Panama & Los Angeles: The Waterworks That Made the American West Heather Rocca
The City Owns It’s Own Water In 1913 the City of Los Angeles completed construction of the first Los Angeles Aqueduct. This is the story of how the dream of a few far-sighted people at the turn of the 20th Century became a reality. In 1902, the City of Los Angeles purchased the Los Angeles City Water Company for $2 million, protecting the City’s lifeline in the face of tremendous growth. With a population of more than 100,000, the City had doubled more than four times in 30 years. At the time though, the Board of Water Commissioners was unaware that it had also set in motion the means for Los Angeles’ future greatness The City would turn to Mulholland again and again to solve the problems created by a burgeoning population in a semi-arid region.
Mulholland For 16 years Mulholland had watched the effect of Los Angeles’ growth. The city, flourishing in a semi-desert environment, had already prompted initial concerns about conservation. Mulholland began to feel the pressures of growth as head of the new Bureau of Water Works and Supply. Mulholland’s concerns about the inadequacy of Los Angeles’ supply were realized, for two years the Los Angeles River had been about 30% below normal. Water demands created by the city’s breakneck growth overtook the river’s supply and for those ten days the daily consumption exceeded inflow into the reservoirs by nearly four million gallons. Mulholland began looking for new supply, he found groundwater limited and gradually being depleted by agriculture. Additional groundwater use would limit the development of the surrounding country, the source of wealth of the area. Mulholland concluded Los Angeles would have to look elsewhere.
Decisions Eaton was confident that he could help Mulholland in finding a new water source. He was sure the Owens River was the source Los Angeles needed for the future. Mulholland saw that the course of the old river was a direct route to the mountains north of Los Angeles and that these mountains were the last barrier to delivering a new supply to the thirsty city. Mulholland agreed with Eaton, the project was viable. Mulholland, like Eaton, knew that the U.S. Reclamation Service was evaluating the potential for a reclamation project in the Owens Valley. Mulholland realized that lands withdrawn from settlement for this purpose by the federal government could never be used for a venture that was not 100% public. Eaton remained unconvinced. Mulholland contacted Lippincott. He requested that Lippincott provide him with a copy of the Reclamation Service report so that he could evaluate stream flows and the potential of the Owens River as a source of water. Lippincott deferred to Newell in this matter. Newell gave the report to Mulholland as a courtesy, but it only served to confirm Mulholland’s conviction that the Owens River was the only viable option for Los Angeles.
Construction Begins The word spread that there were heavy construction jobs near Los Angeles. Drawn by the promise of a long, good paying job, they were a tough, hard-drinking mix of nationalities: Greeks, Bulgarians, Serbs, Montenegrins, Swiss, and Mexicans. They worked hard, many of them saving their wages against their eventual return to their homelands. benefits were a condition of employment, the Bureau of the Los Angeles Aqueduct instituted a medical care plan for its workers at a fee of one dollar per month for those making $40 per month and fifty cents for those making less. The construction superintendents considered hauling materials by wagon, but road construction costs and maintenance of mule teams was too expensive. They blasted and drilled 142 tunnels totaling more than 43 miles in length. They built 34 miles of open unlined channel, 39 miles of concrete lined channel, and 98 miles of covered conduit which was cast in place. Some of the conduit was large enough to drive a car through.
Panama For years people dreamed of having an easier connection in between the Atlantic & Pacific Oceans because traveling between the two oceans takes a long time around South America. This trip will be shorten by the Panama Canal. In the late 1800s, the engineering profession was ready to design & build the canal. A private French company began digging a waterway across Panama in 1881. For more than two decades, it struggled with finances, technology, & disease before abandoning the work & selling its rights & equipment to the U.S. In 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt set work into motion by urging engineers to make the dirt fly. The Bucyrus Co. of South Milwaukee, Wisconsin, manufactured most of the 102 steam shovels used to dig the canal. Ten hours a day, six days a week, they loaded from 4,000 to 6,000 cubic yards of stiff clay and blasted rock. The French saw an isthmian canal as a magnificent private enterprise reflecting the glory of France. Americans like Theodore Roosevelt viewed an American-controlled canal as critical to U.S. domination of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
Workers used air-driven rock drills to bore holes for dynamite charges. After the blasts, rail-mounted steam shovels scooped up the spoil and dumped it onto nearby railroad cars. Graders and spreaders did the work of hundreds of men with shovels. They moved spoil dumped from railroad cars away from the tracks to make room for the next load. The high quality of American heavy machinery was critical to U.S. success in Panama. Engineers easily adapted drilling, digging, moving, unloading, spreading, and grading equipment that had been originally developed for the railroad industry. French equipment was often too light or ill-suited for the rugged inland terrain
Diseases & The Canal Record The tropical diseases that killed thousands of workers during the French years threatened to derail the American effort before it even got started. Many people thought yellow fever and malaria were caused and spread by bad air or filth. Physicians proved the diseases were transmitted by mosquitoes. screens to bar mosquito entry into homes and other buildings helped limit the spread of yellow fever and malaria. Deadly tropical fevers received the most notoriety, but diseases of all types attacked workers, particularly those from the Caribbean who had no natural immunity to some of them. Injuries and deaths from dynamite blasts, drowning, railroad accidents, and other trauma occurred throughout the entire project. The Canal Record was the Commission's official newspaper. The weekly publication carried formal notices and news of the “social life of the Zone, its amusements, sports, and other activities.” One popular feature was the record of excavation, which spurred fierce competition between steam shovel and dredge crews as they dug their way through Culebra Cut. The Canal Record kept shoppers apprised of weekly prices. Workers had money deducted from their pay for coupons with which to buy commissary goods.
Opening of the Canal The canal opened on August 15, 1914. Although opening-day festivities were overshadowed by the beginning of war in Europe earlier that month, an international exposition in San Francisco the next year celebrated the canal’s completion. Today the Panama Canal remains a symbol of human creativity, persistence, and achievement. Panama, illustrated books with 700 photographs capture the breadth of work on the canal, aspects of life on and off the job, and the land outside the 50-mile-long by 10-mile-wide Canal Zone. The 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco celebrated the completion of the canal. The fair’s program used an image of Hercules parting the isthmus to symbolize the superhuman effort required to build the Panama Canal. Between 1910 and 1913, an estimated 68,000 American and European visitors arrived in Panama to view work on the canal. Interest was so great that steamship lines diverted vessels from other routes to the Caribbean.