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City of San Diego Water History

Picture of Barrett dam - 1927

1850 - California becomes the 31st state and the City of San Diego is incorporated with a population of 650. Citizens obtain most of their water from the San Diego River and a few private wells.

1873 - San Diego Water Company forms to provide an organized water supply to serve a population of approximately 2,000. The company's first well is drilled at 11th and B streets in downtown, and produces 50,000 gallons a day. Water is 25 cents per bucket. An Army private soldier makes $13 per month.

1875 - Due to the poor quality of water from its downtown wells, San Diego Water Company drills wells in the bed of the San Diego River, builds a pumping plant, and extends its distribution system.

1887 - Old Town Reservoir built to store water from 12 wells located in the San Diego River bed adjacent to the old Presidio.

San Diego Flume

1889 - San Diego Flume Company completes a 35.6 mile wooden flume to carry water from Boulder Creek to La Mesa Reservoir (the duck pond at Grossmont Summit). Also, San Diego Water Company drills wells at Otay Creek, supplying water to both the cities of San Diego and Coronado.

1897 - Lower Otay Dam completed by what becomes the Southern California Mountain Water Company, thus creating Lower Otay Reservoir. Construction of Morena Dam begins, but work is soon suspended.

1901 - Following a vote of the people, City of San Diego enters into the municipal water supply business by purchasing 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.

1906 - Lower Otay Reservoir water supply connected to the City's distribution system by the Bonita Pipeline to a filtration plant located at Chollas Heights Reservoir (now Chollas Lake).

1912 - City votes to issue bonds to purchase 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. Morena Dam completed, creating Morena Reservoir.

1913 - City begins offering public recreational use of its reservoirs.

1914 - City purchases Morena Dam and Reservoir. Otay Water Treatment Plant begins operations.

1916 - A series of very heavy rain storms, in conjunction with the alleged rainmaking activities of Charles Hatfield, hit the county. The San Diego River floods Mission Valley from cliff to cliff cutting all highways to the north. Lower Otay Dam, built without a spillway, tops out and bursts, flooding the Otay Valley.

1918 - Lower Otay Dam, now known as Savage Dam, reconstruction completed. Lake Hodges Dam and San Dieguito Dam completed by the Santa Fe Land & Improvement Co., creating Hodges Reservoir. Both dams were later purchased by the City.

1922 - City completes Barrett Dam to create Barrett Reservoir, and the Dulzura Conduit built to link Morena Reservoir, Barrett Reservoir, and the Cottonwood Creek/Pine Creek watersheds with the City's water supply system at Lower Otay Reservoir.

1925 - City purchases distribution lines in East San Diego (now City Heights) from Cuyamaca Water Company for $400,000.

1928 - Construction of what is now Sutherland Dam halted after only one year of construction. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) formed to bring Colorado River Water to Southern California. San Diego was not yet a member.

1929 - California State Supreme Court determines that City of San Diego has prior and paramount rights to the water of the San Diego River by virtue of the fact that the City was successor to the original Spanish pueblo. The pueblo was entitled under the old Spanish laws to all waters of the river. Appeals the following year to the State Supreme Court and U.S. Supreme Court are denied.

1931 - With water rights secured, City purchases El Capitan dam site from La Mesa, Lemon Grove and Spring Valley Irrigation District. Four years later, the City completes construction of El Capitan Dam, creating El Capitan Reservoir; and the El Capitan Pipeline connecting it to the City's water supply system.

1935 - University Heights Filtration Plant enlarged.

1936 - City decommissions water well fields operated in Mission Valley.

1943 - San Vicente Dam and pipeline dedicated following two years of construction, and San Vicente Reservoir created.

1944 - San Diego County Water Authority (CWA) formed, with the City joining, and becomes a member agency of MWD two years later. CWA's first task is to complete a pipeline connecting the county with MWD's water supply system.

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 ends San Diego's total dependence on local sources for water.

1950 - City of San Diego takes over operation of Murray Reservoir and commissions the Alvarado Water Treatment Plant, completed the following year. The water treatment plants at University Heights and Chollas Heights are decommissioned.

1952 - With completion of Alvarado Water Treatment Plant, the University Heights Filtration Plant is decommissioned and demolished.

1954 - Construction work on Sutherland Dam, dormant since 1928, completed creating Sutherland Reservoir. The reservoir is connected by pipeline and natural streambeds to the San Vicente Reservoir.

1958 - The sewerage function transferred to the newly renamed Water Utilities Department.

1959 - Upper Otay Reservoir established as a hatchery for propagation and introduction of Florida-strain largemouth bass.

1960 - Miramar Dam completed creating Miramar Reservoir. Murray Reservoir purchased from Helix Irrigation District.

1962 - Miramar Water Treatment Plant completed in Scripps Miramar Ranch.

1978 - San Diego begins receiving water from the State Water Project.

1996 and 1997 - Wastewater collection and treatment functions are separated from the Water Utilities Department forming the Metropolitan Wastewater Department. The Water Utilities Department becomes the Water Department.

2001 - Construction begins on the Miramar Treatment Plant Expansion and Improvement Project. Project includes a new rapid mix facility, installing new de-aeration basins, disinfection facilities, new chemical facilities, new and refurbished administration facilities, flocculation and sedimentation basins, washwater recovery system and water filters. The project is completed in 2010.

2002 - South Bay Water Reclamation Plant begins producing recycled water.

2005 - City begins 12-year program to replace all remaining 190-plus miles of old cast iron water mains.

2007 - San Diego City Council authorized the Pure Water Demonstration Project, which consists of a 1 million gallon per day advanced recycled water treatment plant at the North City Water Reclamation Plant.

2009 - Water Department and Metropolitan Wastewater Department merge as the Public Utilities Department.

2010 - As part of the Emergency Storage Project, CWA completes the San Vicente Pipeline connecting the City's San Vicente Reservoir with CWA's Second Aqueduct. Also, City completes seven-year Otay Water Treatment Plant Expansion and Upgrade Project. The project increases capacity and reliability to meet current and future water needs. The facility also meets or exceeds new, stricter water quality regulations.

2012 - CWA completes Lake Hodges Projects connecting the City's Hodges Reservoir to CWA's Olivenhain Reservoir. The new connection allows the City to draft water from Hodges for its own use for the first time.

2013 - The 15-year Alvarado Treatment Plant Expansion and Improvement Project completed. The project involves constructing eight new filters, constructing sedimentation and flocculation basins, implementing ozone as an alternative disinfectant, upgrading the Lake Murray and College Ranch pump stations and remodeling the existing Operations building.