THE FORTNIGHTLY CLUB
Founded 24 January 1895
November 18, 1993
Assembly Room, A. K. Smiley Public Library
WHISKEY'S FOR DRINKIN’, WATER'S FOR FIGHTIN’
By William E. Cunningham
A Bit of Prologue
I need to state from the beginning that I claim no expertise in water matters. Rather, this paper grew out of my quest to acquire a modest knowledge of the history and issues surrounding our local water environment. I apologize for any errors and/or omissions the reader might find. Water development and rights are a complex subject. And in my attempt to summarize in these few pages, I might well have missed an important part of our local story.
I serve as the president of the board and zanjero (ditch tender) of West Redlands Water Company. West Redlands, which was organized in 1887, still serves fifty shareholders,
including the City of Redlands. It is one of the small distribution companies that are associated with Bear Valley Mutual Water Company and owns eight percent of that company=s stock. West Redlands takes its water from Bear Valley at the Northeast corner of Cajon and Crescent and distributes it through a pipeline system which terminates at the Barton House.
My role with West Redlands, plus my service on the Redlands City Council involves me in many decisions affecting water rights and use. Thus, the research for this brief paper was most meaningful on my part.
Most of us never think about water except in time of flood or drought. Then, as Ben Franklin said in colonial times AWhen the well=s dry, we know the worth of water.@ The currently appointed general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the largest purveyor of water in the state, has been quoted as saying AI=m convinced that globally, water and how we manage it will be the defining element of our prosperity.@ His previous position was in Florida. His office there, like his office here, was located within a few miles of nearly limitless supplies of water. Yet his voice joins a worldwide chorus of knowledgeable people who foresee a bleak, water-short future for Southern California and many other parts of the world.
He knows, as we all do, that the earth contains more than enough water. Astronomers refer to the earth as the ABlue Planet@ and best estimates of our plant as a smooth spheroid produce a watery shell with a thickness of two miles. Nearly all of the water is in liquid state, maintained by and contributing to the earth=s very narrow thermal regime. The earth is unique in that regard. We have no firm evidence of liquid water anywhere else in the solar system. Dendritic surface features on Mars imply that water may well have been in the liquid phase on that planet sometime in the past, perhaps melting from the polar caps and creating one or more Noah-like events. But Mars shows no evidence of liquid water today. Our sister planet, Venus, with its runaway greenhouse, is hundreds of degrees too hot. Water does exist in significant quantities in the outer solar system and that region may well be the source of earth=s water, Uranus, Neptune, the rings around Saturn all appear to contain large quantities of water and may be principally constituted of water ices. Many theorists believe that the source of part or all of our planet=s water is cometary impact over an extended period of the earth=s accretion process. Prevailing theory suggests that comets, essentially Adirty snowballs@are continually spawned from a cloud of material at the far reaches of the solar system. These Adirty snowballs@ in their flight toward the sun intersect with the orbit of the earth from time to time. Collisions occur. A number believe that the great Tunguska explosion in Siberia early in this century was caused by a cometary collision. And, of course, we are treated to beautiful meteor showers several times a year as the earth in its journey around the sun sweeps through the debris left along its orbit by comets in the past.
No ne has sure knowledge of the sources and mechanisms which produced water in the first place, but we do know it is not our star, the sun. The sun=s slow proton-proton processes are limited to the conversion of hydrogen to helium. A predecessor star, perhaps several generations earlier, was the source of the more massive elements, including the oxygen of water, which formed the planets.
One argument put forward by some for the earth=s water to have been sourced elsewhere is the total absence of any water in the lunar rock samples acquired by the Apollo series. Had water been discovered in that rock (earth rock may contain as much as 10% of all telluric water) the moon would be a much more attractive place, as some form of lunar hydrogen economy would have been conceivable.
Whether the earth=s water budget is neutral with respect to time is yet to be determined. All the evidence would indicate that, if changes do exist, their potential effect on the human enterprise would be negligible, especially when factored against other first order changes and processes, some human-caused, that are affecting the habitability of the planet. Dissociation of water should occur in the sprays of ocean waves as a function of the incidence of high frequency, high energy portions of the solar electromagnetic radiation that reach the earth=s surface. The recent depletion of stratospheric ozone might well accelerate that process. A fraction of the hydrogen thus released possibly escapes the earth altogether, as the rms (root mean square) velocities are above the escape velocity threshold. New water from the occasional comet and proton accretion from the outgassing solar wind undoubtedly more than counters that loss.
In sum, water is not our problem. Rather, water purveyors actually mean liquid water of a certain quality and quantity, available at an economically and socially acceptable point of use. We are interdependent with nearly all living things which can only exist within the narrow thermal constraints of liquid water. Water of certain chemistries is essential to each family of organisms. And it must be available at minimum intervals certain to each species.
