Electricity on the Aqueduct

Once the Los Angeles Aqueduct was completed in 1913, it became possible to harness the newly delivered water and use it to generate electricity.

On March 18, 1917 the San Francisquito Power Plant No. 1, Unit 1 was placed in service and energy was delivered to Los Angeles over a newly constructed 115 kV transmission line. The 200 kilowatts generated by Unit 1 were the first commercial kilowatts generated by the Los Angeles Bureau of Power and Light. Subsequently, on April 16 and April 28, 1917, Units 2 and 3 respectively were placed in operation. This was the Los Angeles Bureau of Power and Light's first step in becoming an independent electricity provider.

 

 
(1917)* - Opening of the San Francisquito Power Plant No. 1 on March 18, 1917. Construction of the plant began six years earlier in 1911.  

 

Historical Background

In 1909 the Bureau of Los Angeles Aqueduct Power was created to build hydroelectric power plants along the Los Angeles Aqueduct. When Los Angeles acquired water rights in the Owens Valley section of Inyo County to construct the LA Aqueduct, it also obtained water-power sites along the way.

Ezra F. Scattergood was selected as the Bureau’s first chief electrical engineer. Scattergood led the way in the development of hydroelectric power along the route of the aqueduct and became Mulholland’s counterpart for the Power System.

 

 

 
(1928)* - View of Power Plant No. 1 with its 115 kV Transmission tower standing in the foreground. The penstocks that delivered water from the LA Aqueduct to the plant can be seen at top of photo.  

 

 

Power Plants on the Aqueduct

The aqueduct system was extensively developed to take advantage of the drop in elevation as water descends from the High Sierras to Los Angeles. Up to 14 hydroelectric power plants were built along the Los Angeles Aqueduct. In 1908, the Division Creek Power Plant in Owens Valley became the first hydro-electric power plant to be constructed. It, along with the Cottonwood Power Plant, were built for the purpose of constructing the aqueduct. This was the first time electric energy had been used in such a construction project.

 

 

 

 
Los Angeles Aqueduct Profile Diagram**  

 

Historical Notes

Water flows entirely by gravity from an elevation of 3,760 ft at the Haiwee Reservoir to an elevation of 1,200 ft at the Upper Van Norman Reservoir.

 

 

 

Construction of Power Plant No. 1 (1911 - 1917)

 
(ca. 1915)* - Power Plant No. 1 under construction.  

 

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1916)* - Outlet tunnels to Power Plant No. 1 are lined with cement.  

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1916)* - View of an early model truck hauling a section of penstock for Power Plant No. 1.  

 

 

 

 

(ca. 1916)* - William Mulholland and Commissioner Del Valle in an 80" pipe at Power Plant 1 construction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1916)* - View of Power Plant No. 1 construction site where the penstocks are seen being assembled. A rail-car to the left of the penstocks is full of workers carrying them to the top of the incline.  

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1916)* - View showing construction workers posing in front and on top of the newly assembled penstocks that would deliver water to Power Plant No. 1.  

 

 

 

 

 

(n.d.)** - The Pelton wheel used at Power Plant No. 1 as it appeared on display.

It extracted energy from the impulse of moving water, as opposed to its weight like a traditional overshot water wheel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1916)* - View showing a man standing inside the stator ring that would house one of the generators at Power Plant No. 1.  

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1916)* - Rotor-flywheel being prepared for the generator at Power Plant No. 1.  

 

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1916)* - Power Plant No. 1 during construction and installation of Pelton wheels.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(pre-1924)* - Interior view of Power Plant No. 1 showing the turbine generators.  

 

 

 

 

(ca. 1917)* - Power Plant No. 1 nearing completion.  

 

Historical Notes

On March 18, 1917 the San Francisquito Power Plant No. 1, Unit 1 was placed in service and energy was delivered to Los Angeles over a newly constructed 115 kV transmission line. The 200 kilowatts generated by Unit 1 were the first commercial kilowatts generated by the Los Angeles Bureau of Power and Light (Click HERE to see more in Early Power Transmission).

Subsequently on April 28 and April 16, 1917, Units 2 and 3 respectively were placed in operation.

The LA Bureau of Power and Light now had a source of low cost electricity and more than enough power to meet the City's needs.  It would sell its excess San Francisquito generated power to Pasadena over two newly constructed 34 kV lines between the two cities. By 1917, World War I had forced the price of fuel oil to rise making the new lower cost hydroelectric power extremely desirable.^

 

 

 
(1926)* - The pipe connecting Power Plant No. 1 to Power Plant No. 2. It was 1/4 mile long and 16 ft. in diameter.  

