Click here to go to Metropolitan Water’s 75th Anniversary website. Click through for the photo gallery and video. Here’s an excerpt:
75 Years of Water Delivery
Seventy-five years ago this year, water from the Colorado River Aqueduct was first delivered to a rapidly growing and thirsty Southern California, keeping a promise made to voters in the depth of the Great Depression.
The milestone culminated a years-long construction effort by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. The district was formed in 1928 for the purpose of building the great aqueduct across hundreds of miles of sun-baked desert to bring Colorado River water to the young and vibrant metropolis. Decades later, the effort still stands as an historic engineering and construction achievement.
The project would employ 35,000 men, who labored 24/7 in grueling Mojave Desert heat, erecting four dams and five pumping plants, blasting 90-plus miles of tunnels and constructing 150 miles of canals, siphons, conduit and pipelines.
On June 17, 1941 a valve was turned from the new Weymouth Treatment Plant and for the first time water followed to the city of Pasadena, one of the original 13 cities whose voters in 1931 overwhelmingly approved a $220 million bond measure to finance aqueduct construction (that would be $3.5 billion today). By the end of July, water would flow to Beverly Hills, Burbank, Compton and Santa Monica. Orange County would soon follow.
As the final countdown began to delivery day, it was a time of promise and uncertainty. Slugger Joe DiMaggio was in the middle of his 56-game hitting streak and heavyweight champion Joe Louis was racking up a string of knockouts. Glenn Miller and Duke Ellington were cutting records like “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” and “Take the A-Train.” It was the debut of Captain America, Cheerios and Chanel No. 5.
The first commercial TV broadcasts were weeks away. Across the Atlantic Ocean, World War II raged from Belgium to Britain as the Nazis tightened their grip on much of Europe. For weeks, America had been in a state of emergency because of Axis threats, and six months later, the Pearl Harbor attack would plunge the nation into war.
The aqueduct provided crucial support to the war effort, and years after the war ended, each generation of Southern Californians has risen to the challenge of preserving water reliability to a region and its industries that took their place on the world’s stage.
When drought struck the region in the 1940s and 1950s, agencies from Ventura, San Diego and the Inland Empire joined Metropolitan, which spread water reliability to an area that today stands at 5,200 square miles.
In 1960, Metropolitan threw its support behind the new State Water Project. In the 1970s, Metropolitan continued to evolve, expanding its complex distribution system to bring imported water from both Northern California and the Colorado River.
After drought again challenged the region in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Metropolitan’s member agencies committed the district to diversifying its water supplies through the Integrated Water Resources Plan. The amount of water preserved through conservation, water recycling and recovery is now the equivalent to filling a new Colorado River Aqueduct.
In 2000, Metropolitan finished Diamond Valley Lake, the largest reservoir in Southern California, helping the Southland secure a six-month emergency supply. As the Colorado River entered an historic drought, Metropolitan maintained reliability through the development of an innovative mix of exchange, transfer and storage agreements throughout the state and along the Colorado River.
Since the state’s historic drought began four years ago, Southern California has endured and thrived, using a combination of record water reserves and the nation’s largest water conservation rebate program. Metropolitan continues to pursue solutions in the San Joaquin-Sacramento Delta that balances environmental protection with water-supply reliability. At the same time, the district is pursuing development of a major water recycling partnership with Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts.
The heroic efforts that sent water across the desert and flowing into Southern California 75 years ago have inspired Metropolitan and its 26 member public agencies to make sure the promise of water reliability is one that will always be kept.
From The Desert Sun (Denise Goolsby):
The 242-mile Colorado River Aqueduct — constructed from 1933 to 1941 by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California — stretches from Parker Dam at the Arizona border to Lake Mathews in western Riverside County. Since June 1941, it’s provided water to millions of residents of Los Angeles and the surrounding counties.
This week marks the 75th anniversary of the first water delivery of Colorado River water to the Los Angeles area — Pasadena received the first flow — and as a bonus, the 13 cities that originally formed the district received free water for two months.
The eight-plus-year construction project was launched at a critical time in the nation’s history, when jobs were scarce and people were still reeling from the fallout of the stock market crash of 1929.
Also known as the Metropolitan Aqueduct, “it was one the biggest public works projects in the country during the Depression,” local historian Pat Laflin said.
The construction of this aqueduct was a Herculean undertaking and engineering marvel that came about out of necessity: to quench the thirst of a growing Southern California population.
The Los Angeles Basin was already receiving water from the Owens River, but just 10 years after the 233-mile Los Angeles Aqueduct (Owens Valley aqueduct) was completed in 1913, it became apparent the Sierra Nevada watershed was not adequate to fill the aqueduct in a dry cycle, Laflin said.
