To those who see the damage still done by Department of Water and Power pumps, who know of heavy-handed land dealings, not enough water for ranchers, and fear of what feels like colonial power, a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Los Angeles Aqueduct at the museum in Independence seemed in poor taste. But Inyo officials, residents, media and LA officials spent a cordial two hours in the Eastern California Museum before formal comments. Outside, some thirty protestors displayed signs that 100 years of the aqueduct was no celebration for Inyo.
Native American leader Harry Williams said, “No, it’s not a celebration for us. We are here to protest and to show the people of LA and the public that we are tired of being treated just like a water resource and having all the area destroyed because LA wants water. They put up their lawns and their trees. We’re here to show them how we feel.”
DWP General Manager Ron Nichols said, “It would be wrong not to recognize some of the controversy around such a mammoth-scale project.” He said the relationship between Los Angeles
and the Owens Valley has been tested “sometimes to a very thin wire.”
Nichols said he firmly believes that “We can make the best of the collective interests and uses of Owens Valley for mutual benefit and we’re working hard towards doing that, but it requires parties to come together. We’ve been doing more of that coming together of late. And, it’s in that spirit that we are standing here today to recognize this centennial.”
Nichols may have meant the recent LA Times story and the resolution of conflicts in Mammoth Lakes, the Mono Basin and 40 acres. However, the much larger matter of the Owens Valley remains mired in basic disagreements. Asked earlier in the day why LADWP won’t just admit that lowered groundwater kills plants, Manager Nichols said Inyo will not accept a
reasonable method of getting to that.
A kind of celebrity visitor to the aqueduct party was Christine Mulholland, great-grand daughter of William Mulholland, the famous engineer who designed and built the aqueduct. “I think it’s amazing. I’ve never been to the Owens Valley,” she said. “I’ve always heard since I was a child of the family history. When we would visit grandma and grandpa when we were little kids, when we would go by Sylmar, Daddy would say, ‘There’s grandpa’s waterfall’ when we would see the cascade.
“I’ve had all these family stories, but to actually be here – I’ve felt a little emotional at times today. There’s something of the ages up here that I feel. Going out to the intake – I just feel that I’m right in the center of history and that it’s palpable. You can reach out and touch it, see it, and imagine the incredible work.”
Mulholland said her great-grandfather was the spearhead and the visionary to be able to bring the water to what would have remained a “dusty little town south of San Francisco.”
Does she have a view on the perpetual conflict between LADWP and people of the Owens Valley? “I’m one of these people,” said Mulholland, “who believe in let’s all get along and if we can’t settle it today, let’s come back tomorrow. I feel that way about world affairs, too. I’m sick and tired of people fighting each other. I really believe there are ways to work through issues.”
Perhaps the most significant remark came from LA City Councilman Tom LaBonge who said to the crowd, “Thank you for the water on behalf of the people of Los Angeles.” No one could remember a thank you from LA in all those 100 years. From the City that dominates the land and wants to “get all the water we can get,” according to their charter, gratitude has been absent in the relationship.
And a testimony to the Owens Valley resentments stood around the museum in the form of Sheriff’s deputies, prepared to protect if necessary. Officers had earlier checked out the courthouse and the museum for explosives or other dangers, but only disciplined protests marked the deep-seated clash.