Moving Beyond "There It Is: Take It" - Environmental Accountability for the Next 100 Years"

On November 5, Los Angeles will celebrate 100 years since water began flowing into Los Angeles from the Owens Valley via the Los Angeles Aqueduct. Speaking at the Aqueduct's opening that day, the City's Chief Engineer William Mulholland remarked as water began flowing into the San Fernando Reservoir, "There it is. Take it." Last week, our Policy Director, Stephanie Magnien-Rockwell took a two-day long tour along the Los Angeles Aqueduct and through the Owens Valley as part of ongoing commemorations ahead of the November centennial. Stephanie shared her reflections on the trip for our first guest post.

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Policy Director Stephanie Magnien-Rockwell visits the Middle Gorge Power Station in the Owens Valley as part of a two-day tour of the LA Aqueduct.

This past Friday and Saturday, I was privileged to attend a tour of the LA Aqueduct led by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) as part of LADWP’s commemoration of the centennial of the aqueduct’s first delivery of water from the Owens Valley to Los Angeles, observed on November 5th.  Councilmember Bob Blumenfield is the vice chair of the Energy and Environment Committee, the committee that deliberates policy decisions relevant to the LADWP prior to being considered by the full LA City Council.  As the Councilmember’s Policy Director and his lead staff member for this committee, I took advantage of this opportunity to gain a better understanding of one of Los Angeles’ most important pieces of infrastructure.  

You might think that because the LA Aqueduct is 100% gravity fed, that bringing 600 million gallons of water each year from the Owens Valley to Los Angeles is a fairly passive task, but maintaining a 100 year old line is a non-stop endeavor.  Additionally as a result of litigation to mitigate the impacts of the LA Aqueduct on the OwensValley, LADWP has undergone massive remediation efforts to partially restore some of the natural habitat that existed before Los Angeles started moving water south. I was able to see two of those environmental remediation sites at the Lower Owens River and Owens Lake, both of which dried up soon after the LA Aqueduct diverted water away from their banks—but which are now once again becoming a thriving habitat for willow trees, cottonwoods, and birds.

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LA Aqueduct intake on the Owens River

Now, as was the case in 1913, the Los Angeles Aqueduct faces challenges.  Bringing this water to Los Angeles has environmental impacts to a nearly pristine portion of California.  Councilmember Blumenfield and I are both environmentalists, and we are LADWP ratepayers.  It is important to us that as Angelinos, we take responsibility for the effects the LA Aqueduct continues to have on the Owens Valley but also that LADWP is held accountable for use of our ratepayer dollars.

This trip left me with a deep appreciation for the feat that William Mullholland and Frederick Eaton accomplished one hundred years ago.  The aqueduct allowed Los Angeles, a city of just 100,000 people in the early 1900’s, to become the metropolis of more than 4 million residents it is today.  We Angelinos, as the beneficiaries of this natural resource, must also be environmental stewards by making personal efforts to conserve and by paying the price on our water bill to fund these ongoing mitigations. The current rate to bring a gallon of water 233-miles to our faucets is just ½ cent per gallon. For more information on our City’s aqueduct visit http://www.laaqueduct100.com/.


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