There is a fair wind that blows eastward off the Pacific. It renders the state of California a most agreeable place in which to live and prosper. In the middle of that state’s long coastline the San Francisco region is kept– perpetually it seems– pleasantly cool in summer and moderately warm in winter.
And so, a most amicably crisp climate cloaks the Bay area with weatherilogical favor. Sharp, brilliant sunshine is tempered from time to time by the marauding presence of this deep dark fog; it rolls up from the ocean like some kind of commandeering trade midst on a mission.
Tumbling across the coastal ranges, these magnificent, mist blankets drape down into the Silicon valley like an overly ecstatic angel investor. As far as precipitation, it doesn’t seem to amount to much, but surely it helps to periodically clothe the Bay area in a perpetual curtain of mystery, and the Peninsula in a cloud of digitally enhanced inspiration.
Such fairly weatheric environs does not however, assure sufficient water for the millions of people who live there. And so, many and many a year ago, the powers that be among Bay Area movers and shakers put their heads together and devised a plan or two to bring water from the far (160 mile far) east so’s people could have water to drink and bathe in and live in.
Over there on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada mountains they found a deep valley in which a cold river flowed so luxuriously. It was on the northwestern end of the Yosemite area. A river ran through it; Tuolemne River. Men put their arms and legs and picks and shovels and machines together and built a huge dam there. Beginning in 1919, they labored on the project through 1923; but one delay or another kept dragging the project along. Finally, they got the thing going, delivering water to the coastal regions, long about 1934. They named the reservoir Hetchy Hetch.
So Hetchy Hetch catches water for San Franciscans. From the air, I think it looks something like this:
Down in the deserty California southland, similar projects had already been undertaken, but on a larger scale because that arid region requires more massive hydrous acquisitions, and from farther regions. About 1905, San Fernando valley-dwellers and their Los Angeleno neighbors set their sites on the Owens Lake, which is found beneath the eastern slope of Sierras in southern end the Owens Valley, about 233 miles northeast of their dry metropolis-in-the-making.
An engineer named Mulholland was the ramrod of their hugely ambitious aqueous project. By the time of its completion in 1913, 3900 workers had labored on its very long mountain-valley-through-desert 233 mile course. According to Wikipedia, the Los Angeles Aqueduct project
. . . consisted of 24 mi (39 km) of open unlined canal, 37 mi (60 km) of lined open canal, 97 mi (156 km) of covered concrete conduit, 43 mi (69 km) of concrete tunnels, 12.00 mi (19.31 km) steel siphons, 120 mi (190 km) of railroad track, two hydroelectric plants, three cement plants, 170 mi (270 km) of power lines, 240 mi (390 km) of telephone line, 500 mi (800 km) of roads and was later expanded with the construction of the Mono Extension and the Second Los Angeles Aqueduct.[16
History shows, then, that Californians have, to say the least, gone to great lengths to get their water.
Owens Lake, the original low-hanging-fruit that initially attracted thirsty southern Californians, had pretty much dried up by 1926, provoking the water-seekers to set their sights and sites farther afield, farther north up into the Owens River of the Owens Valley, all the way up to an endorheic basin called Mono, where Mono Lake languishes in the dry heat. By 1941, the slakers of Los Angeles had extended their aqueous acquisitions to Mono’s sparsely hydrous resources, which now seem to be going the way of the Owens buffalo, as a visit to the Mono Lake Committee will confirm.
Last Friday, I caught a view of Mono Lake as we began our flight home to our most-hydrous misty Appalachian domicile, after our son’s wedding in the San Francisco Bay area.
Mono Lake, being an endorheic, 13-mile-by-9-mile, big-but-diminishing pond is surrounded by salty, dusty particulate deposits which appear as white beaches around its perimeter.
However, the most notable feature of my Friday aero-view was a long plume of smoke drifting eastward from Mono Lake’s western shore. I later learned that a fire, which had begun at a marina, has been raging away on that Sierra slope for several days.
I hope they can stop that fire.
And I would like to propose a toast: to all the Californians– best wishes for responsibly sufficient water conservation activities in the years to come. Cheers! May you live long and hydrate.