Streams of Life: Water in the American West
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The Path to a Metropolis
Los Angeles (continued)
Los Angeles is located in the middle of a desert. While other cities are located near mineral deposits, rivers, harbors-natural resources that are useful for humans-Los Angeles has none of these nearby. Most importantly it has no water. The story of Los Angeles is the story of unimaginable growth and the ruthless hunt for water.
The Spanish settled in Los Angeles because it was in a convenient place not far from Mexico. In addition, the Spanish did not know of San Francisco Bay, one of the best ports in the world. The Spanish saw Los Angeles as a good location to farm with irrigation. In 1848, Los Angeles had a population of about sixteen hundred-mostly Spanish and Indian, yet there were a few Americans in the town. San Francisco, which was only half the size of Los Angeles in 1848, soon outpaced the southern city. When gold was found in the north, San Francisco became one of the hottest destinations in the world. The only advantage that Los Angeles offered was a place to escape from one's past. After the Civil War many veterans moved across the continent and established themselves in Los Angeles. The city was not destined to remain a haven for the unscrupulous; water would change everything.
The Path to a Metropolis
Soon after the Mormons-widely known as some of the best irrigators in the world-established themselves in Utah they sent an exploratory party to the Pacific Coast. A group of Mormons set up a large establishment in the Los Angeles basin. They were able to do quite well and provided most of the valley with food. When federal troops arrived in Utah all of the Mormon settlements were shut down and the Mormons in Los Angeles returned home. They had a lasting effect, though. Soon a number of communities sprouted up to replace the Mormon establishment. They included Presbyterians, Quakers, and Germans. The warm coastal climate allowed almost anything to be grown in the basin-from corn to oranges. Soon the San Franciscan capitalists noticed and the Southern Pacific built a spur from San Francisco down to Los Angeles. Los Angelinos went to the 1884 World's Fair in New Orleans and hawked the basin to amazed onlookers. No one could imagine oranges and dates being grown in the United States.
Hordes began arriving in Los Angeles. A competitor of the Southern Pacific built a line connecting Kansas City and Los Angeles. Soon a fare war erupted and the cost of traveling west dropped to an amazingly low amount. A huge real estate boom began. Fraud followed the boom, though. Unknowing people bought lots that lay in the bed of the Los Angeles River, which is only a trickle during most of the year- however, during the winter it overflows its banks. Some people unwittingly bought property on the summit of the San Gabriel Ridge. The boom died down soon and population dropped by half, but soon an oil boom followed. By now Los Angeles was the size of San Francisco. But how could the city provide the water to sustain all these people?
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