California Water Timeline: 1900 – 1949

1900 – California population is 1,485,053
1900 – Excavation in Imperial Valley of the intake canal at Hanlon Heading commenced in August 1900 with a four- yard dredge which Chaffey had purchased in Yuma
1901 – First California deliveries from the Colorado River made to farmland in the Imperial Valley.
1901 – San Diego purchases all water systems within the city limits.
1901 – San Francisco Mayor James Phelan first files for water rights in the Hetch Hetchy Valley using his own name.
1902 – Congress passes the US Bureau of Reclamation, established under Department of Interior, so that irrigation projects can “reclaim” arid lands for human use. This was called “homemaking.”  “Water conservation” is defined as not allowing a drop of water to run, unused by humans, to the ocean. Over the next fifty years, dam building will fuel the economies and imaginations of Americans. These sublime marvels of human engineering symbolized American mastery over nature and manifest dominian over the West, and the world.
1903 – San Francisco Mayor Phelan applies to the Interior Department for a permit for water storage in Hetch Hetchy Valley. Secretary of the Interior Ethan Hitchcock promptly denies the request, since Hetch Hetchy is in a national park.
1903-04: And 1907-08, after these two dry seasons, the cities of Campbell and Cupertino alone have up to 14,000 acres under irrigation. The trend of well digging and irrigation continues.
1904 – Charles Hatfield, Rainmaker, successfully conjures a storm. Water will remain magical in Californian’s consciousness.
1904 – First of many Sierra Club “High Trips” to include Hetch Hetchy Valley.
1905 – First bond issue for the city of Los Angeles’ Owens Valley project; second bond issue in 1907 approved for actual construction.
1905 – Approval of the Klamath Project requires Oregon and California, as well as private water rights holders, to relinquish those rights to the federal government, but not all are willing to sell. Owners of the Klamath Canal Company hold out for $200,000 for their rights. The dispute between the company and the Reclamation Service marks the first legal battle over who gets water and who doesn’t in the Klamath Basin. Reclamation agrees to pay Hawkins, Brown and Gold $150,000 for their rights and interest in the Klamath Canal Company.
1905 – March, the Klamath Water Users Association is organized.
1905, May, Klamath Project construction begins and ends in 1962 with completion of Iron Gate Dam on the Klamath River.
1905-07: Gila River tributary floods, Salton Sea is created when the Colorado River breaches an irrigation canal and flows into the Salton Trough.
1906 – Congress funds dams to provide electricity.
1906 – Pumping plant in Mission Valley closes, and San Diego City enters into a contract with Southern California Mountain Water Company to buy water (4 cents per 1000 gallons) from mountain reservoirs.
1906 – 
The San Francisco Earthquake and Fire gives new impetus to the idea of enlarging the city’s water supply. James Garfield succeeds Hitchcock as Secretary of the Interior in November.
1906 – William Mulholland and Fred Eaton largely responsible for bringing water to LA through the Owens Valley Water Project and LA aqueduct.
(Heavily opposed by Owens Valley residents and farmers to the east of LA Project approved in 1906 brought water to LA from 235 miles away; Owens Valley residents eventually compensated.)
1907 – After 3 years of careful maneuvering, William Mulholland gains control of the Owens Valley’s water.
1907 – First deliveries of water through Klamath Project “A” Canal.
1907 – Fall, John Muir, age 69, with his friend William Keith, re-visits Hetch Hetchy Valley, after a 12-year absence.
1908 – City of San Francisco’s filings for Hetch Hetchy project approved.
1908 – U.S. Supreme Court rules that water be reserved as part of land for American Indians in Winters v. U.S.
1908 – President Theodore Roosevelt creates nation’s first wildlife refuge for waterfowl, the Klamath Lake Reservation – now called Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge.
1908 – On May 7, the City files a petition asking the Secretary of the Interior to reopen San Francisco’s application for water rights, requesting both Lake Eleanor and Hetch Hetchy Valley.
1908 – 
Secretary of the Interior James Garfield, who had never visited Hetch Hetchy, approves San Francisco’s petition only four days after he received it. Congress soon schedules hearings, and the Sierra Club begins producing circulars opposing the damming of Hetch Hetchy Valley, and schedules summer outings to Hetch Hetchy for 1908 and 1909.
1908-13: John Muir and Environmentalists fight against the construction of Hetch Hetchy Dam.
1908 – President Roosevelt approves San Francisco’s request to hold the water rights for the Tuolomne River.

