Los Angeles has always been short of water, and rarely more so than in the 1940s. In that decade, wartime industries boomed and the city’s population grew to nearly 2 million people. Water use shot up 59 percent.
Construction engineer Sidney Cornell had a unique idea to fix the city’s water woes: hydro-cannons. The October 1951 issue of Mechanix Illustrated magazine included a drawing by legendary futurism illustrator Frank Tinsley that showed Cornell’s plan in action. As the magazine described, man-made geysers would shoot water from “the mouth of one into the funnel of the next,” in a streaming 400-mile-per-hour arc. The arc would be 6 to 12 inches wide, its trajectory adjusted to match terrain. The aquatic artillery would be built at 1-mile intervals between Los Angeles and Northern California (where water was, and is, much more plentiful). Cornell figured each of the 400 stations would cost $300,000 — and he only needed $30,000 for a pilot plant to test his theory. As far as we can tell, he never received any funding.
Today, much of Los Angeles’s water still arrives through a 99-year-old, 233-mile aqueduct that originates in the Sierra Nevada. And water officials are still looking for a better idea.
This article appeared in the May-June issue of Pacific Standard under the title “Super Soakers.”