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Los Angeles Department of Water and Power

Los Angeles Department of Water and Power
Agency overview
Formed Water: 1902
Electric: 1916
Preceding agency
  • Los Angeles City Water Company
Type Water Infrastructure
Headquarters John Ferraro Building
111 North Hope Street
Los Angeles, California
Employees 8,611 employees
Annual budget US828 million (fy2010)
Agency executive
  • Marcie Edwards, General Manager

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) is the largest municipal utility in the United States, serving over four million residents. It was founded in 1902 to supply water to residents and businesses in Los Angeles and surrounding communities. In 1917, it started to deliver electricity. It has been involved in a number of controversies and media portrayals over the years, including the 1928 St. Francis Dam failure and the books Water and Power and Cadillac Desert.

LADWP can currently deliver a maximum of 7,200 megawatts of power and, in each year, 200 billion US gallons (760 million cubic meters) of water.


  • History 1
    • Private operators 1.1
    • Public control 1.2
    • Power delivery 1.3
    • Notable events and controversies 1.4
  • Governance 2
    • Board of Water and Power Commissioners 2.1
      • Current Board of Water and Power Commissioners 2.1.1
    • Executive Management 2.2
  • Headquarters 3
  • Service territory 4
  • Operational systems 5
    • Power system 5.1
    • Electricity mix 5.2
    • Water system 5.3
  • Media portrayals 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


Private operators

By the middle of the 19th century, Los Angeles's rapid population growth magnified problems with the city’s water distribution system. At that time a system of open ditches, often polluted, was reasonably effective at supplying water to agriculture but was not suited to providing water to homes. In 1853, the city council rejected as "excessive" a closed-pipe system that would serve homes directly.[2] As a solution, the city allowed "water carriers with jugs and horse-drawn wagons…to serve the city’s domestic [water] needs."[2] It took until 1857 for the council to realize that the system needed to be updated, which led them to grant William G. Dryden franchise rights to provide homes with water through a system of underground water mains. The initial system served only a few homes using an unreliable network of wooden pipes. In December 1861, heavy rains destroyed the system and Dryden gave up his franchise. The city attempted contracting out water distribution rights to others, but none of the systems that resulted from these contracts was successful.

The city’s previous unsuccessful attempts to allow others to develop a water system on its behalf prompted the city council to relinquish its rights to the water in the Los Angeles River in 1868, which benefited John S. Griffen, Solomon Lazard, and Prudent Beaudry, three already successful businessmen. This change was at the expense of the city of Los Angeles, which could no longer benefit from their municipal water distribution business. The three men created the Los Angeles City Water Company, which violated many of the provisions of its lease on the Los Angeles River, including secretly tunneling under the river to extract 150 times as much water as the lease allowed. As a result, as the end of the lease drew near in the mid-1890s, popular support began to build for a return to complete municipal control of the local water supply.[2]

Public control

The John Ferraro Building, LADWP Headquarters in Downtown Los Angeles

The leader in the fight to end private control of the water supply was Fred Eaton. Eaton proposed that tax revenues would enable the city of Los Angeles to provide water to its residents without charging them for the use of water directly. Eaton’s views were especially powerful because of his distinguished record of achievement in both the private and public sector.[2] During Eaton’s nine-year term as the superintending engineer of the Los Angeles City Water Company, he headed a large expansion of the company’s water system. Eaton left his position in 1886 when he was elected City Engineer. In his new public position, Eaton devoted his time to updating and expanding the sewer system. Eaton felt that the Los Angeles City Water Company was not serving the citizens of Los Angeles well because of high rates, and because the company frequently paid dividends to its stockholders instead of improving the water system. In early 1897, city engineers began creating plans for an updated water system while the city council informed the Los Angeles City Water Company that its lease would not be renewed beyond its expiration date, July 21, 1898. In early 1898, the city began talks with the Los Angeles City Water Company about taking over the company’s current water system.

Throughout the negotiations, it became clear that it was necessary for the current senior employees of the Los Angeles City Water Company to keep their jobs in order to ensure that the water system could continue to operate. It was not guaranteed, however, that William Mulholland, Eaton’s protégé and the man who took over the job of superintending engineer when Eaton was elected city engineer, would have a position working with the city-owned water system. Mulholland was not popular with city officials because he did not produce records that the city requested during negotiations. Near the end of the talks between the city and the water company, it was discovered that neither the requested records nor a map of the water system existed. Mulholland, who was supposed to be in charge of the non-existent records, was never a fan of paperwork and claimed that he had memorized all of the necessary information, including the size of every inch of pipe and the age and location of every valve.[2] Mulholland secured a job with the city when he successfully demonstrated his ability to recall the information. Once Mulholland was assured a job with the city, he intervened with the company’s principal stockholder, advising him to accept the city’s offer of two million dollars for the system.[2]

Power delivery

The LADWP first offered municipal electricity in 1917 when Powerhouse No. 1, a hydroelectric power plant located in San Francisquito Canyon and which is powered by the Los Angeles Aqueduct, began generating electricity. It ultimately produced 70.5 megawatts and is still in operation, producing 44.5 megawatts. Three years later, in 1920, Powerhouse No. 2 was added. The powerhouse was destroyed when the St. Francis Dam failed, but the plant was completely rebuilt and back in service by November 1928. It remains in operation today, having the capacity to generate 18 megawatts.

On January 17, 1994, the city of Los Angeles experienced its one and only total system black-out as a result of the Northridge earthquake. Much of the power was restored within a few hours.

In September 2005, a DWP worker accidentally cut power lines that caused over half of Los Angeles to be without power for one and one-half hours.[3]

Notable events and controversies

In 1928 the St. Francis Dam, built and operated by the LADWP, which at the time the water department division was named the Bureau of Water Works and Supply, collapsed catastrophically with its reservoir filled. The disaster, considered to be one of the worst American civil engineering disasters of the 20th century, remains the second-greatest loss of life in California's history after only the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and fire. The ensuing flood caused devastation to present-day Valencia, Newhall and the cities in the Santa Clara River Valley, taking the lives of up to 600 people.[4] The high death toll was due, in part, to confusion and mis-communication by and between employees of both the LADWP and Southern California Edison, who also had facilities and operations in the area, which led to the lack of prompt warnings being sent to the downriver communities.[5] Those cities included Piru, Fillmore, Santa Paula, and San Buenaventura. Mulholland assumed full responsibility for the disaster and retired the next year. The pall of the disaster hung over him until his death in 1935.

The LADWP has been a leading actor in the struggle over access to water from the Owens Valley, starting with its initial acquisition of water rights, as well as buying out farms and asserting control over Mono Lake and Owens Lake.

The LADWP and William Mulholland played a key role in the development of Hoover Dam and bringing its energy to Los Angeles. The LADWP continued to operate the Hoover Dam electrical facility until 1987.

On October 10, 2011, the LADWP, along with the Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Cleantech Alliance, founded the LA Cleantech Incubator.[6]


Board of Water and Power Commissioners

The LADWP is governed by the five-member Los Angeles Board of Water and Power Commissioners, who are appointed by the Mayor of Los Angeles and confirmed by the Los Angeles City Council for staggered, five-year terms.[7] The board sets policy for the Department of Water and Power, the city-owned electricity and water company, and votes on utility rates, renewable energy projects, and pension tiers for LADWP employees.[8]

The Board of Water and Power Commissioners meets regularly on the first and third Tuesdays of each month at 11:00 a.m. Regular meeting agendas are available to the public at least 72 hours before the Board meets.[9]

On August 16, 2013, Mayor Eric Garcetti nominated four new appointees to the Board of Water and Power Commissioners: Mel Levine, William W. Funderburk, Jr., Michael F. Fleming, and Jill Banks Barad. The four commissioners were confirmed by the Los Angeles City Council on September 11, 2013,[10] joining Christina E. Noonan on the panel. Noonan was previously appointed by former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.[11]

Current Board of Water and Power Commissioners

Term: until June 30, 2014.

Mel Levine was a partner at the international law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher from 1993 until 2012. He continues to be of counsel to the firm.[12] He served as a member of the United States Congress from 1983 until 1993 and as a member of the California State Assembly from 1977 to 1982.[13]

  • William W. Funderburk, Jr., Vice President:

Term: until June 30, 2017.

William W. Funderburk is a founding partner of Castellόn & Funderburk LLP, a business litigation boutique law firm in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. He has practiced at the firm since 1999.[14]

  • Michael F. Fleming, Commissioner:

Term: until June 30, 2015.

Michael Fleming has been the Executive Director of the David Bohnett Foundation since 2000.[15] In 2010, he was appointed by U.S. President Barack Obama to the White House Council for Community Solutions.

  • Jill Banks Barad, Commissioner:

Term: until June 30, 2016.

