Controlling Water

Harriet (Russell) Strong was born in Buffalo, NY to a family who could afford to have her taught by private teachers. She married young and had four daughters. She was widowed after 20 years of marriage when her husband committed suicide resulting from business failures.

She was left property upon her husband’s death. The land was dry and not worth much. Harriet decided to study farming and water management to see if the property could be better utilized. The property did have wells on it which Harriet could use. She planted walnut trees, oranges, and pomegranates. Her use of the wells for water and an irrigation system made the output of the trees very profitable.

Harriet became interested in water conservation and proposed a series of dams on major rivers which could control flooding and conserve water. Each dam would control water coming into it and then water could be released in a steady flow. Included in her proposal was the generation of electricity using controlled water flow. For her proposal, she was awarded a patent. Her proposal ultimately led to the development of the Hoover Dam and Southern California becoming a major agricultural region for the rest of the nation.

She was the first woman to join the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. But Harriet’s talent was not limited to commerce. She was a talented composer and was active in the Los Angeles Symphony Association. She was also active in working on behalf of women’s rights. She died at the age of 82 as a result of an automobile accident.

Fate often leads to one’s life achievement in ways that are unexpected. Would Harriet have become an innovator if her husband had not died when she was still young? It’s unlikely. She was left with the need to make a property useful, and that turned her creative mind to the innovation that was needed to sustain her family, but became vital to the country as well.

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“When the well is dry, we’ll know the worth of water.” – Benjamin Franklin

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