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‘Chinatown’ was inspired by the California water wars, but how much of it is true?




The Los Angeles Aqueduct winds through the Owens Valley in the Eastern Sierras.
The Los Angeles Aqueduct winds through the Owens Valley in the Eastern Sierras.
Mae Ryan/KPCC

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In “Chinatown,” a private investigator is hired to look into an infidelity case, and instead finds himself in the midst of a web of corruption behind the construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct.

Robert Towne’s script was fiction, but it was loosely inspired by the engineering of the aqueduct that delivers waters to Los Angeles from the Owens Valley. So how much of the film is made up, and how much of it truly reflects the California water wars of the early twentieth century?

Larry sits down with unofficial historian and retired municipal water engineer of the LADWP Fred Barker to discuss what “Chinatown” got right and how L.A.’s controversial water system actually developed.

For tickets to the Saturday, August 4 screening of “Chinatown” and post-film discussion with screenwriter Robert Towne at the Ace Hotel, click here.

Guest:

Fred Barker, retired municipal water engineer at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power where he worked for over 30 years; self-identified unofficial historian of the LADWP