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SCVNews.com | Opinion/Commentary: Walking Water | 10-09-2016
Santa Clarita CA
Today in
S.C.V. History
October 26
1992 - Newspaper editor Scott Newhall (SF Chronicle, Newhall Signal, SCV Citizen) dies at 78 in Valencia hospital [story]

Take a Hike | Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel
| Sunday, Oct 9, 2016

DianneErskineHellrigelI have spent a good deal of my life in the Eastern Sierras, in the Owens Valley area, with my family. I have always been in awe of the mountains, the deserts and the waters that flow from these mountains. The time I spent in this area is what inspired me to climb mountains, strive to keep our corner of the Earth clean, protect endangered species and appreciate sustainable living.

Spending every holiday, weekends and summer breaks with my Aunt in June Lake and Bishop, I soon learned that even as a child, I was called a “flatlander,” associated with “those people” in Los Angeles who were water thieves.

I didn’t understand the hostile feelings of the people in the Eastern Sierras, nor did I understand the politics that drove this anger. Now, as an adult, I can appreciate both sides of this dilemma and hope that somehow we can solve this complicated issue and finally bring peace to the people in our state.

Los Angeles Aqueduct Intake near Bishop

Los Angeles Aqueduct Intake near Bishop

William Mulholland had a vision of bringing water to a thirsty Los Angeles. The population had grown from a tiny village called El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina De Los Angeles del Rio de Porciuncula. This pueblo of 44 people was in Los Angeles near Olvera Street. The population eventually grew to 125,000 people, which as the maximum number of citizens that the Los Angeles River could sustain. If Los Angeles was to grow beyond this point, the water problem needed to be solved.

Mulholland in 1904 visited the Owens Valley on a buckboard with his friend, Fred Eaton. It was on this trip that they hatched a plan to divert the Owens River to Los Angeles. They began to buy up land in the Owens Valley under the pretense that the land would be used as a reclamation project. Fred Eaton returned to the Owens Valley in 1905 and purchased land options, water rights and more than 50 miles of riparian land including the Long Valley Reservoir (known now as Crowley Lake). By July 1905, enough land was secured to assure that the city of Los Angeles would have an adequate supply of water. The Los Angeles Times boasted: “Titanic Project to Give City a River.” Mulholland was hailed as a hero.

Voters approved a $23 million bond issue to construct the aqueduct. Construction began in 1908.

The aqueduct continues to provide water to Los Angeles today. Without this amazing engineering feat of Mulholland’s, Los Angeles would still be a small, dusty town. Instead, Los Angeles is one of the largest cities in the United States. And we are proud to be here.

Owens Dry Lake

Owens Dry Lake

The other side of the story – the story from the Eastern Sierras – is a much different one. People in the Eastern Sierras were duped. They signed away their rights, believing the buyers were ranchers. They had no idea the water would be delivered via an aqueduct to Los Angeles, and that the river used to sustain the Paiute, Shoshone and ranchers would soon be off-limits. They didn’t understand water “ownership” because they felt the water was to be used wisely by all, not something to be owned.

The bottom line is that the people of the Owens Valley don’t own the water anymore. The City of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power does. The Owens River flows to Los Angeles via a big pipe. Owens Lake is dry and causes major dust and health problems. To people in the Owens Valley, Mulholland is not a hero; he is a villain.

There is a group called Walking Water, which was formed in the Owens Valley. They intend to bring awareness to the longstanding conflicts between water in California and beyond. They would like to see better management practices for water – enough water for not only human beings but also for the animals, plants and Mother Earth herself. To quote Kate Bunney of Walking Water:

Cascades at Sylmar

Cascades at Sylmar

“Walking Water is not a demonstration, it is not a march against something, instead it is a celebration of the possibilities we have when we come together. Walking Water asks us to think together, feel together, work together, resolve together, create together and walk together. Walking Water refuses to be enemies, to judge or to take sides. Instead it chooses to create space where everyone involved in trying to deal with the situation that has been handed to them can share their vision, their dreams, their story, as well as their pain and grievances.”

Walking Water wishes to develop a positive way to use water, manage water and think about water. They have devised a multi-year pilgrimage surrounding their water message. Last year they trekked from Mono Lake to Owens Lake. This year they began their trek on Sept. 23 from Owens Lake to the Cascades of Sylmar. There are 45 walkers this year. Some are from the Eastern Sierras, including members of the Paiute and Shoshone tribes, but others include members from Portugal, India, Poland, South Africa, the UK, Bolivia, Kenya, Israel, Germany and Switzerland.

