(Second in Series of stories supplementing the upcoming public television documentary)

All That Glitter’s Ain’t Gold – Sometimes It’s Something Far More Valuable

The Gold Rush of 1849 created a need in San Francisco more valuable than the nuggets being extracted from the Sierras. In less than one year the population of the city swelled from 1,000 to over 25,000. The cry of “Gold in them thar hills!” was soon followed by, “More water!  Even though the City sits on a peninsula it is surrounded on three sides by salt water,  and it’s geology is largely sand with few natural fresh water springs. The semi-arid climate made accessibility to reliable sources of drinking water difficult.  It quickly became apparent that there was not enough water to support the thousands of new residents of San Francisco.

Innovative entrepreneurs brought water in by boat from Sausalito, and sold it for $1.00 a bucket, equivalent to $31.00 today! But suppliers were unable to keep up with demand as the city grew. In April 1860 Spring Valley Water Company, its shareholders predominantly the wealthy landowners and financiers in the area, held the first meeting of its board of directors. Spring Valley soon bought up the water shed just south of the City in San Mateo county and built the first dams and reservoirs, along with wooden flumes to bring water from Crystal Springs. As need increased, the company purchased additional water shed rights in Santa Clara and Alameda Counties. For the next 70 years, San Francisco’s water supply was controlled by what was then the most powerful private monopoly in the State. It was very expensive for San Franciscans to purchase water, and its powerful owners leveraged a lot of influence over the city’s government through corruption and graft.

It took the failure of the water supply delivery system during the 1906 Earthquake and fire in which half the city burned to the ground, to gain support and fuel the effort to de-privatize the city’s water supply.


It would take another 25 years to break free of Spring Valley’s stranglehold.  It was during this time San Francisco would finally start the journey toward building the world-class water delivery system it enjoys today.

In 1928 San Francisco voters approved $24 million in bonds to further the Hetch Hetchy Dam project paving the way for, Spring Valley Water Company’s operation and holdings to be sold to the City and County of San Francisco, March 8,1930. The San Francisco was now firmly in control of the water supply for the City by the Bay.


Coming Spring 2018
Water From The Wilderness: From Hetch Hetchy To San Francisco Bay
Produced by Jim Yager Media

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