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Saturday, March 24, 2018

VALLEY OF DEATH Chapter Two

I would not suggest reading “The Complete Report on Construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct” if you do not like numbers.  It took  8 years to build the 250 mile long aqueduct. But from its head end in the Owens valley, with an elevation of 3,812 feet, to its mouth at the northern end of the San Fernando Valley at 1,135 feet, not a single pump or moving part was required. Gravity did all the work.
For their $24.5 million investment the citizens of Los Angeles got “…215 miles of road, 230 miles of pipe line, 218 miles of power transmission line and 377 miles of telegraph and telephone line.
Fifty-seven camps were established…(for) laborers who numbered, at their peak, 3,900….(who) blasted and drilled 142 tunnels totaling more than 43 miles.
They built 34 miles of open unlined channel, 39 miles of concrete lined channel, and 98 miles of covered conduit…” 
The project also cost 43 lives, also considered a significant improvement over previous large construction programs.
It was no wonder then, when the gates were officially opened on 5 November, 1913, that...
...Controlling Engineer William Mulholland looked upon the tumbling white waters...
...falling down the aerating "Cascades" from the final tunnel before being whirling into the Van Ryan Reservoir,..  
 ...he and proudly told the citizens of Los Angeles, “There it is. Take it.”
And yet on the day the aqueduct was opened, it was not finished. And a series of drought years beginning in 1923 reminded everyone that the aqueduct lacked a head-end reservoir.
Frank Eaton (above), the man who had inspired the aqueduct and who had risked his fortune to make it happen, was not at the opening ceremonies. He had stubbornly refused to lower his asking price for the required reservoir at Long Valley, above Lone Pine. So without that head end reservoir,  low snow pack in the Sierra meant low water through-out the aqueduct.
Mulholland could have admitted the problem and paid Eaton’s asking price of one million dollars. His Department of Water and Power was now flush with money, and could pay for just about anything it wanted.  Instead he ordered the drilling of wells across the Owens Valley, sucking up the ground water, and buying up water rights from small local irrigation canals to produce more water for the distant city.
And as the residents of the Owens Valley saw their wells drying up and their crops and orchards dying for want of water "stolen" by Mulholland’s Department of Water and Power, their anger began to simmer and then boil.
The center of resistance became the Inyo County Bank in Bishop, operated by Wilfred (center bg) and Mark Watterson (left bg). There was also an uncle, George Watterson, who, though less of a fire brand, was also an Owens Valley supporter. As William Karl observed in his book “Water and Power”, “…the Wattersons could gather around their family table the same sort of concentration of power and expertise that members of the San Fernando Land syndicate applied with such effect in Los Angeles.” ( P 276).
Besides holding extensive banking (above), business and mining interests across the Owens Valley, the Wattersons headed the Owens Valley Irrigation District, which sought to organize landowners in a united front against Mulholland and the D.W.P.  Still, slowly, the D.W.P. kept wearing the farmers down until, one after another, they were forced to sell out..
The bravest and the most stubborn farmers followed the Wattersons. And many of those who did saw their soil reduced to dust and their trees wither and die. Some desperate farmers even stole water from the aqueduct. When L.A. responded by sending in armed “private detectives” to arrest violators, the Wattersons asked the Governor to send in the National Guard. The Governor, who had depended on money from the L.A. elite for his re-election, refused.
And then, at 1:30 A.M. on 21 May, 1924, a party estimated at about 40 men cut through a fence around the Lone Pine spill way gate. The attendants were peacefully detained, and several sticks of dynamite were set of against the pipeline, blowing it apart and sending the water spilling across the desert floor. Now, it was war.
