Cadillac Desert: Mullholand’s Dream

Cadillac Desert: Mullholand’s Dream

CadillacDesertImage.jpgPart 1 documents the history and politics associated with the transfer or water rights from the Owens Valley to LA Water and Power.

IMDb: Mulholland’s Dream (Episode aired 1997)

8 thoughts on “Cadillac Desert: Mullholand’s Dream”

  1. Part 1 of PBS’s series Cadillac Desert is an eye opening experience considering the validity of the very creation of Los Angeles given it’s impractical location due to lack of a nearby water source. Giving both sides of the debate on the water war an opportunity to propose their arguments, the film shows how the current water shortage problems came to be and also why Los Angeles became so powerful. However, the film certainly chooses a side in the debate.

    While there is an appreciation for the audacity of the founders of Los Angeles and an understanding for why many people find it such an attractive place to live, the original perpetuators of the problem are shown to be money and power hungry businessmen with zero concern for the environment and other communities. The conclusion that Los Angeles has no reason to be there is stated in the very beginning of the film. The following documentary only backs up that claim.

    The current water starved situation Los Angeles finds itself in and the ensuing imperial atmosphere the city has adopted is illustrated by the films historical documentation. The absurdity of the future plans to quench the cities first is also highly criticized. All in all the film is very informative and forces viewers to reconsider how past actions are affecting us today.

  2. This film depicted the effort that LA Water Department chief William Mulholland had dedicated on searching water for the constant growing population in Los Angeles. From a small village in a desert to a huge city, LA’s demand for water had increases dramatically during the 20th century. After Mulholland saw his appeal for people to conserve water failed, and the only source of water, Los Angeles River, quickly dried up, he was determined to find a water supply that would meet the demand for a long period of time. Owens Valley, 230 miles north of LA, was the first place that met his requirement. Under his leadership, a 233-mile aqueduct was constructed to transport water from the valley to LA. However, Owens Valley was also quickly depleting which aroused conflicts between the regional residence and LA authority. After the residences at Owens valley destroyed the aqueduct in several attempts, Mulholland sent police to protect this vital supply of water. However, he still could not protect it from natural destruction. In 1928, the San Francisquito dam, part of the aqueduct, burst and called the end of Mulholland’s project.

    The purpose of this movie is to educate people the important role of water in our modern society. As a metropolis that should not even be there, Los Angeles experienced a more phenomenal impact of water. The authority had to transport water from hundreds of miles away, from the Owens Valley, the Colorado River and the Mono Lake. During this process, the environment at these sources had been altered dramatically which posed threats to the indigenous species and local residences. For example, the water level at the Mono Lake dropped 40 feet since it became the source of water for LA. With the public’s increasing awareness of environmental protection, the Mono Lake is now protected and prohibited to exploit water from it. However, Los Angeles’s demand for water is still increasing and the government has to ensure a stable supply by finding an alternative source which will potentially undergo significant changes on the environment. Although Los Angeles’ situation is being driven into a paradox, people should view it as a warning that city development should be supported by appropriate environmental conditions, and they are interrelated which means that protecting the environment is to protect the development of our city.

  3. Los Angeles is a city that should never have been. This is an opinion espoused again and again by Cadillac Desert: Mullholland’s Dream, the first of four films under the Cadillac Desert header, on the fate of water in the wild west of the U.S. When first conceived, Los Angeles was small and dry, very dry. William Mulholland had a dream, however, to build it bigger through water diversion from Owen’s Valley in the north to the San Fernando Valley, essentially draining and destroying the ecological health and agricultural livelihoods of the area. This action and later ones to attempt to control what little water exists in the deserts of the west have had far ranging implications for man and nature alike.

    Outside of the ecological impacts of the destruction of Owen’s Valley, another theme that plays out prominently in this narrative is that of unequal distribution of resources. Why is it that those people who lived and farmed in Owen’s Valley were less deserving of the water necessary to keep their land healthy is unclear, but similarly as Los Angeles expanded the option to say no to those who called this new city their home became more difficult to accept as time went on. Cadillac Desert: Mullholland’s Dream tackles this and many other issues that have arisen out of the water shortage in the western United States and ultimately takes the side of those wronged in the process.