1910 – California population is 2,377,549.
In the winter, the Santa Clara Valley experiences its worst flooding on record. Four inches of rain fall in downtown San Jose in a 24-hour period.
1910 – After considering the commission’s report, and visiting Hetch Hetchy Valley personally, in February Taft’s Secretary of the Interior Richard Ballinger suspends the interior Department’s approval for the Hetch Hetchy right-of-way, and asks the city to “show cause” why Hetch Hetchy Valley should not be removed from the Garfield grant.
A series of hearings are held to examine San Francisco’s need for Hetch Hetchy as a water reservoir when other possible sources exist, such as Calaveras Dam.
1911 – Imperial Irrigation District formed for the purpose of acquiring the rights and properties of the C.D. Company and its two Mexican companies.
1911 – Legislature creates Reclamation Board to implement comprehensive flood control plan for Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers.
1911 – Clear Lake National Wildlife Refuge, in California on the California – Oregon border, is established. Construction begins on the Lost River Diversion Dam and Lost River Diversion Channel in Klamath County, Oregon.
1912 – The first water flows from the Owens Valley into the San Fernando Valley.
1912 – In November, Secretary Fisher convenes a hearing on Hetch Hetchy, with advocates for both sides testifying. At the conclusion of the hearing, Secretary Fisher turns over all the testimony to his advisory board, all professional engineers.
1912 – After 17 years of construction San Diego’s Morena Reservoir on Cottonwood Creek, a tributary of the Tijuana River, is completed.
1912 Klamath Reclamation Project begins experimental farms in drained Tule Lake marshes.
1913 – Congressman John E. Raker and Sen. Key Pittman of Nevada steer a bill through Congress. The Raker Act authorizes the use of Hetch Hetchy, Eleanor Creek and the construction of the O’Shaughnessy dam and water rights to the dammed water in the Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park Project as municipal water sources for the city of San Francisco. President Woodrow Wilson signs this bill on Dec. 19.
1913 – Campbell farmers in the Santa Clara Valley unsuccessfully seek federal funds for irrigation and conservation. Two of the greatest hindrances to the conservation movement up to this time are the general belief that the water supply soon would replenish itself and a consequent reluctance to spend money to save water.
1913 – Los Angeles Aqueduct begins service.
1913 – In February, the Interior secretary’s engineer’s report recommends damming Hetch Hetchy, though acknowledging other options existed. On March 1, three days before leaving office, Secretary Fisher decides that he lacks the statutory authority to grant a permit to San Francisco, thus throwing the decision to Congress.
1914 – California’s present system of administering appropriative water rights is established by the Water Commission Act.
1914 – Last Sierra Club outing to Hetchy Hetchy Valley. John Muir dies on December 24.
1915 – 
More than 8 billion gallons of water per year are pumped from beneath the Santa Clara Valley. The groundwater level drops rapidly.
1915 – Sacramento installs the first mechanical screen-cleaning device to filter wastewater, eliminating the need for sewage workers to use handheld brushes and scrapers.
1915 – After four dry years in a row, former sewing machine salesman and fabled rainmaker Charles M. Hatfield offers to aid the city. San Diego City Council accepts his offer, and Hatfield erects a tower containing a secret chemical concoction near Morena Reservoir.
1916 – The worst floods in San Diego County history. Heavy rains start falling in the county on January 14 — we know now this was a strong El Nino year. A total of 7.56 inches falls before the end of the month. (A normal January rainfall is 2.2 inches.)
1916 – December 16,San Diego City offers to settle tab if Hatfield accepts responsibility for $3,500,000 of damages caused by the flooding. Hatfield forgoes payment from San Diego, but continues to ply his rainmaking abilities in California and Central America for many years.
1916 – 
The National Park Service is established in the Department of the Interior with the edict “to preserve the natural and historic objects” in the parks. (In recent years this law has been instrumental in protecting the Grand Canyon from damming and flooding park-system lands in Grand Canyon National Monument.)
1917 – 175 homesteaders file for 42 tracts of land in Klamath Reclamation Project.
1917 – 
Significant flooding occurs on the Guadalupe River in santa Clara Valley.
1917 – Klamath Reclamation Project signs an agreement with the California-Oregon Power Company (COPCO) to build and operate the Link River Dam.
1918 – The first dam in the Klamath Hydroelectric Project, Copco 1, becomes operational, ending salmon runs in the Upper Klamath Basin.
1918 – San diego County Hodges Reservoir is completed across the San Dieguito River. The first dams were completed on Alvarado Creek to form Lake Murray.
1919 – Grand Canyon National Park created.

