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Pasadena Water & Power

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    Celebrating 100 Years of Quality, Reliable Municipal Water Service in Pasadena  

  • Water Centennial & Affiliated Events

    None scheduled at this time.

  • A Brief History of Water in Pasadena

    By Tim Brick

  •  I. Early History, Before Municipal Water Service

    Water has shaped Pasadena in remarkable ways. It is the essential element that has molded our geography, growth and lifestyle. This year as we celebrate the centennial of Pasadena’s municipal water department, we will highlight the story of successive generations of Pasadenans who devoted themselves to building that reliable water supply which makes our existence here possible.

    Pasadena is situated on a plateau that is 600-1000 feet above sea level and bounded by the Arroyo Seco to the west, Santa Anita Canyon to the east, the San Gabriel foothills to the north, and the Raymond Fault to the south. It was Spanish explorers who dubbed the eastern watershed the Arroyo Seco, or "dry riverbed." But local native tribes knew the region as Hahamongna, "the land of flowing waters, fruitful valley," and settled on bluffs overlooking the stream. The padres and settlers of the San Gabriel Mission tapped the springs and artesian that gushed at the plateau’s southern boundary to develop California's richest mission.

    archardIn the mid-nineteenth century the first European-Americans arrived and settled near the plateau’s perimeter and tapped the "flowing waters" to feed the first orchards and subdivisions. Seeing how their mesa lands sat high above the rest of the valley, they named their community "Pasadena," Chippewa for "crown of the valley." Benjamin Eaton built "Wilson’s Ditch" in the 1860s to transport water from the upper Arroyo to ranches further onto the mesa.

    The pioneers of the Indiana Colony, who incorporated the San Gabriel Valley Orange Grove Association in 1874, made their first priority the development of a reliable water system. Eaton laid out a three mile pipeline, bringing water from Devil’s Gate to a three million gallon reservoir near present day Colorado Blvd. and Orange Grove Ave. Eaton’s pipeline was a bold departure from the primitive open ditch water distribution systems prevalent at that time.

    Ten years later when the association sunseted, three companies assumed responsibility for developing Pasadena and its water system: Pasadena Land & Water Company, Lake Vineyard Land & Water Company, and North Pasadena Land & Water Company.


     II. The Young Water Department

    1911_OwensRiverCartoonThe drought of 1898 shocked Pasadena into the realization that its burgeoning population needed a more reliable water supply and distribution system. Seeing a clear link between economic growth and water works, Pasadena’s Board of Trade led the charge for consolidating three private water companies into one municipal operation to serve the community’s interests.

    Most residents were enthusiastic about the prospects, but setting a fair purchase price proved contentious: fourteen years of bitter political battles and scandal ensued. The water debate became further convoluted when neighboring Los Angeles offered Pasadena a stake in its Owens Valley Aqueduct project, but the price would be annexation and loss of independence.

    Finally in 1912, Mayor William Thum shaped a consensus on a fair value of the old water systems. The city purchased all three for $1.2 million, forming the Pasadena Water Department on November 1 of that year. Under the stewardship of its first General Manager, Samuel Morris, who would serve in that capacity for two decades, the Water Department took on overhauling a patchwork of aging infrastructure, modernizing water treatment facilities and securing new water supply.

    The long campaign to establish a municipal water system cemented Pasadena’s determination to remain independent. While in 1913 Pasadena ultimately rejected the annexation proposal from Los Angeles, the seeds were planted for developing a new water supply with multi-city cooperation. Pasadena Mayor Hiram Wadsworth (1921-25) chaired the Colorado River Aqueduct Association that gave birth in 1929 to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD). The thirteen original member agencies worked together to construct the massive aqueduct, and in 1941 became the first city to receive Colorado River supplies from MWD.

