the world. In California, community living in villages, towns, and eventually vast metropolitan areas has almost always been the norm."

Los Angeles: from Hispanic Village to American City

Legerdemain and Pueblo Water Right

Girding for expansion

The Owens Valley Caper

An Aqueduct for the future

San Francisco: An instant city with an Instant Water Problem

Hetch Hetchy Predicaments

Hetch Hetchy Embattled

Toward a Utilitarian Triumph

The Ironies of Victory


A Comparison of Two Cities

"By the 1890s, San Francisco and Los Angeles were in vanguard of western cities that were searching for additional water sources.

"From about 1,600 residents at the time of statehood (1850), Los Angeles jumped to 100,000 by century's end, and then during the second decade of the nineteenth century bypassed San Francisco to become the state's most populous city."

"boosterism"... "viewed growth as an end in itself and water as the chief means of sustaining it."



Los Angeles:

from Hispanic Village to American City

Los Angeles bested San Francisco "in both imagination and aggressiveness in pioneering the new imperialism..."

Los Angeles as a town chartered by the state Legislature after State hood inherited all of the rights to water granted it by Mexico and Spain when LA was established as a pueblo.

Thus it "continued to directly control the community's water system" The Town council established a zanjero to " issue permits and collect water taxes and maintained a labor force of Indians to maintain aqueducts, wells and canals.

p. 123

" water remained the acknowledged means of sustaining the new prosperity (based on commerce) as it had the old (agriculture)."

p. 124

Los Angeles Population growth:

1860 -------- 4,300

1870 ------- 13,000

1880 ------- 50,000

Completion of the railroad from Chicago tied Los Angeles to the southcentral United States via Santa Fe and Texas which also allowed fresh fruit in refrigerated cars to reach more people and extend the produce into larger urban markets.

p. 124

Smallpox epidemic of 1863 raised the need for sanitation on the civic agenda.

Water companies were believed the best means of securing an urban water supply to the city, at first.

Upstream diversions of water flowing into the city began to worry municipal fathers in 1870s

Legerdemain and Pueblo Water Right

the city went to court to seek an injunction to stop upstream users from diverting water

Rancho Los Feliz, north and below the mountains, was the city's initial target whose owner was then Leon Baldwin who irrigated his orchards from the middle -- upper reach of the Los Angeles River.

John Godfrey was the persuasive and imaginative City Attorney who handled the case

The pueblo was from its creation, he insisted, sole legal grantee of all the water in the Los Angeles River and under the Treaty of Guadeloupe Hidalgo had to be respected by subsequent American law.

"the owner of … all the water flowing in … [the] river." A most audacious claim at best.

p. 130

In 1874, the Legislature gave the city exclusive right to all the water in the river.

Baldwin argued that by riparian right and adverse prescription (had been using the river without objection by Los Angeles) the water was there for his use.

In 1879 the State Supreme Court ruled against the city

p. 132

In 1885 the city paid $50,000 for the Los Feliz Rancho to John Baldwin for the water diversion rights.

In 1881 in another case Feliz vs. Los Angeles the State Supreme Court ruled that Los Angeles had the right to remove diversion works of other owners on the Los Felix Rancho.

p. 133

Without resort to Spanish and Mexican law the SCC decided the case to favor the Los Angeles control of the river's water, but with an enormous restriction on how the city can use excess water so long as it does not damage downstream users.

p. 134

1895, Vernon Irrigation Co. v. Los Angeles, Vernon's lawyers ignored the pueblo water right as dismissed by the Baldwin case, and thus failed to effectively challenge the city's claim.

p. 135

SSC addressed the Pueblo rights question, the "pueblo water right could be asserted only to the amount needed to supply the wants of the inhabitants."

p. 136

"The judges in Vernon were less interested in Spanish legal reality than in what the Los Angeles city council, the state legislature, and now they affirmed should exist: a pueblo water right allowing Los Angeles to become a great city."

p. 137

In 1899 the Court extended the Pueblo right was extended to areas annexed to Los Angeles after incorporation as a pueblo of four square leagues (twenty-seven square miles). Annexation thus became a means of securing more water.

p. 139

Girding for expansion

Los Angeles City Water given control over the supply in 1868 until 1898.

