Los Angeles, the City of Angels, was founded back in the late 18th Century, and, as hard as it may be to believe now, was originally just a small settlement, consisting of mere tens of people. Still, any settlement requires water, and LA depended on the nearby river to feed its inhabitants.
However, as the city grew (have you seen the size of it these days? To grow that large in just a couple hundred years requires some pretty rapid expansion), it very quickly became clear that its river would simply not be enough.
A system of reservoirs was put in place, and a number of open ditches were dug, as well as canals to be used to irrigate the town’s large fields. Even this was not enough – city planners wanted Los Angeles to become a major metropolis, so more water was needed to fuel this growth.
At the beginning of the 1900s, plans were put into place, plans which would see the water from the slopes of the Sierra Nevada channelled into the city. The idea for the Los Angeles Aqueduct was born.
A Bit of Background
In the opening years of the 20th Century, the region surrounding LA was hit by some severe droughts. This only served to underscore the dire need for a more consistent water supply for the city – if it was to become a major player in terms of American metropolises, it simply would not be able to withstand such shortages of water.
In previous years, the water supply had been managed and controlled by the Los Angeles City Water Company; it was privatised. However, in 1902, the municipal government got the funds together to buy the franchise, creating the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
At the head of the department was one William Mulholland, an Irish engineer. He was to scout out new sources of water, and suggested the Owens River.
Construction of the Aqueduct
The building work began in 1908, and after five years the Los Angeles Aqueduct was complete, joining the likes of Chirk Aqueduct and the famous Roman examples, like Aqua Augusta in Naples.
The construction itself took more than four thousand workers giving it their all for five solid years of labour. They broke a number of speed records in the process, namely for the length of pipe cut and the total distance tunnelled.
Although the work was indeed back-breaking, the labourers had a little help from cutting edge technologies, such as the newly designed Caterpillar tractors.
The aqueduct used canals, tunnels and pipes to channel water all the way from the Owens River to a spillway in the San Fernando Valley, where the City of Angels is located.
It officially opened on the 5th November, 1913, and at the time it was the longest aqueduct in the world, coming in at a total length of 233 miles, as well as the largest water project on the planet.
At this time, LA had a population of just 300,000; the aqueduct was enough to supply millions with fresh, clean water.