Outtake No. 3
Water history of Los Angeles and impact William Mulholland had on the City of Angels.
The picture fades to a movie, and a caption appears on screen:1874, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Two men, one middle-aged, the other younger, are standing at the counter in a hardware store, the older man leaning on his elbows looking up at the younger man. Both are wearing shop aprons.
“Just why are you goin’ to California, William?” the older one asks.
“Just for the helluva it, uncle,” William replies. “I’ve read about it, and I have saved enough working for you for passage to Panama. Besides, I’m nineteen now, and I need to make my way in the world. There’s lots of opportunity in California.”
“At Panama, you will need to go overland to catch the next merchant ship to Los Angeles.”
“Yes, sir. I intend to cross the isthmus to Colon on foot and work my way north on a merchant ship to San Francisco.”
The men shake hands. “Good luck and God speed, William. Write to us when you get to California.”
The scene changes to a young man writing a letter.
1874, Los Angeles, California
I got to California just fine, but decided to try prospecting in Arizona. That didn’t work out—neither did fighting the Apaches for pay. So I got myself to San Pedro—that’s the only port near Los Angeles—and joined a well-drilling crew. Decided to become an engineer. Started as ditch tender for the Los Angles Water Company. Almost got fired. A man, who turned out to be the superintendent, came by in a carriage where I was working. He demanded to know my name and what I was doing. I told him I was doing his goddammed job and that my name is immaterial to the quality of my goddammed work. Big surprise. I got promoted. Life is good here. My boss is an engineer named Fred Eaton.
Another scene change. The same man, but older and more mature, is again writing a letter.
1886, Los Angeles, California
I imagine you’re surprised to get a letter from me. I’ve been very busy at the water company here in L.A. I was promoted to superintendent. Water sources are a real problem here with the growth of the city. We can’t depend on the artesian wells anymore. Fred Eaton is telling me to look at the Owens Valley. It’s 250 miles from here—a preposterous idea. More later. Hope you are well.”
The movie fades to a picture of a newspaper article, yellowed with age.
Inyo Register, September 29, 1904
Fred Eaton, ex-mayor of Los Angeles, and Fred [sic] Mulholland, who is connected with the water system of that city, arrived a few days ago and went up to the site of the proposed dam on the Owens River.”
The newspaper article fades into another that says:
Los Angeles Times, July 29, 1905
Titanic Project to Give the City a River—A number of the unsuspecting ranchers have regarded the appearance of Mr. Eaton in the valley as a visitation from providence. In the eyes of the ranchers, he was land mad. When they advanced the price of their holding a few hundred dollars and he stood the raise, their cup of joy fairly overflowed. . . .The farmer folk in the Owens River Valley think he has gone daffy on stock raising [he bought a ranch and was raising cattle] To them he is a millionaire with a fad.”
The newspaper image fades to a man giving directions to his another; there’s a river in the background.
“But Mr. Mulholland, the Owens Valley will be giving LA more water than it can use. We will lose our water rights if it isn’t used.”
“Right you are,” replies Mulholland. “That is why the aqueduct to Los Angeles is routed through the San Fernando Valley to flood the valley for underground storage. Much cheaper than building a reservoir where evaporation is a serious problem.”
“Do you realize, sir, the aqueduct will traverse some of the most fault-splintered topography in North America? That it will cover two hundred twenty-three miles, fifty-three of them in tunnels? That the city will have to build one hundred and twenty miles of railroad and five hundred miles of roads and trails, two hundred forty miles of telephone lines and one hundred seventy miles of power transmission lines? That we will have to maintain, house and feed between two and six thousand men for six full years?”
“Yes, I do, now stop your whining and get to work. We have no time to waste.”
Reisner, The Cadillac Desert,[page#].