In 1903 the city residents voted to create a municipal commission to control the water. Five member Board of Water Commissioners

p. 140

"rights to all the water of the Los Angeles River basin" Yet by 1904, William Mulholland, the Superintendent of the new Commission voiced concern the river was insufficient to meet the growing cities' and suburb's increasing per capita demands

The Owens Valley Caper

The Bureau of Reclamation was established in 1902 by Congress to bring needed irrigation water to arid lands in the west; with a mission on public lands to facilitate the needed dams, reservoirs and aqueducts to fulfill that mission of irrigating desert lands.

235 miles north of the city in the Eastern Sierra was the Owen's Valley

Mammoth to Mono lake Mono Lake in the upper background from Mammoth Mountain in the Eastern Sierra Nevada range looking from west to east towards the White Mountains.

In the 1890s Fred Eaton, City mayor and engineer (for Los Angeles City Water) had suggested and drew specs for a gravity canal from the Owens'

anticipated sufficient water in the Owens Valley for 2 million people in Los Angeles.

p. 145

Owen's River The Owens River, in Mono County.

Bureau of Reclamation had a model irrigated agricultural project for the Owens Valley and had withdrawn or set aside all public lands to keep water for the rural development project.

Fred Eaton, meanwhile was buying up private land in the Owens valley to secure riparian rights.

Joseph B. Lippincott, Bureau of Reclamation Engineer secretly sides with Eaton (personal friends) and his main client was City of Los Angeles despite his work for the Bureau of Reclamation.

p. 146

The City, Eaton, and Lippincott worked secretly to inform each other and acquire lands. Eaton all along had hoped to own the only reservoir site in the Valley and then lease it to the City for twice its value. The city was in no position to turn him down since the Bureau of Reclamation required that the OV project be a wholly municipal project.

Oct. 29, 1905, the Municipal Board felt the project secured.

The Los Angeles Times (with monetary interest in the project) ran the headline "TITANIC PROJECT TO GIVE CITY A RIVER."

p. 150-151

An Aqueduct for the future

Aqueduct todayThe Owens' Valley aqueduct is owned by the City of Los Angeles, Department of Water and Power.

$25 million needed for the project and federal permission to cross national lands

Bond issues passed in 1905 and 1907 to pay for the land purchases and the building of the aqueducts.

Theodore Roosevelt championed the Owens Valley \ Los Angeles Aqueduct.

Construction began in 1908 and on "November 5, 1913, the first Owens river water poured into the San Fernando Valley.

p. 155

"There it is, Take it" William Mulholland of the water on the dedication day.

p. 156

Corruption of Moses Sherman and the syndicate, the San Fernando Mission Land Company

San Fernando Valley San Fernando Valley in Southern California.

The suburban sprawl seen here was based on the newly acquired water.

The benficiearies of the water deal by Mulholland: (Harriman, Huntington, Otis and Edwin J. Earl)

p. 161

Mary Austin and her husband Stafford were among Inyo County leaders who tried to change Washington's mind on the Owens Valley Bureau of Reclamation service project.

Mary Austin's Home in Lone Pine, California Mary Austin's home in Lone Pine, California.

"Believing themselves abandoned by the President, betrayed by the Reclamation Service, misled by Los Angeles, Owens Valley residents remained deeply embittered."

p. 163

1927, the dynamiting of the aqueduct by disgruntled Valley vigilantes.

p. 165

San Francisco: An instant city with an Instant Water Problem

Surrounded by salt water, 20 inches of rain annually.

By 1874 San Francisco had moved from private to a municipal water system with State legislative approval.

p. 173

Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park

Chapter 5

Hydraulic Society Triumphant: The Great Projects

"The spectacular success of Los Angeles and San Francisco excited admiration and much envy among federal and state engineers whose own water schemes by the 1920s had produced meager results if not outright failure."

