Water and The Times
Here at The Times editorial board, we take seriously the matter of precedent. We build our positions upon those of our predecessors, and though we do depart from them when we feel they have outlived their value, we try to honor consistency along with intellectual honesty as we weigh the issues that come before us.
Today, we begin a series of editorials that explore some of the most ancient and deeply held views of our ancestors – the sturdy, rapacious men who built this newspaper and the city of Los Angeles. As many readers know, the early years of this city and its paper were forged by two desperate campaigns, one to lure visitors and new residents to the area, the other to find water. The Times took the lead in touting the region to the east, and William Mulholland, the chief engineer of the city’s Department of Water and Power, struck out in search of water. He found it in the Owens Valley and, again with the help of The Times, persuaded Los Angeles residents to approve a bond measure that would pay to bring that water down the eastern slope of the Sierra Mountains and into the San Fernando Valley. The city annexed the valley and got its water, and modern Los Angeles was born (and, not incidentally, the Chandler family, patriarchs of this newspaper, made a killing on their valley land).
“Glorious Mountain River Now Flows to Los Angeles,” the headline on November 6, 1913 read, followed by this subhead: “Silver Torrent Crowns The City’s Mighty Achievement.” Say what you will about their ethics, our predecessors undeniably could write.
Much has been made over the generations regarding the stealth that Mulholland and the DWP used to acquire water rights from the Owens Valley farmers, of the land deals behind their campaign, of the desiccated valley that the great water heist left behind. Yes, it’s true that our forbears did not do that valley any good, but any honest appraisal must also acknowledge that without their hard work, this city would not be here today.
So, it’s with due cognizance of the past that we today embark on an editorial series about water and its place in the life of this city and the world. This time, we’re doing it not as land barons (it’s safe to say that Harry Chandler would have been crushed to wake up one morning and find himself in possession of the combined real estate holdings of today’s editorial board), but as heirs to a newspaper built on water – and as residents of a region whose history has been formed by its pursuit.
Our first entry in the series, which appears today, looks at the potential for conservation and small-scale innovation in the drive to preserve what water we have before we go looking for more. That’s not an idea that particularly weighed on The Times in 1913, when it was more interested in getting than in saving. But it’s one with enormous potential to alter this city’s water future, as the editorial demonstrates.
Yes, that means we’re breaking some precedent here, but we’re doing it with full consciousness. That paper from Nov. 6, 1913, the one that hails Los Angeles’ water future? It hangs in our board room.