Water for human consumption must meet ever more stringent standards as we learn more about the effects of contaminants on our well-being. Water can be cleansed in a number of ways. Most organisms and turbidity can be dealt with through the use of filtration, coagulation and treatment with one of the halides. Surface waters, such as Mill Creek and the Santa Ana River are processed with these techniques. Organic compounds are removable through air-stripping and activated carbon filters. These processes have seen recent application on organically contaminated waters in our local area. San Bernardino is now using both processes and Redlands has two carbon units. Dissolved salts can be removed through the use of distillation or reverse osmosis. Sea water can be made potable through some combination of these approaches, and, in fact, energy-rich, water-deficient countries, such as Saudi Arabia, make extensive use of the flash distillation of sea water. Santa Barbara has constructed a distillation plant and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has speculated about doing the same.
Having said all that by way of introduction, let=s turn our interest to Redlands, itself, the focus of our effort.
First, a brief refresher on our setting and history might be in order. Redlands at 34 degrees North Latitude and within the influence of the maritime regime of a continental west coast has a classic Mediterranean Climate, which is characterized by hot dry summers and cool, wet winters. Additionally, Redlands lies on the westerly, or wet, side of the San Bernardino Mountains which wring most all of the moisture from that maritime flow in the form of rain, and more importantly, snow. The early Spanish, coming from a similar climatic setting, soon engineered irrigation works not unlike those of their native Spain and brought the first usable water to the Redlands area from the mountains. Utilizing Indian labor they extended a ditch, or zanja, across the valley from Mill Creek to present day west Redlands. Trees, vines, vegetables soon replaced the native chaparral. Frank Brown, a young Yale engineering graduate, constructed Bear Valley Dam in the early 1880s, and, with the development of the necessary distribution works, was able to supply his new Redlands colony with a significant quantity of summer water just in time to match the arrival of the navel orange.
Redlands was thus early blest with water that met the highest criteria: abundant, free-flowing, of the highest quality, available at the desired points of use, deliverable in the driest parts of the year in controllable quantities. Just one small question remained. Who could make legitimate claim to it. That issue, first raised legally in 1856, has lead through many court challenges which continue to the present day. Litigants have ranged from rival Aditch@ owners in the Redlands area, to property owners and residents of Big Bear Valley, to Orange and Riverside county interests, to the claimants in court today. To set the modern stage it will be essential to place the issue of Arights@ in historical context. The brief historical account which follows draws heavily on the papers of George W. Beattie, valley historian and active participant in the development of irrigation ditches and works on the north side of the Santa Ana River and Horace P. Hinckley, long-time general manager of Bear Valley Mutual Water Company, as well as conversations with Hinckley, John R. Bruckart, Jr., president of Bear Valley Mutual, and many others.
As mentioned earlier in this paper, the first works for the diversion of stream water for beneficial use was the Zanja. Reputedly dug by Indian labor, using the shoulder blades of cattle, the ditch extended nearly twelve miles and was designed to bring Mill Creek water to the Mission Rancho San Bernardino, the site of the Guachama Rancheria, an area still referred to as the Mission District. A dam or diversion weir was placed in the creek about one mile below the mouth of the canyon and the ditch took a winding course around the foot of the Crafton Hills, south of the University of Redlands campus, along Brookside Avenue and just north of the Assistencia to its terminus in the Mission area. Although no longer in use for water delivery today, except in its upper Crafton reaches, much of the original ditch remains and forms a vital link in the local agricultural and storm drainage system.
Evaporation and seepage losses reduced the Zanja flow to a trickle during the midsummers of dry years, and winter storms caused great damage, filling the channel with rocks, sand and uprooted vegetation. Each succeeding owner, from the Lugos, to the Mormon colony, to their successors, had the annual cost of repairing and maintaining the ditch. Originally, the Zanja waters were used to irrigate the lands west of the Assistencia, but as areas east, especially Crafton, were colonized, the Zanja owners granted, often by tacit agreement, the right to divert Zanja waters in return for maintenance and improvement of the ditch in those upper sections.
In 1853 San Bernardino County was formed, but no board of supervisors was created. The Mormons dominated Court of Sessions basically functioned as the county government until 1855 when a board of supervisors was formed. As a result of this delay, it wasn=t until the spring of 1856 that the supervisors appointed a board of water commissioners in conformance with an 1854 state law mandating such bodies. The act of 1854 was an effort by the state to preserve Spanish and Mexican law which allowed the appropriation of the waters of non-navigable streams for irrigation purposes. The boards of water commissioners thus became the first bodies in the state to apportion stream water rights and authorize construction of irrigation ditches and works. The commissioners= decisions were subject to review by the courts, and final judgements were made by the courts when disputes arose.
