Today, we take a century to learn that we share our
neighbors' trouble. The University of Houston's
College of Engineering presents this series about
the machines that make our civilization run, and
the people whose ingenuity created them.
Los Angeles is a dry city. A
hundred thousand people lived there in 1892, and
the Los Angeles River supplied their water.
Two self-taught engineers handled Los Angeles's
water: The City Engineer, Fred Eaton, and his Water
Superintendent, William Mulholland. Mulholland was
a hard-as-nails Irishman. He'd gone off to sea as a
teen-ager. He'd studied math and engineering on his
own while he did manual labor in California. Eaton
had spotted him working in a water-supply ditch.
He'd liked Mulholland's hard edges, and he pushed
Now, in 1892, Eaton told Mulholland that the Los
Angeles River could go dry in a bad year. They
should look further away for a water supply.
Mulholland scoffed, but drought did come. First, he
bled the river dry, but by 1904 that became
hopeless. So Mulholland went to Eaton. He said: OK,
show me where to get more water.
Eaton took him 100 miles into the Owens River
Valley. They surveyed the route and found that they
could bring water in by gravity alone, without any
pumping. They decided to go for it.
First Eaton and his cronies went into Owens Valley
posing as ranchers. They bought land from
unsuspecting locals. Next they cut a shady deal
with the Department of the Interior. One day Owens
Valley residents saw that their water had been
stolen. Instead of living in a rich agricultural
area, they'd become desert dwellers.
So began a great but destructive work of civil
engineering. Mulholland scooped up Irish and
Cornish workers from the mined-out Comstock Lode.
He built dams to power his machinery. In came steam
shovels and dirt movers. He siphoned the Owens
River through valleys, over mountains, and down
into Los Angeles.
He opened the valve in 1910. The Owens River gushed
into Los Angeles, and people cheered. But it wasn't
enough. A few years later Mulholland had to build a
water control dam in Long Valley. This time his old
friend Eaton saw him coming. He bought up the land,
and he asked a huge sum for it. Their friendship
But Mulholland finally got that dam, too. And his
marvelous aqueduct is still running. If you've been
in Los Angeles, you've driven Mulholland Drive.
Mulholland was a hero, but he was a warrior hero.
Watering Los Angeles has been cutthroat business
Los Angeles has just begun cooperating to repair
the environmental damage its water-taking has done.
That damage runs all the way up to Mono Lake.
Today, people see that their own fortunes sink when
they destroy the world around them. Today, Los
Angeles finally realizes that it, and its
surroundings, are part of one great organic whole.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds