Los Angeles Aqueduct engineer William Mulholland’s famous words, “There it is, take it!” rang out again Tuesday in a historical re-enactment of the events of Nov. 5, 1913, when water first flowed 233 miles from the Owens Valley into Los Angeles.
Mayor Eric Garcetti and city officials, mingling with actors impersonating historical figures, gathered Tuesday in Sylmar, where the snow melt from the eastern Sierra Nevada cascades down a studded flume into the San Fernando Valley, to celebrate the aqueduct’s 100th anniversary.
The massive public works project is widely credited with transforming Los Angeles from a sleepy agricultural town into a modern metropolis, allowing for rapid expansion of the city and the development of the San Fernando Valley.
It was also considered a great feat of engineering, since the flow was powered solely by gravity.
With city officials looking on, Department of Water and Power workers cranked opened the gates of the aqueduct gates to unleash a torrent of water, recalling the moment in 1913 when Mulholland gave the city what it needed.
Owens Valley residents were as angry as Angelenos were happy, since the lost irrigation water decimated farming in Inyo County.
The aqueduct brought “water that truly created the city of Los Angeles, without which we would not be sitting here today,” Department of Water and Power chief Ron Nichols said.
From the Los Angeles River, which lent the city its name, to the aqueduct that was built when the river proved insufficient, “our city’s destiny has always been linked closely to water,” Garcetti said.
Los Angeles’ population grew from about 300,000 to about 800,000 in the decade after the completion of the waterway.
“Think about that. In a decade, half a million people moving here because of what this aqueduct was able to do,” he said. “Today we’re a global capital of 4 million and a metropolitan region of 12 million.”
Descendants of major players in the construction of the aqueduct — including Christine Mulholland, the great-granddaughter of the aqueduct’s chief engineer, William Mulholland — were also among the featured guests.
The descendants and period actors recounted the lengths taken to conceive of and plan for the $23 million project, the newspaper boosterism employed to pitch a bond issue to taxpayers and the political lobbying required to get federal authorization.
But even as they celebrate the “marvel of engineering, the marvel of foresight” that made the aqueduct possible, Nichols acknowledged Los Angeles gained not just water, but also a “century of tension” with Owens Valley land owners. In recent years, the city agreed to return some water to the mostly dry Owens River to help reduce dust storms and restore habitats.
“The last 20 years, there’s been a fair amount of compromise with respect to that,” Nichols said.
In June, LADWP agreed to pay $10 million, continue dust control measures in the Owens Valley and to preserve historic Native American artifacts as part of a settlement reached with the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District in Inyo County.
Garcetti said the city was now faced with shedding its dependence on imported water, not only from the Los Angeles Aqueduct but the Colorado River.
“After years of taking our water for granted, something radical again must be done,” he said. “There are no more sources to tap. There are no more pipelines to build … Los Angeles can, must and will protect its destiny.”
The city will need to clean up its own polluted aquifers, he said, adding that pavement also needs to be broken up where possible to let rain water seep into the ground to recharge aquifers.
“So, as we might have said in the past, ‘Here it is, take it,’ I say to you today, ‘Here it still is,”’ he said. “Let us treasure it, let us conserve it, let us share it.”