We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Hazardous Metropolis

Flooding and Urban Ecology in Los Angeles

Jared Orsi

Publication Year: 2004

Although better known for its sunny skies, Los Angeles suffers devastating flooding. This book explores a fascinating and little-known chapter in the city's history—the spectacular failures to control floods that occurred throughout the twentieth century. Despite the city's 114 debris dams, 5 flood control basins, and nearly 500 miles of paved river channels, Southern Californians have discovered that technologically engineered solutions to flooding are just as disaster-prone as natural waterways. Jared Orsi's lively history unravels the strange and often hazardous ways that engineering, politics, and nature have come together in Los Angeles to determine the flow of water. He advances a new paradigm—the urban ecosystem—for understanding the city's complex and unpredictable waterways and other issues that are sure to play a large role in future planning.

As he traces the flow of water from sky to sea, Orsi brings together many disparate and intriguing pieces of the story, including local and national politics, the little-known San Gabriel Dam fiasco, the phenomenal growth of Los Angeles, and, finally, the influence of environmentalism. Orsi provocatively widens his vision toward other cities for which Los Angeles may offer a lesson—both of things gone wrong and a glimpse of how they might be improved.

Published by: University of California Press


pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. i-vi


pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. ix-x

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. xi-xiv

...In the course of researching and writing this book, I have been blessed with abundant help. Arthur McEvoy has been a personal and scholarly model for more than a decade, and it is to him that I owe the greatest thanks for anything that is creative in this project. Whenever recommending one of his favorite books or his foolproof model for writing, he often promised me, "This will change your...

read more

Prologue. Water in Los Angeles: A Portrait of an Urban Ecosystem

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 1-10

...second storm followed a day later, then a third, and a fourth, and a fifth. A sixth storm brought the heaviest rains yet, swelling the Los Angeles River to its levee tops. Meanwhile, weather forecasters spotted a seventh storm brewing out on the Pacific. As water rose in the dark that night, the swamped electronic stream gauges were malfunctioning, and the technicians at the flood-control...

read more

1. City of a Thousand Rivers: The Emergence of an Urban Ecosystem, 1884–1914

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 11-35

...without pause for another month. Water began to gather, forming ponds and then lakes, and then it spread across the countryside. South of the town of Los Angeles, where the coastal plain stretches twenty miles to the Pacific Ocean, the river ran several miles wide, and people could row their boats seven miles between the communities of Compton and Artesia. After catfish and carp were netted outside...

read more

2. A Centralized Authority and a Comprehensive Plan: Response to the Floods, 1914–1917

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 36-54

...delegate calculated the average interval between floods over the previous century and warned that deluges "will cause greater damage in future years." He concluded that something had to be done: "Supine indifference and lack of energy to meet these flood damages is not in harmony with the successful achievement of this County." To preserve that successful achievement, the delegates resolved that "control...

read more

3. A Weir to Do Man's Bidding: The Great San Gabriel Dam Fiasco, 1917–1929

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 55-74

...In its 1915 majority report, the Board of Engineers estimated that it would take only five years and $16.5 million to construct a network of check dams, diversion channels, and other devices to tame the county's waters. These structures, they predicted, would "permanently relieve the people of Los Angeles county from the menace of future floods." By the end of 1929, however, all the Flood Control...

read more

4. A More Effective Scouring Agent: The New Year's Eve Debris Flood and the Collapse of Local Flood Control, 1930–1934

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 75-101

...In late December 1933, a wet warm front advanced from its tropical origins northeastward to the California coast. Cyclonic weather patterns in December are not uncommon in the area, and at first nothing distinguished this one as it showered coastal southern California with moderate rains beginning on the afternoon of the thirtieth. But cold winds blew from the east, undercutting the tropical...

read more

5. The Sun is Shining over Southern California: The Politics of Federal Flood Control in Los Angeles, 1935–1969

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 102-128

...narrow and shallow lowflow channel, as it was called, kept water moving year round at a velocity fast enough to prevent the current from spreading out, slowing down, and depositing silt in channels. There were no plants, no rocks, no mud, no dust, no curves, just sun glinting off white pavement as far as the eye could see, a scene broken only by the blue ribbon...

read more

6. Necessary but Not Sufficient: Storms, Environmentalism, and New Visions for Flood Control, 1969–2001

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 129-164

...In 1969, LACDA lived up to John Dillard's promise. Between 18 and 26 January, rain fell almost continuously. The dams overflowed; streets and buildings flooded; debris rumbled out of the mountains and buried seven people alive in their beds. Damages totaled thirty million dollars; the death toll, seventy-three. When it was all over, nearly thirteen and a half inches of rain had fallen on downtown Los...

read more

Epilogue. The Historical Structure of Disorder: Urban Ecology in Los Angeles and Beyond

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 165-184

...Strange things have been happening in cities lately. In 1996, power lines sagging against tree branches outside Portland, Oregon, combined with other small power failures to trigger a cascade of blackouts that shut down law firms in Los Angeles, the airport in San Francisco, and casinos in Las Vegas. Before the lights went on again, four million people from Calgary to El Paso had lost power, some...


pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 185-208


pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 209-260


pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 261-290


pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 291-301

Back Cover

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 317-317

E-ISBN-13: 9780520930087
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520238503

Page Count: 289
Publication Year: 2004

OCLC Number: 57436708
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Hazardous Metropolis

Research Areas


UPCC logo

Subject Headings

  • Flood control -- California -- Los Angeles.
  • Flood control -- Government policy -- California -- Los Angeles.
  • Urban ecology (Sociology) -- California -- Los Angeles.
  • You have access to this content
  • Free sample
  • Open Access
  • Restricted Access