Track 11: Thaddeus Taylor, 40 Acres resident

The tiny 40 Acres community is a quiet hamlet of privately owned homes located about twelve miles northwest of Bishop in scenic Round Valley. The land was originally homesteaded by Jack Wright, a Paiute Indian who filed the original claim during the 1890s on eighty acres of land with Pine Creek running near it. He operated a sheep ranching operation and made necessary improvements including the construction of an irrigation ditch off the creek to obtain his homestead patent. Eventually, the title of the property was passed to his brother Jim Wright, also a sheep rancher.

In 1926, LADWP purchased the lower southern forty acre portion with Wright retaining the northern section. This area defines the location of today’s 40 Acres community, now subdivided into forty-nine private properties. The community is bordered by LADWP land on three sides with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on the west side. The original ditch connects to Pine Creek and continues to serve 40 Acres for “domestic supply, agricultural supply, fire protection, ground water re-charge, fresh water replenishment, water recreation, and cold freshwater habitat.”[1] The community has collectively regulated and conducted all necessary maintenance on the ditch since the 1920s.

Up until 2001, LADWP had never interfered with the community’s use of the Pine Creek diversion. An ongoing dispute began when the department destroyed a historic wood control gate replacing it with a steel and concrete gate that directs the majority of the stream flow back into LADWP’s Pine Creek system. The department also secured the gate with a lock to avoid tampering, which up until 2001 had never been required. Immediately, LADWP reduced stream flows to 40 Acres by as much as 50%.[2] When confronted by the community, LADWP stated that 40 Acres was not legally entitled to the water, however, the department could not provide any legal claim to the water either.  After organizing the newly founded 40 Acres Homeowners Water Association, in an effort to combat the incursion, the group found that LADWP had in fact built their new control gate on BLM land that the City of Los Angeles did not actually own.

Because of this 40 Acres residents regularly cut the LADWP’s lock on the new control gate to divert Pine Creek flows back into their community ditch, replacing the lock with one of their own. LADWP responds, by cutting it off and replacing it with a new lock—a cycle of that has been going on for over twenty years now.

The 40 Acres Homeowners Water Association eventually sought legal help in the matter “to recognize our pre-1914 appropriative water right and to restore the historic flows through the community.”[3] Their demands include that LADWP provide them with the historic four cubic per second average daily flow rate recorded by LADWP over a 30-year period.[4] LADWP and the 40 Acres Homeowners Water Association have yet to settle the dispute.

Click here to watch the Cutting the LADWP Chain Cutting Ceremony video.

[1] Source: 40 Acres Homeowners Water Association website. Last accessed 10/8/12.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Flows not used for irrigation and other purposes in 40 Acres eventually return back into LADWP’s Pine Creek ditch system.

Archival soundtrack excerpt from Frontier Horizon (The Three Mesquiteers series, Republic Pictures, 1939) starring John Wayne, Ray Corrrigan, and Raymond Hatton.

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