1920 – California population is 3,426,861.
1920 – Col. Robert B. Marshall of the U.S. Geological Survey proposes statewide plan for water conveyance and storage. The “Marshall Plan” for the Central Valley fails.
1920 – 
Women win the right to vote after Congress passes the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.
1920 – Klamath Project construction begins on the Link River Dam July 29 at the mouth of Upper Klamath Lake.
1920 – The annual rate of new wells being drilled in the Santa Clara Valley is 1,700 compared to 100 new wells in 1892. More than 67 percent of the valley is under irrigation, compared to 29 percent in 1912.
1921 – Link River Dam completed, allowing control of water releases from Upper Klamath Lake.
1921 – Klamath Project construction begins on the Lower Lost River Diversion Dam (Anderson-Rose Dam) and the J Canal to serve the Tulelake area.
1921 – San Francisco engineers Fred H. Tibbetts and Stephen E. Kieffer conduct an eight-month study to measure wells and look for suitable reservoir sites in the Santa Clara Valley. They also research average rainfall and water tables, climate and geology, and a proposed conservation system. Tibbetts and Kieffer’s study, “Report to the Santa Clara Valley Water Conservation Committee on the Santa Clara Valley Water Conservation Project,” recommends construction of 17 large reservoirs as well as low-check dams, pumping stations in the lowlands to divert the runoff, and a system of concrete conduits to distribute the conserved water. Their study shows that the diminishing groundwater in the valley could be replenished by artificial recharge-spreading water over gravelly areas to seep into the aquifers. Total cost of their proposal is $10,947,495.

1921 & 25: In elections during both years, Santa Clara County voters defeat proposals to create a water district. The Water Conservation Committee is disbanded after the defeat of these proposals.
1922 – Imperial Irrigation District acquired 13 mutual water companies; the district was now delivering water to 500,000 acres.
1922 – Klamath Reclamation Project Homestead entries are opened to World War I veterans. Work begins on the Malone Dam. 
1922 – U.S. Supreme Court rules in Wyoming v. Colorado that appropriative water right doctrine applies regardless of state lines.
1922 – November, representatives from the upper (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming) and lower (Arizona, California, and Nevada) basin states signed the Colorado River Compact, giving each basin perpetual rights to annual apportionments of 7.5 million acre-feet of Colorado River Water.
1923 – Except for Arizona, states ratify Colorado River Compact.
1923 – Hetch Hetchy Valley flooded to produce water supply for San Francisco despite years of protest by John Muir and other conservationists. Cost of construction was $12 million. The water is used to produce hydropower, and then travels 172 miles by aqueduct to San Francisco.
1923 – East Bay Municipal Utility District formed.
1924 – San Francisco voters approve a bond proposition for $10 million to pay for a series of tunnels that would deliver water through the Sierra and Coast Range mountains.
1924 – San Diego County Wohlford Dam is constructed on top of the 1895 dike on Escondido Creek. Combined capacity of the all counties reservoirs nears half a million acre-feet.
1924 – Klamath Reclamation Project Construction begins on the Miller Diversion Dam, Gerber Dam and North Canal in Langell Valley. 
1925 – Copco 2 Dam becomes operational.
1925 – Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is formed; goal is to build the Colorado River Aqueduct.
1925 – Mulholland Dam, a 200-foot high concrete gravity arch, completed. Originally a single dam used to “impound” Hollywood Reservoir, but after the St. Francis Dam disaster in 1928, the water elevation was lowered and the dam was modified to include a spillway outlet.
1926 – California Supreme Court decision in Lux v. Haggin upheld reaffirming legal preeminence of riparian rights.
1926 – 
Local farmers and the San Jose Chamber of Commerce band together to meet the challenge of water resource needs for the twentieth century.
1926 – Water is being delivered to about 21,000 acres in the Klamath Reclamation Project.
1927 – Legislature approves Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
1927 – Six-state Compact approved by California, Nevada and Upper Basin states.
1928 – Congress passes Boulder Canyon Act, authorizing construction of Boulder (Hoover) Dam and other Colorado River facilities. The 1922 Colorado River Compact is also approved.
1928 – Federal government assumes most costs of the Sacramento Valley Flood Control System with passage of the Rivers and Harbors Act.
1928 – Dwinell Dam constructed on the Shasta River, cutting off most spawning habitat to the largest Klamath Basin salmon run.
1928 – Tule Lake Bird Refuge (now Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge) created.
1928 – Metropolitan Water District (MWD) formed to manage and distribute water to 26 southern California cities including LA and San Diego.
(Competed for California’s allocation of water from the Colorado. Guaranteed water for expanding populations in the future.)
1928 – California Constitution amended to prohibit waste of water and to require ” good and beneficial use.”
1928 – St. Francis Dam collapses, flooding the Santa Clarita Valley, killing more than 450 people.
1928 – Worst drought of the 20th century begins; ends in 1934, establishing benchmark for water project storage and transfer capacity of all major water projects.
1929 – The St. Francis Dam disaster inspires a State Dam Safety program.
1929 – East Bay MUD’s Mokelumne River Aqueduct is completed.
1929 – California Limitation Act limits California’s annual water consumption to 4.4 million acre-feet.
1929 – 424,145 acres of the Imperial Valley were being irrigated.
1929 – City of Pomona is the first to offer reclaimed water for landscape irrigation.
1929 – Mokelumne Aqueduct begins transporting Sierra Nevada water to cities of the East Bay Municipal Water District.