 

 

 

Power Plant No. 2 (1928)

 

(1928)* - Power Plant No. 2 prior to the St. Francis Dam failure on March 12, 1928.

 

 

 

 

Historical Notes

This station is about 1.3 miles downstream from where the St. Francis Dam stood. The building is 60 feet tall, but was destroyed by a wall of water that was 120 feet high. This photo was taken shortly before the St. Francis Dam failed.^

 

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1928)* - New penstock section for Power Plant No. 2  

 

 

 

 
(1928)* - A view of the bottom of the pit which looks like a small city with buildings, cars, trucks, and well as building equipment and supplies are all found here. Beyond those is a small encampment of tents for living and working during the reconstruction of Power Plant No. 2.  

 

Historical Notes

Power Plant No. 2 was completely destroyed by the flood that swept through the canyon after the St. Francis Dam failed on March 12, 1928. You can clearly see how the hillside in the background has been stripped of all vegetation by the water, which came over the top of the hill upstream of the powerhouse.

 

 

 
(1928)^ - View showing the reconstruction of Power Plant No. 2 in San Francisquito Canyon after the St. Francis Dam disaster. The water line of the flood can be seen on the face of the mountains.  

 

 

Click HERE to read see more in the St. Francis Dam Disaster

 

 

 

 

 
(1928)^ – Ground view showing workers positioning the second of two turbine-generators into its final position during the reconstruction of Power Plant No. 2.  

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1929)* - Photograph of the new building of the San Francisquito Canyon Hydro-Power Plant (Power Plant No. 2) after it was reconstructed.  

 

Historical Notes

Power Plant No. 2 was completely restored and back in service by November 1928, just 8 short months after the original plant was destroyed in the St. Francis Dam Disaster.

 

 

 
(1932)* - View of the new rotor being prepared for installation in the 3rd generating unit at Power Plant No. 2.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1930s)^ - This photo shows the rebuilt Power Plant No. 2 after the addition of a 3rd generating unit. Note the additional penstock.  

 

 

 

 
(1931)^ - View showing the three penstocks at the top of the hill as they turn down toward Power Plant No. 2.  

 

 

 

 

San Fernando Power Plant

 
(n.d.)* - Exterior view of the San Fernando Power Plant  

 

 

 

 
(n.d.)* - Inerior view of the San Fernando Power Plant.  

 

 

 

Owens Valley Power Plants

Haiwee Power Plant

 
(n.d.)* - Exterior view of Haiwee Power Plant  

 

 

 

 
(n.d.)* - Haiwee Power Plant interior.  

 

 

 

Cottonwood Power Plant (1908)

 
(ca. 1909)* - View looking at Cottonwood Power Plant which provided power for the construction of the LA Aqueduct. Power lines can be seen winding down toward the Owens Valley floor.  

 

From the LADWP Historic Archive

Although it wasn’t the first City power plant, it’s the oldest in operation and began service even before transmission lines crossed mountains and desert to deliver its power to Los Angeles.

Located south of Olancha and north of Haiwee Reservoir, the power plant was designed by DWP power pioneer Carl A. Heinze to tap the energy of rushing Cottonwood Creek which is diverted to a flume four miles up Cottonwood Canyon in the Sierras. From the flume, water is carried to a forebay behind the plant and then sent through penstocks to the turbines under a 1,200-foot head. Only a few yards form the plant’s tailrace, the water flows directly into the Aqueduct.^

 

 

 
(ca. 1909)* - Cottonwood started generating 900 kilowatts of hydroelectric power along the Los Angeles Aqueduct on November 13, 1908, supplying energy to run equipment during the Aqueduct construction from Owens Valley through the Mojave Desert.  

 

 

 

 

 
(1909)*^ - Interior view of Cottonwood Power Plant showing generator and controls.  

 

From the LADWP Historic Archive

Power from Cottonwood’s first generator and a second 900-kilowatt unit placed into service October 13, 1909, first traveled over temporary transmission lines to power the Aqueduct dredging operations and later to power equipment at the Monolith cement plant near Mojave which produced millions of tons of cement for miles of the Aqueduct’s concrete-lined conduit and canal sections.^

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1910)* - The electric dredge displaced millions of cubic feet of earth in construction of the LA Aqueduct.  