Mulholland’s reaction was predictable. He regretted, said the old Irishman, “the demise of so many of the valley's orchard trees, because now there were no longer enough trees to hang all the troublemakers who live there.”More “detectives” were hired and a $10,000 reward was offered for any information as to the identity of the “dynamite gang”.  None was obtained. The D.W.P,  seeking to avoid bad publicity,  offered to buy out all members of the Owens Valley Irrigation District for $365 an acre. The Watterson’s rejected that offer.
Instead, on 16 November, 1924, 70 armed men, led by Mark Watterson, descended on the Alabama Gates  (above), the point where the Owens river was first diverted into the aqueduct,  and completely shut off the flow of water to the entire city of Los Angeles. And this produced an even bigger explosion. 
By the next day the 70 men had become 700 men, women and children, who threw a gigantic picnic above the aqueduct. 
Business in Lone Pine and Bishop displayed signs in their windows informing their customers, “You can find me at the Aqueduct”.
Movie cowboy Tom Mix provided a mariachi band (above) to entertain the crowd. When two carloads of armed D.W.P “detectives” arrived, the sheriff of Inyo County warned them not to cause trouble because, “I don’t believe you will live through it.”
Newspaper men snapped pictures and wrote about plucky farmers standing up to the all powerful Department of Water and Power.  Now Los Angeles asked the governor to send in the National Guard. Again the Governor refused. It suddenly occurred to Mulholland that his DWP was losing the Owens Valley Water War.
And at just this moment Wilfred Watterson arrived in Los Angeles to present the DWP with two bills; either pay the citizens of the Owens Valley $5.3 million in “reparations” for damage to crops and livelihood, or $12 million to buy out the entire valley.  The D.W.P refused, pleading that legally they were not allowed to buy land that did not have water rights attached, which was true.  But the DWP also promised to return to the negotiations.  The Wattersons decided that they had made their point and the occupation of the Alabama Gates ended after four days. But now the entire mess ended up in court.
The bad news for the Wattersons was that this was a battlefield which favored the power structure of Los Angeles. Legal delay followed delay, and slowly the farmers were squeezed between depressed markets and expensive money. What came next was predictable.
On 20 May, 1927 an explosion cut the aqueduct outside of Mojave. 
Over the next two months there were 10 more bombings. 
And every bombing cut off the water supply to the growing city of Los Angeles.
Mulholland now sent an entire train of “detectives” into the Owens Valley, armed with guns and checkbooks, paying enough for information to get it.
Then, in August, both of the Watterson brothers were arrested and charged with embezzlement from their bank. They were convicted of 36 counts and sentenced to ten years each in San Quentin. Their bank failed and amongst the depositors who were wiped out was Fred Eaton, whose son had taken out a $300,000 mortgage on the ranch with the Watterson's bank. The bank's assets were sold at auction and eventually Los Angeles bought the Long Valley dam site for a pittance. After the bank was officially closed, a note was left taped to the locked front door: “This result has been brought about by the last four years of destructive work carried on by the city of Los Angeles.”
The Owens Valley opposition had lost its heart and soul. There would be future battles, and the Owens Valley would win more than a few. But that was in the future.
And well before than, on 12 March, 1928, the St. Francis Dam, built by Mulholland to replace the unbuilt Long Valley dam, collapsed, killing 1,000 people and shredding William Mulholland’s reputation forever.
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Friday, March 23, 2018

