September 2015
Billie Silvey
Water Wars
Water has always been important to Los Angeles, and now, again, landscape
architects and gardeners are trying to figure out how to preserve at least some of
the beauty of our lawns while using less water.  Governor Jerry Brown has asked for
a 25% cutback on water use.  Frank and I have cut the sprinklers in front back to just
two days a week and are keeping the trees and flowers alive but letting the grass go
in the back.

According to the
Encyclopedia Britannica, in the 1920s, “irate residents of the
Owens Valley, believing their water had been stolen, vented their anger against Los
Angeles by dynamiting parts of the system.  To add to the tension of the disputes
[the popularly called 'water wars' loosely immortalized in the movie
Chinatown], the
St. Francis Dam in northern Los Angeles county collapsed in 1928, releasing a
surging wall of water that drowned hundreds of people.”

William Mulholland accepted full responsibility.  In the 1930s, the city extended the
aqueduct northward to
Mono Lake  for a total length of 338 miles and later imported
additional water from the Colorado River and California’s Feather River.

I love the
Encyclopedia Britannica. It was my Internet when I was growing up in
Happy, Texas, in the 1950s.  I’m so grateful to my parents for recognizing how
important it would prove to me.  Almost everything I’ve ever written is a combination
of family stories, personal experience, sermons and Bible classes, school classes
and “look it up,” a phrase I’ve heard all my life from my parents, teachers, and most
recently, my husband Frank.  Just last night, when we were talking about this
website, he said it when he used the word
palimpsest.  See why I love the man?  He
won’t let me stop learning.
Jack Nicholson in Chinatown (left) St. Francis
Dam and the story of its collapse from the

Mono Lake in current drought (above) and the engineer
William Mulholland, who accepted responsibility for the dam
collapse in 1928 (right).