LOS ANGELES (AP) — In an ironic twist, a California man who helped blow up an aqueduct that sent water from Owens Valley to Los Angeles nearly 40 years ago now works for the metropolis' water district, ensuring the waterway is safe.
Mark Berry, 54, who works for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, told his story recently to the Los Angeles Times saying he regrets the actions he took as "an impressionable kid at the time, just 17."
Decades ago, the water department was deemed by some Owens Valley residents as the enemy because it siphoned the precious resource 200 miles south to Los Angeles. The aqueduct was seen by some as a symbol of urban poaching.
Berry said in recollections supported by court documents that in September 1976, he and another Owens Valley resident, his 20-year-old friend Robert Howe, stole two cases of dynamite and went to the aqueduct.
After sharing a six-pack of beer, Howe shoved one of the cases of explosives against the middle of five gates, lit the fuse and ran. A few minutes later, a blast ripped open a spill gate that sent about 100 million gallons of water into bone-dry Owens Lake.
They were eventually charged and Berry was sentenced to 30 days in juvenile detention, while Howe received a 90-day sentence.
"That sentence was the best thing that ever happened to me," Berry said. "I went on to work at airfields in states including Montana and Alaska."
Howe left the area in the late 1970s and hasn't returned, according to the paper.
Berry said he regrets his actions and has come to appreciate what his employer has done in the area.
"There was a time when the DWP did whatever it wanted to around here," Berry told the newspaper. "But times have changed, and so have I. The DWP has done heroic work on behalf of the Owens Valley."
DWP officials were unaware that one of their workers had bombed the aqueduct, noting they had no way of knowing because Berry's juvenile record had been expunged.
"It's clear that this was a wrongheaded act of vandalism . by a youth who had been drinking and that he and his accomplice were rightly held accountable by the law," said Jim Yannotta, manager of the aqueduct.
The day after the bombing, someone strapped a stick of dynamite to an arrow and shot it at a memorial fountain for William Mulholland, the aqueduct's chief engineer, in a Los Angeles neighborhood. The device didn't explode.
"I have no idea who fired it," Berry said. "It wasn't me."