They will arrive in Santa Clarita on Oct. 14. We have the opportunity to walk with them. I have mapped a route from Santa Clarita through Elsmere Canyon, up over the mountains, down into the San Fernando Valley, to the Cascades of Sylmar. Walking water has invited us to walk this portion of the trek with them, culminating at the Cascades with a ceremony, ending their trek. We will be invited back to Hart Park, to the campground, to continue in the celebration of their completed and successful trek along the California Aqueduct.

Invitation to hike with us: Walk with Walking Water – Friday, Oct. 14, 8:30 a.m.

The hike is 10 miles with 1800 feet in gain. The hike is initially on cement and asphalt and will progress to single track, wide track and service roads. Bring at least 3 liters of water, electrolytes, lunch, snacks, sun hat, sunscreen, poles and camera. Dress in layers and wear hiking boots with good tread.

Please volunteer your vehicle as a shuttle car. Please RSVP directly to me if you wish to do this at zuliebear@aol.com. I will help you park your car near the cascades on Balboa early in the day. When we reach the cascades, you can help bring hikers and Walking Water members back to Hart Park. Thank you.


Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel is executive director of the Community Hiking Club and president of the Santa Clara River Watershed Conservancy. Contact Dianne through communityhikingclub.org or at zuliebear@aol.com.




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  1. This water goes to Los angeles . SCV We get water from central and northern Sierra’s via the aqueducts (that come through the Central valley) an mountain snow run off if not for this we would be rationing again with only 5 or so inches of rain in So. Ca. this last year

  2. jim says:

    Ms. E-H,

    As a hike, the circuit you describe will certainly be interesting. You might point out that when your hikers are proceeding through Elsmere Canyon that they are missing out on the parts of the Aqueduct that proceeds through (under) Magazine Canyon just before the hill where the Surge Tower is for the Aqueduct and The Cascades. Magazine Canyon is a licensed storage site for explosives that are used in the Los Angeles area for construction purposes. I suspect that you will not get approval to visit that particular site.

    I’d like to point out that the story you printed is just a tiny portion of the total story of Owens Valley water coming to Los Angeles. You have actually done a good job of hitting the high points and still dodging most of the truly contentious issues associated with the Aqueduct.

    And I assume that is what you intended. Given the limited space, it is a well written promotion for the event you describe.

    And as always, things may not always be what they seem.

    I’ve traveled most of that area you describe, both on foot and by vehicle. I’m also very familiar with the entire aqueduct system, from the #2 Aqueduct intakes (north of Crowley Lake) on down through the entire Owens Valley. I’ll toss in the Aqueducts’ routes from Haiwee on through the Antelope Valley to the South Portal in Green Valley and the Aqueduct Power Plants in San Francisquito Canyon.

    Even today, it is an engineering marvel, yet not without it’s faults and at least one tragedy. It is also a major political and environmental issue.

    As you no doubt understand, the Owens Valley watershed and the City of Los Angeles are inextricably linked by hydraulics, history, and the semi-arid environments of the Eastern Sierra and Los Angeles Basin.

    I can no longer make those hikes, so I hope that you and your friends from Walking Water will be open and generous in your discussions about water issues.

  3. John Palahnuk says:

    Our water in SCV comes from huge aquifers under our feet. These aquifers are ancient and they are projected to have enough water supply to serve our growing population for many decades to come. We are truly blessed to have the three aquifers under the SCV. Also, I am happy to report that state officials regularly assess our aquifers and they have always noted our aquifers to be healthy and high producing.

    SCV always has the option of tapping from the aqueduct referenced in this article, but we don’t have to and in fact we shut that valve off completely during the statewide drought and drew 100% from our aquifers instead.

    I often wish I could wave a magic wand and cast a spell making everyone instantly informed so they make sound decisions based on scientific facts instead of irrational and emotional feelings. We would be much better off as a country and as a people if we did so.

    • SCVNews.com says:

      Different aqueduct. Roughly half of our water is groundwater and the other half comes from the State Water Project (the California Aqueduct). We do not get any water from the Los Angeles Aqueduct (which feeds from Owens Valley and Mono Lake). The big pipe that runs through town next to Saugus High and elsewhere is the Los Angeles Aqueduct — not our water. L.A. killed 431 of our people with the storage system it built for the water that its aqueduct carried (carries), and we never got any water to show for it.

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