 

 

 

Division Creek Power Plant No. 1 (1908)

 
(Early 1900s)* - Division Creek Power Plant No. 1. A small frame building with a tiny 120-kilowatt generator constituted the first power plant for Los Angeles, Division Creek Power Plant No. 1. Located south of Bishop, California, it began operation in 1909.  

 

From the LADWP Historic Archive

In April 1908, in the shadow of the towering snow-clad High Sierra, the Division Creek Power Plant No. 1, Los Angeles’ first municipal power plant, was placed in operation.

The powerhouse was a small frame building with a tiny 120-kilowatt generator. It harnessed the flow of a small creek tumbling down from the High Sierra, producing hydroelectric power for construction work on the new Los Angeles Owens River Aqueduct which was just getting started at the time. It was the first known use of electricity for a construction project of this kind.^

 

 

Big Pine Power Plant (1925)

 
(1925)* - Big Pine Power Plant No. 3 - It is the largest of six power plants on the 200-mile electric system which the City of Los Angeles owns and operates in Owens Valley. Big Pine No. 3 Power Plant is equipped with a 4,000-horsepower Pelton Water Wheel and a 4,000 K.V.A General Electric Generator which feeds into the 33,000-volt valley electric system of the Water Department through an outdoor step-up transformer station. ^  

 

 

 

Big Pine Power Plant (1928)

 
(1928)* - Big Pine Power Plant is operated by the Municipal Bureau of Power and Light.  

 

 

 

 
(n.d.)* - Big Pine Power Plant Interior  

 

 

 

Upper Gorge Power Plant

 
(n.d.)** - Owens River Gorge looking northeast.  

 

Historical Notes

The Owens River Gorge is a natural canyon carved by the river as it passed through the volcanic tablelands at the northern end of the Owens Valley. This landform, a giant, sloping volcanic scab, was formed on top of the existing valley floor 760,000 years ago by the eruption of the nearby Long Valley Caldera. DWP built three hydropower plants in the gorge, to take advantage of the 2,300 foot drop between Crowley Lake and the Owens River Valley. Between the plants, river water is diverted into pipelines in order to increase the velocity of the water flow, thereby increasing power.^^

 

 

 
(n.d.)** - Upper Gorge Power Plant looking southeast down the gorge.  

 

 

 

 
(n.d.)** - Closer view of the Upper Gorge Power Plant showing penstock on the side of the canyon walls.  

 

 

 

 
(n.d.)* - View of penstock running down to Upper Gorge Power Plant.  

 

 

 

 
(n.d.)* - View of the Upper Gorge Power Plant. It's large penstock can be seen to the left.  

 

 

 

 
(n.d.)* - Close-up view of the Upper Gorge Power Plant.  

 

 

 

Middle Gorge Power Plant

 
(1940s)^ - View of the Middle Gorge Power Plant under construction showing the large penstocks before they are completely buried.  

 

 

 

 
(1940s)^ - View of the nearly completed Middle Gorge Power Plant. The spillway on the right is getting its last finishing touches.  

 

 

 

 
(1940s)^ - View of the completed Middle Gorge Power Plant with water flowing over its spillway.  

 

 

 

 
(n.d.)** - Middle Gorge Power Plant looking northeast from high above.  

 

 

 

 
(n.d.)^ - View of the MIddle Gorge Power Plant the top of the canyon directly above.  

 

 

 

Gorge Power Plant No. 3 (1951)

 
(1950s)^ - View of Power Plant No. 3 (Control Gorge Power Plant).  

 

 

 

 
(1951)* - Looking down along this 95-inch welded steel penstock, the recently completed Owens Gorge Power Plant No. 3 is seen on the bank of the river. The river is diverted through the penstock to turn the rotor of the 37,500-kilowatt generator. The switching rack to the right starts the power on its 258-mile journey over the 230,000-volt transmission line to Los Angeles.*  

 

 

 

 
(n.d.)^ - View of the Control Gorge Power Plant at dusk with access road in the background. The beautiful snow-capped mountains can be seen in the background.  

 

 

Click HERE to see more in Early Power Generation

 

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History of Water and Electricity in Los Angeles

 

 

 

More Historical Early Views

 

 

Newest Additions

 

 

Early LA Buildings and City Views

 

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References and Credits

* DWP - LA Public Library Image Archive

^ LADWP Historic Archive

^^Varnelis.net: Owens Gorge Power Plants

*^Calisphere Digital Archive

**Library of Congress Image Archive; Los Angeles Aqueduct, From Lee Vining Intake (Mammoth Lakes) to Van Norman Reservoir Complex (San Fernando Valley)

 

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