1856 saw the first major water dispute in the San Bernardino Valley. The Mormons planned a large expansion of their grain lands in the Mission area in addition to those that could be irrigated by the Zanja and needed a ditch to carry water from the Santa Ana River for that purpose. Meanwhile, property owners on the north side of the Santa Ana had applied to the water commission and received permission to build two ditches, the Timber Ditch and the North Fork Ditch, to divert the total river flow to their lands. When the Mormons, as planned, tapped into the river at a point upstream of the northside ditches later that year, the Water Commission, a three member body, all of whom were Mormons, ruled in favor of the northside interests in the dispute.
In 1857 the Mormons were called back to Utah and large land transactions took place with properties often selling for a fraction of their value. As a consequence, several property owners came to view and deal with Awater rights@ as separate and distinct from the land and therefore transferable to other locations. At the same time new settlers in the Crafton area claimed a right to Zanja water, as the ditch crossed their lands and they provided for its maintenance in those upper sections. Certain ad hoc arrangements were made between the original Zanja owners and these newcomers which postponed litigation until 1864, when Dr. Barton and others brought suit against Myron Crafts and H.M. Willis in District Court. The court ruled that the defendants could take Zanja water during the hours of 3 pm to 9 pm, night-time hours, when the Mission district owners had no need for the water. Water passing Crafton at 3 pm would still be flowing through the Mission district at bedtime and water turned into the ditch at 9 pm would arrive at Barton=s by 4 am, early enough for all purposes then in use. With further development in the Crafton area several other suits were brought, culminating in Cave v. Crafts in 1875 which went to the California Supreme Court. That suit basically defined Zanja rights up until the present day. The suit is of special interest, also, as Crafts made the first claim of riparian rights on the Zanja, which the court rejected.
The following quote from Beattie best sums the situation:
ABy the close of the 1870s what is possibly the most interesting period in the history of the Zanja may be said to end. During these first sixty years of its existence it had played a part in three stages of the development of the valley - that of the primitive, Spanish-controlled mission for instruction of the Indians of the region; of the almost equally primitive Mexican-Californian stock ranchos; and of the less primitive but still sternly pioneer American occupation. The use of the Zanja water in each of those periods was most wasteful. The ditch was a crude open waterway in danger of destruction in any severe rainstorm, and with no provision against losses by seepage and evaporation. The water was unused almost a quarter of the time at least, night irrigation not then having come into vogue. The decision in the Cave v. Crafts case cleared the way for improvements in the ditch itself to prevent loss of water, and also for certain changes in distribution methods that would lead to greater efficiency and convenience.
The 1880s saw a change from the use of zanja water which primarily had been used for flooding grain fields to that of irrigating orchards. However, the practice that had developed in the Crafton Settlement, that of taking water from 3 to 9 o=clock p.m. on certain specified days, was not adapted to orchard trees, as they required longer runs. It was especially inconvenient for Mr. Crafts, as his two short runs came several days apart. In 1882, wishing to develop a better system, he was instrumental in organizing the Crafton Land and Water Company and constructing a reservoir above the Crafton subdivision. This was the origin of the ACrafton Reservoir@ of today. Mr. Crafts was able to turn his two short runs into it, thereby enabling himself to utilize the water when he wished.=
>In 1886 the Crafton Water Company was organized. Owners of zanja water in the upper settlement transferred their rights in the zanja flow to the Crafton Water Company at the rate of one hour of zanja flow every ten days for seventeen shares of Crafton Water Company stock. The company purchased the small reservoir started by Mr. Crafts and enlarged it to a cpaacity of 68 acre-feet up to the spillway. Also the company paved limited sections of the ditch from the intake to the point where water from it was diverted to the reservoir. At its formation in 1886, the Crafton Water Company owned about 14 per cent of the total zanja flow; by 1949 its ownership had been increased to about 53 per cent.@
The decade of the 1880s saw not only the formation of the Crafton Water Company, which thrives to this day as the principal purveyor of Mill Creek water, but also the first attempts to harness the potential of the Santa Ana River, itself, for the benefit of Judson and Brown=s land development schemes in Redlands and Moreno Valley.
As mentioned earlier, the Santa Ana was first diverted in 1856 to the north or Highland side of the river and the Mormon attempt to take some of that flow to the south, or Redlands, side was thwarted by the Water Commission later that same year. In 1858 another ditch was dug from the mouth of the Santa Ana to the area now known as the East Highlands Bench. This new ditch, which was made by the Cram brothers and Frederick Van Leuven and his sons, diminished the flow available to the earlier Timber and North Fork ditches, whose diversions were located several miles downstream. In 1860, suit was brought against the Cram-Van Leuven Ditch by the owners of the Timber Ditch. The Cram-Van Leuven defense rested on the fact that far more than the amount of water ever used by the North Fork and Timber interests flowed past their weir but was wasted in the streambed through seepage and evaporation before the plaintiffs attempted to divert it for beneficial use. A consent decree, issued in the summer of 1861, gave the Cram-Van Leuven interests a 1/6th of the river flow at the canyon mouth. This was the first court decision on water rights in the Santa Ana. In 1879, the Water Commission divided the remaining flow equally between the North Fork and Timber Ditch owners.
