Thank the Los Angeles Aqueduct the next time you fill a glass with water, turn on your sprinklers, hike around Lake Hollywood, or drive the broad expanse of today’s Los Angeles. None of these experiences, taken for granted today, would have been possible without the commitment of the Board of Water Commissioners in 1904—a body which included Los Feliz Improvement Association (LFIA) future founder William Mead—or the 1905 secret purchase of Owens Valley water rights by Los Angeles’ ex-mayor, Fred Eaton.
Eaton was able to secure 40 miles of Owens River frontage and additional water rights owned by the federal government. This insured a reliable daily supply of 400 million gallons of Sierra Nevada water from 100,000 acres of land. Eaton’s vision resulted in a 240-mile conduit that was built under the supervision of Chief Engineer William Mulholland, the Superintendent of Waterworks.
The water supply was equal to at least ten times the flow of the Los Angeles River. It involved the outright purchase of practically every riparian water right in the southern end of the Owens River Valley between Lone Pine and the northern edge of Owens Lake. Constructing the canals and 30 miles of tunnels cost $23 million, which was one-seventh of the total assessed valuation of all city property at the time.
One hundred years ago, on November 6, 1913, Mulholland opened the spigots that brought the water to a system of reservoirs in Los Angeles, “the greatest scheme for water development ever attempted on the American continent” (LA Times).
The $30-million project was engineered to supply a city of two million people for 100 years. It allowed for the expansion and growth of Los Angeles into one of America’s most successful urban regions.
The William Mulholland Memorial Fountain was erected in 1940, and the LFIA has been its champion ever since. In 1996, the LFIA, under the leadership of Marilyn Bush, effected a total restoration of this icon. In commemoration of the Aqueduct’s 100th anniversary, the fountain and grounds have once again been restored and re-landscaped by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power for the community.