Chapter

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

Jared Orsi

in Hazardous Metropolis

Published by University of California Press

Published in print May 2004 | ISBN: 9780520238503
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520930087 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/california/9780520238503.003.0005
A More Effective Scouring Agent: The New Year’s Eve Debris Flood and the Collapse of Local Flood Control, 1930–1934

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The 1914 vision of hydraulic order had mutated into a technocratic nightmare. Over the previous twenty years, southern Californians spent fifty million dollars on a comprehensive plan, a centralized authority, and a giant concrete weir, all in the hopes of reengineering the local hydrology. Despite the expensive and ambitious program, a new type of flood disaster, this time involving mud in the foothills instead of water on the plain, struck on New Year's Eve 1933–1934. The La Cañada disaster was a failure of the entire urban ecosystem, not merely the weather. Even after the New Year's Eve debris flow, the local political and economic conditions of 1934 continued to prevent engineers from redirecting the district's energies and resources to respond to this latest challenge, and the local flood-control regime toppled. Individually, the rain, fire, mud, flood-control plans, suburban development, and political and economic conditions were unremarkable features of the urban landscape of Los Angeles in the 1930s. Together, however, they constituted a system within which something went terribly wrong on New Year's Eve. It was the interaction of the ordinary, not the violence of the extraordinary, that produced the new type of disaster and brought an end to the first phase of flood control in southern California. Technocracy, city growth, and nature joined to make Los Angeles a hazardous metropolis.

Keywords: floods; flooding; flood-control regime; La Cañada; Los Angeles; flood control policy; debris flow

Chapter.  11165 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of the Americas

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