Great Moments in Water Conservation

Whenever there’s a drought in Los Angeles, people are told they can only water their lawns on certain days of the week. And then the ancient water mains built by William Mulholland in the Central San Fernando Valley – West L.A. corridor start erupting, presumably from the added pressure. Water conservation measures began this year in mid-July, and this time it was the 90-year-old water main under Sunset Blvd. that burst, flooding the UCLA campus. From CNN:

It’s not clear exactly what cause the burst. But it happened at a very bad time for the city and state. Drought-stricken California recently passed statewide water restrictions, and Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency in January.

“Unfortunately we lost a lot of water — around 35,000 gallons a minute — which is not ideal in the worst drought in the city’s history,” Los Angeles city councilman Paul Koretz said. “So we ask everybody to try harder to conserve water.”

So, to do my part to save water by relieving the pressure on the water mains, today I watered my lawn.

Franklin Canyon reservoir

I’ve long been fascinated by the conundrum of how fast Mulholland built the Los Angeles water system using mules and men with strong backs and how long it is taking to refurbish it using backhoes. The main Chinatown-style water main bringing water hundreds of miles from the Owens Valley across the San Fernando Valley and over the Hollywood Hills runs along Coldwater Canyon and up to Franklin Canyon reservoir above Beverly Hills.

Now a full century old, Mulholland’s water main isn’t expected to survive the next earthquake, which portends a San Francisco 1906 situation of not being able to put out post-Big One fires. So the Department of Water and Power is putting in a new parallel water main down the street past my house, but they appear to be making progress at a rate of well under a mile per year.

But, let me caution again, that old fashioned let-’er-rip engineering practices had their downsides. Mulholland’s St. Francis dam broke in 1928, killing 600 people.