In 1902 the City of Los Angeles purchased the privately held Los Angeles Water Company for $2 million, protecting the City’s lifeline in the face of tremendous growth. The City’s population had doubled more than four times in just 30 years. To solve the water problems associated with such growth, the City hired William Mulholland as their Superintendent of the Bureau of Water Works and Supply.
Seeing that the burgeoning population would continue to grow as the City flourished in a semi-arid environment, Mulholland’s concerns became divided between water conservation and the need for an additional water supply.
In March of 1905, Mulholland recommended to the Board of Water Commissioners that the Owens Valley was the only viable source of supplemental water for the City’s fast growing population. The following year the City submitted an application for rights-of-way across federal lands for the purpose of constructing an aqueduct. The application was approved and in 1907 Los Angeles voters approved a $23 million bond issue for the construction of the Los Angeles Owens Valley Aqueduct. Work began on the aqueduct in September and the City began to purchase private property and water rights in the southern part of Owens Valley.
Acquisition of land continued through the aqueduct construction period (1907-1913) until the mid-1920’s. Following the passing by the California State Legislature of the Reparations Act of May 1, 1925, the Owens Valley Reparations Association was formed. That organization immediately began to pressure the State Senate to require the City of Los Angeles to purchase remaining Owens Valley property – – including business properties within the towns.
A Senate Investigating Committee submitted their “Report of Special Investigating Committee on the Water Situation in Inyo and Mono Counties,” and the State Senate adopted their finding on May 11, 1931. This cleared the way for Los Angeles’ purchasing of the remaining valley property from those who agreed to sell.
With the initiation of the Mono Basin Extension Project (1933-1941), which led to the diversion of four of the six streams tributary to Mono Lake, the construction of an 11-mile long tunnel beneath the volcanic Mono Craters to the headwaters of the Owens River, and the construction of the Long Valley Reservoir (Crowley Lake), Los Angeles purchased additional property in the Long Valley and Mono Basin areas of Mono County.
Today, the City of Los Angeles owns about 315,000 acres of eastern Sierra watershed land, which is administered by its Department of Water & Power (DWP). Los Angeles is, therefore, the largest taxpayer in both Inyo and Mono Counties.
Over the past seven decades, it has been the policy of the DWP to make these lands available for use by local farm and ranch operators, pack outfits, businesses, schools, city and county governments, state and federal agencies, and college and university researchers, as well as the many thousands of tourists who visit the eastern Sierra each year.
The 239,000 acres of DWP property leased for livestock grazing and alfalfa farming are leased with the written agreement that at least 75 percent of the property remain open for public access; e.g., for hunting, fishing, water sports, hiking, bike riding, photography, painting, bird watching, wildlife viewing, etc. Overnight camping, however, is restricted to developed campgrounds.
The DWP also leases property for airports, fair grounds, public golf courses, city parks, campgrounds, museums, visitor centers, parking lots, and radio, television and telephone facilities (relay stations, microwave stations, etc.).
In addition to leases, the DWP has sold numerous land easements – – to the Counties for roads, pipelines, and facilities; to the State of California allowing highway improvement projects; and to the City of Bishop for road drainage, water, and sewer facilities. Property has also been sold to Inyo County for a Senior Citizens Mobile Home Park, a low-income housing project, light industrial uses, school and pre-school expansion, a hospital skilled nursing facility and expansion of the existing hospital, and for sewer ponds for the local Indian Reservation.
In addition, permits are given to film companies for the production of commercials, documentaries, and feature-length films – – creating an economic boost for the local communities.