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Los Angeles Aqueduct

Conceived by William Mulholland, Superintendent for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, and Fred Eaton former Los Angeles Mayor, the Los Angeles Aqueduct was viewed as the solution to the city’s need for a reliable water source to sustain a growing metropolis. In the fall of 1904, after a five day trek from Los Angeles to the Owens Valley, by way of a two-horse buckboard, Mulholland and Eaton spent 10 days in the valley charting, surveying, and calculating the details of a momentous water project that would deliver water to a city 250 miles away. The aqueduct would transport Owens River water (which sat at an elevation of 4,000 feet) from the Sierra Nevada Mountains, south through the Owens Valley and the Mojave Desert, and finally pouring into a reservoir in the San Fernando Valley.

In 1905, residents of Los Angeles approved a ballot measure for a $1.5 million bond to cover land and water rights in Owens Valley and in 1907 they approved $23 million more for construction costs. The people were convinced that this gargantuan endeavor of moving water across the desert was imperative if Los Angeles were to become one of the world’s great cities. ­­­­­

The details of this water project were as sensational as the aqueduct itself. It took 18 months of massive preparations, which included the building of roads, trails, power plants, telegraph and telephone lines, and a water supply to the work camps that would dot 150 miles of desert from the Owens Valley to San Fernando Valley.  In total, the preparations included, “500 miles of paved roads and rails, 240 miles of telephone wire, the world’s largest municipal-owned cement factory, and more than 2,300 buildings (which included tent houses for workers, power plants, lumber mills, warehouses, barns and hospitals) 1

Construction on the aqueduct took 5 years to complete, utilizing, at its peak, 3,900 laborers living in 57 work camps, which lined the construction site from the mountains down through the desert2.  By November 5, 1913, engineers and work crews had, “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 through2.”

To celebrate such a feat, 43,000 Angelinos and spectators from around the country filled six city blocks in San Fernando and gathered to witness the opening of the gates at the San Fernando reservoir.  As the water began to flow from the hatches the crowd went wild and Mulholland shouted, those notorious words, “There it is –Take it!” 


This exhibit includes photographs, documents, and maps pertaining to the construction of the aqueduct and highlights the extraordinary details and work involved in the completion of this engineering achievement.


The Los Angeles Aqueduct Digitization project was made possible by a generous grant from the Metabolic Studio in order to bring consciousness to the impact and importance of this monumental piece of hydraulic engineering. For more information on this project please visit



1. Davis, Margaret L. Rivers in the Desert: William Mulholland and the Inventing of Los Angeles. New York: HarperPerennial, 1994. Print. 

2. Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. The Story of the Los Angeles Aqueduct: Facts and History, 2013. Web. 06 November 2013.