1930 – California population is 5,677,251.
1930 – California agrees to buy all power produced by Boulder Canyon project.
1930s – 
Santa Clara Valley Water Conservation District (SCVWCD) pioneers the working design of an effective program of water conservation that relies on trapping and storing rainwater.
1930-36: Arizona files cases with U.S. Supreme Court trying to invalidate Boulder Canyon Project Act. Court refuses to hear cases.
1931 – State Water Plan published, outlining utilization of water resources on a statewide basis.
1931 – California Seven-Party Agreement established how/where the 4.4 million acre feet was to be used.
1931 – Construction of Hoover Dam begins.
1931 – County of Origin Law passed, guaranteeing counties the right to reclaim water from an exporter if it is needed in the area of origin.
1932 – December, the Secretary of the Interior, acting on behalf of the United States, executed a contract with IID to deliver Colorado River Water.
1933 – The state Legislature authorizes construction of an extensive network of dams, reservoirs, canals, power plants and pumping complexes to improve the water supply for agriculture in the inland middle of the state – Central Valley Project.
1933 – Central Valley Project Act passed.
1933 – Parker Dam construction for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s Colorado River Aqueduct begins.
1933 – Commercial salmon fishing on Klamath River is banned; tribal gill-net fishing is prohibited.
1934 – Construction starts on All-American Canal in the Imperial Valley (first deliveries in 1941) and on Parker Dam on the Colorado River.
1934 – Santa Clara voters approve an initial bond issue of $2 million to construct the district’s first six dams and reservoirs: Almaden, Calero, Coyote, Guadalupe, Stevens Creek and Vasona.
1934 – San Francisco’s Hetch Hetchy Aqueduct is completed at a total cost of $100 million and the lives of 67 men and one woman. Water travels by gravity and will serve San Francisco and 32 other Bay Area communities.
1935 – President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorizes federal funding of the ambitious Central Valley Project two years later through the public works program of the New Deal.
1935 – El Capitan Reservoir is completed across the headwaters of the San Diego River.
1935 – In the 1920s and ’30s, Reclamation widens and lines existing canals, replaces the C Canal wooden flume with a concrete one, and expands and modifies Clear Lake Dam.
1936 – Federal Flood Control Act is passed. The era of multipurpose dams begins.
1937 – Rivers and Harbors Act authorizes construction of initial Central Valley Project features by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
1937 – Colorado-Big Thompson project authorized.
1938 – Federal government begins construction on Shasta Lake and Dam.
1938 – O’Shaughnessy Dam is raised an additional 86 feet during another period of construction ending in 1938. Today the crest is 312 feet above the original streambed, and at high water the reservoir extends up the Hetch Hetchy Valley more than eight miles.
1938 – Parker Dam is completed across the Colorado River forming Lake Havasu. Three years later, the Colorado River Aqueduct is completed. The aqueduct conveys Colorado river water from Lake Havasu to Lake Matthews in Riverside County.

