California Water Wars - A River in the Desert | 1

American History Tellers

By Wondery

California Water Wars - A River in the Desert | 1

Wednesday, 22 January

By the turn of the twentieth century, Los Angeles had grown from a dusty, crime-ridden pueblo into a thriving metropolis. The only problem was that it was growing too fast. With no consistently reliable water source and a desert climate leading to a decade-long drought, the city would have to begin looking elsewhere.

In the Owens River Valley, over two hundred miles north of the city, a vast, rushing river, fed by Sierra mountain snow, lay the solution. But how to get the water from the Owens Valley to Los Angeles? City water superintendent William Mulholland and former Los Angeles mayor Fred Eaton devised a breathtakingly simple plan: they would build an aqueduct. As Mulholland began sketching out an engineering vision for the project, Eaton secretly purchased land rights in the Owens Valley.

But Eaton’s methods left many valley residents bewildered and angry, setting up a decades-long battle for survival that would pit a metropolis against a small ranching community.


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