Environment & Science

Drought forces Mount Wilson Observatory to tap out

Mount Wilson Observatory on Aug. 31, 2009.
Mount Wilson Observatory on Aug. 31, 2009.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

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The Mount Wilson Observatory, where the universe was found to be expanding, is turning off its faucets because, with the Southern California drought, its water supply has been severely contracting.

Officials at the iconic telescope site atop the San Gabriel Mountains have run out of water and shut off its taps. There will no more flush toilets and no more drinking fountains at the observatory as of Saturday.

That means the steady stream of hikers and stargazers who visit the mountaintop will need to tote their own water or be prepared to buy it in bottles.

According to observatory Assistant Superintendent Maggie Moran, no more water can be drawn from the facility's three wells, so water is being trucked in instead.

Not only do those water deliveries cost a lot — roughly 9 cents a gallon — but it’s tough to find a service willing to schlep all the way up there.

So, it’s time for serious conservation measures to be taken. “We’re shutting down the restroom, and the water fill-ups are being shut down as well — the two fountains for hikers and bikers.”

In addition, the popular Cosmic Cafe has closed its kitchen because it can’t maintain proper sanitation levels without more water.

Without working restrooms, Moran said portable chemical toilets will be installed Saturday as well.

There will be bottled water and packaged snacks available at the cafe, and weary hikers without their wallets will still be able to get water.

“We’re going to be getting jugs of water. For those who don’t come up with money and need water, we don’t want to leave them high and dry,” Moran said.

Observatory officials said stargazing gatherings will continue to be held at both of its large telescopes.

The observatory is best known as the spot where Edwin Hubble in 1929 first determined that the universe was expanding and measured the rate of expansion.

Even with light pollution from the Los Angeles region, the telescopes get a clear view of space because the same inversion layer that contributes to the city’s smog problem keeps that haze from mucking up the observatory’s view of the sky.