FLOODPATH : The Deadliest Man-Made Disaster of 20th-Century America and the Making of Modern Los Angeles

FLOODPATH                                        JON WILKMAN

Just before midnight on March 12, 1928, the St. Francis Dam, a twenty-story-high concrete structure just fifty miles north of Los Angeles, suddenly collapsed, releasing a devastating flood that roared fifty-four miles to the Pacific Ocean, destroying everything in its path. It was a horrific catastrophe, yet one which today is virtually forgotten.

With research gathered over more than two decades, award-winning writer and filmmaker Jon Wilkman revisits the deluge that claimed nearly five hundred lives. A key figure is William Mulholland, the self-taught engineer who created an unprecedented water system, allowing Los Angeles to become America's second-largest city, and who was also responsible for the design and construction of the St. Francis Dam.

Driven by eyewitness accounts and combining urban history with a life-and-death drama and a technological detective story,FloodPath grippingly reanimates the reality behind L.A. noir fictions such as the classic film Chinatown. In an era of climate change, increasing demand on water resources, and a neglected American infrastructure, the tragedy of the St. Francis Dam has never been more relevant.


Growing up in Southern California we have always heard about Los Angeles grab of water from many different sources. This book goes into that in the first part with the building of the aqueduct, to the taking of water from the Owens Valley. The author gives you plenty of backstory from the 1800’s to the 1900’s of L.A grab of water and how they incorporated more cities around to increase their land and population. He also shows you the rise of William Mullholland who becomes the head of the water department and for the most part uses any means to either secure water, or to find an area to store water. Now you come to the story of the St. Francis Dam and its failure on the night of March 28, 1928. This one story growing up here that I never heard about when we are taught about California history in school. As someone who drives that area for many, many years I have always wondered about the sacred earth when I travel along Hwy 126 through Santa Paula, on my way to Ventura. With the scars still in place from the drive I can get a sense when the author describes the amount of water and debris that is picked up along the way as it goes 54 miles to the Pacific Ocean. Lives would be lost, and changed forever. He takes you back in time when the investigation was done and presented to a court in a week's’ time, many theories are presented but the main one of course is that Los Angeles is not criminally responsible of these deaths. Money is paid out which is really not much. More for Anglo than Hispanic farm workers and for one man who lost his wife and eight children. It should be noted that more Hispanics died than Angelo's that night. The real injustice is how this event has been wiped away from the history of California. How still to this day Los Angeles votes for example to dump waste in Kern County and this is okay. That this has been going on from Los Angeles for over 100 years is still amazing to me. Sorry I got side track. This is a wonderful book full of information regarding the water shortage in L.A. since the city was incorporated up to today. A wonderfully history of California that I have now been exposed to and I thank the author. I got this book from netgalley. I gave it 5 stars. Follow us at 

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