Water Resource Collections and Archives


Mountains to Mouths: Development of the Bay Area's Water Supply

Mountains to Mouths: Development of the Bay Area's Water Supply

About the 2007 Calendar

The images illustrated in Mountains to Mouths represent the historic developement of water supply of the San Francisco Bay Area.

San Francisco and the East Bay are home to a few dozen freshwater creeks that historically have provided enough water for the Bay Area’s indigenous peoples. By the beginning of the 1900s, however, the burgeoning population demanded more water than local creeks could supply. Cities called on structural and civil engineers to build far-reaching delivery systems to distribute water to the new denizens. The images presented here depict San Francisco and the East Bay’s water infrastructure development during the twentieth century, revealing the complex planning and large-scale construction projects necessary for providing water to hundreds of Bay Area communities.

In the nineteenth century, local water delivery was handled by private companies. In 1851, San Francisco’s first private water company was founded. The appropriately named Mountain Lake Water Company diverted water from the Presidio’s Mountain Lake to the foot of Van Ness Avenue. By 1856, their first dam at Lobos Creek provided nearly two million gallons of water a day to the city. On the other side of the Bay, the Contra Costa Water Company was the dominant force in early water delivery; by the 1860s, its rudimentary dam of earth and clay brought water from Temescal Creek to small but growing towns such as Oakland and Berkeley.

As the population of the Bay Area increased and water demand rose, water quality and reliability declined. The traditional earthen dams brought brown, clouded water to the spigots, while frequent droughts made local water sources unreliable. City engineers of San Francisco and the East Bay looked to the Sierra for clean and reliable sources of water. A U.S. Geological Survey report from 1900 recommended using Hetch Hetchy Valley for San Francisco’s water supply, and after thirteen years of political and environmental debate, San Francisco began constructing the Hetch Hetchy water delivery system. The East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD), formed in 1923 by voters weary of inadequate and inferior water supplies, set its sights farther north than San Francisco’s Hetch Hetchy system, diverting water from the Mokelumne River and sewing the Pardee Dam into the landscape of the Mother Lode.

Since then, the two Bay Area water supply districts have built, expanded, and rebuilt their water delivery and wastewater systems. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) now relies on 8 reservoirs to deliver drinking water to the city of San Francisco. EBMUD’s intricate network of dams, reservoirs, and pipelines supplies water to more than 1.3 million residents.

Mountains to Mouths is produced jointly by UC Berkeley's Water Resources Center Archives and the Harmer E. Davis Transportation Library and supports their exceptional collections and programs.

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Produced jointly by WRCA and Harmer E. Davis Transportation Library

Calendar Images

Pardee Dam construction, 1928

Lake Eleanor, 1919

Calaveras Reservoir, 1939

Newark Slough, 1925

Lafayette Dam ,1928

Gate Tower - San Pablo Outlet Tunnel, 1919

Hetch Hetchy at night, 1922

Third Mokelumne Aqueduct, [n.d.]

Pulgas Water Temple, 1934

Pardee Dam dedication, 1929

Briones water tunnel, [n.d.]

O’Shaughnessy on Hetch Hetchy railroad, 1918

Last modified: 4/26/2011 2:56 PM by S. Haren

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Water Resources Collections and Archives
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University of California
Riverside, CA 92517-5900

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Water Resources Institute, CSUSB
Boykin Witherspoon III, Institute Director
California State University, San Bernardino
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