Government and Water: A Study of the Influence of Water Upon Governmental Institutions and Practices in the Development of Los Angeles

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"The balmy mediterranean climate of Southern California has attracted millions of people to its coastal plain; but nature has imposed a critical limit upon local development by failing to provide an adequate water supply. Water, as the crucial barrier, has been a most significant determinant of both the extent and the pattern of municipal growth and development. "Los Angeles, deriving its basic policies and institutional patterns from its Spanish foundation, continues to retain the control and ownership of its water resources in the municipal community except the distribution of water for domestic purposes. Private entrepreneurs, contractors and leaseholders distributed the domestic water supply until the city acquired full ownership and control in 1902. "The water rights derived from the Spanish pueblo gave Los Angeles prior use to the water of the Los Angeles River. With this water supply, Los Angeles assumed early leadership as the principal city in Southern California and expanded its boundaries by absorbing thirsty suburban areas. "Municipal administration of the water and power utilities required a bureaucracy to perform the necessary services and operations. Organized in a single department, the administration of the water and power systems has been divided between two nearly autonomous bureaus. The Department of Water and Power has attained great freedom of action within the Los Angeles city administration except for civil service regulations. "Where water is vital to community growth and development, public policies relating to it inevitably become crucial political issues for the community and its government. Politics is an essential tool of administrators to realize their program of water resources development. "To construct and administer the necessary water works, and to transport a new supply of water from the Colorado River to the Southern California coastal plain, Los Angeles joined with other municipalities to devise a special agency, the Metropolitan Water district of Southern California, to govern this metropolitan water supply system. "Water intimately involves Los Angeles in a complex of important inter-governmental relations with other units of local government, the government of California, other neighboring states, and the government of the United States. The administration of city-owned lands in water supply areas has created special problems of tenancy and absentee ownership. "Overcoming the natural shortage of water has taxed the ingenuity of citizens, civic leaders and public officials of Los Angeles to determine proper policies and to devise adequate institutions to meet future needs. An appreciation of the potentials of water as a catalyst in community growth, a mold for political institutions and an influence upon political practice can enable imaginative leaders to better shape the future of a Greater Los Angeles."



governance and politics, water resources, state and local governance, metropolitan studies, intergovernmental relations, public administration, Colorado River, scarcity, Workshop