     III. Supply Challenges in the 20th Century and the Future

    The 1930s was a period of high hopes and anxiety for Pasadena’s young water department. While the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) pushed forward with construction of the Colorado River Aqueduct, promising Pasadena’s first water imports early the next decade, local groundwater levels continued to fall precipitously. The Water Department initiated a process to define sustainable water rights in the Raymond Basin, a 40 square mile natural aquifer tapped by Pasadena and adjacent cities. The various parties arrived at a consensus in the Raymond Basin Adjudication of 1944, which set a legal precedent and lasting model for fair, responsible division of water rights in California.

    As Pasadena boomed in the post-war period, the Water Department focused on refurbishing and expanding its water storage capacity. It completed its tenth and largest reservoir in 1952, the 50 million gallon Jones Reservoir in Hastings Ranch. Meanwhile, its water quality lab kept pace with rapid advances in chemistry and biology, giving Pasadena ever greater confidence in the safety of its drinking water.

    cheersspaceA series of regional droughts between the late 1980s and 2011, plus restrictions on water deliveries from Northern California that began in 2009, refocused the Water Department on emphasizing local supply and conservation. Along with aggressive incentive programs to encourage customer conservation, construction of a state-of-the-art treatment plant for rehabilitating contaminated groundwater became a high priority. In 2011, citywide water conservation hit a high mark of 18 percent and the Monk Hill Water Treatment Plant came online, both signifying Pasadena’s determination to embrace local self-reliance.

    With recent concerns about supply shortfalls, climate change and long-term drought, the challenges for Pasadena Water and Power today are different than in the past. In 2011, Pasadena adopted the PWP’s Water Integrated Resources Plan, a comprehensive strategy for ensuring reliable, cost-effective, and sustainable water supply for the next 25 years.

    Pasadena Water and Power is a community enterprise that has always been essential to the health, economy and quality of life of our city. In this centennial year, its proud heritage of safe and reliable water can be shared and celebrated by all in Pasadena.  


    Tim Brick lives in Pasadena, serves on the board of directors of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and is the Managing Director of the Arroyo Seco Foundation. He is the author of a forthcoming book on the history of water in Pasadena. More from Tim Brick at www.brickonline.com   






  • Past Centennial Events

    Oct. 6, 2012 – Jan. 20, 2013      Armory Center for the Arts Exhibit and Public Engagement Program: "Facing the Sublime in Water, CA" – Group art exhibit, slide shows, lectures and performances exploring constraints conflict and constructive outcomes on the theme of water. Made possible with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and Pasadena Water & Power. More information on the Armory’s website. 

    Nov. 1 – 30      Historical Exhibit "Celebrating Pasadena’s Water Centennial" – Artifacts, photographs, tools of the trade and historical documents that reveal the civic, engineering and scientific marvels that have made reliable drinking water possible during the past 100 years. On view at Pasadena Central Library, 285 E. Walnut St., during regular Library hours. Produced in partnership with the Pasadena Museum of History.  

    Weds., Nov. 7      Opening Reception for Historical Exhibit at Pasadena Central Library – Official commendation from the City of Pasadena, refreshments and exhibit visit, 12:30 p – 1:30 p in the Library courtyard, 285 E. Walnut St.  

    Tues., Nov. 13      Panel Discussion "A Future for Water in Pasadena & California" – Industry leaders discuss constraints, challenges and opportunities for providing sustainable water supply, moderated by Ann Erdman. 7p – 8:30p at the Armory Center for the Arts, 145 S. Raymond Ave. Produced in partnership with the Arroyo Seco Foundation. 

     Sat., Nov. 24      Post-Thanksgiving Outing "Historic Zanja Walk" – A guided walking tour in the Arroyo Seco, the ecological heart of civilization in Pasadena, retracing the earliest history of water capture and distribution in Pasadena. Produced in partnership with the Arroyo Seco Foundation. One of the Zanja Walk participants created this insightful photo essay. 

    Tues., Nov. 27      Panel Discussion "Pasadena’s Century of Influence in Water Works" – Industry leaders discuss how Pasadena’s local water utility, through the unique challenges it faced over the past century, set lasting precedents for the broader water industry. 7p – 8:30p at Pasadena Central Library, 285 E. Walnut St. Produced in partnership with the Arroyo Seco Foundation. 



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