Streams of Life: Water in the American West
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Los Angeles (continued)
The Owens Valley
The Paiute Indians learned irrigation from the Spanish and began to irrigate the valley. When whites arrived they began to push the successful Indians away. Soon violence broke out and the whites murdered over 150 Paiutes. The Indians were eventually forced out of the valley and the whites took over. A prosperous community established itself in the valley. The United States Reclamation Service-now known as the Bureau of Reclamation-had been started a few months before and wanted to prove itself to a skeptical Congress. It began surveying the Owens Valley with the intention of building its first project there. The residents were very supportive and with talk of building a railroad spur to the Owens Valley they were bound to get rich, or so they thought.
Los Angeles Steals the River
Eaton and Mulholland had other plans for the valley. Those plans did not include the Reclamation Service, but instead, the city. The two drove 250 miles over the desert by car to reach the valley. When Mulholland saw the luscious valley, he suddenly changed. Before he had preached conservation, but after seeing all that water and realizing what it could mean to Los Angeles, he saw himself as a builder and a conqueror. He realized that water-the river-could flow to Los Angeles in an aqueduct by gravity alone. He and Eaton faced a big challenge though. The current residents of the valley had been there a long time and owned all the water rights. It would be challenge, not to mention illegal. By doing consulting work for the Reclamation Service, whose manager of the California area, J.B. Lippincott, was a Los Angelino, Eaton gained access to the archive of water and land rights in the county courthouse. In addition, Los Angeles hired Lippincott as a consultant. His job was to determine what the city's options in water sources were. In return for his work, Lippincott was paid $2,500, an amount high enough to be more of a bribe than a payment. Eaton, using his own money, began buying up as much of the lower valley as possible. After much work, he managed to convince the owner of the only dam site in the valley to sell. He secretly bought that site for himself. Soon the city owned most of the water rights in the lower valley. Otis and Chandler were big promoters of the plan, but they were forced to keep it secret. They could not keep it to themselves though and soon the plan was announced on the front page of the Times. The people of Owens Valley found out, but it was too late. Not only was it too late for them to stop the aqueduct, but it was also to late to save the valley-it had already begun its spiraling descent toward oblivion.
With help from Eaton and Mulholland's friends in the federal government, the Reclamation Service project in the Owens Valley was forgotten. Theodore Roosevelt, one of their big supporters, placed a national forest around Owens Valley, preventing any new development in the area. Despite the fact that it is a national forest, Inyo National Forest hardly has any trees within its boundaries.
All Mulholland and Eaton had to do now was get the support of the Los Angeles voters. Rumor had it that Mulholland had his employees dump water from the city's reservoirs into the ocean at night. Whether or not it actually happened, an artificial shortage was not necessary. A mixture of amazingly high temperatures and a big drought coerced the voters into approving the aqueduct. It passed ten-to-one and was highly approved by all-at least all the Los Angelinos.
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