According to all accounts, prior to the floods of 1862 and 1867 the Santa Ana flowed as a well-wooded stream in a well-defined channel. Beattie=s valley history states that the Lugo grant application map of 1841 referred to the present wash as a monte, Spanish for woodland, with alders, cottonwoods, sycamores and willows. The loss of this riverine system in the two great floods severely reduced the amount of water available at the North Fork and Timber Ditch diversion, due to increased seepage and evaporation losses in the now open wash above their dam. By 1865 the North Fork interests had joined with Cram-Van Leuven ditch owners and thus diverted over half of the river flow some eight miles above their previous joint intake with the Timber Ditch owners. As a result, the greatly diminished river flow often failed to travel as far downstream as the Timber Ditch diversion in dry years. Timber Ditch shares lost value as a result of this change.
The first successful attempt to bring Santa Ana water to the Redlands area took place in 1868, when, according to Beattie, several southside property owners placed a diversion weir about two miles below the mouth of the canyon and turned river water into the long-abandoned Mormon Ditch. In the spring of 1869 one Berry Roberts, for whom the ditch came to be named, notified the Water Commission that he was claiming the surplus, or waste flow of the Santa Ana. Since he planned to take the water for winter grain and spring gardens he apparently met no objections, as the other ditch owners used the flow for summer crops. Roberts made claim to a Awaste water@ right, to the water which was in excess to that fairly claimed by prior right holders. The Water Commission took no action on his claim, probably because it was impossible to define its quantity. By 1870 Roberts had been joined in his claim by Henry Suverkrup, the lumberman and one other. The Water Commission recognized their use of the river=s waste water in that same year. By December of that year, Roberts had sold his interests to an H.W. Ball who had been a member of the Timber Ditch Settlement. The waste water rights were insufficient for the needs of the Roberts Ditch owners and in 1872 Ball and Suverkrup acquired Timber Ditch rights for use on their lands. This proposed transfer from the north to the south side of the river was opposed by the north side interests, but water records reflect that the transfer was made in 1873. Other southside owners followed in acquiring Timber Ditch rights, but since the full Timber Ditch flow had to be taken when assigned, the small Roberts Ditch had no room for the waste water flow also, and by 1875 the waste water rights had been abandoned, as the ditch by then was used to carry nearly all of the Timber rights, which had been acquired by the south side interests.
All irrigation ditches at that time were wasteful. The Roberts Ditch was by far the worst, losing hundreds of miner=s inches (Miner=s Inch Day (MID), 9 gallons per minute for 24 hours) between its intake about two miles below the canyon=s mouth and its shareholders lands that were in what is now west Redlands. A further problem was that its elevation was such that it could not serve a number of Timber shareholders, most notably Dr. J.D.B. Stillman=s lands where the University of Redlands now stands and a portion of Dr. Barton=s lands, also. To solve the problem a new ditch, called the Sunnyside, was started in 1874. It began near the mouth of the canyon, skirted the bluffs on the river=s south side and crossed present-day Greenspot. Money ran out at the Mill Creek wash. In 1877 the Water Commission authorized a realignment of the Roberts Ditch, which came to known as the South Fork. It served until 1878 when funds became available to finish the Sunnyside Ditch. Frank Miller of Mission Inn fame was in charge of construction. His father, C.C. Miller, an experienced irrigation engineer, set the alignment.
Enter Judson and Brown. E.G. Judson, a New York accountant, and Frank E. Brown, a Yale-trained engineer, had come to the north Redlands area colony of Lugonia and had been developing lands and irrigation systems on the Santa Ana=s north side in what is now East Highlands. But when H.W. Ball, who had brought the first Santa Ana water rights to the Redlands area decided to sell in 1881, they bought his rights and property, as well as those of others, and focused all their efforts on developing a town on the red soil lands south of Colton Avenue. As their colony grew it became evident that greater and more dependable supplies of water were needed. In 1880 the California State Engineer had determined by survey that the Bear Valley watershed could produce enough water to irrigate 4,000 acres in the San Bernardino Valley. In June of 1883, Frank Brown posted a notice within Bear Creek canyon which stated his intent:
ATo dam up these waters for a reservoir from which they shall be transported by way of Bear Creek, the Santa Ana River and pipe and ditches to the vicinity of Redlands for use in irrigation.@
He completed the Bear Valley Reservoir Plan by October of that year and incorporated the Bear Valley Land and Water Company to acquire the land and build the dam and reservoir. Work was commenced immediately and the dam was completed the following year. The single-arched dam, 300 feet wide and 52 feet high, created a reservoir of 25,280 acre-foot capacity. But before the dam gates could be closed, the Bear Valley company had to enter into agreements with the Aprior rights@ owners, the North Fork-Cram-Van Leuven and South Fork ditch interests. These agreements, completed in 1885 and 1886 guaranteed specific water deliveries to their systems as well as other enumerated obligations on the part of the dam owners
In 1887, a Mr. Hewitt, who had purchased extensive lands in the Redlands area, brought suit against any and all who claimed an interest in the river=s waters. His claim, filed in the U.S. Circuit Court in Los Angeles, contended that his predecessors at interest, who constructed the long-abandoned Roberts Ditch, had perfected an exclusive right and title to a continuous flow of 500 miner=s inches, except where prior rights were involved. He contended, further, that the North Fork-Cram-Van Leuven and South Fork rights were each limited to 200 inches. He also claimed that the dam in Bear Valley was diverting a natural flow of waste water to which he had a right. Had he prevailed, the ditch interests would have been limited to their 1856 use and the Bear Valley Dam would have been made useless.