VALLEY OF DEATH Chapter One

I believe the reality of our lives becomes what our youthful egos insist them to be. Consider the friendship between William Mulholland and Frederick Eaton. One man left his name on a lot of Los Angeles real estate. The other is largely forgotten. But 20th century Los Angeles could not have been built without either of them. The problem was they were, both of them, dreaming too big for their own good.
Fred Eaton was a force of nature. Historian William Kahrl described him as “Youthful, aggressive, innovative, (and) startlingly handsome…”. He was also well connected. Fred’s father was one of the founders of Pasadena, California, one of the richest cities in America. After college, in 1875, Fred became superintendent for Los Angeles’ private water company.
In that job Fred hired a muscular Irish immigrant named William Mulholland (above) , as a well digger. “The two of them made an unlikely pair”, wrote DiLeo & Smith in their book "Two Californias", “Eaton was elegant, well born, refined. Mulholland was gruff, a blunt man who loved games and jokes. While Eaton craved public attention, Mulholland shunned it, preferring to spend his evenings reading for his own edification.” With Eaton’s encouragement, Mulholland taught himself engineering and as he advanced in authority he became a close confidant of Eaton’s. But in 1892, when a drought struck the American southwest, Eaton became convinced the city had to find a more dependable supply of drinking water. Mulholland scoffed at Fred's concerns and told his mentor, “If you don’t get the water, you won’t need it.”
Eaton refused to be dissuaded. He traveled north, along the eastern ramparts of the Sierra Mountains. There he found year round snow capped summits producing streams that fed two saline sink lakes in one of the driest places on earth;...
...Mono Lake in the north, and in the south...
closer to Los Angels,  Owens Lake, fed by the gentle and life giving Owens River.
As an engineer Eaton realized that physically it was possible to draw water from the Owens River for Los Angeles by gravity alone because the river had a higher elevation than the city.
Of course, separating the two was two hundred fifty miles of lava fields, desert and mountains, a wilderness that mostly belonged to the Federal Government.  Fred Eaton (above) realized that financially and politically his goal was almost impossible to achieve. Still, he had come to love the terrain and the people of the Owens valley, and after he capped his career in Los Angeles by serving a 2 year term as Mayor in 1898, he retired to spend his summers at a 12,000 acre ranch along the Owens River. And there he might have quietly remained in serene retirement but for two things that changed.
The first was that his friend ,William Mulholland (above) had become the superintendent for the Los Angeles Water Department, now a city agency.  And faced with the same problems Eaton had faced in the same job, Mulholland came to the same conclusion; if it was to survive and grow, Los Angeles had to find more water. And the second thing that changed was the weather.
As 1892 had been a year of drought, 1905 was a year of floods. In the spring heavy rains and heavier than usual snow melts in the Rockies, forced the lower Colorado River to burst through its banks and pour into the depression that became The Salton Sea.
In response to this disaster, and under political pressure to help a number of agricultural development projects around the nation (e.g. “pork”) the Theodore Roosevelt administration created the Reclamation Department (forerunner of the Interior Department). It was America’s first modern experiment with “big government”.  And one of the first projects under consideration by the Reclamation Department was a plan to improve irrigation along the upper Owens River.
The new department sent Fred Eaton to the Mono County Court House (above) to investigate property records. This meant that when Fred started to buy options on water rights to the lower Owens River, the farmers and ranchers assumed he was buying for the irrigation project, and eagerly sold him their rights at bargain basement prices.  
In August of 1905 Fred admitted as much to the Los Angeles Express.  He said, “I knew the government was planning to put in irrigation works… If I had waited until after the government was at work, it would have required $1 million to $2 million more to get the water for the city, and that probably would have killed the project.” 
Back in Los Angeles Fred met with the city attorney. “The result”, he told the Express, “was an agreement that I would turn over to the city all the water rights I had acquired at the price I had paid for them…”.
The cost was a $700,000, for which Fred was fully reimbursed from Los Angeles Department of Water and Power funds. It was a brilliant and glorious gamble for the city and it appeared that Fred Eaton had risked a substantial portion of his wealth out of his love for Los Angeles. And so he had. There was a catch, of course. As Honre' de Balszac wrote, "Behind every great fortune is a crime yet to be discovered."
As William Mulholland began to design the $24.5 million Los Angeles Aqueduct it became obvious that the system would require a reservoir at the head end. Such an artificial lake would provide a dependable flow regardless of drought years or downpours. And Fred Eaton owned just the spot for that reservoir; his ranch above Lone Pine in what was called Long Valley.
In the original paperwork in which Fred had been reimbursed, he also granted permission to build a dam there. But hidden in the details was a height limit on the proposed Long Valley dam of 100 feet. Being an engineer, Fred knew that because of the topography of the site, that was not high enough. And Fred had already decided that a variance which would allow a 106 or 107 foot high dam would cost the city $1 million more.
And once he got into the nitty-gritty details of planning the dam Mulholland realized he had been backed into a corner. The problem was that he realized it at a most inconvenient moment. Just as Fred sprang his trap, the bankers back east, who had financed the aqueduct, sprang theirs.

In late 1910, with the aqueduct construction just past the half way mark, they lowered the cities’ credit rating.  The bankers were hoping that a cash shortage would force the city to sell to them its most valuable asset, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Instead the Board of Public Works which had oversight of the DWP, cut expenses to the bone, eliminating the million dollars for Fred Eaton’s Long Valley dam.
Mulholland (above, right) tried to reason with Fred, but Eaton (above, center)  decided that Mulholland was merely being a tough negotiator and refused to compromise. The friends argued. Heated words were exchanged. And Mulholland walked out of the meeting with Fred, saying angerly and prophetically, “I’ll buy the Long Valley three years after Eaton is dead.”
How could either man have known that petty argument would inspire an open and violent rebellion in the Owens Valley, and kill 1,000 innocent people and cause the greatest man made disaster in California history?
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