May 5, 2008
Eagle Mountain Pumping Plant
As I was moving to Coachella Valley I was driving my rented truck on I-10 approaching from the east when I was startled by the sight of what I now know is the Hayfield pumping plant and could only wonder what it was all about - it was my first time on I-10 east of the valley. A few months later when my friend Carlton was visiting we tried to just boldly drive right up to it, only to be thwarted by security. I can recall going on my second 4WD trip with Great Outdoors when Ed and Gardner stopped to show us one of the many syphons of the Colorado River Aqueduct, thus explaining the tailings that one can see in many places along I-10 and other parts of the aqueducts route.
In the few years since then I've had many opportunities to visit parts of the aqueduct, whether the parts within walking distance right behind Desert Hot Springs, or the far flung isolated parts in the desert like Iron Mountain. You can see some of my photos of the aqueduct here on Flickr and here on Iperntiy. When you explore bits of the aqueduct out in the desert, out where they thought no one would ever admire their craftsmanship, even the discarded bits give evidence that the designers, engineers and workers who built the aqueduct considered themselves the spiritual heirs of those who built Rome's aqueducts.
Here is the Wikipedia page on the aqueduct: 242 miles long, 63 miles are canals, 92 miles are tunnels, the remainder is conduits and syphons. There are only five pumping stations to raise the water up and get it across California to Los Angeles.
The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California was created to build the aqueduct. Los Angeles had earlier built the aqueduct from Owens Valley, but that was strictly for the City of Los Angeles. The MWD included surrounding cities. Construction of the aqueduct went on from 1933 to 1941. The presence of the aqueduct was essential in the siting of Pattons' training camps in World War II as he illegally took water from the aqueduct.
Today the aqueduct supplies 1.2 million acre-feet of water to Los Angeles per year. In addition, small amounts are taken in Desert Hot Springs and Whitewater Canyon for aquifer regeneration.
When I got word that a member of Great Outdoors Palm Springs was an employee of the MWD at one of the pumping stations and had offered to lead us on a tour, there was no holding me back. We first went to Eagle Mountain Pumping Plant which you can examine on this Google satellite image. Eagle Mountain is close to Desert Center. You can see Eagle Mountain railroad snaking near it.
Roy, our co-member and leader told us that the MWD is very open to groups that want to come visit a pumping station. I won't address the security systems we went through, but I will say that I was delighted with the freedom we were given once we got inside. We followed along with Roy, but we were free to wander here and there and take photos of EVERYthing. Roy emphasized we could take photos of EVERYthing. The only explicit restriction was not to touch any knobs or levers in the control room.
The basic parts of Eagle Mountain Pumping Plant are these: a residential area for the employees, the aqueduct coming into a reservoir, huge transformers handling the gigantic amounts of electricity coming in from four sources that is used to power the pumps, the pump building itself which has the motors at street level with the actual pumps below, the control center in the pump building, and then the most noticeable part of the whole scene: the pipes rising up more than 400 feet and penetrating the mountainside where the water enters a tunnel to flow eventually to the next pumping plant, Hinds.
After visiting Eagle Mountain we went to Hinds and did it all again. I'll get to those photos later. Now I've got only photos from Eagle Mountain.
My photos can be seen here. These are some samples:
I was born in the late "Great Depression" My father worked at that time for the MWD. My family lived in a home located at Iron Mountain furnished by the MWD. When my Mother was in labor my dad had to drive all the way into Redlands most of the way he was on the running board battling the snow storm of 1937. Needless to state good ole Dad made it but my Mother’s appendix burst directly after my birth. I personally loved the little oasis at Iron Mountain -I still love the smell of the hot asphalt mounds they used to resurface the road to Desert Center. Each home had green lawns, screened in porches, all electric kitchens and was very comfortable. Dad would never take us to the pump station because that was his working environment and he believed in divorcing his work place and private life. We left Iron Mountain late 1940 in order for my father to take a new position as a superintendent in charge of all the giant crains at Cal Ship in Long Beach where he was productive in the WWII war effort. I am now seventy five years old and retain the majesty of the desert arid the innovation of the aquiduct around Iron Mountain and Eagle Mountain.
Posted by: Glenn Seltzer at Jul 24, 2012 1:37:24 PM
Simply outstanding presentation, Ron. I was just out there last weekend - shooting black & white photos of the area and had no idea the size of the project until I came here. The construction of this system is quite a feat and as has been expressed here previously, no way we'd be able to get it done again today.
Posted by: Mike McDuffey at Jul 15, 2010 11:15:02 AM
While I have not toured the Eagle Mountain pumping station, I had the opportunity years ago to tour the LADWP/MWD pumping plant on the Colorado River where the trans southern California aqueduct begins. During the tour the guide placed a nickel on edge at the side of one of the turbines shown in your video. The purpose of placing the nickel there was to show that the precision machining of the turbine mechanism was so perfect that there was no vibration and that the nickel would remain upright while the turbine was operating. It was quite an impressive demonstration.
Posted by: Karl Baker, Jr. at May 11, 2008 4:21:38 PM
Ron, Back in the day the water was not needed as it is today... Just like the power... My main point is what are we NOT doing today (because of the environmental impact) that will have a negative impact the future for humans. Not that I have any big solutions, just that researching the CRA has opened my once shut environmentalist eyes . The critters seem to get along quite well with the CRA and back then the builders could care less about the critters.
Posted by: Jeff at May 6, 2008 2:46:04 PM
Thanks! I don't know how it brings perspective to the Green Path North project, however. If there were two or three aqueducts crossing the desert from Arizona to L.A. and they weren't even working at full capacity and then the LADWP said "Hey, we want to build another aqueduct and run it right through Joshua Tree National Park," then we'd have a situation analogous to Green Path North.
Posted by: Ron's Log at May 6, 2008 8:31:32 AM
Ron, Once again you've done a FANTASTIC job of documenting what is perhaps one of the greatest construction jobs in the past 100 years - the Colorado River Aquaduct (CRA). For me this helps put into perspective the debate on the upcoming "Green Path North" project that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power wants to do. If the CRA had not been built (and I dare say it could not be built today due to its environmental impact) would we (or LA) better or worse off? I personally think that time has proven the CRA is good, even though it was built without regard to the environment. And I think we'd be hard pressed to show any current negatives to the flora and fauna. Just an observation...
Posted by: Jeff at May 6, 2008 6:56:41 AM