Sustainability & The Environment

Los Angeles’ Troubled History With Water

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To become the major metropolis it is today, Los Angeles periodically engaged in less than reputable means to secure the water it desperately needed — particularly for a city built on a semi-arid coastal plain, surrounded by desert on three sides and an ocean on the fourth.

From the freshwater battle to obtain drinking water and irrigation to the saltwater battle regarding the Port of Los Angeles and control over its lucrative trade potential, the city’s history is fraught with “water wars.”

Now with drought and climate change, we are starting to see the consequences of these past choices and the California water wars. What lessons can we learn from a time, more than 100 years ago, when L.A.’s water was an even more hotly contested commodity than it is today and access to it was associated with class and privilege?

Featuring William Deverell, professor at USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, and Geraldine Knatz, professor at USC Price School of Public Policy and USC Viterbi School of Engineering, the panel is moderated by journalist Alex Cohen.

Who Will Benefit

– Those interested in learning about the history of Los Angeles’ relationship with water
– Researchers hoping to explore the development of water-based infrastructures, like ports
– Students looking to understand the effects of climate change on California water sources

About Our Featured Faculty

Geraldine Knatz is professor of the practice of policy and engineering, a joint appointment between the USC Price School of Public Policy and USC Viterbi School of Engineering. Knatz served as the executive director of the Port of Los Angeles from 2006 to 2014. She was the first woman to serve in this role and made a significant impact through the creation and implementation of the San Pedro Bay Ports Clean Air Action Plan. Prior to directing the Port of Los Angeles, Knatz was the managing director of the Port of Long Beach, where she also led a number of environmental initiatives, including the Green Port Policy and Truck Trip Reduction Program.

William Deverell is a professor of history, spatial sciences and environmental studies at USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. He is also a historian of the 19th and 20th century American West and has published numerous books and papers on the history of California and the American West. Recent books include Whitewashed Adobe: The Rise of Los Angeles and the Remaking of its Mexican Past, which examines the historical relationship between the growth of Los Angeles and Southern California’s complex history of racial and ethnic conflict and accommodation.