Documentary History of American Water-works

Introduction Historical Background Chronology Geography Biography Technology Ownership and Financing General Bibliography
Pacific States
California Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara, California

The first permanent European residents were Spanish missionaries who arrived in Santa Barbara in 1782. 

The Presidio of Santa Barbara was founded on April 17, 1782 near the corner of the current [1920] Canon Perdido and Santa Barbara Streets.  Comandante Jose Francisco Ortega built an aqueduct in 1790 to bring water from Mission Creek to the Presidio. 

The Mission Santa Barbara was founded in 1786, the tenth of the 21 missions founded in upper California by the Franciscan Fathers. An aqueduct was built by 1807 that brought water six miles from Mission Creek.  This system was bought by the Mission Water Company in 1872 for $20,000. 

The De La Guerra Garden Springs Company was incorporated in 1888 and built a second water system.  These two companies were merged in 1891 into the Santa Barbara Water Company.

The City built its own water works in 1897 and purchased the Santa Barbara Water Company in 1911 for $150,000.

In 1969, alone in California, Santa Barbara County voters rejected the State Water Project pipeline that would connect them with the California Aqueduct. (SB News Press 1999).

 At the end of a six year drought, county voters in 1991 approved the State Water Project pipeline from the California Aqueduct to Lake Cachuma . The cost will be more than $600 million. (SB News Press 1999).

Santa Barbara inaugurated the first desalination plant in the county in 1991, but it quickly shut down because the water is not needed. (SB News Press 1999).  On July 21, 2015 the Santa Barbara City Council issued a contract to reactivate and operate the Charles E. Meyer Desalination Plant.

The waterworks are currently owned by the City of Santa Barbara

1872 "Tropical California. No II.- The Coming of the Day," by Josephine Clifford, from The Overland Monthly 8(1):9-15 (January, 1872)
Page 14:  I can not sufficiently express my wonder at these constructions. First and foremost, there is an aqueduct, which brought the water from the mountains to the reservoir — a distance of two miles. A wall, from eight to fourteen feet high, was built of rock and cement, and on the wall, encased in hard cement, lay pipes, burnt of clay, after the manner of tiles — each pipe about ten inches long, narrow at one end and wide at the other, to insert the next piece. Where this aqueduct crosses old roads, the arches are perfect, and aid much in giving a classic-romantic look to the whole. The reservoir itself, on high ground, is of considerable depth, cemented throughout, and so well and solidly built that the people of Santa Barbara, at the present day, speak of repairing it for their own use. A hundred years ago!

1882 Santa Barbara from Engineering News, 9:209 (June 24, 1882)

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

1888 "Santa Barbara," from Manual of American Water Works, Volume 1.

1890 "Santa Barbara," from Manual of American Water Works, Volume 2.

1891 "Santa Barbara," from Manual of American Water Works, Volume 3.

1891  A Memorial And Biographical History Of The Counties Of Santa Barbara, Ventura, And San Luis Obispo, by Yda Addis Storke
Page 74: The Water Supply of Santa Barbara is purveyed by the Mission Water Company, incorporated in 1872, which in the following year made through its pipes and mains a regular service. For this purpose the living springs of Mission Canon have been tapped, and the waters of Mission Creek utilized. There are two reservoirs, whose total capacity is some 4,000,000, that of the storage reservoir being 3,000,000 and of the distributing reservoir 750,000 gallons. The distributing reservoir is about 200 feet above the highest, and 325 feet above the lowest, portion of the city, thus giving sufficient pressure to throw a stream over the highest building in the city. There are in use several miles of distributing pipes, four to six inches in diameter.

1897 "Santa Barbara," from Manual of American Water Works, Volume 4.

1905 Water Problems of Santa Barbara, California, Joseph Barlow Lippincott
Page 23:  At present (1903) the municipal waterworks has some 709 taps through which water in served, and the Santa Barbara Water company has about 900, making a total of 1,609 taps, serving a population of 8,045 persons.  The Gates system supplies 50 taps more.

