Documentary History of American Water-works

Introduction Historical Background Chronology Geography Biography Technology Ownership and Financing General Bibliography
Pacific States
California San Diego

San Diego, California

The first permanent European residents in San Diego were Spanish missionaries who arrived in the late 1760s. San Diego was incorporated as a city in 1850.

The Mission San Diego de Alcala was founded in 1771, the first of the 21 missions founded in upper California by Franciscan order.  "While all of the California missions had some sort of water delivery system, the dam and flume constructed for the Mission San Diego de Alcala was by far the most ambitious. Built across the head of Mission Gorge, the 244-foot long, 13-foot thick, 13-foot wide dam was constructed of stone and cement on exposed bedrock, creating a permanent reservoir behind it. Water was released through gates and spillways into a 6-mile long gravity fed tile lined flume, down the gorge and into Mission Valley, ending in a settling basin near the Mission. Construction was completed by 1815 and the padres had the water they needed." (Ruth Alter, link below)  This aqueduct fell into disrepair after the 1830s. 

The San Diego and Coronado Water Company was organized in 1873 and built a water system, which was acquired by the  San Diego Water Company in August 1880. 

The Mountain Water Company built a 40-inch, 20 mile long wood-stave pipeline that began delivering water in 1906.

In 1901 the the City of San Diego purchased the holdings of the San Diego Water Company (for $500,000) and the Southern California Mountain Water Company ($100,000) that were within the city limits.

In 1912 the city purchased the Barrett intake, dam and reservoir site, Dulzura Conduit, Otay Lakes, and Chollas Reservoir System for $2.5 million from the Southern California Mountain Water Company.

The city bought the water distribution lines in East San Diego (now City Heights) from Cuyamaca Water Company for $400,000. 

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) was formed in 1928 to import water from the Colorado River, initially, to cities in Los Angeles and Orange counties. As a result, it built and operates the Colorado River Aqueduct. Today, MWD gets its water from both the Colorado River and the State Water Project, and has 26 member agencies serving more than 18 million people.

The San Diego County Water Authority (CWA) was created in 1944 and became a member agency of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD). In 1947, CWA completed a pipeline connecting San Diego County with MWD's water supply. CWA has since completed additional pipelines to better connect the County to its water supplier. CWA now has 24 member agencies in San Diego County, including the City of San Diego.

In 1947, the first MWD water from the Colorado River flows into San Vicente Reservoir via the new San Diego Aqueduct constructed by the U.S. Navy, under a repayment contract with CWA. This project ended San Diego's total dependence on local sources for water.

The Claude "Bud" Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant began commercial operation in 2015 and produces 50 MGD day of potable water.

Water is currently provided by the City of San Diego, which has a history page.  San Diego also supplies treated water to the city of Del Mar and the California American Water Company, which serves the cities of Coronado and Imperial Beach. 

1882 San Diego, Engineering News, 9:208-209  (June 24, 1882)

1882 San Diego from "The Water-Supply of Certain Cities and Towns of the United States," by Walter G. Elliot, C. E., Ph. D.

1888 "San Diego," from Manual of American Water Works, Volume 1.

1890 "San Diego," from Manual of American Water Works, Volume 2.

1891 "San Diego," from Manual of American Water Works, Volume 3.

1897 "San Diego," from Manual of American Water Works, Volume 4.

1916 Oldest Irrigation Conduit and Dam in the United States, Engineering News-Record, 75(7):297-298  (February 17, 1916)

1918 San Diego's Water System: Startling Revelations of the Illegal Methods of the City Attorney, Et Als., on Bonded Indebtedness, by Lucy B Long

1962 "San Diego," from Public Water Supplies of the 100 Largest Cities in the United States, 1962, US Geological Survey Water Supply Paper 1812, by Charles Norman Durfor and Edith Becker

1978 "The Politics of Water in San Diego, 1895-1897," Gregg R. Hennessey, The Journal of San Diego History, 24(3):367-383 (Summer 1978)

2005 To Quench a Thirst: A Brief History of Water in the San Diego Region by San Diego County Water Authority, 2005

2009 "The Wooden Pipeline to San Diego," by Richard Crawford, San Diego Union-Tribune, May 28, 2009, Page CZ.1

2015 Water Companies of the South Bay by Steve Schoenherr for the South Bay Historical Society

Early History of Mission Trails Regional Park, by Ruth Alter, Archaeologist

2015 Morris A. Pierce