Thirty thousand people were on hand November 5, 1913 at the Sylmar Cascades to celebrate the grand opening of the aqueduct. Photo courtesy Los Angeles Public Library

Teddy Roosevelt's Signature Let Los Angeles Grow

Posted Mondays, Jeremy Rosenberg's (@LosJeremy) Laws That Shaped L.A. column spotlights regulations that have played a significant role in the development of contemporary Los Angeles. These laws - as nominated and explained each week by a locally-based expert - may be civil or criminal, and they may have been put into practice by city, county, state, federal or even international authority

This Week's Law That Shaped L.A.

Law: Act of Congress of June 30, 1906
Year: 1906
Jurisdiction: Federal

Depending, of course, on what happens locally, nationally and internationally this year -- and talk about a hedge as big as any Wall Street quant could come up with -- Los Angeles residents and the rest of the West are likely to spend much of 2013 hearing about the centennial of the most important acquisition in the city's history.

And no, we aren't referring to the Clippers' free-agent signing of Jamal Crawford. (Although that is right up there.)

Instead, we're talking about the Los Angeles Aqueduct, opened in 1913 by zanjero William Mulholland along with thirty or forty thousand -- depending on the estimate -- of his gathered friends and onlookers.

As 2012 rolls over into 2013, much of the talk during this next spin around the sun is sure to center on the alleged purloining of the god-given, snow-melt waters of the Owens Valley.

The Los Angeles Aqueduct, photographed in 1928, near the Alabama Hills in the Owens Valley. Photo from the Herald-Examiner Collection, courtesy Los Angeles Public Library

But rest assured, these United States are nothing if not a nation of laws.

And our abiding respect for treaty and regulation is every bit as profound on dry ground as it is wetter zones.

Let's consider, for example, another well-known H2O passageway -- not the L.A. Aqueduct cascading through the Sierras and the San Fernando Valley and winding up in our faucets -- but instead, the Panama Canal.

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We, the people, signed back in 1903 and ratified in 1904 all fair and square a deal with the Republic of Panama to carve a wet route that connected the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and made for much more rapid shipping of goods.

Tunneling for the Los Angeles Aqueduct, c. 1910. Photo courtesy Los Angeles Public Library

The fact that the land given over for the Canal-building had belonged to Colombia until like five minutes before we cut a deal with a brand-newly independent Panama? Hey, so what? Like nobody ever flipped an asset before?

And anyway, not that we did anything wrong here, but Uncle Sam turned the Canal over to Panama on the last day of 1999 -- and that was planned out for a generation, by the way, and not some Y2K screw-up.

That hand over happened because the U.S. signed our mark and gave -- and kept -- our word. That's even as today our own beloved Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles -- past home to whale hunters and tallow traders, current home to a battleship and next, perhaps, home to a crafts bazaar -- may also soon be in economic trouble due to competition from, yes, the Panana Canal.

This respect for the law, consequences be dam-ed, is why all of us should all relax and breathe easy throughout the next year as we hear over and over about the Owens Valley and water rights and San Fernando development and the Chandlers and William Mulholland and Fred Eaton and Moses Sherman and Jack Nicholson and that other guy who called Jack "a very nosy fellah, kitty cat" and then mango-sliced Jack's left nostril.

Please, let's all just remember that this was all on the up and up because Uncle Sam gave the okay. (And also, the Cato Institute says not to worry.)

In this c. 1905 photo, the Board of Water Commissioners of the LADWP meets. Third from the right is Moses H. Sherman, who at the same time serving on the board also set out help develop the San Fernando Valley. Photo and caption information courtesy Los Angeles Public Library

It was that great Rough Rider, President Theodore Roosevelt, who signed the Act of Congress of June 30, 1906. This Act effectively allowed the then-relative backwater burgh of Los Angeles to bring water south from approximately 250 miles away, up in the Sierras.

Even if the Act didn't apply to the, um, not quite full disclosure purchases of about 98% of the region's then-privately held parcels -- sweet, innocent Eaton and Sherman and his crew took care of that key bit -- without this federal law in place, acquiring all those Owens properties wouldn't have much mattered. The federal law allowed the liquid pipeline to pass through great expanses of federal lands inconveniently located between Owens and L.A.

President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Congressional act into law that authorized Los Angeles to take water from the Owens Valley. This undated photo shows a Santa Monica sculpture of the former Rough Rider. Photo courtesy Los Angeles Public Library

Specifically, according to Appendix C (p. 90) of the 1907 Annual Report of the Bureau of the Los Angeles Aqueduct to the Board of the Public Works, the Act of Congress was:

"An Act authorizing and directing the Secretary of the Interior to sell to the City of Los Angeles, California, certain public lands in California; and granting rights in, over and through the Sierra Forest Reserve, the Santa Barbara Forest Reserve, and the San Gabriel Timber Land Reserve, California, to the City of Los Angeles, California."

The text goes on to say that L.A. is hereby granted "all necessary rights of way, not to exceed two hundred and fifty feet in width, over and through the public lands of the United States in the Counties of Inyo, Kern and Los Angeles."

So: There it is. Take it: The federal law that allowed a city that was then about 400,000 people to grow to about four million today.

And, yes, L.A. is this millennium acting more neighborly than last, taking less Owens H20 and causing less dust, but Owens residents shouldn't expect a Panama Canal-style repatriation anytime soon -- until at least, we perfect desalination techniques that turn the Pacific's waters into tap.


Top photo: Thirty thousand people were on hand November 5, 1913 at the Sylmar Cascades to celebrate the grand opening of the aqueduct. Photo from the Herald-Examiner Collection and courtesy Los Angeles Public Library

To suggest a "Law That Shaped L.A." or otherwise contact the columnist via @LosJeremy on Twitter, or by emailing: arrivalstory [at] gmail [dot] com, or by leaving a comment at the bottom of this page. Follow Rosenberg on Twitter @LosJeremy

About the Author

Jeremy Rosenberg is a Los Angeles-based writer, editor, and consultant whose work has appeared in various books, magazines, newspapers, and online.
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