1920 Santa Barbara and Montecito: Past and Present, by John Reginald Southworth 
Page 42-43:  In 1806, the reservoir northeast of the Mission was constructed, and the following year a dam was built across Mission Creek, about a mile and a half above the Mission. The aqueduct was constructed of stone and mortar, following the contour of the canyon walls, and was a most admirable piece of work; it delivered the water to the mill reservoir, and from there it passed into the mill by a gate, from whence, after performing its work of grinding the grain, it passed into the large reservoir. Consequently, no water was wasted in the development of the power necessary to grind the wheat and the corn.
Page 167-173:  A Perfect Water System  To Comandante Jose Francisco Ortega is due the credit of having established the first water supply to Santa Barbara; early in 1790, he built an aqueduct to convey water from Mission Creek to the Presidio, their former supply having been brought from the de la Guerra Springs.
After the establishment of the Mission, a portion of the water was required there, and the remainder was conducted in a ditch to the Presidio, continuing to flow there long after the Presidio was in ruins.
The Mission authorities, in 1872, conveyed to the Mission Water Company all their rights to the waters of Mission Creek, reserving sufficient for their own use, and the new Company laid a system of pipes into the town, which had previously been dependent upon wells for its domestic supply.
In time, owing to the growth of the town, new arrangements had to be made, and artesian wells were sunk adjacent to the de la Guerra Springs, near Ortega and Garden Streets. As these wells were developed, they soon supplied more water in summer than the Mission Creek, so an amalgamation of the water interests was formed under the name of the Santa Barbara Water Company.
In 1896, the question of an ample municipal water supply became urgent, and Mr. E. S. Sheffield brought before the City Council a project for boring a tunnel into the Santa Ynez mountains. An appropriation of $10,000 was made, and the result of this, and further appropriations, was a tunnel 5,000 feet into the mountains, which developed a daily supply of 300,000 gallons.
Daring minds, looking into the future, then suggested bringing the Santa Ynez River to Santa Barbara; despite opposition, work was commenced on a tunnel through the Santa Ynez Mountains, which when completed in 1912 after nine years work, had a bore 19,560 feet long, concrete lined where not driven through solid rock. The mouth of the tunnel is 1,185 feet above sea level, and half that altitude above the highest point within the city limits. This means development of the higher levels within the city, and eventually its suburbs; it also means the development of enormous electrical energy, there being at least five power sites within the territory embraced by city holdings.
The first days of October, 1919, saw the completion of the Gibraltar Dam undertaking, which is the key to the city's unlimited water supply. It is a concrete structure, rising to a height of 150 feet above the bed of the Santa Ynez River, and its foundation is in solid rock for 25 feet below. The core wall is 75 feet thick at its base, and contains 53,000 cubic yards of concrete. The dam is provided with a spillway 280 feet in length, 10 feet deep, and the flood water that can pass over this before even the crest of the dam is reached far exceeds the measurements of the great freshet of 1914, which showed a maximum flow of 20,000 cubic feet per second, but even should the spillway fail to pass the water, the flood could sweep over the Dam's crest without damage. The capacity of the pipe line to the south portal is 26,000,000 gallons per
day, that of the pipe line south portal to surge chamber 16,000,000 gallons per day, that of power house to Sheffield Reservoir 9,000,000 gallons per day. The present domestic consumption of 3,000,000 gallons per day flowing from the surge chamber to the Sheffield reservoir, will develop 1,125,000 kilo-watt-hours per annum, which is about three times the amount now used by the city for street lighting and sewage pumping. A constant flow of 6,000,000 gallons per day, which is a safe output for the present reservoir, will develop 2,500,000 kilo-watthours per annum, which if sold at 3-4 of a cent per kilo-watt-hour at the switch board, will bring $18,750 per annum. Additional power can be developed from this flow by carrying the surplus tail water from the power house one and one half miles down Mission Creek and using it
a second time under a head of 350 feet.
At the back of the reservoir is a catchment area of more than 200 square miles, lying wholly within the boundaries of the National Forest, and protected from pollution by the Forest Rangers.
Gibraltar Lake, covering an area of 380 acres has an average depth of 42 feet, and a capacity of five billion gallons. This beautiful sheet of water has come into existence by empounding the waters of the Santa Ynez River, until they reach the top of the spillway of the great concrete construction which the Water Department of the city has thrown across the river, at a point where nature had left rocky precipices, as though to aid the engineer in his task. Close to the shore Federal Building and Post Office, Santa Barbara. of the lake is one of the most beautiful trails in the Santa Barbara National Forest, and well worth the hike over the mountains to visit.
In addition to the Gibraltar Dam, the city owns 4,600 acres covering the sites of the Mono, Blue Canyon, Juncal, and Main River Reservoirs, lying within the great cachment area described above. These reservoir sites are of future value as the growth of the city requires their development for additional storage.
If in the future Santa Barbara should require more water than can be furnished by the present capacity of the Dam, the core wall can be extended another section, and twice the quantity be obtained; also by building dams on the additional sites before mentioned, the amount of water storage would be so immense that the most dense population, spread over the largest possible area this side of the mountains, could be provided for without any fear of a series of dry years.
Future work in connection with the water project includes the building of a wagon road over the mountains to Gibraltar Dam. This will cost about $150,000. Such a road will be required over which to haul materials for raising the height of the present core wall at Gibraltar, and building other dams as the need demands. A permanent fireproof roof will be placed over Sheffield reservoir.
To James R. Chapman, Chairman of the Board of Water Commissioners, under whose direction the water project has been brought to a successful completion, Santa Barbara will always owe a debt of gratitude. He has unselfishly and without recompense devoted his great engineering talents unstintedly to the task of surmounting the difficulties attendant on the development of a great and permanent supply of water to the city.
Mr. Chapman is a member of the leading engineering societies of this country and abroad. After a strenuous career in this country as a railroad builder, which included the construction of the Denver and Rio Grande, and other lines, he was summoned as chief engineer of the great enterprise which provided London with its subways. He resided there for nine years, and on completion of his difficult undertaking, he retired, and returning to this country selected Santa Barbara as his permanent home.
The water system of Santa Barbara, as now perfected is the embodiment of concerted effort on the part of its citizens, continued over a period of twenty-five years. It is unique, and stands alone as an example and education to other communities, since in proportion to the size of the city, it has no equal in the West.
The Superintendent of the Water Department is V. E. Trace, who reports the consumption of water to be as follows:
Municipal purposes, 40,000,000 gallons, consumers 760,000,000 gallons.