The Boulder Canyon Project

Imperial Valley Impulse

The Colorado River Compact

New Players and New Battles

Compromises and Enactment

Imperial Valley and the Betrayal of the Reclamation Law

New Water and Accelerated Urbanization

The Central Valley Project

Progressive Era Promise and Disappointment

Toward a State Plan

From State to Federal Project

A Project at Last

Battle over Acreage Limitation

"Technical Compliance": A Bipartisan Legacy

Public versus Private Power

The State Water Project

A State Plan

New Water, Growth and Inequities

The Boulder Canyon Project


"The term Boulder Canyon Project masks a multidimensional undertaking that had a deep impact on the state, the West, the entire country, and northwestern Mexico. Its origin can be traced to the turn of the century and to the merging of two forceful ideas.

1. The first belonged to Arthur Powell Davis, nephew of John Wesley Powell, the prominent nineteenth century geologist who had unsuccessfully urged the federal government to reform land and water laws and who had gained wide public fame as the one armed explorer who in 1869 had led the first expedition down the Colorado River and through the Grand Canyon. Arthur Davis had grown to manhood inspired by his uncles exploits and the West's rugged beauty.... His attention immediately focused on the Colorado River, the site of his uncle's greatest feats and now, he believed, the means for achievements of his own."

p. 205.

2. Was response to disaster: "struck in 1905. During the previous year the private company delivering the water, without consulting Chaffey who had by then severed his connection with the firm, opened a new intake on the Colorado River.... A surge of high water tore out the flimsy diversion works and soon the entire Colorado River was pouring through a break a mile wide and sweeping back northwestward into the valley, destroying buildings, drowning crops, and transforming the nearby Salton Sink into the Salton Sea."

Colorado River gorge Colorado River in the Grand Canyon gorge.

"Evidence of something different in the Bureau's values was reflected in its relationship with the Imperial Valley following the passage of the Boulder Canyon legislation."

"That water, provided at subsidized rates (no interest was levied on the federal funds expended for constructing the delivery system), stabilized the valley's irrigable area at about 440,000 acres and brought a measure of security and prosperity unknown before. It also helped fasten a landed elite onto the area."

p, 223.

"Another strong incentive for developing new farmland in the 1960s came from the federal tax code. It allowed investors to deduct as business expenses their development costs this prompting them to rush new fields into production as soon as the water became available. In Kern County, they concentrated at first on such specialty crops as almonds and citrus which grew especially well along the valley's west side. Then when the Internal Revenue Service, under heavy criticism for providing tax subsidies to the wealthy, ended the tax break for citrus and almond orchards in 1969 and 1970, investors poured their money into grapes, olives, and pistachios. The result was glutted markets and nose-diving prices that devastated many of the state's small growers."

pp, 229-230.

"The advocates of California's great hydraulic projects cared little about agricultural working conditions and less about studies pointing out the nature, extent, and inequities of subsidized water for farmers."

Irrigated agriculture] Irrigated farmland along the California and Arizona borders on the Colorado River.

In 1963, California became the nation's most populous state with over 18 million people.

p. 301 


| Themes | Contents | Chronology | Conclusions | Map | Water Law


Chapter 6

State water systems Hydraulic Society on the Defensive


"The years immediately following the inauguration of the State Water Project brought unprecedented challenges to California's numerous hydraulic planners."

" Those who traditionally looked upon cheap and abundant water as a birthright reacted with alarm but not resignation as they grappled with environmental militants and devised strategies to slow, if not undermine altogether, threats to the old order."

p. 304.