Beattie wrote that the very expensive trial, which lasted for years, filled two large volumes with transcripts of proceedings, involved many of the original settlers, original records of land transactions, water distribution measurements by engineers and the participation of famous water lawyers from Los Angeles and San Francisco. The court ruled in 1892 that whatever rights the Roberts Ditch owners once held had lapsed through disuse and abandonment. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals later sustained the lower court, thus preserving the system that continues to exist to this day.
But one additional method of water control and utilization remained to be implemented along the upper Santa Ana. In 1907 the Tri-Counties Reforestation Committee was formed of men representing Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Their goal was to protect the watershed, especially from fire, and they secured the withdrawal from entry of nearly one thousand acres on the Santa Ana debris cone by an act of Congress in 1909. These lands included nearly all of the wash area from the canyon mouth to the boundaries of Norton Air Force Base. This was the group that in 1921 built the dam at Jenks Lake and initiated the spreading of water at that site. In June of 1909 a corporation was organized with representation from the three counties, which took the name Water Conservation Association and had as its sole purpose the spreading of the flood waters of the Santa Ana and its tributaries. The intended goal was to replenish the San Bernardino artesian basin and therefore guarantee a more constant river flow to downstream interests in Orange County. To protect Orange County interests, no flow was to be diverted and spread unless water was flowing in the river at the Chapman Avenue bridge in that county.
Water spreading on the debris cone began in1911, first by open ditch to a series of distribution points, later by a series of contour ditches and in recent years by way of a diversion dam to an extensive system of percolating ponds. Quantities spread have ranged from over 80,000 acre-feet in the winter of 1921 to the period from 1922 to 1936 when no spreading occurred throughout those years of due to drought. In 1921 and again in 1925 the water Conservation Association applied to the state Division of Water Resources for a right to spread a fixed amount of water. Finally, in 1946, some 25 years after application, the San Bernardino Valley Water Conservation District, successor of the association, was granted two licenses for a total of 10,400 acre-feet per year.
The San Bernardino Valley Water Conservation District had been formed in 1932 as a result of growing concern about lowering well levels and exportation of water out of the basin. By 1937 the district took over water management functions of the Water Conservation Association, and whereas the association had been funded and controlled by the three counties plus the cities of Riverside, San Bernardino and Redlands, the new district was supported by taxes on the 46,950 acres of its territory, which included a major fraction of the San Bernardino or Bunker Hill basin, with the exception of the City of San Bernardino, itself.
Up until 1929 Orange County had contributed financially in the development of water spreading works on the upper Santa Ana. But when a matching state grant of $400,000 was made for water conservation in San Bernardino County in 1931, both James Irvine, owner of 19% of Orange County, and the Orange County Board of Supervisors retained engineers to evaluate the situation. These studies resulted in Irvine protesting diversions for water spreading on the Santa Ana, Mill Creek and Lytle Creek debris cones in July of 1932. In November of that year he filed suit in the Los Angeles Federal Court.
In 1933 the Orange County Water District was formed and assumed prosecution of the suit in 1937. By 1940 the water companies contributing to the Water Conservation Association=s defense had reached their financial limit and decided to deed all the association=s property and water rights to the San Bernardino Valley Water Conservation District and to disincorporate the association as soon as the suit was settled. Nearly ten years after its initiation the suit was settled by a stipulated judgement in 1942 which set limits on Santa Ana spreading.
Spreading was required to cease when flow at the mouth of Santa Ana canyon exceeded 130 cfs (cubic feet per second), but if the flow reached 3,000 cfs, then spreading could resume until the Prado flow dropped to 500 cfs. If a second flood occurred, which yielded 3,000 cfs at Prado then spreading could resume until it dropped to 700 cfs. No more than 9,000 acre-feet could be spread in any one season.
The spreading restrictions imposed by the settlement of the Irvine Suit were not as onerous as they might seem, as the historical average spread had been about 9,000 acre-feet and major flood flows are avoided as the water is filled with silt and debris, which damage the basins.