Jill Banks Barad is a civic leader and operates her political consulting, public relations, and government affairs firm, Jill Barad & Associates.[16]

  • Christina E. Noonan, Commissioner

Term: until June 30, 2016.

Christina E. Noonan is a Senior Vice President of commercial real estate services and investment management company Jones Lang LaSalle.[17]

Executive Management

The General Manager, Senior Assistant General Managers, Chief Financial Officer, and Managing Senior Assistant City Attorney (under the Los Angeles City Attorney) manage operations.

On January 31, 2014, Ron Nichols resigned as chief of the LADWP amid ongoing controversies regarding the LADWP.[18][19]

On February 21, 2014, Marcie L. Edwards, was unanimously confirmed by the Los Angeles City Council on February 21, 2014. She is the first woman to lead the LADWP. At the time of her nomination, Edwards was Anaheim's City Manager. Prior to her appointment as Anaheim's City Manager, Edwards served as chief of Anaheim Public Utilities for 13 years. Edwards previously worked at the LADWP for 24 years, starting at the age of 19 as a clerk typist.[20][21]


LADWP is headquartered at 111 North Hope Street, Los Angeles in the John Ferraro Building.

The John Ferraro Building was formerly known as the General Office Building of the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power.[22] It was renamed the John Ferraro Building in November 16, 2000,[23] after the late Los Angeles City Councilman John Ferraro.[24]

Designed by [22]

On September 21, 2012, it was designated as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument.[26]

The building was featured extensively in the science fiction thriller film, Inception (2010).

Service territory

In addition to the city of Los Angeles, LADWP also provides services to these communities:[27]

  • Bishop (parts of)
  • Culver City (parts of)
  • South Pasadena (parts of)
  • West Hollywood (parts of)

Operational systems

Power system

The LADWP currently maintains a generating capacity of 7,200 megawatts, in excess of the peak demand of 6,165 megawatts by the city of Los Angeles.[28] It provides this surplus electricity to other utilities, selling 23 million megawatt-hours in 2003. As of 2005, the LADWP operates four natural gas-fired generating stations within city boundaries, which account for 26% of capacity.[28] It receives 52% of its electricity from coal-fired plants in Utah, Arizona, and Nevada. A further 11% is generated using nuclear power. It receives about 6% of its electricity from hydropower, most coming from Hoover Dam and the rest coming from the aqueduct system itself as the water descends from its mountain sources.[28]

The LADWP, along with raw water deliveries and lake level management from the California Department of Water Resources, also operates the Castaic Power Plant as a pumped storage facility. Water flows from the upper reservoir to the lower during the day, generating power when demand is highest, and is pumped back up at night when excess capacity is available.[29] About 1,600 megawatts, or 22% of the total capacity, is generated at this facility alone .[30] The Los Angeles City Council voted in 2004 to direct the LADWP to generate 20% of its energy (excluding Hoover Dam) from clean sources by 2010.[28] Current "green power" sources account for 5% of the LADWP's capacity, but there are plans to add a 120 megawatt wind farm in Tehachapi, California, and produce electricity from geothermal sources in the Salton Sea area and photovoltaic sources.[28]

Because Los Angeles is older than most other cities in California, the LADWP is currently faced with several unique issues. Most of the power lines in Los Angeles were built above-ground before it became customary to run power lines below-ground; as a result, the horizon line of the typical Los Angeles boulevard looks much more cluttered than boulevards in most Southern California cities. Starting in 2007, LADWP has a long-term project to upgrade the overhead power lines and convert them to underground. This difficult conversion has been slowed by budget constraints, the impact on traffic, the pursuit of other modernization projects, and the lingering effects of a workforce reduction over the last decade. Budget issues are particularly acute in the department's transmission system, where underground transmission costs about 10 to 14 times the cost of overhead transmission, per unit length, and the technical and environmental challenges which confront such installations.[31] Additionally, undergrounding of the three 500 kV transmission lines (five lines, if the Pacific AC Intertie's two 500 kV lines terminating in Los Angeles are included) is presently technically infeasible. Upgrading the overhead lines is expected to take 10 to 15 years. The upgrading of LADWP's overhead power lines consists of eliminating the V-shape brackets on the power poles that are holding up the crossarm and replacing them with cross-brackets that are put on the crossarm. Some of the wooden power poles are being replaced with metal poles.

The department recently completed two 230 kV underground projects using an innovative cable technology which does not utilize oil as an insulator. The oilless cable mitigates the environmental issues associated with oil-type cable.

