Modern Utilities Tried to Help Ease the Pain of Relocation
Editor's Note: In remembrance of the recent 50th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, this article looks at the state-the-art facilities of the Manzanar War Relocation Center used for the relocation of Japanese American citizens and aliens.
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Two months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941), President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order number 9066, calling for the relocation of Japanese American citizens and aliens. The order authorized the secretary of war to exclude citizens and aliens of Japanese descent from the West Coast as a security measure against sabotage and espionage. This order empowered the round-up of 70,000 U.S. citizens of Japanese descent and 42,000 resident aliens.
The systematic gathering of persons of Japanese ancestry and
forcibly moving these people to relocation facilities (often referred to as
concentration camps) was an enormous task. Japanese-American families were
given little warning about mandatory relocation, forced to take only what they
could carry, padlocked their homes and businesses and transferred hundreds of
miles to often harsh, forbidding and unfamiliar locations, all in the name of
The relocation began with an intensive site selection and
building process. Ten such camps were built in remote areas throughout the far
The Manzanar War Relocation Center located near
Independence, Calif., was considered one of the best. Located in the
picturesque Owens Valley, this area is extremely arid and near desert-like. The
Manzanar area was originally an agricultural village with Native American
heritage and thriving fruit orchards. Completed in 1942, Manzanar had a
population of nearly 10,000 people until its last residents left in late 1945.
The compound was rectangular in shape occupying some 550
acres. The camp boasted some 800 buildings with numerous amenities including, a
“free” newspaper, hospital, cemetery, common agricultural use areas
with ornamental ponds, warehouses, administration buildings, airport,
recreational auditorium, manufacturing facilities, a modern water and
wastewater treatment facility and barracks-style living quarters.
Sadly, the compound was enclosed by barbed wire fencing,
secured by 24-hour manned guard towers and accessed only through a main sentry
The living quarters measured 20¢ ¥ 100¢ with
four separate apartments. Each apartment housed families with up to eight
persons. Separate male and female latrine areas were provided.
Manzanar’s arid location made the task of providing
clear, clean potable water difficult. A reservoir impounding area was built
diverting the majority of the camp’s drinking water from nearby Sheperd
Creek. The system consisted of a concrete dam with a settling basin where water
was collected and carried via an open cement-lined flume to a storage
reservoir. The reservoir had a capacity of 540,000 gallons and was built with
Calico diverter gates connecting to a 14-inch welded steel supply line directed
to a 90,000 gallon steel storage tank. Water was chlorinated with an “HTH
The distribution system consisted of 5,170 feet of 12-inch
main of welded steel pipe, 6,340 feet of 10-inch, 8,822 feet of 8-inch and
29,745 feet of 6-inch cast-iron pipe before entering the service lines. At its
time of completion in July 1942, the water system had a capacity of almost 1.5
Service lines consisted of pipe sizes ranging from
3?4-inch to 21?2-inch galvanized iron pipe delivering drinking
water on either side of the barracks outside the living quarters via above
Fire protection was provided by 84 traditional hydrants. The
barracks were built in clusters with a fire-break between each cluster. The
hospital was afforded additional protection with the installation of 500
sprinkler heads. A volunteer fire department manned by the residents was
provided along with backup from neighboring towns of Independence and Big Pine.
While surface water today faces numerous requirements for
treatment prior to entering the distribution system, Manzanar’s water
treatment consisted merely of sand traps and a settling basin. Potable water
was simply chlorinated before entering the distribution system. Some small
wells were drilled but they were used mainly to sustain the Japanese culture of
ornamental/domestic gardens and fish ponds.
Wastewater was collected within the camp through 2,500 feet
of 18?, 1,100 feet of 15? and 26,502 feet of 8? vitrified
clay pipe using traditional manhole structures. It was gravity fed under
present-day Route 395 to a modern site-built concrete treatment facility.
Design capacity was 1.25 mgd. The plant consisted of a grit chamber, scum and
distribution box, primary clarifer, anerobic digester, chlorine contact chamber
and sludge drying beds. The clarifer unit was constructed in concrete 60 feet
in diameter and 9 feet deep.
The digester was a unique two-stage type, 40 feet in
diameter with about 22 feet overall solids depth. Depth in the upper
compartment was about 12 feet and 10 feet in the lower unit. A horizontal
concrete tray separated the lower and upper compartments that were operated in
series. Intensive mixing was provided in the upper compartment followed by
quiescent settling into the lower compartment.
Disinfection was accomplished through two 200-pound-per-day
chlorine gas feed units having both manual and automatic feed control.
With primary wastewater treatment, along with post
chlorination, the Manzanar treatment works was considered to be the most modern
in the state of California at the time. According to reports, final treated
effluent was near drinking water quality before discharge.
When the camp closed in late 1945, nearly all the buildings
were sold as surplus, but the water/wastewater treatment, distribution and
collection systems were abandoned. For several years after the closing,
municipalities like Big Pine, Independence and Laws used the high quality
cast-iron pipe, valves and fittings to replace and rebuild their existing
Manzanar now is part of the Manzanar National Historic Site,
established to preserve, comprehend, interpret and appreciate the modern human
history of internment on U.S. soil. The site is available for visit. One can
walk the dusty camp streets, locate remnants of the rock gardens, ponds,
building foundations and water distribution and collection systems.
Ultimately, the isolation and hardship of camp life was an
enduring ordeal. Manzanar remains a monument to modern American history. A
commemorative plaque at the entrance to Manzanar reads: “May the
injustices and humiliation suffered here as a result of hysteria, racism and
economic exploitation never emerge again.”
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