    Authored by Julie Fowler

  4. It is a legend, a city in the desert land with droughts and earthquakes. The film shows us the drama behind Los Angeles’s water resources, a dramatic political battle that was also portrayed in the film China Town. Our protagonist Mullholand from Dublin was initially a California lumber with no formal training in engineering. He was ambitious and studied hydrologic system at night. He rose to leadership position and was in charge of LA water system. Originally an efficient conservationist, Mullholand changed into an empire builder when he seized the precious water in Owen’s Valley. Owen’s river appears in the most improbable harsh desert environment. Indian Americans first used the Owen’s river for irrigation then colonialists claimed the water rights and Owen’s valley was prospering. Mullholand and LA government then bought the water right of Owen’s Valley from the farmers.

    What an interviewee repetitively called “grandpa’s aqueduct” became the battlefield of the conflicting interests of LA and Owen’s valley. The aqueduct is the cruelest vampire for the farmers from once prosperous Owen’s valley and the city lifeblood for the city of LA. Should LA ever exist? Is it a evil lucrative plot by greedy real restate speculators who were trying to sell the lands of a city that not really exist at the time? But how about Frank Lloyd Wright, Hollywood and other creative who thrived in the free, new and innovative LA supported by water “robbed” elsewhere in the country? What’s the value of Mono Lake and other tainted natural landscape? What are the short term and long term consequences of destruction of bio-diverse habitats? Is it possible to reconcile nature and cities? What’s the limit of cities like LA?

  5. Los Angeles is a city embedded with a dark history. Mulholland’s Dream sheds light to the fantastically true events that developed the gold rush town into the inherently unsustainable beast it is today. The film’s protagonist, Mulholland, has initially good intentions. With no formal engineering training, he has one task – give the town water. His big dreams become a reality when the city finds a way to seize the river along Owen’s Valley. They are able to successfully irrigate the river towards LA; an engineering marvel of the era. And what was celebrated at the time, soon evolved into the region’s nightmare. The residents of Owen’s Valley lost their orchards and soon their communities. Tensions grew and conflicts heated until full-on gangs developed along the dams.

    To Mulholland’s family, it was “Grandpa’s aqueduct.” To the rest of the region, it was a symbol of changing understandings of our resources, and capitalist dominance. The film offers viewers the opportunity to personally question how they understand water, and how we can better respect and distribute our resources. Most importantly, it demonstrates how diverting nature’s path inevitably leads to unsustainable, or rather, “imaginary” landscapes.

  6. Cadillac Desert is an American documentary series released in 1997, directed by Jon Else and Linda Harrar. It is heavily based on Cadillac Desert, Marc Reisner’s 1986 book which focuses on the same issues as the documentary series – water and its great importance/influence in California during the time period, plus the political and economic environment surrounding the control of it.
    Mulholland’s Dream, the first part of the documentary, looks at the story of William Mulholland, the Water Department chief of Los Angeles who never finished grade school, and yet was able to hold the entirety of the Los Angeles waterway system completely in his head. An Irish immigrant, Mulholland was originally a ditch digger working for the Los Angeles water system. He began self-teaching and putting extra hours in until he eventually became the superintendent. The booming population of the new city quickly drained the Los Angeles river, leading Mulholland to the Owens Valley. By building a gargantuan aqueduct, Mulholland brought water from the Owens Valley across the Mojave Desert all the people of Los Angeles. His ark would become a point of contention, leading to numerous ranchers planting explosives on the aqueduct pipeline, as well as the eventual burst of the San Francisquito dam
    This film contains great historical value, placing a spotlight on an otherwise glanced over part of American history. The interviews in the film were helpful in giving the time period and context that the film looks at relevance. As someone who never knew this part of American history, I am amazed and shocked at the dramatic change in the landscape, and am truly enlightened to the importance and raw power of water.

  7. The filmmakers of Cadillac Desert: Mulholland’s Dream expertly weave together the stories of the City of Los Angeles, the residents of Owens Valley and Mono Lake, and engineer William Mulholland into a narrative that critically looks into the history of water management for Los Angeles. Cadillac Desert, directed by Jon Else and Linda Harrar and released in 1997, follows the spark of the immense growth of megalopolis Los Angeles by paralleling the manipulation of surrounding freshwater sources to support its growth. The film title itself is derived from a novel written by Marc Reisner, which investigates water use and misuse in Western United States. The novel’s focus, which is replicated in the film, is on American development policies and efforts to revitalize the West at the expense of the surrounding environment and water sustainability.

