When you turn on the tap, water comes out. Can’t explain that.
Well, actually, we can. Los Angeles imports its water from a variety of sources, one of which is the Los Angeles Aqueduct. This aqueduct carries with it so much history, so much political unrest, and such wide-reaching ecological impacts that we could never hope to cover all of its nuances in a single blog post. What we can, do, however, is make a feature-length documentary exploring many of those issues – The Longest Straw comes out this fall!
Even with ninety minutes of storytelling, however, we still can’t delve into all the issues there are to explore. That’s why this week’s post conveys a bit of history that didn’t quite make it into our final cut. Think of it as a text-only deleted scene.
First: the basics. The Los Angeles Aqueduct originally ran from LA to the Owens River, but as the city expanded, it built two extensions, one of which stretched all the way to the Mono Basin. As the aqueduct diverted water from the clear, drinkable freshwater streams of the region, the terminal lake they once fed began to dry up.
Cue decades of lawsuits and negotiations as the Mono Lake Committee and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power tried to strike a balance between a metropolis’s need for drinking water and a unique ecosystem’s need for pristine snowmelt.
1984 was an unusually wet year for the state of California, a year that brought amble flooding with it. As the usually dry-from-diversions streams of the Mono Basin refilled, a few enterprising fishers stocked game fish in the local creeks.
When the rain stopped, the Department of Fish & Game found they had something in common with the Mono Lake Committee: a desire to save the waterways. In their case, the law stated that sport fishing waterways had to be maintained so that they were healthy for the fish.
Cue a joint effort to require the Department of Water and Power to maintain the streams of the Mono Basin. These creeks needed minimal water flow, and with that water came plant and animal life and the hard work of restoration was begun.
When you think of preserving a local ecosystem, is your first thought “let’s check legislation on sports that were only possible because of fluke weather events?” Probably not. But that’s the real beauty of the LA Aqueduct: its history is riddled with chance alliances and symbiotic relationships. Water is a right to everyone, and you never know who will join you to preserve it.