Zanja Madre

What you see against the far bank is an exposed segment of the brick-encased Zanja Madre. Literally the “mother ditch,” the zanja madre was the initial earthen-walled ditch that carried water from the Los Angeles River to the plaza of El Pueblo de Los Angeles. The Spanish-Colonial settlers and local Native Americans constructed it beginning in 1791, making it Los Angeles’ first public works project. During the 19th century the system of earthen ditches grew to nearly 50 miles in length, later being enclosed in brick to improve sanitation and reduce evaporation. By the turn of the century, Los Angeles had outgrown its zanjas, installing modern distribution systems and tapping water sources far from the region in the Owens Valley.


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