Indeed, the 315 megawatt capacity Scattergood Steam Plant (Unit 3) to West Los Angeles (Receiving Station K, "Olympic") 230 kV line is having to be replaced after only 45 years of operations, due to multiple failures within this rather long single-circuit, oil-filled, "pipe type" cable.

Electricity mix

As of 2013, the largest component of the power supply is coal at about 42%.[32] This is significantly larger than the California investor-owned utilities SCE (7%), PG&E (0%), and SDG&E (2%), who have made significant efforts to reduce their use of coal. The second-largest component for the LADWP is natural gas at about 17%.

Water system

The LADWP provided more than 200 billion US gallons (760 million cubic meters) of water in 2003, pumping it through 7,226 miles (11,629 km) of pipe. In fiscal year 2004–2005:

The use of water from specific sources can vary greatly from year to year.

The prospect of increased demand coupled with reduced supply from the Mono and Owens basins is causing the LADWP look into a number of new water sources, including a new direct connection to the California Aqueduct, increased use of recycled water, use of stormwater capture and reuse, and increased conservation. Many of the old pipelines are beginning to wear out, or are at capacity and insufficient to handle future demand. LADWP has undertaken pipeline replacement projects on many L.A. boulevards like Exposition and Olympic.

Media portrayals

Unusual for a municipal public utility, LADWP has been mentioned several times in popular culture, both fiction and nonfiction:

  • The 1974 Roman Polanski film Chinatown, a fictionalized story based on the California Water Wars, was inspired by LADWP's efforts to acquire land and water rights.
  • In 1982 the University of California Press published William L. Kahrl's book Water and Power: The Conflict over Los Angeles’ Water Supply in the Owens Valley (ISBN 0-520-04431-2). The book examined the development of water policy in the American West, particularly concentrating on the role of William Mulholland and the LADWP.
  • The 1986 book Cadillac Desert: The American West and its Disappearing Water by Marc Reisner (ISBN 0-14-017824-4) is about land development and water policy in the western United States. The subsequent television documentary of the same name devotes an entire episode to Mulholland's Dream to provide plentiful water for Los Angeles.

See also



  1. ^ "Facts and Figures". Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. July 22, 2009. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Kahrl, William L. (1982). Water and Power: The Conflict over Los Angeles’ Water Supply in the Owens Valley. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 8, 12, 23.  
  3. ^ McGreevy, Patrick; Becerra, Hector (September 14, 2005). "Extent of L.A. Blackout Gave DWP Chief a Jolt". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 30, 2011. 
  4. ^ Pollack, Alan (March–April 2010). "President's Message" (PDF). The Heritage Junction Dispatch (Santa Clara Valley Historical Society). 
  5. ^ Outland, Charles F. Man-Made Disaster: The Story of St Francis Dam. A.H. Clark Co. 1977 ISBN 0-87062-322-2
  6. ^ "LA to Launch Cleantech Incubator". 10 October 2011. Retrieved 5 March 2012. 
  7. ^ Browder, Greg J. (2007). Stepping Up: Improving the Performance of China's Urban Water Utilities.  
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ Zahniser, David (September 11, 2013). "L.A. City Council confirms Mayor Eric Garcetti's DWP commissioners". Los Angeles Times. 
  11. ^ Zahniser, David (August 16, 2013). "Mayor Garcetti moves to 'shake up' DWP with four new board members". Los Angeles Times. 
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^ Dolan, Jack (January 9, 2014). "DWP chief Ron Nichols resigns amid controversies". Los Angeles Times. 
  19. ^
  20. ^ "Marcie L. Edwards, General Manager". Retrieved April 4, 2014. 
  21. ^
  22. ^ a b
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^ "LADWP Service Territories". 
  28. ^ a b c d e Hawkins, J. (November 2007). Power to the People. Alive!. pp. 10–14. 
  29. ^ California Department of Water Resources (2007). "State Water Project – Today". California Department of Water Resources. Retrieved November 19, 2007. 
  30. ^ Hawkins 2007, p. 14.
  31. ^ Internal "rule of thumb" employed by LADWP System Development Division planners
  32. ^ "Power Content Label". LADWP. 
  33. ^ Department of Water and Power (May 2008). "Securing LA's water supply publisher=City of Los Angeles" (PDF). p. 29. 

External links

  • —Los Angeles Department of Water and Power websiteLADWP
  • Mono Lake Committee (won Mono Lake protection from excessive LADWP water diversions)
  • Owens Valley Committee (sued LADWP over water)
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