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L.A. Aqueduct in spotlight

October 10, 2012

Nearly 100 years after its completion in 1913, Bishop residents are working with students from Cal Poly Pomona to begin organizing a centennial celebration of the Los Angeles Aqueduct (above). Photo courtesy Eastern California Museum

Regardless of how residents feel about the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s activities in the Owens Valley, preparations are being made to celebrate the completion of the Los Angeles Aqueduct nearly 100 years ago.
Over the course of its century-long history, the 419-mile aqueduct has been contested as an environmental detriment, illegally diverted and even blown up, but it’s also been heralded as one of the greatest engineering feats of its time.
And that’s essentially what local and out-of-town residents will be recognizing this weekend when students from Cal Poly Pomona team up with residents, the LADWP and others to begin work on a centennial project.
Cal Poly students are planning to shed light on the construction, benefits and impacts the pipeline has had on the Owens Valley and L.A. as well as all parts in between.
Construction on the aqueduct began in 1908 with a budget of $24.5 million. With 5,000 workers employed for its construction, the L.A. Aqueduct was completed Nov. 5, 1913.
The aqueduct consists of 223 miles of 12-foot diameter steel pipe, 120 miles of railroad track, two hydroelectric plants, 170 miles of power lines, 240 miles of telephone line, a cement plant and 500 miles of roads.
The aqueduct uses gravity alone to move water and also uses the water to generate electricity, making it cost-efficient to operate.
For the centennial celebration of the completion of the aqueduct, Cal Poly Pomona’s Aqueduct Centennial Project, also known as the Aqueduct Futures Project, will explore future scenarios for California’s water infrastructure, cultural and ecological impacts and methods that can be implemented to conserve and reduce water use in Los Angeles.
The Aqueduct Futures Project is bringing together students and faculty from Cal Poly Pomona’s Landscape Architecture, Computer Science, Urban and Regional Planning, Graphic Design, Geography, Geology/Hydrology, Regenerative Studies and Education departments to collectively create public exhibitions, a website and events to raise awareness about the future of water in California.
In all, between 160 and 200 students will be participating in the Aqueduct Futures Project.
The program kicks off this fall with Cal Poly classes that will focus on generating concepts for cultural uses of the aqueduct and envisioning “green” infrastructure for supplying water to L.A. in the future.
“These designs will be represented through drawings, maps, renderings, models, text and other media,” Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture at Cal Poly Pomona Barry Lehrman said in a press release. “The exhibition design and development of the interactive digital installation will be initiated in the winter of 2013, and continue during courses in the spring. A team of students will execute the final fabrication and refinement of the digital exhibition over the summer of 2013 for fall installation.”
The exhibit is scheduled to roll out before the Nov. 5, 2013 100-year anniversary of the aqueduct’s completion.
In addition to the digital material, the Aqueduct Futures exhibition will include a kiosk with interactive graphics and real-time and historical data regarding the flow of the aqueduct, information panels with drawings, maps and photos of the history of the aqueduct, a model of the aqueduct and artifacts relating to its construction.
Currently, venues for the exhibition that are being considered include the Interagency Visitor’s Center in Lone Pine, the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery and the Autry National Center of the American West.
Students with the Aqueduct Futures Project will be leading a Community Workshop and Resource Fair from 6-8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 15 in the Bishop Methodist Center, 205 N. Fowler St., to get Owens Valley residents involved in the design process of a large-scale sustainable infrastructure system for the Aqueduct Futures Project.
The group will also be meeting with representatives from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to tour portions of the aqueduct while they are in the area.
“One-hundred years ago at the opening of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, William Mulholland said, ‘There it is, take it,’” Lehrman said. “It is now time to ‘give back’ to the Owens Valley. The Los Angeles Aqueduct was designed over one hundred years ago to just supply water and power. However, infrastructure in the 21st Century needs to provide cultural and ecological uses too.”
“Many people in Southern California take water for granted,” said Michael Woo, dean of Cal Poly Pomona’s College of Environmental Design. “Professor Lehrman’s project commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Los Angeles Aqueduct reflects our University’s commitment to educating future environmental design professionals and the general public about the fact that life as we know it in Southern California would be impossible without access to water.”
To RSVP for the event or more information, visit
At 7 p.m. Sunday in the Owens Valley School gym, the group will also be celebrating the release of a self-guided car audio tour program through the Owens Valley that examines the controversial social, political and environmental history of the aqueduct.
The event includes a panel discussion that includes Owens Valley Committee Executive Director Mark Bagley; environmental activist Mike Prather; Inyo County Librarian and community activist Nancy Masters and Bishop Paiute Tribal member and environmental activist Harry Williams, who all participated in interviews for the audio tour.
The OVC, which will be participating in the Resource Fair, is also planning its own informational meeting about the aqueduct.
The OVC will be screening a documentary on the aqueduct and the impact it has had on the environment at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 17 at the White Mountain Research Station, 3000 E. Line St. in Bishop.
The group will be screening two parts of a three-part documentary that was included in the 2009 DVD release of the Academy Award-winning 1974 film “Chinatown.”
Executive Director Bagley said that the meeting is not a part of the aqueduct’s centennial celebration, and is an effort by the group to raise awareness about its activities.
The free two-part documentary runs about 55 minutes and all are invited to attend.

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