The men of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power looked to the east for a new source of water to support the throngs of settlers flooding into Los Angeles.
They decided the Colorado River was their only hope to sustain the growth of the area as Los Angeles had become a city of major manufacturing importance and an essential port.
In 1928, a group led by William Mulholland — the driving force behind the Los Angeles Aqueduct — organized the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
The district, formally created by the state Legislature, would be responsible for the planning, building and funding of the Colorado River Aqueduct.
In 1931, voters living in the district approved a $220 million bond issue to build the aqueduct, which would require 29 tunnels covering 92 miles to be blasted through the solid core of mountains, including the San Jacintos. That bond issue would cost about $3.5 billion today.
There would be four dams and five pumping plants built to lift the water 1,600 feet along its journey to the terminal reservoir near Riverside and Corona.
The project — officially underway in January 1933 — employed more than 30,000 people over an eight-year period and was a boon to the local communities, especially Indio.
The Jan. 13, 1933, issue of The Date Palm newspaper reported that “aqueduct camps (were) being established daily in the hills near Indio.”
By April 1933, the paper reported that six permanent aqueduct camps of men were at Wide Canyon, 1000 Palms Canyon, Pushawalla Canyon, Berdoo Canyon, Fargo Canyon and Yellow Spot.
Berdoo Camp, the one The Date Palm mentioned most, can be reached by a side road that leads into San Bernardino Canyon from Dillon Road.
One of the largest buildings at Berdoo was a 27-bed hospital. Other camps only had emergency first aid stations.
The hospital was staffed by a surgeon/medical officer, an assistant surgeon and 14 registered male nurses. The air-conditioned hospital was equipped with a modern operating room, X-ray plant, diet kitchen and general offices. Each employee was charged five cents per working day for medical care. The men made $4 to $5 a day on average.
At least 25 men died while working on the Coachella Valley section of the aqueduct due to falls, crushings and heat.
As work ended at each of the camp sites and crews moved on to the west, the camps were dismantled. Some buildings were moved intact. Many were dismantled for salvage.
Thermal date farmer Ben Laflin ran a salvage business during the time the aqueduct was being built.
“This was the Depression and farming wasn’t very profitable,” son Ben Laflin Jr. told The Desert Sun in 2014. The elder Laflin contracted to buy a lot of the timber, lumber and railroad ties being disposed of as the tunnel work was finished.
“There would be big piles of this disposed material up at the entrances into the different sections of the tunnel,” Laflin said. “I remember stacking an awful lot of lumber as a kid. My dad and I would go up in the truck and either truck it down to the ranch or take it directly to people who had ordered timber and ties. We took the materials to buyers everywhere from Los Angeles to Kingman, Arizona, and points east.”
Valley continues to benefit
The Coachella Valley receives some of that Colorado River Aqueduct water.
The Desert Water Agency and the Coachella Valley Water District have entitlements to State Water Project water supplies from Northern California, but lack any physical connection to the state aqueduct.
In order for DWA and CVWD to obtain State Water Project water entitlement, Metropolitan Water District swaps an equal quantity of its Colorado River water for the agencies’ state water. The water is released from the aqueduct near the Whitewater River recharge area, providing water to the aquifer in the upper Coachella Valley groundwater basin.
A topographical map showing the route of the aqueduct is on permanent loan from the Metropolitan Water District at the General Patton Memorial Museum in Chiriaco Summit.
The map, built in the late 1920s and ’30s, is in five sections, each weighing a ton.
“All five sections were flown back to Washington, D.C., in 1938, put back together, to illustrate to Congress how an aqueduct system could deliver fresh water from a pumping station at Parker Dam up through this pass, which has an elevation rise of 1,700 feet,” museum general manager Mike Pierson said while pointing out the course of the aqueduct on the map.
“And from the summit here (Chiriaco Summit), starts going back downhill through the Coachella Valley, through the Hemet valley and into Los Angeles. All the area in pink — from North Los Angeles to San Diego — thrived … because of this aqueduct being built.”
The aqueduct began delivering water just six months before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Gen. Patton established the Desert Training Center the following year, just months after the start of World War II.
“Being a California boy, he knew that the Metropolitan Water District had already completed the aqueduct,” Pierson said.
“He knew the aqueduct was right here off of the two two-lane roads that intersected four miles west of here — the old two-lane highway from Indio to Blythe and the still current two-lane road from Mecca, called Cottonwood. He pitched his first pup tent literally within 200 yards of the aqueduct, told his soldiers to tap into that water and that’s how his camps grew.”