A visit to the verdant beauty of Golden Gate Park in San Francisco would persuade the visitor that this fabled city had abundant water. In fact, the area of Golden Gate Park was once an immense sand dune.
E. Robert Scrofani, 1992
Water and the emergence of a “new civilization” touted, “making the desert bloom” (Starr 170), fulfilling the words of the prophet:
For waters break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
The necessary element for civilization to take root
Cf. Mesopotamia, Egypt, China and India
Two great rivers of the Central Valley
San Joaquin River
Two other great river sources:
The Owens River
The Colorado River
William Hammond Hall: Hydraulic engineer who wrote on developing California’s water needs
California becomes a landmark instance in world history of water procurement and implementation
Establishment of water districts
Based on Wright Act response to Lux v. Haggin decision
Water Rights (and in California, it’s all about the water)
First became important with the discovery of gold in 1848
Recall the water flumes for finding gold
Incorporated into state law following the admission of California into the United States in 1850.
Who Owns the Water?
The State of California owns all of the water in the state
Individual water rights are usufructuary
One uses the water; one does not own it
Rights to its use revert to the owner (California) when given up
Federally Reserved Rights
Because the United States reserves public domain land for national parks and forests, it thereby reserves the right to the water to support these areas.
These rights are senior or paramount to all state claims.
Forms of Water Rights
Two historical forms of water rights:
First come, first served; early bird gets the water
Enacted in California as part of the Gold Rush and mining district laws
Entitlement is secured by use
Use it, or lose it
Recall, these were public lands in the case of the Gold Rush
Based on English Common Law
Water access comes with the land abutting a river
Entitlement is secured by land ownership
In cases where the two forms come into conflict, riparian rights trump appropriative rights
Battle of the Titans: Lux v. Haggin (1886)
Henry Miller (Lux was his agent)
Claimed monopolistic control of the Kern River in the Central Valley by virtue of riparian rights
Owned a large chunk of Kern County, thanks to his Southern Pacific RR friends and exploitation of the Desert Land Act (1877), and claimed control of the Kern River by virtue of appropriative rights
The Court decided in favor of Miller (Lux), based on riparian rights as superior
California Doctrine of water rights resulted from Lux v. Haggin
California Doctrine (of water rights)
The state adopted the riparian principle but accepted appropriation rights in certain cases:
Where an individual had previously purchased state land or a Mexican grant, the water rights were declared to be riparian;
Where an individual had claimed water from the public domain before 1866, he had a right of prior appropriation that could be exercised or sold as personal property.
All grants after 1866, state or federal, came under the riparian rule.
Dual Rights (California Doctrine)
Blending of Appropriative and Riparian Rights
Based on Mexican law
Paramount to all other rights.
Only affects a few towns in southern California.
Wright Irrigation Act 1887
California Doctrine after Lux vs. Haggin put farmers who needed water at a disadvantage.
A man named C. C. Wright made the case for the farmers in Sacramento.
Wright was influenced by the current arguments of newspaperman Henry George, who argued that land ought to be taxed, thereby discouraging unproductive, monopolizing land-grabbing.
The adopted Wright Act allowed for the formation of communities based on water-interests (special districts).
Following passage of the Wright Act, irrigation projects in California more than doubled.
Henry Miller’s triumph was thus short-lived.
The outcome of the Wright Act is that communities formed water-interest “districts,” which were enclaves that acted as conduits of the State of California’s ownership of the water, thus having preeminence even over riparian rights.
Financing of water-related infrastructure (e.g., irrigation canals) came through bonds backed by land-value taxation.
As a result, individual small farmers had to contribute little money for water-related infrastructure, while land barons, such as Henry Miller, were taxed on their vast land holdings, regardless of whether they were using the water.
See the paper given be E. Robert Scrofani, “The Greening of the California Desert,” Georgist Scholars Conference, Lafayette College, 1992.
The Metropolitan Water District
The largest in the United States (19 million people served)
Main source: Colorado River Aqueduct (b. 1933-1939)
Lake Havasu (Parker Dam) to Lake Mathews in Riverside
Some water also comes from northern California
Riverside, founded in 1870, was early on known as the Riverside Land and Irrigation Company
1873: L.C. Tibbets and Eliza Tibbets planted the first navel orange seedlings in the country, the small beginning of an incredible future.
1875: Magnolia Avenue constructed.
1882-1886: Canadian-born Mathew Gage built the Gage Canal, bringing water from the ancient San Bernardino underground aquifer, allowing Riverside’s citrus industry to further grow.
Los Angeles Aqueduct (watch Cadillac Desert)
The Los Angeles Aqueduct was finished in 1913
It brought water from the Owens Valley to Los Angeles
The water rights were subversively secured
The agricultural vitality of the Owens Valley was compromised
Some of the offended resorted to vandalizing the aqueduct
Eventually, Mono Lake, a key place for migratory birds, was nearly destroyed
With the waters from the aqueduct, the Los Angeles basin became the land of green lawns and swimming pools beneath a golden sun, and, culturally, became the national trendsetter of the good, suburban life.
Leader of the Los Angeles Aqueduct project
Head of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the “DWP.”
Later advised on the Panama Canal, Boulder Dam, and the Colorado River Aqueduct
Disgraced with the catastrophic failure of the St. Francis Dam
Mulholland and O’Shaughnessey
Water to San Francisco from Tuolumne River
Engineer: Michael O’Shaughnessy
Environmental impact: inundation and destruction of Hetch-Hetchy canyon
Water to Los Angeles from the Owens River
Engineer: William Mulholland
Water enters L.A. at the north end of the San Fernando Valley
Environmental impact: compromise of Owens Valley agriculture.
A case of the few sacrificed for the many