1938 “The Water Supply of Mission Santa Barbara (I),” by Eric O’Brien, O.F.M. from Priestly Studies: A Review of Sacred Science For and By the Student Friars of the Santa Barbara Province 8(1):146-147 (Summer 1938) 

1938 “The Water Supply of Mission Santa Barbara (II),” Oliver Lynch, O.F.M. from Priestly Studies: A Review of Sacred Science For and By the Student Friars of the Santa Barbara Province 8(2):41-47 (Autumn 1938): 41–47.

1938 “The Water Supply of Mission Santa Barbara (III),” Oliver Lynch, O.F.M. from Priestly Studies: A Review of Sacred Science For and By the Student Friars of the Santa Barbara Province 8(3): (Spring1939)

1941 Santa Barbara; a guide to the Channel city and its environs Includes several references to the local water system.

1952 Indian Life at the Old Missions, by Edith Buckland Webb
Page 69:  Like the roof and floor tiles, the clay water-pipes were burned, or fired, in a kiln.  They were about twelve inches long, five inches in diameter at the larger end and four inches at the smaller end.  A potter taught the making of these water conductors.  Among the artisans coming to California in the 1790s, were Mariano Mendoza, tile-maker, and Mariano Tapía, potter.  Lozero, a soldier, also taught pottery making at the northern missions.
In laying the clay water-pipes at San Antonio, a trench was first dug and roofing tiles laid on the bottom of it.  The pipes were then laid on the tiles, the smaller ends of the pipes fitting into the larger ends of those previously laid.  Stones were then set in along the side of the trench to keep the dirt from falling in.  Other roofing tiles were then placed on top of the pipes.  Large flat stones laid across the trench completed the channel.
Note 27:  Portions of such water-ways have been found at La Purísima, Santa Bárbara, San Gabriel, and San Juan Capistrano.  At San Fernando the clay pipes were laid in a bed of mortar and small stones.
Page 73:  The filter, which stands a little to the north of the mill reservoir, served to clarify the water for domestic purposes.  Water being conveyed by aqueduct to the mill reservoir was diverted by a gate to the water-course leading to the filter.  Charcoal and crushed granite placed in the bottom of the filter acted as a clarifier of the water, which, after passing through the filter bed, was carried to the mission grounds in a flume built in the top of a high stone wall.

1957 "The Old Mission Water System" by Pearl Chase; "Notes and Quotes" reprinted from Noticias 3(1) (January - March 1957)

1998 The Water System at Mission Santa Barbara, by Rebecca Allen and David L. Felton

2015 "Rediscovering the Ceramic History of the California Frontier," by Russell K. Skowronik, Ronald L. Bishop, M. James Blackman, Michael Imwalle, and Ruben Reyes, from Ceramics in America 2015

Mission Dam and Aqueduct, The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden


© 2015 Morris A. Pierce