Water spreading on Mill Creek was limited by the suit to 65 cfs, except in the months of January and February when, if the flow exceeded 65 cfs, spreading was required to cease.
The spreading restrictions on both streams were dropped with the settlement of the second Orange County suit in 1969.
When the Bear Valley Dam was constructed in 1883 the developers thought the lake could provide enough water for both the Redlands area and Moreno and Perris valleys. After selling their lands in the eastern San Bernardino Valley the promoters bought large tracts of land in the Moreno Valley and laid out the town of Alessandro. Flumes, pipelines and tunnels along the Crafton Hills, across the Yucaipa Valley and San Timoteo Canyon carried the water to the projected town (water was delivered to Moreno Valley until 1957). At first, Mill Creek water was exchanged for Bear Valley water at a lower elevation, but when some Zanja owners protested, the Bear Valley Land and Water Company=s successor, the Bear Valley Irrigation Company, was forced to construct the eight mile AHighline@ at great expense. This expense was the primary reason for the company=s bankruptcy in 1896. Another of the causes leading to its failure was the massive loss of water in its pipelines. These pipes were made of wooden staves which shrank when dry. When stream water was introduced each spring, sand and gravel borne by the water would lodge in the cracks which resulted in unacceptable water losses.
It might be noted that at about this same time, in 1892, the Redlands Electric Light and Power Company was formed which pioneered the generation and use of three phase power in the U.S. The company=s successor, the Southern California Edison Company, still operates the two powerhouses on Mill Creek and three others in the Santa Ana canyon.
The failure of the developers of Big Bear Lake, coupled with the severe drought of the 1890s, lead the citrus growers in the Redlands area to conclude that they must acquire the assets of the failed companies and build a higher dam at Big Bear, as the lake had become completely dry in the summers of 1898,1899 and 1900. Incorporation took place on June 15, 1903 with a total capitalization of two million dollars, but it wasn=t until 1906 that the new company, Bear Valley Mutual Water Company, acquired the assets of its predecessors, the Bear Valley Land and Water Company, the Bear Valley Irrigation Company, the New Bear Valley Irrigation Company and the Bear Valley and Alessandro Development Company.
In 1910, Bear Valley Mutual began construction of today=s multiple arch dam some 300 feet downstream from the 1883 single arch dam. The new dam increased the reservoir=s capacity by nearly three times, to 73,320 acre-feet. The new dam, designed to a height of 65 feet was built to a height of 72 feet 4 inches. This caused the flooding of lands not owned by the water company and complex negotiations with the U.S. Forest Service and other property owners took some years to resolve. The dam was the last major work to control and divert our mountain streams until the present day.
The City of Redlands first took an interest in acquiring mountain stream rights in 1925 when a $525,000 bond issue was voted by the people to buy rights to Mill Creek water. The city entered into what is called AB Contract@ with the owners of Zanja rights in the area north and west of the Assistencia. The city paid $5,000 for each 1/240th of the Zanja flow plus guaranteed an equal supply of well water to the sellers at cost. Those contracts exist to this day and the city maintains a system of wells and pipelines for this purpose. The city took the purchased Zanja water to a filter plant and then by gravity to reservoirs throughout its water system. The creek water was of higher quality than well water and at a higher elevation. The arrangement benefitted the people of Redlands in both cost and water quality.
The city has continued to acquire rights in Mill Creek=s flow until today. The city controls two thirds of the flow at this time, which it treats through the Henry Tate Water Treatment Plant which was constructed in 1967.
In 1951, on the advice of City Attorney Edward Taylor, the city began acquiring stock in the Bear Valley Mutual Water Company and its affiliated companies. The city currently controls approximately 40 percent of the Bear Valley system. The acquisition was accomplished without cost to the citizens of Redlands. For many years new development was required to provide water stock equivalent to their projected water needs. More recently a water acquisition fee has been levied by the city against all new construction.
In 1954 the San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District was formed. The district encompasses all the lands of the east San Bernardino Valley west to Fontana and includes the Yucaipa Valley. The primary purpose of its formation was to provide supplemental water to the area through the state water project. Its contract with the state for 104,600 acre-feet per year makes the district one of the largest contractors in the state project.
A sister agency, the Orange County Water District, filed suit in 1963 seeking adjudication of water rights of all users of water in the Santa Ana River watershed tributary to Prado Dam. Both the City of Redlands and the San Bernardino Water District initiated condemnation proceedings against the Bear Valley Mutual Water Company to protect the local water resource. The Orange County suit was settled by a stipulated judgement in 1969 which obligated the San Bernardino Valley District to deliver 15, 250 acre-feet of Abase flow@ at the Riverside Narrows, subject to an adjustment for quality. Effluent discharges from local sewage treatment plants plus storm flows have enabled the San Bernardino district to meet these requirement with ease.