    The film is extremely narrative-driven and draws heavily from the interviews of descendants from stakeholders, protestors, and builders of large water management projects in Southern California. The entire film is commenced by an introduction and background into who William Mulholland was, with an emphasis on his dedication to water infrastructure projects in Southern California that catapulted him from a no-name Irish immigrant with little schooling to a city-employed and beloved civil engineer. However, as the city grew rampantly, so did its demand for water resources. The film explored the various dimensions of how conflict arose from excessive water mining by introducing other stakeholders in the projects via interviews, for instance citizens who lived in Owens Valley and a protest coalition from Mono Lake. The film contrasted the glamour and modernity of lush Los Angeles to the parched, desolate landscapes of Owens Valley and Mono Lake.

    The filmmakers balanced the perspectives of the accounts of individuals, from Mulholland’s granddaughter who defended Mulholland yet sympathized with affected inhabitants, to citizens of whom took the situation into the own hands and protested the encroachment of Los Angeles. A clear theme that arose was a helplessness of citizens in the Mono Lake and Owens Valley communities against the power of the City of Los Angeles, a power of which was clearly documented by the filmmakers via an interdisciplinary depiction of Los Angeles.

    As an aspiring city planner, I could clearly imagine the immense challenge of balancing between the dichotomies of having to support a massive urban population versus taking into account environmental constrains and limited resources. From a geomorphological standpoint, the film skimmed over an in-depth analysis of how Mulholland and the City of Los Angeles’ choices changed the landscape. Most of the understanding regarding the environmental impact of the projects were focused on the biological activist groups’ story. Otherwise, there was a strong emphasis on the sociological implications of permanently altering these landscapes, and using the urban growth and context of Los Angeles to explain for why these poor water management choices were made. I gleaned a strong notion that there was little to no planning efforts made, and that city planning decisions were made with a strong motivation for rapid economic development—a common city planning choice of the era.

    Overall, I was fascinated by this film due to my personal interests in urban planning. I found it fascinating how Cadillac Desert emphasized on the media and public responses to the water decisions made in the history that was depicted, and I certainly gained a much stronger understanding of the story of the growth of Los Angeles, and the struggles outlying rural communities have with powerful metropolises. The film poses more stronger philosophical questions of the morality of urban decisions over a geomorphological analysis or explanation for change.

  8. From Cadillac Desert series, we watched Mulholland’s Dream on Friday. The film was about how Mulholland brought in water to a Los Angeles, which was close to a desert. Mulholland’s Dream touched on many historical background of Mulholland and his contribution and environmental impacts caused by withdrawal of water from rivers and lakes. What was very shocking for me was that Mulholland could secretly buy the Owen’s river. It was hard to imagine how an individual could buy a common resource and have 95% of the water rights. After, he built a 230 miles canal to transport water from Owen to L.A. It was also interesting to hear that this canal still works today. However, after several years, problem came up to surface at Owen’s valley. Large amount of water was quickly withdrawn out from the river which started to damage the environmental habitat. Owen’s village fought against Mulholland, however, this battle was against not only against Mulholland but L.A. as a whole.

    High reputation of Mulholland crumbled after the San Francisquito dam was destroyed during the construction. Burst of the dam killed hundreds of people living near the dam. Mulholland resigned his position with disgrace, however, search for the new water supply route continued. Population in L.A. grew dramatically and water from Owen’s river was not enough. They built a canal reaching to Colorado River and Feather River. Even after building the new canal, water supply was not enough to sustain L.A. water usage, therefore, they started to withdraw water from the Mono Lake. Immense drainage of water have decreased water level to 40ft, showing salt stones which were at bottom of the lake. Biologist and ecologist studied Mono Lake and fought with the L.A. water department to stop the environmental harassment. Government decided to cut down the water drainage, however, scare of the damage dealt still exists in Mono Lake.

    From the film, I have realized the importance of environmental regulation and management policies. It is true that reason why L.A. could grow this much is due to water supplied from various rivers and lakes. However, only recently government have came up with water conservation plans and water and environmental policies. L.A. government and people in L.A. was ignorant of how using excess water could damage environment 300 miles away. Mono Lake, which was called jewel of the California desert, now turned into dry land of high particle pollutants from its base which was once filled with water. Even after the regulations were implemented, Mono Lake is never the same and environmental habitat (once home for wild life animals and migratory birds) has permanently altered.

    I also too, am not considered one of the people who are aware of the water usage. It is easy to think that we have sufficient amount of water because water pours out by just turning on the switch. However, we have to always remember that there is limited amount of water and how we use could impact environment in a negative way.

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