Possibly the most famous closing line to a film, the last utterance of Roman Polanski’s neo-noir Chinatown was meant to convey the sense that no amount of truth-telling or investigative light-shining can stop corrupted bureaus of city government. For anyone who hasn’t seen the film recently or isn’t familiar, Chinatown is loosely based around the real life Los Angeles ‘Water Wars‘ of the 1930s. At the time, LA was rapidly expanding, and property speculators stood to make big bucks on real estate. They had but one problem; LA is practically a desert.
Fortunately, civil engineer William Mulholland had a plan to siphon off water from farmland hundreds of miles away. The LA Department of Water and Power employed methods of persuasion “as inspired as they were ruthless“. Mulholland was so effective at pressuring farmers to give up their water rights that resisters actually dynamited the siphoning aqueducts on several occasions. Ultimately, Mulholland got the water he wanted and more, selling off the excess to cities surrounding LA, enriching real estate investors in the process. Another line from Chinatown sums up the goal of Water and Power perfectly, “Do you have any idea what this land would be worth with a steady water supply? About $30 million more than they paid for it.”
Skip ahead some 80 years and about a thousand miles North and we find ourselves in Portland, Oregon in the Willamette river valley. Our fair city enjoys a wealth of fresh drinking water that trickles down from the Bull Run watershed at the steps of Mt. Hood. Hot off a successful campaign victory that halted a plan by lobbyists and city hall to fluoridate Bull Run, clean water warriors have wasted no time diving back into the trenches for a new battle to save public water. Continue reading