The monumental completion of the Los Angeles Aqueduct in 1913 secured the City of Los Angeles as an oasis for opportunity. Over decades, growing populations demanded more water development to support the ever-expanding metropolis. However, water in this arid region came with great costs, determination, contestation and labor, which sharply contrasted with the vision of prosperity it provided. Selected from six archival collections, this database offers unique and diverse perspectives into the history of the municipal water system in Los Angeles during the 20th century.
The Catherine Mulholland Collection contains the office files of William Mulholland, superintendent of the Los Angeles Water Department and chief engineer of the Los Angeles aqueduct. This collection offers researchers insight into the unique history of urban development and the evolution of the municipal water system in Los Angeles. Records in the collection chronicle the roles played by politicians and local politics; private business and industry; civic organizations; and local, state, and federal governmental agencies invested in providing water to the city’s rapidly growing population. These documents illustrate the circumstances surrounding the construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct system and the acquisition of water from the Owens Valley.
Andrae B. Nordskog was a political reformist for issues relating to public utilities, most importantly, California water development. In 1927, he became involved in the Los Angeles-Owens Valley water controversy and published articles and editorials which championed the Owens Valley’s cause. He was a staunch critic of the City of Los Angeles, the Department of Water and Power, and prominent local businessmen for using Owens Valley water to cheat Californians out of millions of dollars in property deals. Nordskog’s research has significantly influenced the way historians have viewed the Owens Valley controversy. In 1930, Nordskog was elected President of the Los Angeles based Southwest Water League (SWL), an organization which studied water needs and resources of the southwest, making recommendations on aqueduct and reclamation projects.
The Duane L. Georgeson Papers document his professional career with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the Metropolitan Water District. During his 53 years as an engineer, Georgeson influenced important water policies and procedures in Southern California, contributing to the political and economical water climate currently in place today. Featured are early reports collected by Georgeson regarding the LA Aqueduct, Owens Valley and the St. Francis Dam disaster, as well as documents from the 1980s and 1990s addressing future water demands, runoff and the declining ecology of Mono Lake due to the diversion of its water.
In 1939, Southern California had secured additional water from the Colorado River Aqueduct. With two major aqueducts supplying water to the region, The City of Los Angeles and surrounding areas had a growing need for containment and runoff systems within urban and suburban areas. Between 1943 and 1976, Homer Halverson, civil engineer for the United States Army Corps of Engineers, photographed water infrastructure construction sites to monitor new and existing projects. These photographs (many of which are annotated) capture the intricate networks of engineered channels and water management systems throughout Los Angeles and surrounding counties.
By 1924, the Los Angeles Aqueduct was viewed as insufficient to fulfill Southern California's growing water needs. From the 1920s to 1940s California's Water Plan was mired in debate between Northern Californian water-rights owners and Southern California water users. When Governor Goodwin Knight created the California Department of Water Resources in the 1950s, residents from all over California incorporated the Feather River Project Association (FRPA) as a not-for-profit, non-partisan educational association to serve the public interest in state and local water development and conservation. This organization, headquartered in Los Angeles, worked to research and resolve ongoing water-related issues and educate Californians about them.
From 1926 to 1967, Samuel Nelson worked for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, eventually serving as general manager and chief engineer. His contributions span his work during the aftermath of the St. Francis Dam failure in 1928, to overseeing the construction of the second LA Aqueduct from 1965 to 1967. Featured in this collection are letters concerning the Snake-Colorado River Project, organizational histories of the Los Angeles DWP and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and speeches regarding projected water needs and proposed solutions through the year 2000.
Media: black and white photos, black and white negatives, color photos, annotations
Subjects: U.S. Army Core of Engineers, Channels -- design and construction, Channels -- maintenance and repair, flood control, los angeles river
Media: reports, correspondence, tables, graphs, annotations, speeches, memorandums, press releases, newspapers
Subjects: water-supply, mono lake, owens valley, los angeles aqueduct, los angeles department of water and power, runoff, environmental protection, reservoirs, water rights
Media: newsletters, reports, correspondence, minutes, speeches, legal documents, resolutions, press
Subjects: feather river project, california aqueduct, water rights, water law, waterworks -- costs, water-supply, colorado river
Media: correspondence, notes, legal documents, annotations, minutes, essays
Subjects: water rights, los angeles aqueduct, owens valley, water -- law and legislation, metropolitan water district of southern california, dams, water-supply, colorado river
Media: correspondence, reports, photos, legal documents, minutes, telegrams
Subjects: los angeles aqueduct, aqueducts -- design and construction,owens valley, water-supply, waterworks, water rights, waterworks -- costs
Media: correspondence, maps, reports, graphs, binders
Subjects: water-supply, metropolitan water district, los angeles department of water and power, los angeles aqueduct, mono lake, baldwin hills reservoir
1890 1900 1910 1920 1930 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990
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Documents in this database were selected, in part, for their ability to contribute to a comprehensive view of the history of the Los Angeles Aqueduct and waterworks. This includes (but is not limited to) its conception, design, funding, planning, construction, use, maintenance and effects on the public, public works, environment, organizations and communities in so far as these are represented in and by the above collections.
This digital collection was made possible by the generous support of Metabolic Studio.
Related resources are available at the LA Aqueduct Digital Platform.
Kimberly Thomas - selection, scanning and description
Alexander Kratofil - selection, scanning and description
Nancy Steinmann - scanning and description
Cindy Holsey - selection, scanning, description and accessibility