A second suit brought by the Western Municipal Water District of Riverside County against the San Bernardino district in 1963, was settled on the basis that the San Bernardino Basin, or Bunker Hill Basin, had a Asafe annual yield@ of 232,100 acre-feet per year and that all other users than the plaintiffs had a right to 167,238. The San Bernardino district was obligated to make up any overdraft above the safe yield by any user other than the Western district. The watermaster created to monitor the basin had determined that by the end of 1991 the San Bernardino district had accumulated Acredits@ of 286,968 acre-feet.
Thus the three major public water agencies on the Santa Ana representing Orange County, western Riverside County and the San Bernardino Basin had established their mutual obligations through the courts.
The Big Bear Municipal Water District was created in 1964 by a vote of the residents of Bear Valley to gain control of Big Bear Lake. The drought of the late 1950s and early 1960s had resulted in large irrigation demands, and the lake was drawn down severely each summer. As the economy of Bear Valley depended in large measure on the lake, the residents sought to stop its use for irrigation in the Redlands area and retain the waters in the lake.
In November 1965, the district filed suit in San Bernardino Superior Court against the owners of the lake. The suit attempted to condemn Bear Valley Dam, Big Bear Lake and the water rights of Bear Valley Mutual Water Company, the owners. The district first brought an injunction against the company to stop all water releases from the lake. This, the court denied. Years of legal maneuver followed. In December of 1973, the first judge quit and the case was declared a mistrial. In December of 1975, the court entered judgment denying the condemnation action and awarded the company $150,000 in costs. The district appealed. Finally, a stipulated judgement was recorded in February 1977. The district paid $4.7 million for the lake bottom, the dam, the surface recreation rights and the option to substitute Ain-lieu@ water for the lake withdrawals. For every acre-foot of Ain-lieu@ water purchased, the district could retain a like amount in the lake. But any water spilled over the dam would be subtracted from the district=s account. The settlement also limited the company=s rights to 65,000 acre-feet of water in any ten year period.
In 1986, the district returned to court to challenge the 1977 judgement. The state Division of Dam Safety had determined in a 1980 survey that the Bear Valley Dam was unsafe for flood-seismic loads and required the district to modify the dam or replace it. The district=s engineers recommended a new dam to be built at a cost of $3.8 million. Also, the 1977 judgement had not contemplated a change in the company=s water from agriculture to domestic, which was about to occur as the City of Redlands Horace P. Hinckley Treatment Plant came on line.
The district, in its suit maintained that the judgement required it to maintain the dam, not build a new one. The district also challenged the change in water usage from agriculture to domestic. The district contended that such change would result in greater lake evaporation and spills which would reduce the maximum yield from 6,175 acre-feet per year to 2,800 acre-feet per year.
The district=s suit requested the court to preclude the use of the company=s water for domestic purposes and require the company to share in the cost of the new dam. Because of
the potential effect on its water supplies, the City of Redlands sought and was granted the right to intervene. The court found for the company and was sustained on appeal. The company was awarded costs.
In the last decade the City of Redlands has been involved in two legal actions affecting water rights on Mill Creek. The first in response to the San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District in conjunction with the San Gorgonio Pass Municipal Water District building a diversion structure on Mill Creek which had a capacity several times the 32 cfs limit agreed to in the watrer exchange plan which served Yucaipa. Redlands viewed the new structure as the first step by those agencies to transport Mill Creek water south. The city filed an application with the state Water Resources Board for all unappropriated Awaste waters.@ This precautionary measure was taken to protect the city=s interest even though the state considered Mill Creek to be fully appropriated. To further protect its interests, the city brought suit against the Pass agency=s proposed pipeline project under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The suit was settled to the satisfaction of the city when the Pass agency agreed to limit the scope of its project and accept several other safeguards the city demanded.
The second Mill Creek suit pitted Redlands and the Crafton Water Company against property owners along the open rock-lined Zanja above Mentone. The property owners along the stream claimed riparian rights and were sustained by a superior court decision. Crafton and the city appealed. At issue was significant water loss along the Zanja and the future use of the water downstream if and when Crafton ceased to exist and the water was no longer needed at the Crafton Reservoir, the Zanja terminus. A settlement was reached based on a physical solution that Crafton and the city would maintain their historic practice of transporting water in the Zanja as needed. Crafton and the city paid $78,000 to the property owners for legal costs.
In the fall of 1990, California Trout, Inc. filed a complaint against Big Bear MWD. The complaint alleges that the 1977 stipulated judgement provides insufficient and/or no annual releases into Bear Creek from Big Bear Lake. Cal Trout contends the current lake operation violates the Apublic trust interest@ in maintaining Bear Creek=s trout habitat in good condition. The complaint requests that the State Water Resources Control Board require the district to release water from Big Bear Lake to provide minimum fish flows necessary the maintain Bear Creek=s habitat. Studies of trout population in the stream by the state Department of Fish and Game have supported Cal Trout=s position and recommend a dam release of between 2.0 and 3.5 cfs.
