John Walton (left) signing books at Mountain Light Gallery on Feb. 25.
At the opening ceremony for the Los Angeles Aqueduct in 1913, William Mulholland, engineer of the project, said his famous words: “There it is. Take it.”
Now, almost one century later, the Owens Valley Committee is still trying to take it back—or at least hold the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) accountable for excessive groundwater pumping and other management practices.
To bring light to local water issues, both historic and current, the Owens Valley Committee (OVC) hosted an outreach fundraiser last Saturday, February 25. The keynote speaker for the evening was John Walton, professor of sociology at U.C. Davis and author of Western Times and Water Wars (University of California Press, $28.95).
The book was hailed as, “One of the half-dozen most important works in historical sociology by an American scholar,” by the Virginia Quarterly Review when it was published in 1991. Even twenty years after its first printing, the book still holds significant historical clout in this area.
On Saturday, Walton led his audience of more than one hundred people through the history of the Owens Valley, beginning with the Paiutes and ending with the present day. Walton’s slide show featured historic photographs of the Owens Valley during a time when mining camps were still viable, Paiute communities were forced off their land, crops dried up, and citizens left their jobs to participate in their own kind of “Occupy Aqueduct” protest.
For more than two decades, the OVC has worked behind the scenes on a shoestring budget to play watchdog over LADWP’s management and restoration practices in the Owens Valley. Saturday’s event was hosted partly in an attempt to raise money to hire a new executive director, and to make the organization’s projects more well-known to the public.
“There aren’t very many people who know that the water wars are still going on,” OVC’s president, Ceal Klingler, said. “In the papers, you read about what happened in the Owens Valley, not about what is still going on.”
A grassroots, non-profit citizen action group, OVC has fought and won many battles in the ongoing war to ensure LADWP’s compliance with agreements such as the 1991 Inyo-Las Angeles Water Agreement and the 1997 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between OVC, LADWP, Sierra Club, Department of Fish and Game, Inyo County, and the State Lands Commission.
In short, OVC “watches the water.” Over the years, OVC has facilitated efforts to protect, restore, and sustain Owens Valley through re-vegetation projects and recovery of drought-damaged areas. When necessary, OVC takes legal action to enforce LADWP’s compliance with the 1991 agreement and MOU. In one case, LADWP was ordered to re-water a 60-mile stretch of the lower Owens River that had dried up in 1913 by the LA Aqueduct.
“Without groups like the Owens Valley Committee,” John Walton said, “the marvelous environment that you have today wouldn’t be here.”