Arizona vs. California

1963, Supreme Court decision to share the Colorado River water.

longest most expensive and most contested case in USSC history, 11 years, 240 witnesses, 50 lawyers


The Environmental Movement

Peripheral Canal

Round One

Round Two

The Pueblo Water Rights Challenged

Mono Lake and the Public Trust Doctrine

Owens Valley War: Renewed and Cooled But not over

The Fight for the Right to Instream Use

An Increasingly Vulnerable Southland


| Themes | Contents | Chronology | Conclusions | Map | Water Law

Chapter 7

Water Policy at the Crossroads

"The setbacks to California's water seekers during the last three decades did not break their spirit or prevent some telling victories on behalf of the old cause. Similarly, the resistance of state as well as national voters to massive new projects because of soaring costs and intense opposition by environmentalists has not ushered in an era of reform as many had hoped and some even predicted."

" the struggle to preserve an awesomely beautiful and rugged stretch of the Stanislaus River, a stream that rises in the High Sierra north of Yosemite before eventually joining the San Joaquin River west of Modesto."

Tradition vs. Reform: The fate of the Stanislaus River

New and old Challenges to Dams and Levees

Dams at Risk

The Impermanence of Dams

Los Angeles: A Vexing Lesson

Vulnerable Levees and the Delta

Environmental Crisis: Bay, Delta and CALFED

Environmental Crisis: The Central Valley

Environmental Crisis: Southern California

Subsidized Agriculture and Social Inequity

Water Marketing: Hope, Threat, and Challenge

The Imperial Valley, MWD, San Diego and the Market

The Wheeling rate war: MWD and San Diego

The Governor Intercedes

On War down, Another to go.

The Central Valley Project, "Reform," and the Market

The MWD, the San Joaquin Valley, and the Market

The Quest for Security and Equity

Open Spaces and Farmland: Going, Going, …

A Confusion of Laws

Chaotic Management

Calls for Reform, Fanciful and Otherwise

Environmental Crisis: Southern California

"polluted water, salinity, the Imperial Valley has been especially hard hits."

"Wetlands, a resource vital to flood control, water quality and species survival by providing wildlife habitat and breeding grounds."

p. 459

Radioactive Contamination of the river water from a site 750 feet from the Colorado River in Moab Utah.

10.5 million tons of uranium

NRC was to cover the 110 foot pile, as had been done in Denver to little or no effect!

pp. 442-443

"Over pumping has eliminated all but a handful of springs on the coastal plain and invited devastating salt water intrusion (first observed in the 1920s.).

p. 444


By the 1980s in Southern California, one of three homes was using bottled water as the principle source of drinking water as compared with one in seventeen in the US as a whole."

p. 460


Subsidized Agriculture

"Just as problems of pollution have persisted, indeed, intensified, in recent years, so, too, has the resilience of agribusiness."

"highly subsidized water" users persuaded the Reagan Administration to change the reclamation law.

p. 461

Open Spaces and Farmland: Going, Going, …

Water "allotment would be reduced to meet actual supplies." Monterey Agreement of 1994.

Santa Monica basin Once orchard and farmland, the Santa Monica Mountains now overlook suburban sprawl.

Chaotic Management

"water management systems that are egregiously localized" and in that sense "it exhibits the centrifugal, fractional tendencies of the American federal system carried to some kind of logical extreme."

Despite James Madison's approach to deter factions,

"The question now in water matters, is whether government is so hobbled and confused that, as a total complex of institutions, it cannot provide reasonable supervision and guidance at all."

p. 534

"Statewide, there is no coordinating authority or management program, there is no one in charge."

Unlike the Pacific Northwest

p. 535

"The need for cooperative water management extends well beyond California to the entire West and, so far as California is concerned, especially to the states of the Colorado River Basin.

p. 536

Part of the problem is structural.

There is no real means by which to solve watershed - wide problems in a way that all stakeholders are represented and equitable solutions can be proposed.

p. 537.

Calls for Reform, Fanciful and Otherwise

Gamble's painting

California evokes a romantic and near utopian vision for numerous observers.