1940 – California population is 6,907,387.
1940 – Bureau of Reclamation completes All-American Canal.
Another major drought hits the Santa Clara Valley. Average rainfall drops to 13.61 inches per year and water levels fall in all reservoirs and waterways.
The population of Santa Clara County jumps from 30,000 in 1940 to 90,000 in 1948, to 291,000 in 1950. Groundwater levels drop due to increased agriculture, industry and residential construction. Land subsidence increases due to over-pumping. As a result, the concept of the San Felipe Project, which taps into water from the Central Valley, is born.
1940 – Metropolitan Water District of Southern California completes 242-mile long Colorado River Aqueduct. First deliveries in 1941. A water softening plant in La Verne treats the water before distributing it to cities.
1940 – Delta water diversions begin with completion of Contra Costa Canal, the CVP’s first unit.
1940’s – Imperial Valley on-farm tile drainage and seepage recovery conservation programs begun.
1941 – Parker Dam Construction is complete, despite Arizona’s threats of military action against the state.
1941 – Klamath Project construction begins on the Tule Lake diversion with the P and P-1 Canals. Workers begin the Sheepy Ridge Tunnel, a 6,600-foot east-west culvert that drains Tule Lake into Lower Klamath Lake and on to the Klamath River. Pumping plant D is built to lift water from Tule Lake into a tunnel that will move water west.
1942 – April, Tule Lake Internment Center begins construction on Klamath Reclamation Project land.
1942 – Water now diverted at Imperial Dam on the Colorado River through the All-American Canal — both still operated and maintained by Imperial Irrigation District.
1943 – In anticipation of receiving Colorado River water, San Vicente Reservoir is built to significantly increasing storage capacity in San Diego County.
1944 – Mexican-U.S. Treaty guarantees Mexico 1.5 million acre-feet per year, in normal years, from Colorado River for each year 1950 – 1975.
1944 – Arizona Legislature ratifies Colorado River Compact after 22 years of opposition.
1944 – Shasta Dam, designed to offer flood protection and river regulation on the Sacramento River, is the first part of the Central Valley Project completed.
1945 – State Water Resources Control Board created.
1946 – Lands for Japanese-American Internment – Segregation Center and German prisoner-of-war camps are returned to the Project. A second wave of homestead entries attracts World War II veterans.
1946-48: Upper Colorado River Compact apportions water among Upper Basin states, creates Upper Colorado River Commission and paves way for new water projects.
1948 – Construction on Folsom Dam begins.
1947 – San Francisco voters approve $25 million for a second pipeline for the Hetch Hetchy system.
1947 – First pipeline of the San Diego Aqueduct is completed. The aqueduct taps into the Colorado River Aqueduct and delivers water from the Colorado to San Diego for the first time. In seven years another pipeline is added parallel to the original aqueduct. The combined capacity of the San Diego Aqueduct is 196 cubic feet per second (about 140,000 acre feet a year).
1947-49: – Central Arizona Project plans released.
States and Congress ratify Upper Colorado River Basin Compact.
1949 – Santa Clara County 
voters pass a $3 million bond to complete Anderson Reservoir, located on Coyote Creek. It is finished in 1950. Its capacity of 89,000 acre-feet is more than all the other district reservoirs combined. No federal or state money is used.

more california water timelines icon

1850 – 1889 … A growing need for water

1900 – 1949 … Reclamation & Realization

1950 – 1999 … Big projects & legislation

2000 – present … Challenges on all fronts

The timelines above were complied by
Anders Tomlinson from the following sites:

California Water Chronology  … UCSD Water Economics

Water, CA Media BookWater Education Foundation

Imperial Valley Irrigation DistrictSacramento-San Joaquin-Delta

Klamath Basin ChronologyColorado River Timeline

San Diego Water HistorySanta Clara County Water History

Hetch Hetchy TimelineMetropolitan Water District

©2014 Anders Tomlinson, all rights reserved.