In 1907, Irish immigrant William Mulholland designed and began to build one of the greatest civil engineering feats in history: the aqueduct that carried water 233 miles from the Sierra Nevada Mountains to Los Angeles—allowing this small,MoreIn 1907, Irish immigrant William Mulholland designed and began to build one of the greatest civil engineering feats in history: the aqueduct that carried water 233 miles from the Sierra Nevada Mountains to Los Angeles—allowing this small, resource-challenged desert city to grow into a modern global metropolis.
Drawing on new research, Les Standiford vividly captures the larger-than-life engineer and the breathtaking scope of his six-year, $23 million project that would transform a region, a state, and a nation at the dawn of its greatest century.Mulholland, a penniless Dublin immigrant who made his way west as a stowaway on a passenger ship, personifies the American rags-to-riches tale, working from a position as a ditchdigger to become chief engineer of the Los Angeles Water Company.
Confronted with a decade-long drought that threatened his adopted citys future, the self taught Mulholland found the answer in the rushing snow melt from the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains, nearly 250 miles away. He proposed to build an aqueduct that would outdo any such ever conceived, one that would carry an entire river from its source to Los Angeles, through mountains, over chasms, and across an alternately freezing and blistering terra incognita, because he believed it was the citys only hope.The project brought a simmering-to-this-day firestorm of protest from residents of Californias Owens Valley where the waters would be taken, as well as an all-out onslaught from political opponents and vested interests in Los Angeles, who were fearful of losing their stranglehold on the citys yield.
But after nine years of struggle, including the efforts of thousands of workmen—many of whom lost their lives—and the use of engineering techniques and strategies never previously employed, Mulholland turned the gates and loosed the waters that brought an unprecedented wave of development and prosperity to his city and the region.Though the landmark film Chinatown touched on the subject, Mulholland was characterized there as Hollis Mulwray, a colorless pipsqueak easily dispatched by archvillain and developer Noah Cross (John Houston).
In real life, however, Mulholland was every bit the equal of any of his foes, a colorful, brook-no-nonsense man of the people who accomplished a feat like no other and became a hero in the process. Water to the Angels is not only a book that provides insight into the seeds of significant ecological concerns of this day, it is also a stirring story of accomplishment against all odds, all the more captivating for being true.As Robert Towne, author of the screenplay for Chinatown suggests, the subject is timeless.
I found the ubiquity of water in everyones lives to be compelling. Everybody needs water.At a time when the importance of water is being recognized as never before—considered by many experts to be the essential resource of the twenty-first century—Water to the Angels brings into focus the vigor of a fabled era, the might of a larger-than-life individual, and the scale of a priceless construction project, and sheds critical light on a past that offers insights for our future.