The water district has challenged the water board=s authority over Apre-1914" rights and further contends the dam Aleakage@ releases, coupled with inflows from tributaries, are adequate to maintain the habitat. The district further contends the fishery is in good condition.
To this date no hearings have been held. If Cal Trout prevails, from 1,000 to 3,000 acre-feet of water could be required to be released from the lake annually. The district maintains such a release would have severe negative impact on the valley=s economy, the fishery and recreational amenity of the lake itself and the operation of the 1977 judgement.
In 1992 San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District (SBVMWD) brought suit against Big Bear Municipal Water District. The suit contends that the San Bernardino district, through the Western judgement, is responsible for maintaining the safe yield of the San Bernardino, or Bunker Hill Basin. As mentioned earlier, this safe yield was established by the Western judgement watermaster, as required by that settlement.
The Bunker Hill Basin is a massive aquifer created by the San Jacinto Fault which lifted a dike across the valley floor approximately on the line of the common boundaries of Colton and San Bernardino. The basin, filled with alluvium to a depth of about 1,000 feet, extends eastward to the vicinity of the Redlands Airport. Its water storage capacity matches that of Shasta Lake, about five million acre-feet. In early times the basin was ringed with artesian wells (one flowed on Norton Air base into the 40s), had extensive swamps and wetlands and open water in the vicinity of the Inland Mall. Water is close to the surface today. The basement of the offices of SBVMWD has had to be pumped continuously to keep it dry. The saturated alluvium in the western end of the basin poses a threat of liquifaction in earthquakes, has caused damage to pipelines and roadways and has constrained development in the area in the past. The basin is recharged, in large measure, by the runoff of our mountain streams. SBVMWD contends in its suit that Big Bear, in retaining the natural runoff of the lake, is preventing the natural recharge of the basin. The suit demands that Big Bear release 7,200 acre-feet per year, which the San Bernardino district alleges is the historic flow from the Bear Valley watershed. The suit challenges the physical solution in the 1977 judgement, in that, prior to the settlement, Big Bear water was used in the San Bernardino Valley for irrigation where a major fraction percolated down as replenishment to the water table.
In recent years the City of San Bernardino sued the San Bernardino Valley Water Conservation district for damages which San Bernardino alleged were caused by a higher water level as a result of the water spreading activities of the conservation district. $3.5 million was paid by the district insurers to the city in settlement. As can be seen from the above, water like beauty, lies in the eye of the beholder.
As stated in the opening paragraphs of this paper, Redlands is uniquely situated with respect to water. It can be independent of the need for outside, supplemental sources into the foreseeable future. Its native supplies can meet the most stringent quality standards. The mountain streams and wells on the debris cones can supply water of high quality to the upper sections of the city without expensive boosting.
Unfortunately, in recent years the high quality mountain stream water has been traded for state project water which is of inferior quality. State water typically contains several times as much dissolved salts (TDS) and its use over time could be of detriment to the city and all other users of the Santa Ana. Processing to minimum quality standards would be very expensive. The water of the Santa Ana is some of the world=s hardest working. It is used at least three times before it reaches the sea. Each use adds its burden of dissolved salts and with the state water near its limit set for TDS for domestic use, the city could face the very expensive process of salt removal from the water it discharges downstream. Processing would be not unlike that used for sea water.
It is with those considerations in mind, that the wisdom of our predecessors policies of acquiring and perfecting out mountain stream resources can be appreciated.
Water, itself, will likely never be a problem. The enormous underground lake of the Bunker Hill Basin represents a near limitless source. Unfortunately, it is becoming more contaminated from sewage plant discharge and plumes with complex chemical content, such as those from Norton, which are migrating out into the basin. Tapping this source for Redlands also bears the additional cost of lifting that water hundreds of feet at great expense.
Redlands has grown and prospered, become a town of sylvan beauty and sustained a multi-million dollar citrus industry, which thrives to this day, in a semi-arid region by virtue of the perfection of its mountain stream resources. Others have challenged our use of that resource from our beginnings in 1856 and those challenges continue to the present day.
In summary,174 years after the first diversion of our mountain streams and 137 years after the first action by an adjudicating body over water rights, little is resolved. Four suits are in the courts or pending. Millions are being spent for legal fees, expert witnesses and court costs. In two cases, the City of Redlands is caught between two entities, Bear Valley Mutual Water Company, from which it receives much of its water, and the San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District, of which it is part. There=s no end in sight. The potential impoundment of Anew@ waters behind Seven Oaks Dam has already brought one legal action and has all the hallmarks of an attorneys= bonanza. But that=s another story for another day. Sadly, over all these years of turmoil and expenditure of treasure, not one additional drop of water has been made available to the people of the valley through all this litigation.
Truly,AWhiskey=s for drinkin’, water=s for fightin’”