There is contemporary regional dispute of longstanding in southern California involving water rights. The so-called 'California Water Wars' refer to the fight between Los Angeles and the Owens Valley over such rights. The entire dispute stems from Los Angeles' location in a semi-arid area, and the presence of water from the Sierra Nevada runoff which collects in the Owens Valley. Looking back to the 19th century, it was in 1833 that Joseph Walker led a party of explorers into the area that would later become known as the Owens Valley, situated in central California. He noted that the valley's soil was lacking in quality when compared to that on the other side of the Sierra Nevada mountains, and that the mountain runoff was completely absorbed by the arid ground.
After America took control of California in 1848, the first public land survey was one of the initial steps in securing government control of the valley. It was first reported that the area's soil was not good for agriculture with the exception of the land near streams. Others, though, saw more potential after making contact with the Paiute Indians and their utilization of irrigation ditches to direct large amounts of water from streams.
A majority of settlers came to the region hoping to become rich from mining. Once they reached the Owens Valley the dream died and most turned to farming and raising livestock instead. The Homestead Act of 1862 provided settlers five years to take title of their land at little more than a dollar per acre.
The Act limited the amount of land an individual could own to 160 acres in order to facilitate the creation of small farms. Settlers utilized the Indians' knowledge of farming and irrigation to create fertile ground for crops. During and after 1866 accelerated acquisition of land had begun and by the mid-1890's most of the land in the Owens Valley was owned. The large number of claims from land speculators put brakes on the region's development because they would not develop irrigation canals. The water wars were initiated in 1898 when Frederick Eaton became mayor of Los Angeles. He selected William Mulholland as head of the newly-established Department of Water and Power.
Eaton and Mulholland shared a vision that the city would become far bigger than its then-current dimensions. The only restricting factor on its growth was the lack of a consistent supply of water. Eaton and Mulholland recognized that since the Owens Valley held a large amount of runoff from the Sierra Nevada, an aqueduct could deliver the Owens water to Los Angeles.
Matt Paolini is a agricultural writer for CityBook, the family-safe Los Angeles Yellow PagesLos Angeles yellow pages online, which carries an extensive directory on Los Angeles hunting and fishing preserves.