Transcendentalists, and communal-utopian theorists of the Age of Jackson

critical of Donald Worster, Peter Berg and Raymond Dasmann, as not realistic, wishful thinking.

p. 538

"This vision has a certain appeal, but seems out of touch with modern urban society and a world (increasingly by some 250,000 people daily or 90 million annually) where production only for local; needs -- even if limited to California and the West -- appears a practical impossibility if not undesirable."

p. 539

Lake Tahoe in winter. Lake Tahoe in winter.

"The fate of all bodies of water is intertwined with human values about the quality of life and the number of people any part of the world can properly support. Closer to home, the message to Californians is the folly of continuing to encourage the influx of people, whether new residents, developers, or farmers, into areas where the environment is already overburdened and despoiled. The message is also about the tragedy of California's rapidly disappearing open spaces and world-renowned farmland through unchecked urbanization and an accelerating market in agricultural water."

p. 542

Ideology | Themes | Contents | Chronology | Conclusions | Map | Water Law

Chapter 8


GrampsSan Gabriel ValleySan Gabriel Valley.

"Modern California, with its booming economy (eighth among the nations of the world if measured separately) and its number one ranking nationally in population, agriculture, and industry, dominates the American West and much of the nation like a colossus and exercises great influence not only in Washington, . . . but also in foreign capitals."

Salinas RIver Upper Salinas River Valley.

The water establishment in Calif. has consisted of many competing and often warring groups and is thus not monolithic.

"Water exists to serve humankind."

Perpetual drought conditions,

p. 559.

| Themes | Contents | Chronology | Conclusions | Map | Water Law


 "That Californians--and all Americans, for that matter–have abused the land and waterscape and failed to develop a coherent water policy hardly seems surprising for a people with a centuries old tradition of exploitation and with (perhaps illogical) desire to accommodate simultaneously growth, environmental restoration, and at least some wilderness preservation."

p. 561

Californians - "are not so much facing a water problem as a land-use problem."

"So, too, does the irony of the environmentalists joining with cities in a powerful coalition for water marketing that, without appropriate constraints, could accelerate the urbanization of open spaces and farmland and, withal, the despoliation of a once Golden State."

Los Angeles, shown above at left, is set in a coastal lowland between a coastal range of high hills and a more massive interior mountain range that act as watershed for the city. That is the forested slopes of the surrounding mountains captures rainfall, fog and snowfall to allow water to percolate into the porous sand stone thereby providing underground water sources for the early settlement

Growth of California's three cities:

City 1850 1860 1870 1880 1890 1900 1910 1920 1930 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 City
San Francisco 56,802 149,473 233,959 298,997 342,782 416,912 506,676 634,394 634,536 775,357 740,316 715,674 678,974 723,959 776,733 San Francisco
Los Angeles 1,610 4,385 5,728 11,183 50,395 102,479 319,198 576,673 1,238,048 1,504,277 1,970,358 2,479,015 2,811,801 2,968,579 3,485,398 3,694,820 Los Angeles
San Diego 731 2,300 2,637 16,159 17,700 39,578 74,361 147,995 203,341 334,387 573,224 697,027 875,538 1,110,549 1,223,400 San Diego
Total 61,918 157,501 247,779 365,551 462,961 775,688 1,157,710 2,020,437 2,342,154 3,080,102 3,792,555 4,224,502 4,523,091 5,319,906 5,694,953

People need water.

Water conservation

Water Privatization

p. 562

"Leaders at all levels of government have thus far been unwilling or unable to invest the resources needed to make current cities more livable, appealing, healthful, and safe – in a word, more attractive" to people so they do not feel compelled to flee an undesirable urban environment only to replicate it endlessly across the map and into the future."
p. 562
agricultural interests holding rights to 77% percent of the state's developed water supply- a supply made possible by taxpayer-funded subsidies."
p. 563

Columbia River Basin | Water Technology | Water


| Themes | Contents | Chronology | Conclusions | Map | Water Law



Terms used in Marshes of the Ocean Shore

ecological problem

energy & California


George Perkins Marsh
John Wesley Powell
Lewis Mumford
Marc Reisner
Mary Austin
Case study