An exciting account of an astounding engineering achievement

“Water to the Angels: William Mulholland, His Monumental Aqueduct, and the Rise of Los Angeles,” by Les Standiford. Ecco. 336 pages. Hardcover $28.99.

WaterAngelshccCan statistics be exciting? In the case of Les Standiford’s energetic presentation of this enormous undertaking, the quantitative facts are essential and astounding. The goal was simple: to find a way for a small desert town to flourish. The lack of an adequate water supply circumscribed that possibility. William Mulholland had the vision, a vision many doubted and quite a few mocked.



He designed an aqueduct system to bring copious amounts of fresh water from 223 miles away via the power of gravity. Through landscapes often beautiful, but remote and stubbornly resistant to conventional reshaping methods, crews working under Mulholland’s leadership reshaped the flow of rivers, built conduits above and below ground, and established a network of dams incrementally taking the water from higher to lower levels.

Before the aqueduct could be built, an infrastructure for transportation; electricity; and the housing, nourishment, and medical care for countless workers was needed. Much of this construction was through a mountainous region, and unique equipment had to be invented and fashioned to solve engineering problems never before faced.

William Mulholland, a self-taught Irish immigrant, was up to the task that took six years and cost $23 million dollars. How did the fellow find himself in the position to do this job? To what extent did his colossal, confident, and forthright personality predict the course and eventual outcome of this venture? These are among the questions that Les Standiford answers in a book that is at once biography, history, and science.

Such projects need to be sold. Where does the money come from? What vested interests have to be satisfied? What kind of water and property rights need to be obtained? Mr. Standiford clarifies the economic and political issues, which are also enormous in scale. Indeed, often these issues threatened to cripple the endeavor.

Such gigantic undertakings are a bet on the future. For Los Angelinos, the bet paid off big – if you think immensity is desirable. Fresh water became more plentiful and less expensive, making all kinds of expansion possible. Confidence in the future of Los Angeles brought plenty of investment capital. Transforming waterpower into electric power helped to sell and sustain the aqueduct system.

Though people in the northern communities affected by the aqueduct construction often complained about the project’s negative impact on their property values, it is likely that some of those communities gained substantial benefits. The project, and the enhanced water and electric power system, was and is an employer. Mr. Standiford provides a fine analysis of the pros and cons, sorting out the claims, the facts, and the rumors. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the April 1, 2015 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the April 2 Naples, and Bonita Springs editions, click here Florida Weekly – Water to the Angels

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