coloradologo

In 1857 when San Francisco vintner John Frohling and Los Angeles surveyor George Hansen chose the site for what would
become Anaheim, the proximity to a water source was an important consideration.  The Santa Ana River, 5 miles distant, would
become the primary source for irrigation water for a group of pioneering families that would establish this Mother Colony.
A series of ditches, flumes and canals, totaling over 15 miles would be used to carry this life giving liquid to the newly planted
Mission grape vines. Hansen’s main irrigation canal followed along a ridge through town, today marked by Sycamore St.
This gives Anaheim its curious orientation, with the east-west streets tilting to the southwest.
Water for domestic uses was easily had by simply digging shallow wells to a depth of about 20 feet, tapping northern Orange
County’s virgin aquifer.  By 1879, Anaheim’s Water Department had begun serving 16 families from a 20,000-gallon redwood
tank rights to all surface flows of the Santa Ana River were under control of the Anaheim Union Water Company as well as the
Santa Ana Valley Irrigation Co. (SAVI).  These early irrigation concerns were responsible for distributing irrigation water to
most of northern and central Orange County.
As orange crops replaced viticulture, the demand for water outstripped the Santa Ana’s capacity due to the river’s irregular
and unregulated flows.  When cheap hydroelectric power arrived in the county after the turn of the century, extensive water
well drilling now provided the citrus rancher an unlimited source of irrigation water.  A 1904 report stated that “within a short
distance of the city of Anaheim there are now installed more than 350 pumping plants…”.  These early wells were powered at
this time by electricity as well as wind and gasoline.  This massive pumping from underground did not come without a severe
price. By 1913 subsurface water levels had dropped over 50 feet and continued to fall.  In 1936 well levels had dropped 125
feet from 1880 levels and general alarm was raised as seawater was now intruding into the domestic water wells in the coastal
cities.  Anaheim old timers will recall monthly front page stories from Anaheim’s beloved Utility Superintendent, Vard
Hannum, reporting on current water well levels.
Beginning in the late 1920’s, Anaheim’s future water supply became a cause of concern to the community.  The city’s wells,
one drilled as early as 1913, were now too shallow for the falling water levels and municipal water storage, afforded by the
venerable landmark concrete 173,000 gallon water tower on South Los Angeles Street, was inadequate.  Anaheim, along with
other southland communities, realized that a distant water supply, which would permit the manifest destiny of future Southern
California development, was desperately needed. The Colorado River would be this savior.
Transporting great rivers of water long distances across the arid Southern California plain began in 1913 with the opening of
the Los Angeles Owen’s River Aqueduct.  Anaheim’s big brother to the north had the resources to embark upon a civil
engineering project larger than any previously attempted.  How could the smaller communities of Los Angeles County and
Orange County (Anaheim’s population in 1930 was 10,995) undertake a project of this scope?  A solution arrived on Saturday
August 6, 1927 when 17 Southern California cities met in Ontario to discuss the Metropolitan Water Bill.  Anaheim, as well
as 16 other Orange and Los Angeles County cities was represented at the request of Mr. Hiram W. Wadsworth, president of
the Colorado River Aqueduct Association and former city Director of Pasadena.  The result was the Metropolitan Water
District Act, which in conjunction with the long planned Boulder Dam on the Colorado River would allow the funding and
construction of the largest public works project in the world.
Sharing the ballot with a hotly contested anti-rodeo bill, most local communities supported the plan at the election held
Tuesday November 6, 1928. Anaheim carried the proposition by a vote of 1792 to 607 while the community of Orange voted
773 in favor and 1249 against.  Thus The Metropolitan Water District (MWD) was born.  Anaheim now became one of the
original thirteen Golden Cities along with Beverly Hills, Burbank, Compton, Fullerton, Glendale, Long Beach, Los Angeles,
Pasadena, San Marino, Santa Ana, Santa Monica and Torrance, all whose future development was assured.  Funding for the
project became available on Tuesday September 29, 1931, when voters, by a majority of 5 to 1 authorized the issuance of
construction bonds in the amount of $220 million, a staggering amount in this depression year.  Unfortunately, tapping an
untamed river and transporting it 242 miles across the desert wastes would take ten more years. Local newspapers kept the
community informed of the benefits that an unlimited supply of filtered and softened water would bring to the southland.
While community leaders were waxing poetic, an army of over 10,000 depression worn workers was beginning to wrest the
Colorado River from its red rock dash to the sea.
This massive construction project, undertaken under the harshest of desert conditions, became a favorite destination for
inspection trips sponsored by the member communities. Anaheim’s well known civic leader and first MWD Director, Mr. O.E.
Steward, regularly hosted trips to the construction front for Anaheim Council members and business leaders.  Tragedy struck
the community on April 7, 1935 when on such an excursion, a blown retread tire on an Anaheim City vehicle caused a desert
highway accident that claimed the life of Mr. Steward.  Also injured were E.P. Hapgood, City Engineer; Charles Griffith, City
Clerk and M.W. Martenet Jr., City Councilman. Mr. Hapgood would later accept Mr. Steward’s MWD Directorship.
At last, on October 25, 1940, Artukovich Brothers Construction began work on the feeder line, which would eventually connect
the Orange County cities to the main aqueduct by way of the filter and softening facility at LaVerne.  Working north from
Santa Ana, the 34-inch concrete and steel pipe snaked its way along Bristol, Lewis and East Streets, north toward Anaheim
and eventually Fullerton, Brea and on to La Verne.  Pappy Vard Hannum and his Anaheim Water Department boys were kept
busy laying new 12-inch water line along East Center Street to the future connection at East Street.  After some delays, the
much awaited Colorado River finally poured into Anaheim water mains from connection #A1 on July 25, 1941.
The MWD provided their member communities this new liquid free for a 60-day period.  In order to introduce this new softer
water to Anaheim households, the City Council resolved that residents would pay only a “flat rate” for water of $1 per month
for a two-month period.  Records show that Anaheim used over 155 million gallons of this new source during the rest of fiscal
1941-42.
Due to flat demand during the war years, Anaheim postponed using this plentiful new source since it was more costly than the
water the city could pump for itself.  Beginning in 1944 the city finally began to depend upon this new supply for more than
90% of its needs.  As new postwar subdivisions began to grow east of downtown, in late 1947 Anaheim added a second
aqueduct connection #A2 at the corner of North and East Streets. Anaheim’s population exploded during the 1950’s and 1960’s
(growing to 166,801 by 1970).  Funded by a supportive City Council, the Water Department, guided by Anaheim’s own Mr.
Water, Gus Lenain, continued to drill new wells, add more MWD connections and expand the city’s storage capacity to over
one billion gallons.
Today, over 57 years after the Colorado River first poured into Anaheim, the city still depends upon it and State Project
water for over 25% of its supply, over 7 billion gallons from these sources. Anaheim’s water pedigree: George Hansen,
Vard Hannum, O.E. Steward, George Oelkers, Gus Lenain and today’s management have left the residents the largest and
most sophisticated water system in the county.  Today, over 301,000 residents are served 22 billion gallons per year of this
safe liquid from 28 wells and 8 MWD connections in this modern Mother Colony.