Documentary History of American Water-works

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

Ventura, California

The first permanent European residents in Ventura were Spanish missionaries who arrived in the early 1780s. The City of Ventura was incorporated in 1866 and is officially the City of San Buenaventura and was commonly called that before 1891.

The Mission San Buenaventura was founded in 1782, the ninth of the 21 missions founded in upper California by the Franciscan Fathers.  Water for the mission was delivered by gravity through an aqueduct built by Chumash Indians that ran seven miles from the Ventura River.  The aqueduct was completed by 1815 and remained in use until it was destroyed by floods in 1860-1861.  The San Buenaventura Mission Aqueduct is listed on the National Register of historic places (NPS 75000497.)

The San Buenaventura granted a fifty-year water franchise to Jose Arnaz, Victor Ustusaustegui and Francisco Moleda on January 4, 1869. On June 26, 1871, they assigned this franchise to Thomas R. Bard and A.A. Chaffee, who in turn assigned it to the Santa Ana Water Company in 1874.

The Santa Ana Water Company was incorporated on January 10, 1870 by Walter S. Chaffee, Thomas R. Bard and William S. Patterson. for the purpose of building a dam on the San Buenaventura River and distributing the water through pipes and other means for irrigation purposes and to supply the town of San Buenaventura.  In 1890 the Ventura Land and Water Company was organized as a subsidiary of the Santa Ana Water Company, and in 1895 they offered to sell the water system to the city. City voters approved the sale of bonds to fund the takeover, but the bonds were withdrawn because clear title to the land could not be obtained.

In May, 1901 the Santa Ana Water Company was taken over by a Los Angeles-based corporation, the Ventura County Light and Power Company. The acquisition included the water rights to the Ventura River, the reservoirs, pipelines, and franchises in Ventura, as well as the electric light and power plant systems.  Continued poor service led the city in 1905 to again attempt to take over the water and power company.  A bond was approved by the voters, but challenged by the company. The courts ruled that the city had exceeded the bonded indebtedness limits contained in the city’s charter, and invalidated the bond issue.

The Ventura County Power Company was formed in 1903 and acquired the Ventura County Light and Power Company in 1906.  The Pacific Light and Power Corporation, a regional company operated by Pacific Electric Railway magnate Henry Huntington, acquired a controlling interest in the Ventura County Power Company in 1914.   In 1917 Southern California Edison Company acquired the business, franchise, and property of the Pacific Light and Power Corporation, including the water distribution systems of the Ventura Power Company as well as their electric and gas businesses. In 1921, Southern California Edison requested authorization to increase rates. Hearings before the Railroad Commission, the regulatory agency for power companies at that time, brought out the many difficulties the company was having providing consistent services to Ventura residents. These problems included the “lack of pressure in many part of the city, the presence of silt, fish and eels, bad tastes and odors...”  The Edison Company made extensive improvements, including replacing pipeline, constructing new reservoirs and pumping plants, and the institution of a new metering system. Another result of the 1921 hearings was the acquisition of the water system by the City of Ventura in May, 1923. (Material above is from 2002 Historic Resources Evaluation, linked below)

Water is currently provided by the City of Ventura

1883 History of Santa Barbara county California, by Jesse.D. Mason
Page 29:  An aqueduct six miles long conveyed water from the Ventura River, a clear and cool trout brook.  The reservoir, fountains, and old mill are still objects of curiosity to the visitor.

1884 San Buenaventura, from Engineering News 11"142 (March 22, 1884)

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

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

1891 "Ventura," 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 "Ventura," from Manual of American Water Works, Volume 4.

1964 Review of Water Rights of the City of Ventura in the Ventura River System, Thomas M. Stetson, Thomas M. Stetson Civil and Consulting Engineers, March 2, 1964.

1968 "The Mission San Buenaventura Aqueduct with Particular Reference to the Fragment at Weldon Canyon" by Roberta S. Greenwood and Nicholas Gessler. Pacific Coast Archaeological Society Quarterly 4(4):61-86. (October 1968)

1974 San Buenaventura Mission Water System. A report submitted to the Ventura City Council in partial fulfillment of an agreement with the Ventura County Archaeological Society, by Robert O. Browne

1975 San Buenaventura Mission Aqueduct, National Register of historic places (NPS 75000497.)

1987 "Cañada Larga: History and Preservation of the Mission San Buenaventura Aqueduct," Dorothy E. Brovarney, Ventura County Historical Society Quarterly 32(3):3-33 (Spring 1987)

2002 "Historical setting," from Historic Resources Evaluation Avenue Water Treatment Plant, Ventura California, 14 May 2002 (Revised 2003) San Buenaventura Research Associates.

2013 Mission Aqueduct History, County of Ventura

© 2015 Morris A. Pierce