News Feature | May 16, 2014

18th-Century Water Infrastructure Ruin Discovered In Los Angeles

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome


Construction workers in Los Angeles recently discovered a wealth of infrastructural ruins: the remains of the city's first water system. 

"Workers excavating the site of a $100-million Chinatown development [in April, ran into] a 100-foot section of Los Angeles' first municipal water system, an ancient maze of brick and wooden pipes and conduits that once fed the city," the Los Angeles Times reported

The pipe they discovered is part of a 90-mile network that carried water into the city from the Los Angeles River. The system was known as Mother Ditch, or Zanja Madre.

"An archaeologist on the Blossom Plaza development project between North Broadway and North Spring quickly identified the four-foot diameter brick pipe as probably part of the...Zanja Madre," LA Observed reported

The ruin dates back centuries. "It was originally an open ditch fed by a small dam built in the river, but decades later, a water wheel was constructed to increase the ditch's gravitational flow to a brick reservoir near Olvera Street," ABC7 reported.  

It structure was built in 1781, the same year Los Angeles was founded, and closed in 1877, the Sacramento Bee reported. "The water system was mostly used for household and irrigation purposes until 1860. By 1904 the aqueduct was no longer used as a water source, according to Cogstone’s 2004 report, which was prepared for Metro when parts Zanja Madre were discovered along the Gold Line," EGP News reported

The findings will be preserved as relics. "City Councilman Gilbert Cedillo said a 40-foot section of the historic pipe [would] be removed to be preserved for future display," ABC7 said. 

This is not the first infrastructural ruin found in Los Angeles. "Parts of the old water system have surfaced over the years. In 2005, workers constructing the Gold Line light rail extension came across a section of the Zanja Madre. About 75 feet of the uncovered pipe remain visible next to the trolley line and Broadway," ABC7 said. 

Image credit: "DSC_4251," Farther Along © 2011, used under an Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license:

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